Southbury Teen Review Blog

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Boy 21 April 29, 2013

Boy 21 by Matthew Quick

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Finley, known as “White Rabbit” to his teammates, loves basketball.  His earliest memories are of shooting hoops under the night sky.  It may be his only chance of escape from Bellmont, a gritty town ruled by the Irish mob.  He and girlfriend, Erin hope to leave for a brighter future by way of college scholarships.

Russell Allen was star ball player and top college recruit.  That was until his parents were murdered and he moved to Bellmont to live with his grandparents.  Now he wants to be known as Boy 21 – and he doesn’t want to play basketball.

Finley is asked by his coach to take Boy 21 under his wing since they both share mysterious and violent pasts.  This unlikely pairing just may be the best thing for both of these stargazers.

Hooked from page 1, I loved every minute of this mesmerizing story.  Not a sports fan?  No worries when picking up this one.  Matthew Quick, author of Sorta Like a Rockstar and The Silver Linings Playbook delivers another emotional and touching story of redemption and the celebration of life.

 

The Outsiders April 9, 2013

Filed under: Books,The Classics — Heather @ 5:52 pm
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The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Review by Hunter Stokes – Grade 7, Memorial Middle School

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Amazing.  Intriguing.  Unstoppable.  These are the three words that best describe S.E. Hinton’s book The Outsiders.  A tale that takes it’s readers on a journey of friendship, gang life, and the challenges that every teenager takes on in their everyday life.  It’s impossible to put down.  Ponyboy Curtis, a fourteen year-old member of the Greaser gang, knows that there will never be an end to the senseless fighting between them and the rival gang, the Socs (So-ches).  He’s the only member of the gang that likes school, learning, reading, writing, or even movies, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to be Greaser with his two brothers Darryl (Darry for short) and Sodapop (that’s right, it even says so on his birth certificate!), and their friends Two-Bit Matthews, Dallas Winston (Dally for short), Johnny Cade (Ponyboy’s best friend), and Steve Randall.  After Ponyboy gets beat up by some of the Socs he goes out to the movies with his pals Dally and Johnny, where they meet two girls named Sherry Valance (Cherry because her hair is red) and Marcia (no last name) who are from the Socs’ part of town.  Dally, being the “bad boy” he is, proceeds to talk dirty to them and Cherry end up throwing her Coke on him.  As most guys would do, he runs off in a fit of rage.  The girls ask Johnny and Ponyboy to come and protect them, and the boys do.  Two-Bit shows up and threatens the boys.  This is the point in the book where the story really takes off, bring your mind with it.

To me, this book showed me another side to the world.  As kids in Middlebury or Southbury, we live mainly sheltered lives, thinking we know how hard life can be.  But let’s be honest, we live great lives, no matter how you feel towards family, friends, or peers.  These kids have lived horrible lives, in Oklahoma City.  When you think of cities with a lot of crime and violence, you think Detroit, Los Angeles, or even Waterbury.  But not Oklahoma.  That brings to mind one of the best basketball teams in the league, but that’s for another time.  My point is, we don’t know how hard life can be.  Modern problems for us are grades, and small things that show how spoiled we are.  They had to worry about being split up from the little family they had left, whether the police would arrest them, or if the Socs would try to ambush a single member of the gang.  Noticing the differences in our lifestyles, this book made me able to see the other side of life, and how some people have it much harder than we do.  Oh and did I mention that this book is based on S.E. Hinton’s life, and that she wrote it when she was 15!

 

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons February 24, 2013

Filed under: Books,The Classics — Heather @ 8:06 pm
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cold comfort farmMiss Flora Poste is orphaned by the death of her parents and must find a solution to her sudden situation.  She writes to her plentiful relatives in hopes of finding a place to live.  She chooses to take up her residence with the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex.  Flora hopes to find diversion among her lowly relatives.  She comes from London, after all. Convinced she’ll find disaster and ruin in their rural existence, she sets out on her adventure.

Flora “cannot tolerate a mess,” yet that’s exactly what she finds in Howling (yes, that’s a town).  The farm is everything she imagined and much, much more.  Aunt Judith speaks of a wrong done to Robert Poste that must be atoned for, but don’t ask her what it is.  Her lips are sealed.  Flora’s cousins have other things on their minds.  Reuben wants the farm and suspects Flora has come to take his inheritance.  Seth, when not impregnating the hired girl, longs to be a movie star.  And Elfine dreams of poetry and Dick Hawke-Monitor, the young lord down the lane.  Flora, or Robert Poste’s child as she is called, sees immediate need for intervention.

“There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm” is the mantra bellowed by Aunt Ada Doom, Flora’s great aunt. When only a child, the old lady “saw something nasty in the woodshed” that has forced her to take to her room and never venture past the farm gates.  Her manipulations and antics keep all the members of the Starkadders afraid to leave Aunt Ada or the farm.  Ask anyone and they’ll tell you there is a curse on Cold Comfort Farm.

Flora systematically works her magic on the members of her extended family.  She transforms Elfine from a will-o’the wisp into a proper modern lady fit for marriage (not to a first cousin).  Amos, Judith’s husband, takes Flora’s advice and leaves to preach across the United States in a Ford.  This leaves Reuben with the farm.  Seth is discovered by a famous movie producer and is whisked away to Hollywood.  After Flora shares her magazines and travelogues, Aunt Ada emerges from her room to announce she will travel the world starting with the French Riviera.  The doom has been lifted from Cold Comfort Farm . All the Starkadders live happily ever after.  And Flora Poste flies off to marry the man of her dreams, Charles.  After all, he does have heavenly teeth!

This novel is a hoot!  Cold Comfort Farm is a sharp parody of romantic fiction popular at the time.  Stella Gibbons creates cringe-worthy yet endearing characters not soon forgotten.  You’ll in for a good time with this one, just mind the sukebind’s not in blossom!

 

The Radleys by Matt Haig February 13, 2013

Filed under: Books — Heather @ 6:49 pm
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The Radleys are you average British family.  Like all suburbanites, they are hiding a deep, dark secret.  They are a family of vampires.

Parents Peter and Helen have chosen the “stiff upper lip” route by following the Abstainer’s Handbook and not giving in to their urge to drink blood.  So hidden is their true nature, children Rowan and Clara don’t know they are vampires.  The two Radley children are pale pariahs, plagued by photosensitivity and weakness.  It’s not until one night young Clara accidentally kills a classmate while fending off unwanted advances that the truth comes to light.  Unable to hide the secret anymore, the Radleys must face their true identities.  To complicate matters, Peter’s wayward brother Will, an unabashed blood drinker, arrives to “clean up” the mess Clara left behind.  A complicated history between the family members reemerges during this crisis.

Matt Haig deftly illuminates the repressed British struggle under the guise of a modern vampire tale.  The Radleys is a wry and witty dark comedy with enough blood and guts to please any vampire lover.

 

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

Filed under: Books — Heather @ 3:57 pm
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Princess Sophie FitzOsborne lives on the fictional island of Montmaray.  She and her family are royalty, impoverished royalty, holding tight to a crumbling castle and way of life as the events of 1936 swirl around them.  On her sixteenth birthday Sophie receives a journal in which she begins to chronicle the daily routine on Montmaray.  Along with older brother Toby, younger tomboy sister Henry, and her cousin Veronica, Sophie’s world is limited to their island state.  The real world crashes on their shore as two German soldiers arrive on Montmaray, marking an end to their solitude and boredom.

 

Michelle Cooper has given us a sparkling heroine in Sophie.  The antics of the FitzOsborne clan had me enchanted.  Reminiscent of the works of Daphne DuMaurier and Dodie Smith, A Brief History of Montmaray is an instant classic.

Look for the sequel, The FitzOsbornes in Exile.

 

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Filed under: Books,The Classics — Heather @ 1:28 am
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Originally two stories published in the New Yorker, “Franny” and “Zooey” are combined here into one novel.  This is the story of the two youngest of the seven Glass children.  They are highly educated, intellectually superior children entering adulthood.  All seven Glass children were child stars on a popular quiz show “It’s a Wise Child”.  As the children mature, their genius and family prosperity does not combat their woes and questions about the larger world.

In the first part Franny is having dinner with her boyfriend Lane Coutell, in a fancy French restaurant.  She is telling him about her recent spiritual crisis.  Lane represents all that is elitist and materialistic, all that Franny has come to detest. Lane gorges himself on frog’s legs, as Franny is unable to eat her simple chicken sandwich. This piece of the novel ends with Franny blacking out in the restaurant.

The second part of the novel is Zooey, focusing on the youngest Glass son, actor Zachary.  It is a few days later and Franny is home recuperating on the couch of the Glass family apartment in New York. Zooey is indulging in a bath, re-reading a four-year-old letter from brother Buddy.  Constantly interrupted by his mother’s urging to see what’s wrong with his sister, Zooey erupts angrily at Bessie Glass.  Here is where we learn all the “dirt” on the Glass family.  Their parents’ roots in vaudeville, the children’s intelligence and proclivity towards the dramatic arts, and the suicide of eldest brother Seymour is explained through the narrative of Buddy’s letter to Zooey.

Bessie Glass appears confused over the fact that Franny doesn’t want to go back to college.  What could be so wrong since she’s smart AND pretty?  She won’t even have any chicken soup!  You sense Zooey’s frustration towards his mother.  The struggles to grow up, live up to expectations, and become self-actualized are themes still prevalent today.

Critics were not kind to Salinger’s work.  Franny and Zooey has been dismissed as a self-indulgent work by an intelligent, reclusive artist (not unlike Buddy Glass).  I view it as a timeless family drama about disenchanted youth.  The Glass family may be pretentious and privileged, but they are human.  Franny and Zooey are brother and sister, young adults, trying to find their niches in life and leave behind parental expectations.