A Note About Volunteering...

NOTE: To keep our awesome patrons and volunteers safe during the continuing COVID-19 crisis, there is no in-person teen volunteering at the library until further notice. But don't despair! This only means that we've gone VIRTUAL

Click here for a slide show about some of the virtual volunteer opportunities that were available this summer for an idea of your options. Please feel free to suggest projects of your own as well! 


 
Confronting Racism: A Tween/Teen Book List in Response to Recent Events

This list was created by some wonderful librarians from the Minuteman system and was This Book Is Anti-Racist - By Tiffany Jewell (Paperback) : Targetadapted by Sharon Youth Services to reflect OCLN collections. We’re sharing this list in light of the events surrounding the death of George Floyd. It is intended to help youth in grades 6-12 process the information and the protests. There are resources for all races and for those that wish to help. This is intended as an informational source; not all books have been read over by those who created it.


 
YA Reading/Watching/Listening Rec Lists
Created for Teens, by Teens

Check out teen volunteer Dana's list of books, movies, and TV shows around the theme "Imagine Your Story."

Have a book list to share? Recommendations for podcasts, audiobooks, movies, games, apps & more? How about a fairy tale or myth-themed playlist (or simply a list of songs getting you through this odd summer)? 

Share with your fellow teens (and even earn volunteer hours) by contacting Youth Services Librarian Allison at ariendeau@ocln.org 

 


 
FICTION REVIEWS:

REALISTIC FICTION:

Jacob Bleecker's Review of:
Solo by Kwame Alexander, with Mary Rand Hess
Blink. 2017. Realistic Fiction/Mystery/Action. 


Kwame Alexander, the author of sports related books such as The Crossover and Booked, teamed up with Mary Rand Hess to write Solo. Alexander, unlike many authors for teenagers, writes his books in poems, making his writing quite refreshing and unique. Blade, the main character of Solo, is a high school senior trying to escape his life. His father was a successful music rockstar, but he turned into a struggling drug addict. In addition, his sister is trying to build her own music career, but isn’t as good as she wishes. Lastly, Blade’s mom is his one true friend growing up during his middle school years.

With his whole family an embarrassment to him, Blade can’t wait to graduate high school so he and his girlfriend can move far away to college and ignore the mess behind them. However, on graduation day, things take a turn for the worse for Blade, and his life goes on a downward spiral. The only thing that may save him is a trip to Ghana in search of somebody. Solo projects the story of never giving up and believing in yourself, as Blade does time and time again. To find out how he recovers from falling apart in life, read Solo now.

Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.




Jacob Bleecker's Review of:
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. 1999. Realistic Fiction/Suspense. 


Melinda, immediately upon entering 9th grade, recognizes that she is an outsider on her bus, in her classes, in her grade, and even in the entire school. Her ex-best friend mouths, “I hateSpeak (Anderson novel) - Wikipedia you,” people laugh at her behind her back, and somebody drops food on her in the cafeteria. Humiliated by the constant isolation, Melinda is traumatized by being at school. Even after the first day of school, she is still cast off by her peers. But there’s nothing she can do to stop the harassment.

It wasn’t always this lonely. In middle school, Melinda had a flourishing circle of friends and was liked by most people. This shift was caused by an embarrassing experience at a summer party, which has led Melinda to complete solitude. As of now, nobody understands why she called the cops at that party. Her “nightmare,” as she calls him, is only known as IT to Melinda, until she learns that his name is Andy Evans. She has yet to open up to anybody about some kind of traumatic experience that she had with him at the party. In need of any friend at all, she decides to tolerate the talkative, overly-exuberant new girl, Heather from Ohio. Regardless, Melinda is desperate to have her old friends and familiarity back.

Sadly, the only comfort Melinda can find is in her art class, where Mr.Freeman seems to be the only teacher that appreciates her work - or in an old, unused janitor supply closet that she renovates to help her hide from teachers. Melinda gives her teachers nicknames such as Mr. Neck and Hairwoman, and she would rather be drawing a tree than learning useless algebra. Constantly on her teachers’ bad sides due to her lack of effort and attitude towards learning, Melinda earns more demerits than A’s and B’s. Even so, she is shy and quiet in class, and as ninth grade progresses, she starts to check out of life altogether. Melinda desperately wants to confide in anybody about losing her grasp on sanity, and she wants to share about her paralyzing nightmare, IT, but what will she do?


Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.

 

Jacob Bleecker's Review of:
Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle

Penguin Books. 2008. Romance/Comedy.

 

Let it Snow is a book with three short stories written by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle. All of the stories, which are holiday romances, were compiled into an eye-Let It Snow by John Green - Penguin Books Australiacatching Netflix film in 2019. The stories are intertwined and have similarities and connections that come full circle near the end. Therefore, if you don’t enjoy mysteries or waiting until the very end of a book for the complete solution, I would not recommend this book. 

 

However, Let it Snow checks off many boxes, such as romance, action, comedy and suspense. In the first story, a girl named Jubilee must make the best of Christmas Eve when her parents are arrested, she breaks up with her boyfriend and her train gets stranded in a random snowy town. In the second story, three friends race to a waffle house to play Twister with a group of cheerleaders. Finally, in the third story, a teen girl, Addie, deals with a complex break-up while tracking down a lost pig for her friend. If any of these stories catch your eye, I highly recommend picking out this book.

Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.

 
 

Jacob Bleecker's Review of:
Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Crown Books. 2017. Realistic Fiction/Action.


Justyce McAllister, an African American teen, is one of the best students at his school, Braselton Prep, but he is constantly challenged and looked down on because of his skin color. This includes an altercation in which he tries to help his drunk ex-girlfriend get home safely, but his good deed goes terribly wrong when a nearby police officer sees this event and stereotypes Justyce, thinking he is carjacking his ex-girlfriend. Justyce spends the night in handcuffs at the jailhouse before being let out at dawn when he is proved innocent. Regardless, the event scars Jus, causing him to create his own experiment in which he decides to act like Martin Luther King Jr., rising up against the racism and discrimination ruining his town.

However, in this unlikely journey, Jus falls in love with a white girl on his debate team, going against his mom’s strict rules. With this crush, SJ, Jus learns that he will have to be stronger than the people who try to bring him down. Some white people push him down so that Jus can’t be at the “big kid’s table,” and some black people pull Jus down so that will join their gang and stay a member of the “hood” forever. When Jus gets accepted into Yale, his dream school, he knows it can only be right to keep dreaming. But when his life takes a turn for the worse in late January, how will he escape the nightmare? Read this gut-wrenching book by Nic Stone to find out exactly how Jus fights past the racism and bigotry still plaguing our country today. It is beautifully timed and a great read.


Great for fans of Angie Thomas' The Hate U GiveDear Martin also has a companion novel titled Dear Justyce coming out in late September 2020. Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive. 

 

Jacob Bleecker's Review of:
Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Simon Pulse. 2016. Realistic Action/Mystery.
 

In Love and Gelato, a teen girl, Carolina, must move from Seattle to Italy after her mother loses her cancer battle. Carolina, who goes by Lina, moves in with her father, Howard, whom Amazon.com: Love & Gelato (9781481432559): Welch, Jenna Evans: Booksshe had never met before, nor did she know he even existed. While in Italy, Lina has many highlights, such as discovering gelato and going sight-seeing. Still, Lina really doesn’t want to be in Italy with her stranger father, and she’d rather be living with her best friend back in Seattle.

However, she changes her mind as her journey evolves because she must answer many difficult questions and crazy mysteries. Who is my real father? Am I in love, and with whom? Why am I stuck in Italy? What happened between Mom and Dad? As she continues to live in Italy, Lina answers these questions, but you must read the book in order to find out. The great mix of suspense and mystery make
Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch a must read.

 
Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive (through Boston Public Library collection).



Jacob Bleecker's Review of:
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Delacorte Press. 2015. Realistic Fiction/Romance/Drama. 


Madeline Whittier, an 18 year old girl in Southern California, has lived in her house her entire life. HER ENTIRE LIFE. Maddy hasn’t gone anywhere in 18 years due to a rare Everything, Everything by [Nicola Yoon]disease, SCIDS, which makes her susceptible to an allergic reaction to anything and everything at any time. Due to being confined to the house’s four walls, her only friends are her mom, Pauline, and her nurse, Carla. That all changes when a teenage boy, Olly, and his family move in next door. The two connect a few weeks after he moves in, and they become friends quickly. They communicate first by notes on their windows, and then by IM’ing, and eventually Maddy convinces Carla to let her see Olly if they are on opposite sides of the room and don’t touch. Carla allows it, and Maddy sees Olly behind her mom’s back. However, when Maddy takes her friendship with Olly to the next step, she finds herself lying and keeping secrets from her mom. Will she choose love and the world with Olly, or comfort and safety with her Mom?

Everything, Everything beautifully portrays how it is important to take risks and that you cannot live your entire life on the safe side. Maddy’s life is comparable to that of millions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is evident that quarantining for 6+ months is nowhere near as bad as Maddy’s situation. I recommend reading Everything, Everything if you enjoy drama novels, as this book had me on the edge of my seat. Also, author Nicola Yoon turned her book into a movie, which has been out since 2017. Check out both the movie and the book.

Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.



HISTORICAL FICTION:
 

Alex Troubh's Review of:
Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

Berwick Court. 2010. Historical Fiction.

Elliot Rosenzweig, an old man living in Chicago, has it all. A family, money, and the respect of his society because of his donations to the Jewish community. However, when at the Chicago Opera House, Rosenzweig is confronted by a man named Ben Solomon, a former Holecaust survivor. Solomon accuses Rosenzweig of being a former Nazi, who took everything from Solomon and his family. Being a respected part of society, the accusations are almost immediately dismissed. However, two bright and young lawyers work to uncover a tragic secret, buried in the destruction of the Nazi empire for 65 years.

Once We Were Brothers incorporates a mixture of characters' viewpoints and flashbacks that tell the tale of the story. The author is able to use a historical background and mix it with a novel rich in romance and betrayal. The book shows heartbreak in one of the most horrible events of all time: World War II. Once We Were Brothers will not let you put the book down, and when you do, you will have tears coming out of your eyes.

For anyone interested in World War II or looking for a romance novel, Once We Were Brothers will not disappoint. Fans of The Diary of Anne Frank and the movie Jojo Rabbit will find a similar mix of historical fiction and sadness. I am sure you will love this book!


Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.



SCIENCE FICTION:
 

Alex Yang's Review of:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Crown Publishing. 2011. Science Fiction.

Five years prior to the novel's events, multi-billionaire and pioneer of world-shaping virtual reality technology James Halliday dies, marking the commencement of a worldwide, open-source virtual egg hunt to inherit his vast fortune as well as sole proprietorship of the virtual
reality-scape known as the OASIS. Ready Player One shadows the painfully average ‘Gunter’ (egg hunter) Wade Watts, a late teen and uber pop-culture nerd, as he unexpectedly overtakes the entire world on the leaderboard. Along the way he faces the obstructions of abject poverty, domestic contention, the corporate underworld, and the most challenging puzzle of teen romance.

The whole premise, set in a digital sandbox otherworld, is something of a blank canvas for a science fiction author. The author's choice in creating this dystopian future as a sort of cautionary tale - warning against over-indulgence in real-world escapes - means the otherwise limitless possibilities to OASIS technology must be grounded in the realm of plausible reality. In other words, with each walking step the protagonist makes there peevishly follows a multitude of questions warranting detailed explanation. For the most part the author responds to this demand, allocating the first chunk of the novel to a vivid history of modern culture and answers to sell the premise to even the most uninitiated reader. Still, exposition and the saturation of 20th century pop culture - courtesy of Wade’s Gunter persona - never feels burdensome (despite flying over my head) even at the slowest in the book’s sequence. On the same note, the speaker has a penchant for language and leaps that assume familiarity with prerequisite tech and video game jargon, coming off as slightly partisan; the reader’s experience may be impacted depending on their background knowledge.

Consistently at its best, the action of the novel rapidly grows more intense and remains engaging (albeit ex-machina at times) especially with the introduction of IOI, a villainous corporate entity. This, coupled with Wade’s ostensible and hyperrealistic adolescence as conveyed through his informal, cluttered storytelling, slang and emotional peaks, make for a thoroughly entertaining read. While the core of the book’s action is robust, a handful of subplots introduced throughout the pages feel underutilized and incongruous, notwithstanding profound allusions and facets on our protagonist. Whether or not this serves as a self-aware remark on societal neglect or something else completely, the inconclusiveness of it all comes off as outright dissatisfying.


Very rarely does one stumble upon a story based in video games and even more uncommon is one that succeeds in creating a functional narrative. Ready Player One far exceeds the criteria and maintains originality in an albeit difficult-to-fathom virtual reality. Those interested in reading the book should watch the film by the same name, preferably before reading the novel as the major events of the movie differ from those in the book. The film thus preserves the original’s novelty while skillfully visually bringing the shared setting to life.


Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.



Alex Liu's Review of:
Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Tor. 2013. Paranormal/Science Fiction.

Vicious, the first book in the Villains duology, mashes the intrigue of ambiguous moral right and the thrill of supernatural abilities into an enticing package. The main character, Victor, and his friend turned enemy, Eli, engage in a complex cat and mouse chase as Victor tries to get revenge for Eli putting him in jail. Victor is getting rightful vengeance… right? V. E. Schwab expertly manages the dark storyline to keep the reader guessing exactly which of the primary characters is in the right, creating an incredibly intriguing dynamic.

I loved this book. The storyline of the book is darker than most sci-fi, especially since there is
Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Paperback | Barnes & NobleĀ®no clearly defined right or wrong. The way superpowers, the abilities ExtraOrdinarys (EOs) possess, are implemented into the novel is very interesting. Schwab uses a tried and true sci-fi trope in a unique manner to keep the story feeling fresh and interesting to its very conclusion. The payoff from fully realizing Victor’s plan is very satisfying, making the finale feel much more meaningful and gratifying as a fight between opposing ideologies instead of between two people. The story uses time very impressively, where the flashbacks Victor experiences do not distract from the main story, but complement it. 

Fans of sci-fi and of good storytelling in general will enjoy reading Vicious, as well as the other book in V. E. Schwab’s Villains duology. 

Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.


 


 

Angel Liang's Review of:
Supernova (Renegades series, Book 3) by Marissa Meyer

Feiwel & Friends. 2019. Science Fiction
 

As the final book in the trilogy, Supernova is where our main characters are in neck-deep water. The series follows a young prodigy named Nova, who was raised as an archenemy to the Renegades, righteous heroes who failed to save her family. Or did Amazon.com: Supernova (9781250078384): Meyer, Marissa: Booksthey? It all turns full circle as Nova starts to question her allegiances and uncover the real truth. 

 

Absolutely amazing. I may be biased since Meyer is my favorite sci-fi-romance writer, but there is a reason for that. This book kept me on edge the entire time, and the final ending was sweet but bitter with the additional information provided by the author. Lots of plot-twists were in this book, making the ride all the more enjoyable. The epilogue was suspenseful and made me anticipate the next work from Meyer. I love this series because of the suspense; it keeps you wondering what comes next. The setting is also very interesting in this book, and imbalance of power is a key theme here.

 

This book combines spy work with sci-fi and a touch of sweet romance. Are you a sci-fi fan? Meyer helped define a whole other level with The Lunar Chronicles, and her Renegades trilogy is no different.


Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.
 


Kendra Kodira's Review of:
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

HarperCollins. 2017. Science Fiction/Romance
(Listened to in audiobook format.)


What would you do if you found out that you were going to die today? Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio get an alert from DeathCast, a service that lets people know that sometime that day they will inevitably die. When Mateo, an anxious hermit, meets Rufus, a headstrong risk-taker, a love grows between the two and each of them is left forever changed by their day's adventures. Through the absorbing journey of their last day alive, they learn lessons on mortality, grief, and acceptance.

Despite They Both Die at the End’s title giving away the novel’s ending, the story of the two boys is captivating and a fairly quick read because of the unique, relatable characters showcased. Unfortunately, the switching between the perspectives of Mateo, Rufus, and few other side characters can be confusing at times, but the utter depth and personal growth the characters display outshines any structural issues within the book. The vivid description of characters, the world around them, and the struggles they face offer heartfelt authenticity that makes the story all the more heartbreaking. 

Fans of What if it’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera will love They Both Die at the End as they both possess similar plots revolving around fate, intriguing protagonists, and further LGBT+ representation while being co-written by the same author. They Both Die at the End will appeal greatly to those who’ve enjoyed Nicola Yoon’s romance novel The Sun is Also a Star which follows a parallel story of two drastically different characters who fall in love despite the little time they have left together.

Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.


THRILLERS & HORROR:

Alex Troubh's Review of:
The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Gallery/Scout Press. 2017. Adventure/Horror/Psychological Thriller.


Win has a hard and lonely life. She is not married, her brother committed suicide, and her friends think she is scared of everything. However, when her wildest friend Pia decides to book a whitewater rafting trip in Northern Maine, Win decides to suck it up and go. Throughout the journey Win feels doubtful about going on this trip. Soon it is too late, as nature takes over and proves to be just as psycho (unpredictable) as the people that live in the area.

After reading this book, I would most likely categorize it as a horror novel. However, it also incorporates adventure and decision making. The author, Erica Ferencik makes your head spin with all the action in this book.

For anyone interested in a horror and adventure novel, The River at Night will not disappoint. Fans of Hatchet and the movie The Cabin in the Woods will find this book hard to put down. I am sure you will love this book!  

 


 

Alex Troubh's Review of:
Pet Semetary by Stephen King

Doubleday. 1983. Horror.


Louis Creed, a father of two and a rising doctor, wants more space for his family. Louis is given a job Pet Sematary: King, Stephen: 9781982112394: Amazon.com: Booksopportunity in Maine that promises money, but also the space that he and his family need. However, when a tragic accident happens, Louis starts to question the little pet sematary close to his house. His dreams take over, and he soon finds out the true meaning of the sematary: reincarnation. He wants to stay as far away as possible from the sematary, but when his son dies he cannot help but to imagine bringing him back.

There is no doubt that Pet Sematary is a horror novel. However, it also incorporates a tough issue and decision making. Louis has the option to bring his son back to life through the Pet Sematary, but with the consequence of him being evil. 

For anyone interested in a horror novel, Pet Sematary will not let you down. Fans of The Shining and the movie IT will find a similar mix of horror and terror. I am sure you will love this book!





CLASSICS:
 

Kendra Kodira's Review of:
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

HarperCollins. 1988. Philosophical Fiction/Fable.


Santiago, a young shepherd, is deeply moved by a recurring dream that tells him to seek treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. Following omens, he voyages in search of his treasure, encountering obstacles that test his will to fulfill his dreams such as fear, love, and self-doubt. On Santiago’s journey, he meets many acquaintances, including The Alchemist, a cryptic, wise mentor to Santiago who teaches him unforgettable lessons about his soul and connecting with the world around him. 

Paulo Coelho’s incorporation of complex metaphors and thematic experiences elevate the fairly simple plot of his novel. Although a bit of a slow reading experience, The Alchemist explores the human spirit in an elegant, remarkable manner. Through the unique, at times perplexing, perspective of Santiago, readers will be inspired and newly understand the paramount significance of following one’s dreams and heart. 

Readers will love The Alchemist if they’ve read Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi as it also shares great philosophical depth and a resilient, cunning main character. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Eupéry displays an emphasis on spirituality, relationships, and the complexity of life that any fan will enjoy seeing just as much in The Alchemist


Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.


Alex Yang's Review of:
Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Faber & Faber. 1954. Allegorical Fiction.
Read in E-book format.


The novel follows a group of British schoolboys who have crash landed on an uninhabited island in a relocation effort from the ongoing war in Europe. Adultless yet not helpless, the adventurous overtones of their primitive societal constructions are gradually overturned via the waves and prods of human vice. Among the slew of displaced youth are Ralph, ‘Piggy,’ Jack and Simon, who - while initially well-intentioned in leading the effort to establish a semblance of order - are befallen repeatedly for their innocence by the illusion of savagery to all-in-all centralize a bleak reduction of human nature and raise the bouts of reason versus
Lord of the Flies - Wikipedia impulse, moral versus immoral. 

The book does a superb job at lassoing the reader into its protagonists’ positions, maybe per the injection of anecdotes to create sympathetic backstories or perhaps the sensuous treatment of unity and conflict—the themes which govern our own lives. To contrast this, the reader is given the benefit as an omniscient observer to view the island holistically, see the follies of a character’s choices, and to perhaps judge or lend favor to one party versus the other. Moreover, the emergence of two ideological sides builds the notion of a savage plague off a flat premise; the characters contributing dimension to a metaphysical, archetypal tale which feels overall fluid and motivated.

Symbolism sewn and maintained in the core of the characters juxtaposed alongside their surface rivalries are subliminal yet unavoidable. The physical storyline is otherwise linear and enjoyable on its own, and the children being children have easy-to-follow gripes and desires that are conveyed outright or tacitly; this, coupled with the boding allegory adds a sense of completeness to the novel. Like a frame tale, or kaleidoscope of individual personalities, the story recounts the progression of makeshift society from character to character. While the descriptions are beautiful and scrupulously thorough, a small fraction of the European and dated rhetoric might impede understanding on a minute scale and interrupt flow, especially in scenes where the author rather narrates on metaphor and runaround descriptions rather than a candid truth. 


For a less spirited, more bleak narrative, fans of The Maze Runner should consider this book for their almost eerie resemblance in plot and character interactions. 





FANTASY:
 

Angel Liang's Review of:
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Henry Holt. 2012. Fantasy.


Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo, is the first book to the trilogy called “The Grisha-verse.” In the world of Shadow and Bone, there exist Grishas, Darklings, and volcras. In thisAmazon.com: Shadow and Bone (Grisha Trilogy) [Assorted Cover image]  (9781250027436): Bardugo, Leigh: Books world, humans, Grishas, and the Darkling alike remain at the mercy of the Shadow Fold, or the Unsea. Cutting across the land of Ravka, a swath of darkness bleeds through the land, giving volcras, monsters of the dark, free reign. Alina and Mal were just two ordinary orphans taken in by a Duke. Soon they must make the journey across the Unsea, hoping to pass with their lives. Crossing with them are the magical Grishas who can wield fire, summon wind, and a lot more. The Darkling, the second most powerful person in Ravka, leads them all. When the volcra attack Alina’s best friend, Mal, something is unleashed from Alina.

Suddenly Alina is thrusted into the glamorous lifestyle of the Grisha, and the Darkling himself gives her his undivided attention. She receives special training to harness her abilities, learning more about herself everyday. Coined as the “Sun Summoner,” Alina learns that she might be the key to destroying the Shadow Fold in Ravka entirely. However, Alina soon learns that the Darkling has plans of his own, completely different then what he has been telling her.

After reading The Cruel Prince, I knew that I had to read the second recommended book from my friends. If you’re a lover of that book or fantasy in general, you’ll absolutely enjoy this one. I love the lore and world building, just like The Cruel Prince, and I can’t wait to continue the series!

 

Available in e-book format through Libby/Overdrive.



Angel Liang's Review of:
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Little, Brown, & Co. 2018. Fantasy.

Jude is human. Human, in the land of Faerie, where there are pixies and elves, goblins and trolls, and, the most terrifying, the children of Gentry. Jude has never lived a fortunate life; with her parents murdered by her adopted father, she has always been forced to adapt. For the entirety of her life, Jude has been fighting against the children of gentry. Mocked for being mortal and powerless, Jude finds an opportunity to finally gain her spot in the Court, Faerie royalty. Now, Jude knew that being one of the prince’s spies before coronation will be dangerous, but she would have never foreseen what true power she would gain after it. Now, with the entire kingdom in her hands, how will she rule?

This book was recommended to me by a friend, and I made sure to thoroughly thank her. I absolutely love this book and am very excited to read the next book, The Wicked King. This book’s strong suit is definitely the world building and fantasy elements. The plot begins to take off later on in the book, but what drew me in was the meticulous world building Black does. There are descriptions of characters, and every paragraph feels like you are being immersed in this magical land. The plot has so many twists and turns, but there are no sudden or random plot twists, which I am surprised and pleased with. 

If you are a fantasy reader, you will absolutely adore this book. To people who are looking for a new or interesting plot line, I am sure you will enjoy this story as well. 



SERIES UPDATE BELOW (MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS):

Angel Liang's Review of:
The Wicked King by Holly Black
Little, Brown, & Co. 2019. Fantasy.


The Wicked King by Holly Black, is the 2nd book of her "Folk of Air" trilogy. In this continuation of The Cruel Prince, Jude has now found herself at an even deeper crossroads. Except each and Cover image for every road has its thorns, and there is now a thorn digging deeper into her side as she chooses. When Cardan became king, Jude knew that it would be difficult to keep him on the throne. However, with each passing day, it seems like there are more and more schemes against the High King. Queen Orlagh of the Sea is now declaring war with Jude as her prisoner, and that’s not even the worst of it. Beneath her schemes there is a spy who is close to Jude, intent on tearing her down, brick by brick. 

I’m a huge fan of Holly Black so I’m definitely biased, but I think I have discovered a new favorite writer. The way Black crafts this fantasy world is incredible; it feels like you are discovering something new every page turn, but you are not a step behind. Granted, sometimes it does feel a little chaotic with the emergence of random servant characters, but the plot is always at the core of the book. I especially love this book because of the build-up and I am so excited for the last book. The plot twists are strong in this one, and I just know that the 3rd book will be a good ending. Like the last review, if you are a fantasy reader, I strongly recommend you read this. If you’re a romance reader like I am, I also recommend this! It isn’t too romantic, but the themes are there, and I’m sure you will enjoy the thrill of the plot. Kings, queens, all of that medieval goodness along with the sugar of fantasy wrapped up in a neat package is the analogy for "Folk of Air." 

This series is available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.



 

Angel Liang's Review of:
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Little, Brown, & Co. 2015. Fantasy.


Set in the same faerie universe as the "Folk Of Air" trilogy, this time the knight of the story is not Jude, but another mortal girl, although she is almost as accustomed to faerie as our other main Cover image for character. In The Darkest Part of the Forest, Hazel has always been surrounded by magic and faeries. Growing up in Fairfold, it was a local thing to keep grave dirt in your pockets and turn your socks inside out. When there were disappearances and strange deaths, the local townspeople of Fairfold knew it was the fey preying on naive tourists. There’s another strange thing about Fairfold. In the middle of the forest lies a casket, not made of glass or metal, but unbreakable. In the casket lies a boy with horns, the "horned boy" as the locals called him. No one knew who he was, only that he was not mortal. 

Hazel has always grown up surrounded by magic, but what happens when she finds herself not knee deep, but drowning in it? With the horned boy free and a strange monster attacking the locals, will Hazel once again be able to save Fairfold? As Hazel stumbles through riddles and muddled memories, she starts to uncover more truths about herself, most of which were better off forgotten.

I read this book as a continuation of "Folk Of Air," and loved it! It’s more of a short story compared to the trilogy but I still believe that the plot was well developed and had good rising action. I also love how the author included LGBTQ+ representation as a romantic pairing! It’s amazing to see how inclusive Holly Black is with her romance. I’m also very impressed at the amount of lore Black has included in The Darkest Part of the Forest, along with the riddles! Once again I have been supremely fed top-tier content by Black, I can’t wait to read more of her books. 

Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.



 

Angel Liang's Review of:
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

HarperCollins. 1986. Fantasy.
 

As the eldest of three sisters, Sophie never expected her life to be particularly interesting or successful. After all, she was the eldest, set to inherit her father’s hat shop. Unfortunately, Sophie did seem to fail at everything she tried to do, and soon her boring Howl's Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones - E-booklife would be changed forever after her encounter with the fearsome Wizard Howl, who was rumoured to eat girls' hearts and suck the souls out of them. After being cursed by the Witch of the Waste, Sophie has no choice but to chase Howl’s moving castle for the hope that he can break the spell. While living in the castle, Sophie realizes that both Howl and her may not be what they seem on the outside. 

 

This book has distinctly different writing from what I usually read. I can only sing high praises for the imagery and vocabulary used! However, it sometimes does get confusing and boring, if you aren’t used to reading classic-y writing like this. The story’s plot is a little all over the place, so it was hard to follow at times. I enjoyed the character development from Howl and Sophie, but unfortunately, the plot made it difficult for me to understand. Overall, I think I actually might prefer the movie over the book this once. I loved the Ghibli film, but it left huge gaps in information, so I read the book to see if it filled those in. It definitely did, and I’m glad I read it!




 

Vincent Chen's Review of:
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

Scholastic. 2003. Fantasy. Hardcover.

 

After four encounters with the feared Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter is still shamed by the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter Series #5 ...Ministry of Magic and most of the wizarding world. Apart from the criticism coming at him, he faces other challenges from his fifth year at Hogwarts, including the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, the condition of the Gryffindor quidditch team, and the upcoming end-of-year exams. But the biggest thing on Harry’s mind is the mysterious door at the end of a dark corridor of his every dream. As the year flies by, Harry and his friends learn more about their enemies and stand strong against troubles together - even when pure evil arrives.

 

The fifth novel in the Harry Potter series is full of twists and turns that take the reader’s emotions for a ride. One can feel Harry Potter’s anger whenever he’s sentenced to detention or his fear at the mention of death. The author’s use of language in the novel creates incredible mental images that the reader will refuse to set aside, even when the novel ends.

 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will be an interesting read for fantasy readers who have also read the Percy Jackson series and wish for more action-packed stories. Readers who have already begun the Harry Potter series will find this book an excellent sequel to the magical action of the first four books.

 
Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.



 

Michael Wang's Review of:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Scholastic. 2005. Fantasy. Hardcover.

It’s Harry Potter’s sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In this chilling and shocking addition to the series, Harry’s life becomes a lot more complicated. He is taking on the responsibility of the Quidditch Captain of the Gryffindor team, while Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6): Rowling, J. K. ...spying on the ever-so mysterious Draco Malfoy, and with the help of Professor Dumbledore, he dives into the depths of Voldemort’s past. Meanwhile, Voldemort and his Death Eaters wreak havoc across the country, seeking destruction everywhere. And who is the mysterious Half-Blood Prince whose writings in the old Potions textbook guide Harry into success - and yet lead him into deep trouble? Finally, the story comes to a shocking closure that leaves readers dumbfounded (at least it did for me).

The Half-Blood Prince is my favorite book in the Harry Potter series because it balances mystery, action, and a rich plot without ever making it boring. There is also the typical drama you see in teenagers that makes the story entertaining. Even though romance is not what J.K. Rowling really intended the focus to be, it adds to the plot in an interesting way. Snape becomes increasingly fascinating, and Professor Dumbledore is the star of the show. I highly recommend this book to all readers because it’s not just about magic, but has depth and a great story line. 4.5/5 Stars

 
Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.


 
BIOGRAPHY REVIEWS:
 

Jacob Bleecker's Review of:
Proud by Ibtihaj Muhammad

Hachette. 2018. Autobiography.

As part of Sharon's high school summer reading, students must pick a memoir to read for their English class. I would recommend the book I chose, Proud, which is an autobiography written by Ibtihaj Muhammad about her journey to become an Olympic fencer
Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream: Muhammad, Ibtihaj ...and an inspiration for Muslim women across the world. Throughout the story, Ibtihaj discusses her childhood because, as a Muslim, she always stuck out amongst her peers. Furthermore, she connects her upbringing with our modern world, making it evident that readers must understand how difficult it is to seem different, and how important it is to love yourself and be comfortable in your own skin.

Many times, Ibtihaj questions her commitment to fencing, finding herself completely lost in her college years and early 20s. However, her fencing coupled with her faith lead her down the right path, but is it enough to become the first Muslim woman to wear a hijab to compete in the Olympics? Read Proud to find out.


Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.


 

 

Kendra Kodira's Review of:
Educated by Tara Westover

Penguin Random House. 2018. Autobiography.

Tara Westover wanders into her first classroom at age seventeen with no formal education and tremendous self-guilt weighing her down. Raised by strict Mormon survivalists, Tara was brought up to believe education was a government ploy and a women’s purpose was to be a conservative mother. After exploring the world, Tara’s perception is forever changed, but on her journey of self-invention, she struggles when forced to decide between her family and her growing education. 

Educated is a gripping tale with its compelling, shocking plot full of determination, grief, and new beginnings. Although the conflicts in Tara’s life are not relatable to all readers, through her effort to find herself younger readers will feel deeply connected to her. The detailed account of her past experiences and trauma shines a tragic, somber light on the childhood of the Westover children that will make any reader outraged. A sense of gratification and eye-opening consideration for others will be evoked from the overarching theme that many things, including education, are a genuine privilege to some. 

Readers will appreciate Educated if they’ve read Delia Owens’ novel Where the Crawdads Sing, a similar story of a resilient girl as she grows and manages to survive her intense, violent childhood. The movie Room, directed by Leonard Abrahamson, depicts a horrifying living situation and a difficult, hopeful journey full of heartbreaking struggles; these situations are also all mirrored in Educated for fans of the film.



Available in e-book and audio formats through Libby/Overdrive.
 

 
NONFICTION REVIEWS:
 

Angel Liang's Review of:
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Metropolitan Books. 2014. Nonfiction.
 

This book compiles the many aspects of the human’s lifespan, including mortality and death, into an overarching question: what do we want to be when we are frail and on the edge of death? Gawande explores the many “solutions” for the nation’s elderly with Being Mortal Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End: NA ...curiosity about whether the inhabitants of these institutions are truly happy with their lifestyles. Topics included in this book are hospice, assisted living, and retirement homes, all told in a captivating biography form. By including life stories and real-people instances, Gawande makes the book seem more like storytelling, more interesting, and more insightful. The reader is able to connect with these people being interviewed, and gain more insight on the context of the book. 

 

This book makes me think about the struggles of the frail, both mentally and physically. It makes me wonder about how my lifestyle will change when I can no longer take care of myself. Will I be content with my life? Overall, a very insightful and interesting book, indeed. It taught me about something I had never paid attention to in a relatable and insightful fashion. Anyone looking for an eye-opener will be thoroughly intrigued. This is a new type of nonfiction - it isn’t boring. It’s storytelling. 



 

Angel Liang's Review of:
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
William Morrow. 2005. Nonfiction.

Never had an interest in economics? That’s completely fine! Freakonomics is a book that is fascinating on so many levels. It explains everyday topics in an unusual way and deepens your understanding in topics that you already may be acquainted with. This Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of ...book covers a wide range of topics, from sumo wrestling to real estate agents to Roe V. Wade - so there is most certainly a chapter in this book that will peak your interest. An educational but actually readable and engaging nonfiction book is hard to find, and Freakonomics is definitely among the special ones. 


Before reading Freakonomics, I never had an interest in econ; I didn’t even know what it was! However, after reading Freakonomics, I not only learned about the topics covered in the book, but I also learned a lot about the study of economics. If I had to explain econ, I’d say that it’s like physics! It explains the world, I suppose. I loved the chapters on Roe V. Wade and drug-dealing. I feel like this book has widened my perspectives on these controversial topics infinitely. I feel more informed than before, and intrigued as well. 

This book is like an anthology of conspiracies, just laced with facts and evidence. It explores “the hidden sides” of the “conventional wisdom,” so if you are looking for a refreshing nonfiction book, I am sure that Freakonomics will satisfy your needs. 



 

Jacob Bleecker's Review of:
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team
by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press. 2017. Nonfiction.


Football may be your favorite sport, but it’s unlikely that you know the deep history rooted in the game. Starting his nonfiction book Undefeated in the late 1800s, author Steve Sheinkin highlights the first great player-coach duo in football history: Jim Thorpe and Pop Warner. Together, the two led the Carlisle Indian Industrial School through the school’s football hurdles. When they began the game, football was even more physical than today (helmets were just caps, padding was non-existent, every play was a run, and players died on the field at times). Football was dying off, but with a new rule book and the exciting Carlisle team taking the center stage of college football, the game was revived.

Thorpe, Warner and the team broke records in football, Thorpe won medals at the Olympics, and the Indians strived to earn respect. However, to fully understand Thorpe’s and Warner’s greatness, you will have to read Undefeated.

 




 

MOVIE REVIEWS:


Danielle Gao's Review of:
My Spy (PG-13
Comedy/Action
Amazon Original. 2020.
Run time: 99 minutes

JJ (Dave Bautista) is an ex-soldier working for the CIA who is tasked with surveilling a 9-year old Sophie and her mother. After Sophie easily discovers JJ and his partner, she blackmails him into accompanying her to an open house, or a “Parents and Special Friends Day.” Without JJ knowing it, this sets off a series of events that brings him closer to his target’s family and into a precarious position.

The movie mainly focuses on JJ gradually forming a bond with his target and being forced to open up like a normal civilian again, but it also has an overarching story with the usual villain-after-the-nuclear-codes trope. In fact, I did like how My Spy melded the two genres seamlessly. One scene would make me laugh at how JJ once again gets himself into an awkward situation, and the next would have me on the edge of my seat while the protagonists scrambled for the USB stick loaded with secret files. It’s only a little out-dated, as there were a few questionable scenes involving several adults doing viral dance moves all of a sudden like a flash-mob. But I loved how each loose end was wrapped up in the finale where it calls back to specific moments planted earlier in the movie. 

Overall, it’s a hilarious comedy/action movie that’s worth a watch if you liked other goofy spy movies like Johnny English or Charlie’s Angels.

 



Angel Liang's Review of:
Howl's Moving Castle (PG)
Anime/Fantasy

Studio Ghibli. 2005.
Run time: 2 hours

Just a normal, human girl living an every-day life. That was the story of Sophie. Running her parents’ shop by herself, a quaint hat shop, everyday to fulfill their dreams, but never able to live her own life. That is, until she meets the wizard, Howl. Sophie first meets Howl in a harmless encounter, but after being cursed by the Witch of the Waste, Sophie realizes that she needs his help to break the curse. As an old grandma, cursed to be the age that her mind is, Sophie works as a cleaning lady in Howl’s moving castle, but their relationship soon becomes much more than that. As war starts to brew between countries, and wizards and witches are being called to fight, what can Sophie do to help the love of her life?

 

Okay, a disclaimer out there: yes, this is a romance, but it is a Studio Ghibli romance, which means that even if you aren’t a fan of romance, you will absolutely adore this story. I love the fantasy elements, and, of course, the art is beautiful. This movie is based on a book, so without researching some things online, it was hard to understand, but the romance and art made up for that. The character development and profiles are incredible in this movie. It makes you fall in love with them over and over again. My two favorite characters are Markl and Calcifer; I would definitely recommend it and watch it again. 

 

A Ghibli fan? You’ve probably already heard of this one. But anyone, who’s into fantasy, romances, animation...come and join us in Howl’s Moving Castle.

 



Angel Liang's Review of:
Kiki's Delivery Service (G)
Anime/Fantasy

Studio Ghibli. 1989.
Run time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

A heartwarming coming-of-age story about a young witch, Kiki. As a Studio Ghibli film, the art, as always, is beautiful and the story is beautiful. It’s one of Ghibli’s shorter films, but that doesn’t mean that the ending is cut off or rushed! If you are a Ghibli fan, you’ve most likely already heard this name floating around, and it is a must-see Ghibli classic. 

As a teen watching this, it reminds me a lot about the idea of “burn-out,” especially academic burnout. I loved the art and cute characters, but it’s not one of the most interesting storylines. It’s like “Whisper of the Heart” in the slice-of-life style, but I still really enjoyed the fantasy setting every Ghibli film has.

 



Jacob Bleecker's Review of:
Playing With Fire (
PG) 
Family/Comedy

Paramount Pictures. 2019.
Run time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

In this comedy and action filled movie, John Cena and Keegan Michael-Key star as smokejumpers, also known as firefighters from the sky. One day, Cena, who plays Jake Carson, saves a trio of little kids stuck in a burning fire. Focused on his job and reaching a promotion, Jake Carson rarely lets his guard down and rarely loses focus on being a great smokejumper. However, when the kids must stay overnight at the fire station, Carson must accept them into his fire fighting family. Soon, he learns that they are orphans without a real family of their own. Carson is tasked with the decision to follow his career passions or adopt the children and begin a real family. This family friendly movie is a great watch that everybody can enjoy and it is definitely recommendable.




Danielle Gao's Review of:
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (PG
Drama
Anchor Bay. 2015.
Run time: 105 minutes

Set in a secluded ranch in Montana, a 10-year old genius who goes by T.S. Spivet tries to cultivate his intelligence in a dry and apathetic environment. He spends his time recording the various events in his life, complete with detailed diagrams and data he carefully observes with his set of scientific instruments. When one of T.S.'s inventions piques the interest of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., the boy embarks on a life-changing journey halfway across America to receive his award.

I thought this film was really refreshing to watch. I liked each eccentric family member and their odd interactions with each other. The gradual reveal of a tragic accident in the past and its effects on everyone was also intriguing. I thought the storytelling was creative especially when the audience sees pockets of another characters perspective.

Recommended for anyone looking for a sad but sweet and heartwarming adventure with an emphasis on family.



Jacob Bleecker's Review of:
Charlie's Angels (
PG-13) 
Action/Comedy

Sony Pictures. 2019.
Run time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

In this movie geared towards teens and young adults, Charlie’s Angels are a group of superheroes and spy women. When Elena, a member of a unit of high-tech scientists located in Britain, realizes that their new device, Calisto, is unsafe and can harm and kill thousands of people. She meets with one of the male agents from Charlie’s Angels, and they uncover that the company Elena works for plans to sell Calisto to villainous people hoping to use Calisto for evil. Quickly, Elena becomes a traitor to her company and is thrust into a mission with three of Charlie’s Angels known as Jane, Sabina and Bosley to return Calisto to its rightful place and protect the world from the harm it can cause. It's up to the Angels and the newly recruited Elena to retrieve Calisto before it can be transformed into a weapon of mass destruction, but will they be successful? Watch this movie to find out.

 


Alex Yang's Review of:
Life of Pi (
PG)
Adventure/Drama. 

20th Century Fox. 2012.
Run time: 2 hours, 7 minutes


Life of Pi is the story of the real Piscine “Pi” Molitor Patel recounted within the frame of life-size cinema. Adrift at sea following a shipwreck and accompanied only by Richard Parker, an unconditioned and unruly bengal tiger, Pi’s story as narrated, in retrospect, seeks to tackle the tall order of imparting the belief of God to its viewer.

First to note is the method of storytelling, the choice which speaks to the heart of the film’s genre; plot narration itself in a storytelling medium might appear redundant as opposed to a first person, present-time setting, if not for the doors opened to unorthodox editing guises to capture the in-betweening of real time versus flashback. The added intermediary of the narrator reinforces the genre or rather answers the question of why the genre is not instead nonfiction, because by all appearances through the midpoint of  the film could very easily pass as a visual rendition of Pi’s autobiography. And with that decision the film is grounded to the ramifications of any anecdotal retelling as a sort of tacit disclaimer from the get-go that the following feature may be subject to the whims of its author—with exaggerations here, injections there, and shameless omissions every so often. This establishment is dual-purpose in that it deflects any gripes that may come up against the storytelling, on the contrary enabling praise for the producer’s keen eye to source detail and creative effects stemming appropriately; and secondly, it sanctions free-form and elements of fiction to the plot, doing naught to detract from Pi’s incredible story. 

Life of Pi showcases some of the best visuals in any movie I have ever seen, demonstrating control as much as spectacularity, topped off with a memorably moving soundtrack to accompany its more than literal, psychological story. Its production, pacing, and minimal plot alterations for the most part do justice to the original to elevate its contents off the paper and into a worthy, standalone film. Though personally a few storylines seemed to die off before the resolution, and the ending felt jumbled in its catering of thematic exposition, the bulk of the outset into the main story earned from me a confident recommendation for its brilliance.

 



 

Check back now and then for more awesome reviews and other content for teens, by teens!
 

Teen Health & Stress Management Resources

Massachusetts Department of Mental Health Young Adult Resource Guide 

Poynter Institute's Teen Fact-Checking Network on the Coronavirus

A Teen Support Guide to Navigating Coronavirus, created by JewishBoston 
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P.E. With Joe - Gym Class at Home

YMCA of Greater Boston: Stronger Together
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YMCA 360: Virtual YMCA

Stress & Coping Center

 

 

Teen Educational Resources

Virtual College Tours


WGBH Distance Learning Center - All Subjects, Grades 9-12


Crash Course with DFTBA - All Subjects Tool Finder on SciStarter


Bunk History
Explore multi-dimensional connections between past and present in America through articles, maps, videos, conversations, visualizations, and podcasts.


ChemMatters Online


SciStarter Citizen Science
Participate in projects that help real scientists, and track your contributions online.


Zooniverse - Help Researchers
The Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. Join in - anyone can be a researcher!

 

Free Audiobooks from Audible
https://stories.audible.com/start-listen 
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Free access to a curated collection of Audible audiobooks for kids and teens. Some titles available in Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Chinese.

 



NASA's Media Library Collection
Browse NASA's incredible images and videos of galaxies and more - & maybe even get inspiration for an art or research project.       


The New York Times' Free Daily Online Writing Prompts

 
 

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