Young Adult Books

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Starters Cover

Starters, by Lissa Price

Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary: Callie is left to care for her brother after the Spore Wars killed off the Middles, the middle-aged members of society. The only survirors were the weak – the children and the elderly, who had been vacinated at the start of the War. Unclaimed Starters, children without living grandparents, are left to fend for themselves on the streets, or suffer in the Institutions set up to “care” for the unclaimed Starters. With laws in place to keep teens from working, Callie is left with one option to help care for her brother – signing up with Prime Destinations, and underground corporation that allows Enders to rent out the bodies of Starters. When Callie’s chip malfunctions, she realizes that her renter is looking to get more out of the arrangement than a few nights of youth. As Callie fights to maintain control and save her life, she begins to suspect that Prime Destinations isn’t what it seems. Can she stop them before it’s too late?

I first read Starters in 2013, but in preparation for the reading the sequel, Enders, I decided to reread Starters. I have to say, on my second reading, I was blown away. The first time I read it, I focused on the plot and character development – the plot remains, in my mind, a wonderful addition to the dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre. The characterization, similar to my initial assessment, is a little lacking. You can find my original review on Goodreads.

On my second read, it was Price’s writing skill that drew me in and left me wanting more. Her pacing was spot on, with little waste. The idea seems well-thought out, and her world building was believable and engaging. She sucks you in and holds you captive until the end, similar to the Ender’s hold over the donor teens.

As a writer, works like this excite me. Too often I read books with amazing worlds, but poorly developed plots, or engaging plots, but poor writing. Price has the full-package. For any writer looking for help with their pacing, Starters is a must-read.


Struck, by Jennifer Bosworth

Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary: Mia Price is a human lightning rod, or so it seems. She cannot go out into a storm without getting struck, yet, somehow, she always manages to survive. Embarrassed by the scars that cover her body and scared that people will get hurt if they stand too close to her, Mia tries to keep to herself. Following an earthquake that devastated Los Angeles, and which some people claim was caused by lightning, Mia is finding it harder to stay in the shadows. Cult members from an evangelical church led by a man name Prophet are hunting Mia along with another group that is fighting against Prophet, known as the Seekers. And both groups keep telling Mia that the world is coming to an end and that its fate rests on her shoulders. To complicate matters, the mysterious, attractive boy Jeremy keeps urging Mia to stay away from both groups. As the End nears, Mia’s must decide – is fate written, or can it be changed.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of Struck from

All in all, this was not a bad book, but I did not think it lived up to its potential. The premise is great – a girl who controls lightning, the end of the world, and secret cults. But once I got past the premise, the book fell short for me.

The biggest problem was that I didn’t really feel invested in the characters. I didn’t care if they lived or died. I didn’t want to see the world end, so I had to side with the people trying to save it, but otherwise, I didn’t have anything to root for.

I also found the plot to be a little overcomplicated. There were a lot of unanswered questions. The logistics of the powers didn’t really make sense to me. In Ashes, some of the characters seem to acquire special powers after an EMP, but the logic behind this is explained and seems plausible enough. I would have liked to have seen some sort of explanation about how the people who got their powers were chosen. Otherwise, it just seems a bit too random.

I thought I was going to have a bigger issue with the religious aspects of the book, but I thought Bosworth handled them nicely. So often in apocalypse books the religious elements become too intense and preachy, but Bosworth did not get preachy. Rather she showed us a cult that played on people’s’ fears. I’ve seen people turn to religion after traumatic events, so this seemed like a relevant addition and I thought Bosworth handled it with grace.

As an easy beach summer read, this book would work, but if you have a stack of things you are dying to read, I would probably recommend reading them first.


Ashes, by Ilsa J. Bick

Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary: Alex is dying. She has a brain tumor that can’t be cured and she can tell that she is getting worse. Determined to die in peace, Alex takes a trip out to the woods to scatter her parents ashes and come to terms with her own mortality. And then the unthinkable happens. An EMT goes off, killing all electronics and casting the country, and, possibly, the world, into a state of chaos.

With the help of Tom, a young soldier, and Ellie, a young girl whose grandfather and only family member died in the EMT, Alex struggles to survive in this new world, where millions are dead and the survivors are mostly untrustworthy or worse, extremely deadly.

I don’t want to give away too much more about this book. I think what made it so engaging for me were all of the surprises and twists. It has been a long time since I read a book that kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat – this book did that and more. While there were a couple of things I guessed, I did not see the ending coming at all. And I’m dying to read the next book.

Great Characters

For starters, the characters all have depth. Even the minor characters were 3-dimensional. Everyone had something they were fighting for and I believed everyone’s story.

The main character, Alex, was very well done. She had layers and she grew in a very believable way. I could make sense of her decisions and understand her feelings. The same was true for Tom and, while she was a little obnoxious at first, even Ellie.

I did have a slightly harder time with a couple of the characters later in the book, mostly in Part 4, but I don’t want to say anything about them because that would ruin the suspense. I will say, though, that Part 4 got a little weird for me, but it was worth sticking it out to get to Part 5.


I’m glad I went into this book knowing very little about it. I thought it would be your typical apocalypse story, which in some ways it is, but in other ways it is not. Had I known more about it, I may not have read it. But I’m glad I did because this book does not fit neatly into any of the boxes it could be put into, genre-wise. Even if you have heard some things that make you think you don’t want to read it, you really should give it a chance. I promise you will not regret it.


The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary (taken from GoodReads): It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

I know I’ve been writing a lot of reviews for dystopian/apocalyptic books of late. I’ve been trying to focus more on them since that’s more in the genre I’m writing. But I recently read The Scorpio Races and I loved it so much I could not resist sharing this book with you all.

Two Person Narration

I overlooked this book for a long time because, try as I might, I have not been able to get through Stiefvater’s Shiver. I just couldn’t get into the writing style (though I’m now planning on giving it another go). One thing that Stiefvater does in her books is that she tells it from the point of view of two narrators. I’ve reviewed other books on this blog that have used this technique. Sometimes I love them (see my review of Leviathan for an example). But usually, I would prefer one narrator. In The Scorpio Races, though, I think the double narrator was essential for the plot. Sean and Puck are such dynamic characters that to have not seen inside either of their minds would have been a shame. So if you usually do not like the 2-narrator approach, please, give this one a shot. I think you may be pleasantly surprised.

When Learning is Good

I felt like I learned something from this book. Often when I read these days, I no longer feel like that, or I feel like the underlying messages are not underlying at all, but rather slapping me in the face. Stiefvater has a way of weaving a plot that makes you really think without feeling stressed and like you are being tricked into thinking. Think reading Where the Red Fern Grows for pleasure vs. in an english class. I felt like The Scorpio Races could be picked apart and presented in a literary class in a way that would make the most diehard classicist proud. But, unlike some books I read in school that shall remain nameless, I did not feel like you needed to dissect this book to get the book.

So what did this book teach me? It helped me think about the inner workings of mankind, how people are more than they seem. It also portrayed a strong message about fighting for what you believe and not giving up, no matter what. And then there was the be true to yourself message, which I think is always an important message in YA books.

Another theme of the book was learning how to know what it is you want. Some people are satisfied with who they are and what they have, but others need more. The struggle to find who you are and what you really, truly want in life can be a beautiful thing, and Stiefvater did a lovely job portraying this.

And Horses!

I cannot forget the horses. I loved that these were not the sweet cuddly horses of fairy tales. They were sinister but still had a primal beauty to them, a thing few of the characters in the book could see. So many of the characters saw them as monsters or as toys or as an adventure, and, more often than not, things ended poorly for those shortsighted characters.

A bit of Grit

OK, you know I like my gritty settings sometimes, as long as they don’t get too gritty. And I thought this book had just the right amount.

YA even Adults can get behind

Finally, I think this is a YA book that adults can read and love. It doesn’t have the sappy love triangles so many YA books have these days (which I enjoy, but I know not everyone can get behind) and the characters have depth and real problems and fight against very real, honest obstacles. So what are you waiting for? Go find yourself a copy.


The Eleventh Plague, by Jeff Hirsch

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary: 20 years ago, the world Collapsed as a result of biological warfare. Now, the survivors are forced to survive however they can. Some have turned to human trafficking. Some are scavengers, who hunt ruins for useful things left over from the past. And still others are struggling to hold on to the world as it once was.

Stephen Quinn, a fifteen-year-old, has been handed a scavenger’s life and travels the trail with his father and grandfather until his grandfather passes away and his father is terribly injured. Now Stephen must turn to Settler’s Landing, a group that is trying to rebuild the world as it once was. But will Stephen’s friendship with Jenny Tan, the town outcast, force him to leave this tranquil life? Will he even want to stay?

This book did not read like a lot of the dystopian or even other YA books coming out at the moment. Instead, it reminded me of something more timeless, more like the YA books that were coming out before YA books were even a thing. I could see this book being taught in school, and I mean that in the best way. Especially following on the heels of a recent NYT op-ed that argued that YA books have no real substance and are not worth the time of anyone with an adult’s intellect, which I would argue is not the case with this book. But that is a discussion for another day.

Reality in a Fiction = Good character building

I liked that this book felt real. People acted in ways I expected them to act, with honest emotions, the right mix of flaws, and we were able to see a wide variety in the types of people who existed in the world Hirsch created. I also liked that this book had a love story, but it was not sappy. There was a romantic interest, but it felt more real, more authentically teenager than you see in other books. I also really enjoyed the underlying morals, something I feel I don’t often see in books anymore.

Standing up for what you believe

One of the big underlying themes of this book was standing up for your beliefs and doing what you can to make sure the right thing happens. Pretty much every character is forced to make a decision at one point or another about doing what is right or doing what is easy. It was interesting watching which decisions the characters would make and also seeing how doing something that seems harmless can quickly spiral out of control.

Finally, a male protagonist!

This is a book that I think males can enjoy. There was not as much action as I may have liked, but it was refreshing to see a male protagonist and to watch how males interact with their world. So many of the YA books out there have a female protagonist and the male supporting characters are single dimensional and make weird decisions. Stephen felt real in his reactions and it was refreshing to read a book from the male perspective.

If you enjoyed The Cay or Ashfall, I think you will also enjoy this book. While different from what I normally read, it was definitely a winner.

I know, everyone and their mother, and, in some cases, their brother, has written a review of the Hunger Games movie, but what kind of dystopian writer would I be if I didn’t also add my two cents? Not a very good one, or so I have convinced myself.

My Two Cents

In watching the previews, I was concerned that the District 12 scenes would not be gritty enough and that the Hunger Games would not be disturbing enough. And, happily, I was proved wrong. Not only did District 12 feel gritty and depressing, especially when compared to the glitz of the Capital, but the Games were incredibly disturbing as were the responses from the citizens in the Capital.

I enjoyed getting to see more the working of the Games with all of the behind the scenes shots as they added in obstacles and manipulated the players. This was an element we did not get to truly experience through the book, though the manipulations were there, and I thought that this really added some nice depth to the movie. It was also nice to get to see more of Seneca’s character. Wes Bentley created a very likable character and I really felt for him.

Even though I saw this scene many times in the previews, I still got teared up when Katniss volunteered to take Rue’s spot. I thought Jennifer Lawrence’s acting was very good. She was pensive enough to fit the character as portrayed in the book, but was also able to ‘fake’ the right emotions for the scenes where she works to manipulate the sponsors into helping her and come off as seeming very real in the scenes where her emotions were meant to be real.

Gale was ok. I’m a bit concerned about how Liam Hemsworth will do in the next movies where he has a slightly larger role. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta grew on me as the movie went on. While he was completely different than I imagined, I was actually really pleased with the casting for Haymitch. Woody Harrelson gave the character a bit more depth than I expected.

One complaint I had was that there was too much in the movie, and because so much of the plot was added and so many characters were included, we did not have the opportunity to become as emotionally connected to the characters as you can through the book. My mom warned me that I had better make sure my fiance read the books before going to the movie because otherwise the relationships would not be as clear, and she was correct. Had I gone to the movie with a completely blank slate in regards to the plot and story, I probably would have left a bit confused. I know it is a tough job, creating a movie from a book. Sometimes there is too much editing, but I think this movie could have benefitted from more editing.

All in all, I was pretty pleased with the film adaptation of this great book and I am eager to see what they do with the rest of the trilogy.

What did you think about the movie? Did it live up to your expectations?


Ashfall, by Mike Mullen

Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary: Alex, a teenage boy, is left alone for the weekend. And then a super-volcano at Yellowstone National Park explodes and the world dissolves into lawless chaos. Alex is determined to find his parents and sets off across the desolate, oftentimes violent landscape in search of his family. Along the way, Alex discovers the true nature of mankind and himself, learning that some people are inherently good and others are not so good, and deciding what is right and wrong is not always that easy. 

I should start by noting that my geologist friend found the concept a bit unbelievable. But as a non-geologist, I was instantly drawn into what seemed like a potentially realistic plot. By using a natural disaster that readers can imagine actually happening, Mullen was able to create a disturbing picture and explore the depths of humankind.

What I really enjoyed about this book was that Mullen did not make everyone either good or evil – he created scenarios where good and bad lay in a sea of gray. It felt very real.

What I did not like as much about this book was the way it ended. The first 2/3 of the book felt very gritty and honest. I felt for the characters. The last 1/3 read almost like a different book. Yes, I could see the events that played out (don’t worry if you haven’t read it – I won’t reveal what happens) actually happening, but in the context of the rest of the book, I found it a bit odd. It just didn’t flow as well as I would have liked.

Another issue I had was with the girl Alex meets along his way, Darla. I didn’t feel that her character had as much depth as Alex’s and I would have liked to have seen more growth. She felt a bit flat and convenient to me.

All in all, I thought this was a pretty good read. Alex is likable and you can see his growth throughout the book. Reading an apocalyptic book vs. a post-apocalyptic book was a bit refreshing. I enjoyed seeing how quickly society could fall into the state it always starts in when reading a post-apocalyptic book.

If you want more about Ashfall or Mike Mullen, check out this interview on the Forever Young Adult blog. And, for more on the apocalypse, be sure to check out my post this coming Monday on the apocalypse and my not so good chances of survival.


Truth, by Julia Karr

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Summary: This sequel picks up where XVI left off. Ed is dead. The B.O.S.S. is hanging around Nina’s family, asking questions. Sal is constantly off on NonCon missions. And Nina is trying to figure out how to get by now that she is a Sex-teen. As Nina’s life begins crumbling around her, she joins up with an organization of girls secretly working alongside the Resistance in hopes of showing the world that women can be just as powerful as men. As Nina fights to save her family and help all the nameless girls whose lives have been ruined by the GC, will she remember to step back and take the time to help herself? Or will revealing the truth cause Nina to lose everything?

I was really excited to read this book, mostly because I absolutely loved the premise behind XVI, but also because I saw promise in XVI for the sequel to be stellar. Unfortunately, I was left feeling a bit lukewarm.

Many of the things I loved about XVI were missing from Truth. Whereas I felt very invested in the success of the characters in XVI, they seemed a bit hollow in Truth and their actions often seemed a bit forced and, sometimes completely out of left field. It felt like a lot of characters were thrown is as fillers and characters we met in the first book seemed, more often than not, to lose the multi-dimensional nature they had in XVI.

XVI felt very real and gritty, and that reality, and definitely the grittiness, were missing from this book. In fact, Nina spent a large portion of the book wishing she could be as pretty and stylish as the upper-tier girls. While this desire was present in XVI, it was much less of a focus. I thought this, alone, took away from the world and from Nina as a character. Although I can understand her desire to want to be like others, it seemed to deviate from her character as it was set up in XVI.

Unfortunately, it seems that Truth suffers from something a lot of seconds suffer from – feeling like a filler.

All of that being said, Truth was not a bad book, by any means. It just has the misfortune of following in the footsteps of a book I happened to absolutely love. Karr continued to expand upon the world she built in XVI and it was clear that she has a very solid understanding of the inner workings of this world, a must for a successful dystopian. Despite my reservations, I still finished the book in 3 days, a sign that it was at least able to keep me engaged. If you were a fan of XVI, you should definitely read this, and if you haven’t read the series yet, I would recommend checking it out.

The internet has been buzzing all week. The Hunger Games movie trailer is finally here.

I’ve watched the trailer a few times and I’m left with mixed feelings. The gritty scenes don’t seem to be living up to my imagination – they feel a bit too clean – but the glamour of the Capitol is working for me. The actor choices could work, but I need to see more to be completely sold. Of course, it’s hard to tell much from a preview. One thing I will say for this trailer is that it did not give away the movie for those who haven’t read the books. What do you think about the trailer? Did it get you excited for the movie, or were you left feeling a bit blase?

Photo by: Jon McGovern,

I’m sure few people would disagree that dystopian is huge right now. And it’s not just the Hunger Games trilogy that is drawing readers to this genre. But why do people like reading dystopian? What’s the appeal?

Dystopian What?

For those of you that do not know what dystopian books are all about, here’s a quick primer. Basically, dystopian fiction depict dystopian society (the opposite of a utopia). These books often have elements of science fiction and usually also fall into the parameters of speculative fiction. Some classics include Huxley’s Brave New World, or, one of my favorites, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

More recent dystopians include The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, The Uglies, Matched, and XVI. For a list of additional dystopians, check out the Goodreads Dystopian List and the Dystopian Book Club list from the Teach 8 YA Book Blog.

Why Dystopia?

I’m sure everyone has their own reasons for why they love dystopian fiction. For me, I have several. While it comes off sounding a bit glass half-empty, seeing how much worse life could get actually makes me feel more optimistic and hopeful. If things could always get worse, maybe any troubles in my life aren’t as bad as I think.

Then there is the sci-fi element. I enjoy sci-fi, but only when it doesn’t go too far. Most of the dystopians I enjoy, and the ones I’m currently writing, have elements of sci-fi but they keep them vague. They give just enough. I like to refer to this as casual sci-fi.

And then there is the alternate history or the possible future, which I think of as reverse history. In my 9-5 life, I think a lot about history. I’m a trained archaeologist, after all. Most of the successful dystopians I’ve read have a good grasp on history and sociology. They ask what-if and then take it to the next level, exploring what could actually happen were the what if to come to fruition. The realism behind most dystopians is extremely appealing.

To me, dystopians are the ultimate sociological experiment. But the writers also tell good stories full of all of the plot elements we have come to expect from any good book, regardless of genre. So if you like a good story but also enjoy those make-you-think moments that dystopians are so good at inducing, then dystopian fiction may be for you.

If you haven’t read a dystopian novel, go ahead and give one a shot. The worst that could happen is that you end up not liking it. Or you could discover an entire genre you never knew you loved.

If you already are a dsytopian fan, why do you like them? What’s your favorite dystopian novel?