Honestly Ben

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

love triangle book cover

BIBLIO: 2017, Arthur A. Levine Books an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., Ages 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult
ISBN: 9780545858267

Honestly Ben is a very realistic and thought provoking read. The main character Ben Carver is a typical all-american overachiever. He attends Nattick Boarding school for boys and he loves history and baseball and is set up to accept the Peter Pappas award. The award basically being a stamp of approval in all aspects of life- sports, studies, extracurriculars, and being well liked by the student body.

It would seem that Ben is invincible, but there is one major snafu in his life, and that is his romantic entanglements.Ben is struggling with his sexual orientation and throughout the book he loves both the earnest,lovely Hannah and his lively,sensitive best friend Rafe. Ben must decide who matters more to him and all the consequences that go with his decisions.

Ben has more conflicting feelings than that in his life as he struggles to figure out who he is sexually, as a teammate, as a student, and as part of the Carver family. Many tough situations arise and Ben grows as a person by learning many life lessons about family, vulnerability, courage, and most of all honesty, because what is there to life if your reality isn’t the truth?

This book is relatable, the conversations and interactions feel they’ve happened in real life already. I would suggest this book for teens in high school. There are some allusions to sex and some bad language. With the complicated themes of the novel I wouldn’t advise giving it to anyone younger than thirteen.

I personally am pretty neutral on this book. It was very well written and it is one of very few fiction pieces that have changed my way of thinking. It hurt my brain to read this book, but in a good way because it was expanding my mind. It is also the first book I’ve encountered that has a bisexual character. I read this book independently, not realizing it was part of a series. If I had more backstory I think I would have liked it infinitely more. Definitely worth the read.

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Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

shadowy face book cover

BIBLIO: 1971,Simon and Schuster Inc., Ages 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 9781416914631

Written as a diary this young adult book is notable for being one of the earliest young adult books in general but also for having questionable content. Most books at the time were sweet coming of age stories that had plenty of morals and maturity. This story talks about all the taboo topics of sex, drugs,running away, and straying from the expected past.

The girl writing this diary lives with her close knit family and when they move for her father’s work her life changes. Adjusting is hard for her in this new town, no one really wants to get to know her. She returns to her hometown to stay with her grandparents for the summer and is introduced to drugs, namely LSD and sex, and she returns home thinking she is effectively ruined as a person.

Upon the start of the school year she spirals out of control in secret, using all sorts of recreational drugs, dating a sleazy boy, failing in school, and even acting as a dealer.

She runs away with her only friend Chris to California and they start off in a dismal apartment and even worse situations but in a few short months they are able to open a small, mildly successful boutique. Homesick, they are happily accepted back home. They manage to stay clean for a while but the diary-keeper falls of the wagon and while on a drug induced trip ends up in Oregon, meets some other hippies and druggies, and joins in a rally. Again she realizes she doesn’t want this life and returns to her family and vows to stay clean. She also decides that she wants to go into social work so that she can help others through her past experiences.

Shortly after her return both of her grandparents fall ill and die. This tough time for her and her family was made worse by the bullying at school and then the diary-keeper’s freak out and institutionalization after she unknowingly ingests bad LSD and self harms.

It takes a while for her to be released but when she is, her life begins to turn around. Her family becomes closer, she befriends the good kids in school, she has a boyfriend, and her attitude is much better. The book ends on a positive not until the epilogue when the author reveals that the girl dies from an overdose only a few weeks later.

This book claims to be fiction but there is a lot of speculation on how much of it is based off an authentic diary. I would suggest this book for high school girls. I liked the story and connected to the diary-keeper. This book has been popular for decades and it is easy to see why. However this book is very dated in it’s references and style and sometimes it was a struggle to look past the 70’s vibe. I also had a difficult time with the end of the story, while it’s common for relapses to happen the ending wasn’t written in a way where it seems plausible and I was shocked at the epilogue because it really seems like the diary-keeper had a handle on her addiction and went clean for good. This epilogue was a call to action for awareness, which absolutely is still necessary and needs more advocates but the way the author did it was tacky and rushed. I suggest Ellen Hopkin’s Crank for a more recent spin on this subject.

Continue reading “Go Ask Alice”

Life & Love (Or Something Like it)

life & love( or something like it) by Amber Headrick

horizon at sea

BIBLIO: 2017,Amber Headrick, Ages 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 9781548423834

Poetry written for young women tends to be quite powerful. This book of poems is no exception. A quote from the author best explains the intent of this story:” Poetry is the poor woman’s therapy”, as it is both read and written intense feelings can be experienced and empathized with.

Split into several sections, the poems intertwine themes of fairytale and lore, rounding out the story. The writing is well constructed, moving, and unique in style.

This tale is one many can relate to on a very personal level. The author contemplates her childhood, her love life, and most of all trusting those around her- most importantly herself. Starting on a dark note the poems slowly become more hopeful.

I would recommend this book to young girls in high school or college. Particularly those who are struggling with their identity and feelings, as they might discover something about themselves while reading. I think that the poetry is beautiful and I will likely be rereading this title.

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

blue book cover with eyes

BIBLIO: Ages 2004 (reprint), Scribner. 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0743273565

This time old classic is revered by readers of all ages. The complicated plot revolves around wealth, love, and secrets. The narrator is Nick Carraway, a young and hopeful man that works in the business world but would rather be a writer. He moves into a small home in West Egg, the up and coming societal housing of Long Island. His neighbor is the mysterious, eccentric, and fabulously connected Jay Gatsby. Nick’s cousin Daisy marries a college sweetheart, Tom Buchanan, loaded with old money and a great reputation as an ex-polo player, and lives just across the river in East Egg. The story spins out of control as the three main characters interact. Nick’s admiration and pity for Jay, Jay’s loneliness and obsession for Daisy, his old flame, and Daisy’s need for security and desperation in looking for an escape, all play into the human condition and draws the reader in.

This novel is set in the roaring 1920’s and while fictional reflects plenty about the slang, the fashions, the corrupt underworld, and the rich culture. Nick describes his encounters at Jay’s summer night extravaganzas, Tom’s second life of flirtations, with his mistress Myrtle, and booze in the city, and his own simple life getting twisted into this lush lifestyle. With plenty of tragic turns and enthralling confrontations this book is a must read.

I would recommend this book to 8th grade and up for boys and girls. This novel is a great introduction into the literature of the time and a peek into the American canon. I would recommend this book as a classroom read, as many students have already experienced. It looks into strong themes like fidelity, wealth, desire, facades, and dreams.

Maximum Ride

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

girl with wings book cover

BIBLIO: 2007,New York: Warner Vision Books, Ages 12 to 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0316067959

Maximum Ride is a series written by the highly popular (at every age) James Patterson. It follows the story of six genetically mutated humans, Max, Fang, Iggy, Gasman, Nudge, and Angel. The genes used? Avian, so they all sport a set of wings. Of course being such valuable experiments The School, the mad scientists that created them, are seeking to regain these young teenagers. At their bidding they have other genetically modified humans, Erasers, on the hunt with their werewolf-ish features. Scared, without their adopted father Jeb to guide them, the Flock flee from place to place. This thrilling beginning leads the reader to a world of growing up, emotions, and what family really means. I would recommend this series to 7th grade- 10th grade girls and boys, I would even lean toward encouraging boys to read this for the action and witty dialogue, all with minimal romantic themes.

More titles in the Series:
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Make Lemonade

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

 lemonade book cover

BIBLIO: 1993,New York: Henry Holt and Company, Ages 13 to 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0805080704

By writing this novel in poetry the story gains a whole lot of meaning. The short entries with breaks and lack of grammar and a distinctive vernacular show the disorganization and scrambled emotions of the characters. Narrated by LaVaughn, a fourteen year old girl, the reader peeks into the unfortunate life of Jolly, a seventeen year old mother, and her two children Jeremy and Jilly. LaVaughn takes the babysitting job as a way to earn money for college and after visiting for the first time, LaVaughn has more than enough incentive to get out of the neighborhood. Living in squalor and struggling paycheck to paycheck the small family gets turned upside down when Jolly loses her job. Despite all of this LaVaughn bonds closely with this little family, caring tenderly for the children and their fragile mother, be it through storytelling or bathtime she is determined to help. Unable to find work LaVaughn convinces Jolly to “take hold” by returning to school with the specialized Moms Up GED program. A unique look at Jolly’s hardship is seen through the contrasting bleeding heart LaVaughn and her tough love mother (through LaVaughn’s conversations with her and her occasional run-ins with Jolly). Several unexpected things happen, including “lemon bloms” and Jolly actually looking to change her family’s life. A heartwarming problem novel truly shows that you can “make lemonade” no matter the circumstances. This novel works through issues typically seen in inner-city communities like poverty, illiteracy, absentee fathers, pipe dreams of college, and picking oneself up again and again. I would recommend this book to girls from the latter half of 8th grade up until early 11th grade based on the content and comprehension levels.

Z for Zachariah

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

scared girl book cover

BIBLIO: 1975,New York: Atheneum,Ages 13 to 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-1416939214

In a post-apocalyptic world sixteen year old Anne Burden lives by herself in a secluded valley minimally affected by the nuclear fallout, tending her family farm and occupying her time with her journal (the novel itself). Having spent a whole year in isolation she is surprised when a strange man, Mr. Loomis, arrives in the valley with a [hazmat] suit and Geiger counter, cautious she avoids him at first but when he falls ill she returns to aid him to health. In his feverish outbursts she finds out his troubled past with Edward to the point of murder. When he regains his health Anne becomes wary and runs away when he tries to take advantage of her, avoiding him but hoping to coexist in the valley though that plan gets cut short when he tries to track her with the dog and maim her to prevent her escape. In a resolute action Anne flees the valley with Mr. Loomis’s stolen supplies looking for another valley hoping to find a future as a schoolteacher. The book was written and presumably set in a Cold War time period. It appears that this simple book, at one point, would have been relevant and entertaining to teenage girls and some boys but not to the 21st century reader. Some of the details seem outdated and in some ways too convenient, not to mention the characters seem logical but act inconsistently. I would not actively recommend this title, instead I would offer Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, which is a similarly apocalyptic series set realistically in the modern day.