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.

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

CPL Staff’s Favorite Reads of 2019

As you might imagine, our library staff reads a lot of books! I recently asked CPL staffers what their favorite reads of the last year were, and the list was varied and long, a mix of fiction and nonfiction, older titles and new releases. If you’re looking for some “librarian-approved” reading, we’ve got quite a few suggestions for you!

Print Fiction:

Audiobook:

Graphic Novel:

Print Nonfiction:

Susan’s Best Reads of 2019

I don’t read as much as I wish I could; I just don’t have time at the moment. It doesn’t help that I wind up with sometimes 600 page books in my hands, and those take longer.  I never know what I’ll read next, and I read a bunch of good ones last year. Here are some of my favorites:

One of the two best books I read this year, I’ve already blogged about: Creativity, Inc, by Ed Catmull, was amazing. Not just a history of Pixar films, it’s also the best darned, most entertaining book on business and employee management you will read. Pixar is a 5-star company for a reason.

The second of my Best Reads this year is The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James.  From approximately 1898 to 1912, a serial killer traversed the US by train – coming through New Haven’s Union Station on the way – with an MO of bludgeoning his victims with the back of an axe. Because of communications at the time, few people were able to connect the murders. James painstakingly, with the utmost detail, traces the dozens of murders and examines them, deciding if they were likely by the same killer or not, and why. He traces the paths through the states and the seasons, chasing the trail to a man who was most likely the killer. By the time he’s done, you are convinced and amazed. I could not stop reading this book. I read it while waiting for the school bus. I read it while cooking. I would have read it in the shower if I could have. If you love a mystery, if you love history, if you love crime stories, this book is a must.

I’m only 30 years late in reading Neuromancer, the Hugo-winning cyberpunk novel by William Gibson. I can see why it is held as one of the greatest novels of our time. Gibson predicts and writes about today’s modern computers and internet and gaming – long before they existed. The scenarios he describes are both familiar and futuristic at the same time. While not only visionary, it’s written in  a flawless style and with realistic, interesting characters. If you loved Ready Player One or The Matrix (which has to have been influenced by this book), you will love Neuromancer.

If you’re aware of social and racial issues, I strongly recommend Survival Math, by Mitchell S. Jackson. A professor of writing, in achingly beautiful prose worthy of Martin Luther King Jr., with the voice of a preacher without being preachy, Johnson breaks down the issues faced in his own family, examining how he came to where he is, how racism played into it without even being visible, and how despite all the odds, it’s possible to thrive. He covers harsh topics without flinching. The book is brilliant, spellbinding, and a superb read from a voice that soars with truth.

Far more than I expected, I loved Total Recall, an older door-stop of a biography on Arnold Schwarzenegger. From his birth in a tiny town in Austria (which still has only 2500 people) to his divorce from Maria Shriver, Arnold is witty and candid and down to Earth. No matter what you think of his politics or his movies or his personal life, this book may be older, but it was highly entertaining. His best friend just died in September of this year.

Not my favorite, but worth mentioning because of its local importance, is Frog Hollow  by Susan Campbell. Campbell, a former reporter with the Hartford Courant, digs into the history of the notorious Frog Hollow section of Hartford, and through tireless research shows the former glory of the neighborhood as not only an important area in Colonial times, but once a major manufacturing center (in 1898, Pope automotive made half the cars in the US). I was hoping for a deep sociologic dissection of the issues, but instead Campbell gives us an upbeat view from street level about the good aspects of Hartford and the people who live there, not just the doom and gloom of ad-selling news clips.

Last but not least, I’ll throw in a kid’s series you probably missed; with 18 years between my last two kids, I certainly did, but my youngest is so hooked on the British easy reader series Urgency Emergency! by Dosh Archer, I wound up buying most of them. The series is so witty and enjoyable you don’t mind reading them over and over again. Doctor Glenda, Nurse Percy, and the Pengamedics, in predictable melodrama, assist the maladies of Humpty Dumpty, The Big Bad Wolf, the Itsy Bitsy Spider, and many more. They are a delight. The library has several of the stories; be sure to read them all!