Teen Book Reviews: Darius the Great is Not Okay and Divergent

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from a teen who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, reviewed by Ali A.

I really enjoyed Darius the Great Is Not Okay and feel like it’s a must-read for teens. The main character of this novel is Darius Kellner, a white-washed Persian living in the United States who is diagnosed with depression. He feels disconnected from his relatives in Iran, and doesn’t even get along well with his own father. His father, Stephen Kellner, is always disappointed in Darius and wishes Darius could be more normal instead of an overweight loner with funky hair. Darius gets teased at school and only finds peace at the tea shop he works in, the Tea Haven at the Shoppes at Fairview Court. Darius and his family then finds out that Darius’s grandfather, Babou, has a brain tumor and would die soon so Darius’s mother plans a family trip to Iran. It’s Darius’s first trip to Iran so he’s excited but is also worried. Darius knows barely anything about his Persian culture and heritage and doesn’t know if any of his family will like him, especially since Darius doesn’t even know the language of Farsi. However, when Darius gets to Iran, his life changes. He quickly makes friends with a neighborhood boy named Sohrab and Darius discovers more about the Persian culture. Darius’s relationship with his father also becomes tighter and they enjoy each other more. One thing is for sure- Darius is a different person by the time he returns to America. He is no longer lazy, lonely, or as teased as before. I loved this book because I share a lot in common with Darius Kellner. My grandparents and extended family live in India whereas I live on a whole different continent. Also, I only see my grandparents through awkward Skype calls and it’s tough to communicate with them because I don’t know Urdu which is the language that they speak. Adib Khorram did a wonderful job writing this empathetic novel that many teens including myself can relate to and love.

5 Stars.

Divergent by Veronica Roth, reviewed by Ali A.

Normally I hate science fiction books. They are usually about aliens, robots, or people trying to take over the world. Most of the stuff in science fiction books are too complicated for readers to understand and visualize in their minds and science fiction books are usually boring. However, Divergent is the only science fiction book that I have ever fully read and loved. Most science fiction books go overboard on crazy futuristic ideas, but Divergent keeps it real. The Utopian land that the citizens live on is divided into 5 difference groups, which are called factions. The 5 factions are Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, Candor, and Amity. Each of the 5 factions prioritizes a special aspect. Abnegation prioritizes selflessness, Dauntless prioritizes bravery, Erudite prioritizes brilliance, Candor prioritizes honesty, and Amity prioritizes tranquility. The main character of the book is Beatrice “Tris” Prior. Beatrice was born into Abnegation and loved her parents and her brother. When everyone is 16 years old, the students are required to take the Aptitude Test, which helps the students discover which faction they should join. Beatrice takes the test and receives a horrid result. Her results revealed that she was Divergent, meaning she doesn’t really fit with one faction but rather a mix of all of them. Beatrice doesn’t understand why being Divergent is so bad or different, but no one explains that to her. On the Choosing Day, where each 16 year old chooses which faction they want to join for the rest of their lives, her selfless brother chooses to join Erudite. Beatrice knew she wasn’t as selfless as her brother so she thought that if he didn’t fit in Abnegation, then she didn’t either. So at the last second, Beatrice chooses to join Dauntless. In Beatrice’s training she has to work hard and do cruel things such as fight her peers for fun and learn to shoot guns. Although the pain is overwhelming, it makes her stronger. Beatrice soon finds out that Erudite is making plans with Dauntless leaders to declare war on her old faction, Abnegation. Veronica Roth did a wonderful job with the plot of Divergent and keeps the readers hooked with plot twists after plot twist.

5 Stars.

Teen Book Reviews: The Outsiders and The Giver

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from a teen who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, reviewed by Ali A.

The Outsiders is a book about a gang in Oklahoma called the Greasers. The Greasers are made up of of poor, violent teenage boys that are led astray in society. However, the Greasers are not the only gang in town. The Socs, short for the Socials, constantly battle for control in Tulsa. The Greasers face constant threats of being jumped (jumping is when a group of rival gangsters “jump” out of a car or building and beat up a member of the rival gang), stolen from, or being seriously hurt. Ponyboy, the main character of the book, lives with his brothers Darry and Sodapop, who are also fellow Greasers. Darry is an athletic and strong young man who is trying to raise his younger brothers after their parents died in a car crash. Darry dropped out of school to work full-time to support his family. Sodapop is a carefree young man as well and is one of Ponyboy’s best friends. Ponyboy is able to avoid serious trouble until one day he was walking home from a movie and got jumped by a group of Socs. After that encounter, Ponyboy and his friend Johnny are enjoying their time outside until another group of Socs try to finish the job and kill Ponyboy. However Johnny tried to protect his friend and accidentally killed one of the Socs. Now Ponyboy and Johnny have to escape the police and the Socs by hiding out. After the tragic killing, the Greasers and Socs agree to a gang war in Tulsa. I enjoyed the book and I’d reccomend this to readers who enjoy exciting novels with dramatic changes. One change I’d make if I were the author would be if the Greasers and Socs could achieve peace with eachother and end the practice of gangs. However towards the end, the Socs become somewhat more friendly with the Greasers.

4 Stars.

The Giver by Lois Lowry, reviewed by Ali A.

The Giver is a science-fiction book about a land in the future where no one has any freedom. The Chief Elder controls what your job will be, who you will marry, how many children you can have, what you will be named, when you can have a child, what you can eat, etc. Basically, the Chief Elder is a dictator. However the people who live in this Utopian land don’t feel restrained and instead feel happy that they can live in a world without any major problems. The reason the residents of this land feel this way is because the Chief Elder forces the residents to take a pill that restricts any feelings or emotions. This pill even makes it so that people can only see black and white out of their eyes! The Giver revolves around the life of a 12-year old boy named Jonas. In this Utopian land when a child turns 12 the Chief Elder selects each child’s future career based on the child’s skills and interests. As Jonas is at the ceremony and the Chief Elder assigns the careers, he skips over Jonas’ name. Jonas fears that he wouldn’t get a career and would be banished from the land, but instead he got an extra special job called “The Giver”. The Giver is the only job in this city that isn’t allowed to take pills, meaning they can feel all emotions and can see color. The reason for this is because the Chief Elder doesn’t allow residents to experience “memories”, so all memories of people go to The Giver. A lot of these memories are painful, but it’s Jonas’ job to experience them so that he can keep the community safe. As Jonas spends more and more time going through memories without the pills, he starts learning how bad his community really is, from killing babies and elders to lack of freedom, so Jonas decides he has to escape his backwards land. I’d rate The Giver a 2/5 because the storyline is very hard to understand. To fully understand what goes on in this story, you’d have to read Son and Messenger, but if you would read one of those books first, you wouldn’t understand what goes on in those stories without reading The Giver. I’d rate The Giver a lot higher if Lois Lowry did a better job of structuring her books that way readers could understand what’s going on.

2 Stars.

My Favorite Android: The Murderbot Diaries

The first use of the word “robot” dates back to the 1920’s (robotnik or similar being a term for factory worker in many slavic languages), but the word “android,” meaning a miniature human-like automaton, is older, as far as 1863. A robot – a disembodied piece of machinery – does work for you – like a Roomba, or the useless rolling pest in the grocery store that spies on people who might steal things (at least Roomba can clean up a mess it finds, and doesn’t cost $35,000). An android looks like a human, moves like a human, interacts like a human (more or less), but inside is a machine.

That fact has led to a huge amount of introspection – how do we define Human? Is a self-aware, English-communicating Gorilla a person? What about our AI creations? When a computer becomes self-aware, does it have a soul? Is it “human”? At that point, is the use and ownership of an android slavery?  That question was battled in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Measure of a Man,” where Starfleet claimed to own Data the android and control him like equipment, while the case was made he was sentient and free. The movie(s) Blade Runner also focused on that question. 

I’m not a techie. Computers are great if they do what I need,  but I couldn’t care less about future tech, AI interfaces, androids, or streaming. Anyone who knows any science fiction knows you never trust AI or give it too much power. I like Data, I don’t love Data. C3PO is annoying. I hated Marvin the Paranoid Android. No matter how many times I watch Blade Runner, I think it’s one of the most boring movies ever (I still love The Six Million Dollar Man, but he was a bionic human, not android). So I was really, really surprised that I even picked up the book All Systems Red by Martha Wells, also known as The Murderbot Diaries #1. Not my kind of book. But from the first page, I could not put the book down. I read it while cooking. I read it while my kids were in the tub. I read it while walking. I had to finish it in one day. Thankfully, it’s a short novella, and that’s entirely possible.

Murderbot, as it calls itself (it has no gender. Murderbots are not built for sex; that’s a sexbot), is a Security Unit (SecUnit), a partly organic robot/android construct built to provide security detail for whoever rents or buys it. Of course, mostly what security entails is killing whatever might harm the persons it’s hired to protect, hence the term Murderbot. Murderbot, however, manages to hack its own governor module, releasing itself from control by the company who owns it. 

This starts Murderbot on a soul-searching (or soul-developing?) quest to find out exactly who or what it is now, all while working hard not to let anyone realize it’s free, because an uncontrolled killing machine is a very, very dangerous thing (to quote Kyle Reese from Terminator, “That terminator is out there, it can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop… EVER, until you are dead!”).  But Murderbot isn’t fond of killing. He’s fond of soap operas and TV serials (like The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon). All he wants is to be left undisturbed to watch his shows while he tries to figure out the human race. Life never lets him, and he feels obligated (like the heroes in the soaps he watches) to help while trying to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill the people he was hired to protect.

Murderbot is sarcastic, droll, funny, depressed, almost autistic in his stilted approach to emotion and interaction with people. He’s a fast thinker and an opportunist. He says s**t a lot more than Data. He doesn’t want to be human, yet is fascinated by them and can’t stop studying them. And he makes mistakes, just like a human. The innovative – and logical – adaption/hijacking of computer systems has opened my eyes to issues I’ve never given a thought to, such as the power of drones. With all the issues currently happening via ransomware, spying, and breaches, and the mass-market and miniaturization of drones, maybe we should be thinking more along the lines of Murderbot, as our military is also controlled by computers, and nothing but nothing is hack-proof. People mistrusted the NYPD robodog so much they had to send it back.

I had to read the second book Artificial Condition (possibly my favorite, because of ART, Murderbot’s name for the “A*****e Research Transport” ship computer), whipped through the third, Rogue Protocol , flew through the fourth Exit Strategy, (also possibly my favorite), and am now reading the fifth, Network Effect. The sixth and current volume is Fugitive Telemetry, with three more commissioned by the publisher, and a TV version is in the works (please, please don’t mess it up!). All Systems Red has won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, the Alex Award, and the Locus Award. Yes, the stories are simple (good guy must take down bad guy) but the humanity and humanism throughout the series will keep you emotionally invested to the very end. 

Pure enjoyment, with no other agenda. Murderbot is my favorite android ever. 

 

Teen Book Reviews: Flowers for Algernon and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from a teen who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, reviewed by Ali A.

Flowers for Algernon is one of my favorite books of all-time. The main character is a man named Charlie Gordon, who is 32 years old and has an IQ of 68, meaning he is intellectually challenged. Charlie Gordon goes to class at a school for intellectually challenged people and due to his positive attitude towards learning, he was chosen as a test subject for an experiment/operation that makes intellectually challenged people into geniuses. Throughout the book readers can watch the progress Charlie goes through on his quest to becoming a genius. Once Charlie becomes smart, he recalls past memories of his childhood. Once the full effects of the experiment kick in, it turns out not everyone likes the “New Charlie”. The “New Charlie” is stuck-up, arrogant, and makes other people look dumb. Charlie’s co-workers hate him so much that they created a petition to fire Charlie, and 840/841 voted to have Charlie fired. The only person who didn’t sign was Fanny Birden, and even she didn’t care much for Charlie and only didn’t sign because it wasn’t in her place to decide who could work and who couldn’t. As the world starts to turn against Charlie he receives more bad news- the intelligence that he acquired isn’t permanent, and after the operation wears off, Charlie will have a lower IQ than he did before the experiment. As Charlie’s emotional and mental growth goes back to normal, Charlie doesn’t. He starts out as a happy, fun, and care-free person before the experiment but after the experiment he is anti-social, mean, and boring. I enjoyed this book very much but I found it sad to see what happened to Charlie as the intelligence he acquired started to wear off. However this book made me grateful that God gifted us with lots of knowledge, and that we should never take it for granted.

5 stars.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, reviewed by Ali A.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a great book about Christopher John Francis Boone, a brilliant but autistic 15-year old boy living in London. Christopher is heavily gifted in math and takes A-level advanced courses at his school. However, Christopher does have some behavior issues, including the time he punched a police officer and was arrested and also when he and his father had a small fist fight. When one of Christopher’s neighbor’s dog turns up dead with a garden fork next to him, Christopher is automatically blamed without any evidence. Christopher then decides to clear his name by secretly investigating who actually committed the dog murder. As Christopher moves closer and closer to cracking the case, he starts to learns more about what happened with his divorced parents. His father, who takes care of him, said his mother died due to cancer in a hospital. Christopher believed his story for a while, but Christopher did remember that it was suspicious that his father casually told him that one night his mother was dead and forever gone. However, during Christopher’s investigations, he starts realizing that his father’s claim might not be accurate, and that his mother might still be alive so Christopher decides to find her and escape his dangerous neighborhood. I really enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time because readers can live inside the brain of a kid with autism by feeling their emotions and thoughts, and experience the cruelty of the outside world. I also enjoyed this book because readers can also use their brains to piece together clues and try to crack the case themselves. I recommend this book to people who enjoy mysteries, thrillers, and plot twists, especially when you find out there’s a dog killer in your own family.

5 Stars

Teen Book Reviews: Six of Crows and One of Us is Lying

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from two teens who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, reviewed by Matti L.

Six of Crows is one book that’s part of a much larger fictional universe created by Leigh Bardugo, called the Grishaverse. In chronological order, the Grishaverse is made up of the Shadow & Bone trilogy, the Six of Crows duology, the King of Scars duology, and 3 supplemental books that really focus on fairy tales that only occur inside the Grishaverse. Even though the first book I read in the series was Six of Crows, I didn’t have much trouble understanding the characters even though I skipped the Shadow & Bone trilogy. I originally figured that I would be more confused, as if I had skipped the 5 books in Percy Jackson & the Olympians and started with The Lost Hero, but this didn’t happen.

There was a lot of time to meet the characters, learn their backgrounds and initial interactions with each other when they were all on a ship together, traveling to Fjerda. I did need to be patient about understanding the different types of Grisha and the different countries’ relations with each other. I’d say that there are two main reasons that made this book a great book; the first reason is that the plot picks up very quickly, which I enjoy in a book that is 450+ pages long. The book began with a demonstration of a healer abusing her powers and taking control of a ship, and luckily Bardugo revisited that scene fairly early in the book, to show what Kaz Brekker and his crew need to prevent from happening again. Many books don’t have an exciting plot completely set out until around page 150, but Bardugo had her plot taking off by around page 50.

The second reason that I liked this is because it felt like the author laid the story out very similar to a TV show, so it imitated a lot of the techniques to create interest or suspense. For example, a character might go out by themselves at night, and right then is when Bardugo would explain the backstory for the character. Another example is how she never split the group of 6 into more than 3 groups because it can be hard to follow in shows and literature. Also, Leigh never did any form of filler scenes or chapters, where a character would just describe the environment, or go into vivid description of the plan. A lot of this is because Kaz Brekker, the witty main character doesn’t let others know his plans so it always comes as a surprise. This fosters lots of suspense when Kaz makes unexpected decisions all to support his ‘big picture’ plans. In total, I’d say this book was really great because I never lost interest, there was a lot of suspense, and a satisfying ending that left room for interest in the sequel and other books in the Grishaverse.

5 stars.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, reviewed by Hida A.

After a somber year-and-a-half in solitude, there are few things that have excited me. Following the same mundane routing while simultaneously worrying about the lingering public health crisis is no good for the mind. I’ve read my fair share of books over this time, but few are as gripping, as thrilling, as fist-clenching and teeth-grinding, as One of Us is Lying. This, simply put, is one of those books you can’t help but finish in one sitting. If you have the willpower to resist, I commend you for having such an iron-will. But I’m sure there are few people who can actually do so. If you’re looking for a book that excites you, that keeps you rooting for the underdogs, despising the jerks, and predicting the plot like there’s no tomorrow, then look no further: One of Us is Lying is a thriller you can’t miss out on.

From the very beginning, the book captures your attention and proceeds to hold it throughout. It all begins with a seemingly ordinary high school detention. Five students: Simon (The Outcast), Bronwyn (The Brain), Nate (The Criminal), Copper (The Athlete), and Addy (The Beauty), share detention despite their individual protests. Yet, the unthinkable happens–Simon winds up dead. Anaphylaxis. No Epi-Pen. A failed emergency response. From that point forward, the town of Bayview is thrown into chaos as the media swarms and accusations fly. Each student in the room is suspected of murder, of triggering Simon’s allergic reaction by exposing him to his allergen–peanut oil. The police beat down on the “Bayview Four” and try to crack down on the case, but the investigation seems to be leading nowhere. There are so many plot twists and turns as new information is collected, keeping you on the edge of your seat. The fact that Simon prided himself in creating a schoolwide gossip app to expose fellow students made the case even more compelling. Tons of people have a reason to hate Simon. But who had the guts to kill him?

Not only was the plot worthwhile, but the author’s style and perspective were also noteworthy. Chapters alternate between each of the four protagonists, offering the reader great insight into the case as well as any deeper motives. You gain a great new perspective into the plot and realize it’s much more complex than it seems on the surface. That’s what I love about this book, you’re not lulled into a predictable, boring plot. I spent a lot of time thinking Simon’s murder case over and over, and when I reached the end, I was absolutely shocked–in a good way though! The puzzle pieces began to fit perfectly in my head and I realized what a masterpiece One of Us is Lying is! Great read!

The only reason I deducted a star was because it ended so quickly and I wanted to keep reading more and more! Read this carefully–the killer may not be as orthodox as you may initially think…

4 stars.