Teen Book Reviews: We Are the Ants and Zen and Gone

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/.

We are the Ants by Shaun Hutchinson reviewed by Ali A.

We Are the Ants is a book about a 16-year old boy named Henry Denton. Henry Denton suffers from depression because his friend Jesse committed suicide. It doesn’t help that Henry gets bullied at school and gets periodically abducted by aliens. Although it might be a delusion, Henry absolutely believes he gets abducted by them while aliens run experiments on him. In one of the abduction sessions, the aliens try communicating with him. They show him a button and say that the Earth will end in 144 days unless he presses the button. Henry at first decides he will never press the button because there’s nothing on Earth to live for. He argues that no matter what humans do they will die anyway and their lives would have been useless, so Henry might as well end everyone’s lives quicker. Henry asks everyone he knows about whether they would press the button or not. At school Henry gets bullied more than usual until one day a new kid shows up to class, Diego Vega. Diego and Henry instantly become friends, but Diego never talks about his mysterious past or why he lives with his sister rather than his parents. One day Henry is in the locker room when 3 bullies assault him and beat him up. Henry wants to kill himself and share the same fate with Jesse, but Diego is the only thing Henry looks forward to in life. Later in the book Henry and Diego are at a fair when one of the bullies tries to hurt Marcus. Diego gets mad and punches the bully, which sends Diego to court. I’d rate this book 2/5 stars because of the terrible plot and ending. The author never says if the alien abductions are real or mere hallucinations, and the author never tells us if Henry pressed the button or not.

2 Stars.

Zen and Gone by Emily France reviewed by Ali A.

Zen and Gone is one of my all-time favorite young adult books. The novel takes place in Boulder, Colorado, and revolves around the lives of Essence and Oliver. Essence, a buddhist, is trying to take care of her little sister, Puck. Her mother works at a pot shop selling legalized intoxicants so she’s high and irresponsible most of the time and can’t give the care her children need. Oliver on the other hand is a kid with a mysterious past in Chicago. He was sent out to Boulder because of an incident involving his sister. Olliver rarely speaks about his past and feels sadness everytime he thinks of it. Essa and Olliver both take part-time jobs at a kite shop and become friends. Essa then invites Olliver to come with her other friends, Micah and Anish, to a hiking trip in the Rocky Mountains. Things start to go wrong when Essa and her friends realize that Puck stowed away on the trip to join them. Essa decides to bring Puck back home and cancel the dangerous expedition through the woods, especially when she finds a creepy guy roaming the woods in the dark, but it starts to thunder so they have to find shelter. Things go EVEN MORE wrong when Essa wakes up at 3:00 AM and discovers that Puck and Oliver are missing. However, Oliver comes back a few minutes later claiming that he was using the bathroom. Essa and her friends search everywhere in the woods, but can’t find Puck. Did this have anything to do with the strange man they saw earlier? Or did it have to do with Oliver, who she had just met a month ago? Plus, she barely knew anything about his life in Chicago, or his sister’s incident. Brilliant, touching, and spooky, Zen and Gone is the perfect book for readers who love adventure books and mysteries.

5 Stars.

Teen Book Reviews: Anger is a Gift and The Hate U Give

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/.

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro, reviewed by Ali A.

Anger Is a Gift is about the life of Moss Jeffries, a black teen living in Oakland. When Moss was 10, his father was shot down by police officers because the police told him to put his hands up but he had earbuds in and couldn’t hear them. Since then, Moss and his mother have been quiet and haven’t attended protests for other black people dying due to police brutality. However in Moss’s sophmore year his school turns into a prison. Police officers roam the hallways and make random locker inspections for no reason. Although Moss and his classmates don’t like it, they still tolerate it.

One day the police order one of Moss’s friends, Shawna Meyers to come for a locker inspection. The officer ravenously searches through her locker until he finds a large bag of white pills in the back. The officer violently assaulted her so bad that she couldn’t explain why she had the pills in her locker. Finally after she could speak she said the bag was for her prescription medicine. The officer who assaulted her didn’t get in trouble though. Soon after that incident, the school added in metal detectors. Moss’s friend Reg is in crutches and says it’s too dangerous for him to go through the machine. He said he’d rather have a pat-down but when Reg told the officer this the officer picked up Reg and threw him through the detectors. The damage on Reg’s leg was so bad that he was told by doctors he might never be able to walk normally again.

After all this, Moss and his classmates feel like this is enough. They decide to make a peaceful walk-out protest where all students walk out of the school at a specific time. However the school is notified about this mini-protest so they order officers in full riot gear to prevent the students from walking out of the school. The officers used tear gas, portable grenades, and batons. One of the officers, James Daley, pulled out a gun and shoots at Moss’s best friend Javier. James Daley then runs off and hides from society. Moss is depressed and decides to chain himself to a pole until James Daley is persecuted. What happens next is beyond Moss’s imagination. Anger Is a Gift shows the cruel reality and harshness that black people have to face in their daily lives. If you enjoy this book, you should also check out The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (reviewed below).

4 Stars.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, reviewed by Ali A.

The Hate U Give is perhaps the best book regarding racism for teenagers. The story revolves around the life of Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old who witnesses the death of her childhood best friend. Starr attends a predominantly white school to escape the threats of her black neighborhood. Because of this, Starr is always switching between her two worlds, the white world and the black world. In the white world, everything is peaceful and Starr can be happy and safe. However in the black world, Starr is constantly facing violence, gangbangers, and drugs.

Starr never gets high but finally attends her first party in her black neighborhood. At the party, Starr spots Khalil, her childhood best friend. Starr hadn’t seen him in six months but Khalil and Starr start chatting. However the party is cut short when a shootout occurs outside the party site. Khalil drives Starr home to be safe but as Khalil is driving home a racist white cop pulls them over. Starr is silent and looks down as the officer demands to see Khalil’s license, registration, and insurance just because Khalil is black. Instead of Khalil showing the officer his papers right away, he asks the officer why he pulled them over. The officer didn’t respond as the officer became more frustrated he shot Khalil for not listening. Khalil’s death becomes news across the country and the officer who shot Khalil is put under trial. Starr wants to get justice for her friend, but doesn’t know if she should raise her voice because of the danger and threats she may receive.

Angie Thomas did a marvelous job crafting this book because The Hate U Give shows readers how many black people get mistreated throughout America and why it is important to speak up for racial justice.

5 Stars

Teen Book Reviews: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Holes

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 Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, reviewed by Ali A.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a book about a Native-American boy named Arnold Spirit. Arnold was born with “water in his brain” and lives in the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington. His reservation is full of drunk and violent people who often die to alcohol overdose. In fact, Arnold said he had been to 42 funerals by the age of 14. Everyone in the reservation has accepted the fact that they are poor and that there’s no hope for them, except Arnold. Arnold realizes that the only way to make it out of his sad life is to go to a predominantly white school in Rearden.

However, things aren’t easy when Arnold begins his high school life in Rearden. Rearden High School is 22 miles away from Arnold’s home, so his dad can only afford to drive Arnold only once or twice a week due to gasoline prices, so Arnold has to dangerously hitchhike with strangers to get to his school. Occasionally, Arnold can’t find anyone to drive him so he has to walk the full 22 miles! And once Arnold gets to school, he has no friends and everyone mocks him. After Arnold finally starts sticking up for himself and fights Roger, the school’s football star, Arnold feels more respected at Rearden and Arnold thinks that he can put his reservation days behind him. He quickly starts making friends with the school brainiac, Gordy, and even Roger becomes friendly with him. Arnold then tries out for the basketball team and actually becomes a starter for the varsity team and their best shooter.

Everything seems to be going well, until the reservation turns on him. People from the Spokane Indian Reservation label him as a traitor and his former best friend, Rowdy, starts hating him. Arnold’s grandmother and sister both die, and Arnold begins to feel depressed. Finally the reservation starts to accept Arnold after he had to endure those tragic losses. Humorous, heart-breaking and amazingly written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian reflects the life of an teen attempting to break away from the hopeless life he was destined to live.

4 Stars.

Holes by Louis Sachar, reviewed by Ali A.

Holes one of my favorite books and I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy adventure books. Holes is about a kid named Stanley Yelnats who is wrongfully accused of stealing a pair of shoes from a famous baseball player named Clyde “Sweet Feet” Livingston. Clyde Livingston’s shoes were supposed to be donated to charity, but instead Stanley found the old shoes on his way home from school. Stanley was unaware that those shoes belonged to the baseball player so he instead brought them home for an experiment his father was conducting. Once the police found out that Stanley was in possession of the shoes, they arrested him and sent him to Camp Green Lake, which is actually a dessert where the prisoners dig holes from dawn to dusk.

Stanley starts making friends, and one of them is Hector “Zero” Zeroni. Stanley is finds it strange that Zero keeps trying to excessively help him dig holes, until he finds out that Zero was the one who stole Clyde Livingston’s shoes and dumped them on the sidewalk to avoid getting caught. Stanley forgives Zero and they both decide to escape the harsh conditions on Camp Green Lake. As Stanley and Zero make their journey, they make discoveries about Camp Green Lake and why the counselors force the prisoners to dig holes all day long in the desert heat.

I’d rate this novel a 5/5 because of all the details Louis Sachar incorporates into Holes. This book also makes me think about all the people around the world that are wrongfully accused and jailed for things they didn’t do, except that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you enjoy Holes, I’d also recommend Small Steps, which is a book about what happens to some of the boys after they leave Camp Green Lake.

5 Stars.

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.

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.