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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checklist emoji book cover

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.

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.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home
for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

 girl portrait black and white book cover

BIBLIO: 2011, Quirk Books, Ages 14 to 18.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-1594746031

This exceptional fantasy story starts in Florida. Typical sixteen year old Jacob works at his family business, Smart Aid, killing his time and trying to get fired. In general an antisocial person Jacob is closest with his Grandpa Abe Portman. In his childhood Grandpa would tell him stories about peculiar children with unique talents that lived in an idyllic home overseen by the Bird. He would show pictures to Jacob and also describe these terrible monsters that were dangerous and sought out himself and the peculiar children. Jacob eager to believe in childhood dismissed all of this as fairytales in adolescence and the monsters as symbolic of his grandfather’s troubled past, being of Jewish heritage during WWII. His world is turned upside down when his grandfather calls frantically at his work, leaving to check up on him Jacob is startled to find the elderly man in the wood all sliced up and the disgusting creatures from his childhood only a few feet away. His grandfather’s last words continue to haunt Jacob and all of his family thought he is insane. Seeing many doctors without much use Jacob discovers a clue in a book that his aunt found at Grandpa’s house. Embarking on a journey to Cairnholm with his father Jacob begins to quickly discover his secretive grandfather’s past. Everything he was told is true! After searching the abandoned house he finds a trail of clues that lead him to a portal to an alternate universe. This universe is a time loop and contains the home his grandfather told about with many of the exact same children. Immediately they take a liking to each other. Not long after though they are all in terrible danger from the monsters. Together they battle them off and save the home and their headmistress.
This book is highly recommended for girls from grades 9-12. It is a little slow to start but the witty wording makes it bearable. There are stunning, old fashioned photographs to accompany the story making it easy to picture the characters and adds another level of intrigue. All of the recommendations I had received before reading this book were proven to be accurate, this book is entertaining and sure to remain popular in the fantasy genre for many more years.

More titles in the Series:
Girl with hole book cover Boy with wings book cover

Zel

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

girl with leaves book cover

BIBLIO: 1996 Dutton Children’s Books/ Penguin Books , ages 12 to 15, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Middle Reader.
ISBN: 0-525-45612-0

This is a retelling of the classic fairytale Rapunzel. The narrative switches between the three main characters Zel (Rapunzel), Konrad, and Mother (the witch). The plot starts a few day prior to Zel’s thirteenth birthday when she and Mother go to the marketplace. There Zel meets Konrad at the smithy’s when she is admiring and comforting his horse Meta. Konrad gives Zel the gift of a goose egg and they become smitten with each other. Mother, sensing that there is this new part of Zel’s life is threatened and whisks the young girl off to a hidden tower. Konrad searches for the next two years for the girl he fell in love with at first sight and Zel longs for the boy she found so charming. The plot reaches a turning point approximately fifty pages from the end of the novel as the end of the two years approaches. Konrad has finally found his mystery girl, mentally disturbed after months and months of isolation. They spend the night together and Konrad promises to return and free Rapunzel. Mother comes for her daily visit and Rapunzel reveals that she loves a young man and stands up to her mother. Mother uses her witch’s power over the plants to banish Rapunzel to a beachy region far away from their home in the Alps. Konrad comes back to find the witch and jumps and lands on thorns becoming blind. For the next three years the lovers are still separated, Rapunzel gives birth to twin girls and Konrad resumes his search while still blind. He eventually is able to travel to Rapunzel’s new home and they reunite and Rapunzel cries into his eyes, healing them.
This novel closely follows the classic, gruesome version of Rapunzel. The narrative is split into three parts, Zel’s, Konrad’s, and Mother’s. There are eight parts, four of which focus on each character and their interpretation of rejection, loneliness, obsession, and love. Napoli works very hard to create layers of reality and is skillfully subtle in some of her ideas such as puberty and physical maturity, religion, abuse, and morality. She is able to draw out some of these themes because the tale of Rapunzel is quite familiar and reinterpreting it can mean changing such details. This book would be a good suggestion for reluctant readers because of the basic plot. It is also a fair book to read individually.

Ruby Holler

Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech

cabin in the woods book cover

BIBLIO: 2002 Joanna Cotler Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, ages 9 through 12, $16.89.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 0-06-027733-5


This book is about twin orphan Dallas and Florida. They are thirteen years old have been in the foster system since infancy. Bouncing into families’ homes and right back to the Boxton Creek children’s home is the only cycle the twins have ever known. They reveal some of the terrible realities they experienced regarding bad foster parents and the home they always return to.
Before long, Tiller and Sairy, an older couple bring them back to their home in Ruby Holler. Slowly the twins realize what it’s like to be loved and cared for unconditionally. Although they talk about running away they each end up on separate adventures. Florida and Tiller adventure down the river and Dallas and Sairy take a hike over the hills. Through all of it the four characters realize that Ruby Holler is truly their home and their doubts get answered along the way.
The caretakers of the Boxton’s children’s home try to stir up trouble trying to find the treasures that Tiller and Sairy hide in the woods of their home. Z, their neighbor, acts as a double agent until the older couple and the twins return. Other troubles stir up the plot such as both sets of adventurers get lost, Tiller’s heart attack, the twins trying to run away and acting like goofballs, and plenty more.
This book, while sweet and whimsical addresses some serious questions and topics children might not be aware of and connects to them in a personal way. It talks about orphans and the corrupted system, aging among parents, coping with nightmares and bad memories, the confusing reality of raising children at all stages of development, being your own person, along with any number of extra things.
Uniquely, this novel does not have a resolute ending. It does not reveal if Z is the twins’ father, or if the twins got adopted for sure, or what happens to the Trepids and the children in the home. After all, that is what the real world is like.