Southbury Teen Review Blog

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Beauty Queens April 25, 2013

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray



Attention all Miss Teen Dreamers!  Get your sequins and self-tanner ready.  It’s time for the most hilariously LOL book you’ll read all year.  Not that you read books, right? Because beautiful people don’t read, of course.

What happens when teenage pageant contestants are trapped on a deserted island?  Imagine Lord of the Flies meets Gilligan’s Island – with superb product placement and corporate endorsed dictatorship.  The surviving Teen Dream contestants must battle hunger, snakes, and exploding hair remover.  Each girl has their own agenda, their own hopes and dreams.  Some enter the pageant because it’s a chance at scholarship money, some to prove just how sexist pageants are, and some because looking good is the only thing they think they’re capable of.  As the girls battle the dangers of the island, they cope with their own insecurities and learn they’re much more than what society and their families expect.

Libba Bray has once again given us a cutting edge satirical commentary on our world.  The Corporation, Ladybird Hope and MoMo B. ChaCha are all too familiar characters, or caricatures of recognizable figures.  The there’s a girl to fit every stereotype, but there’s more than meets the well made-up eye.  Bray pokes fun at these conventions by showing us just how ridiculous they are.  A champion of the strong female character, Ms. Bray gives us several to choose from.  A riot from beginning to end, with a serious message

For even more laughs, check out the audiobook version voiced entirely by the author.


How to Lead a Life of Crime April 6, 2013

Filed under: Books — Jessie @ 5:05 pm
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life of crimeHow to Lead a Life of Crime
Kirsten Miller

After running away from military school, Flick is living in the streets of New York City surviving as a pickpocket.  One day a mysterious man approached Flick and offers him an opportunity to get revenge on his father.  Flick is offered a spot at the prestigious Mandel Academy, where his father went.  Mandel Academy is not your ordinary high school, its students are all varyind degrees of criminals, from pickpockets and prostitutes to serial killers.  Flick quickly rises to the top of his class until Mandel throws a curveball at him; his ex-girlfriend Joi enters the Academy and only one of them will survive to graduation.

When I first saw this I was intrigued.  The plot sounded interesting and amusing.  For some reason I got it into my head that this was going to be more lighthearted than it was and I was surprised how dark and violent it got.  Flick was a very interesting character, he is super smart and while he is a thief he has a heart.  He wants to avenge his brother’s death by destroying his father, who murdered Jude, and he is also in love with Joi.  At Mandel Academy Flick has a hard time accepting that he has two choices: do what Mandel wants and hurt people or fail and be “expelled,” not likeing either choice Flick tries to find a third “spectacular” choice.  Joi was another great character, I liked her from the beginning when she is taking care of street children that she finds.  She is smart and kind and when she enters Mandel Academy we see a completly different side of her that makes her awesome!  Who knew Joi had so many great secrets!

Even though this book was not what I was expecting I was pleasantly surprised.  There was tons of action, great characters, and the plot kept me guessing what was going to happen next.  There was a lot of violence so this is definintly meant for an older teen audienc.  The overall situation of powerful corrupt leaders in out country seemed very plausible and while there may not be a real Mandel Academy, there is probably a very similar school out there.  Just to add some more plausibility to this book, when the book was published it was compromised according to the author Kirsten Miller.  You can read about it here on her blog or check out the book’s website for more info.  I’m not sure how true it is but you can decide for yourself!


Stolen by Lucy Christopher February 24, 2013

Filed under: Books — Heather @ 8:41 pm
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stolen bookGemma is a sixteen-year-old British teen on vacation with her parents.  While at the Bangkok airport, she runs to grab a quick cup of coffee before her plane takes off.  Leaving her parents for just a few minutes, she is approached by an innocuous stranger. She thinks nothing of it and enters a polite conversation as he covertly drugs her coffee and proceeds to kidnap her.  Gemma’s awareness is hazy as she is whisked away onto a plane with her captor.  She wakes up and finds herself in Australia, alone with her abductor Ty.  She quickly finds out they are completely isolated, deep in the outback.  Gemma doesn’t give up trying to escape even after several life-threatening episodes.

Ty tells Gemma he’s been planning to “save her” from her life for a long time and horrifyingly corroborates isolated events in which they’ve interacted before.  Gemma recognizes him as a tramp that lived in a park near her home.  We feel something for Ty, perhaps pity.  His intentions were not all bad, just corrupted by obsession and insanity.  As Gemma listens to his stories we begin to understand his character more.  We become torn and confused just like Gemma.

I was immediately drawn in to this novel.  Gemma tells of her ordeal in the form of a letter to her captor.  Referring to Ty as you, her voice narrates the action of her abduction, peppering it with the future knowledge of what will come later.  Lucy Christopher does a wonderful job letting us into the minds of two very different people.  Our emotions change with Gemma’s, from confusion to fury to hopelessness.  Her sadness and regret is interrupted by anger.  Gemma seems to develop Stockholm Syndrome as a result of being isolated with only one person on which to rely.  Ty loves her and takes care of her.  But Ty has stolen her.  I applaud the author’s choice to not have the abductor sexually assault the victim.  Although perhaps unrealistic, it lends credence to the fact that he truly cares for her and would not hurt her.  This only deepens our ambivalence towards him.

The starkness of the Australian outback is a character in itself.  We can understand how someone would give it all up and retreat to the desert.  It is merciless and infinite, erasing all hope of escape like footprints in the sand.  It is beautiful, yet unforgiving, as Gemma discovers.  Sunburn, dehydration and delirium are the result of failed attempts to flee.  Ty comes to her rescue, nursing her back to health.  Under different circumstances, it could be an oasis from the mundane, civilized world.

I made the mistake of reading the first page of this book as I was covering it.  I was hooked from there!  What a great book! Never have I felt so conflicted in my feelings for a fictional “bad guy.”  Christopher blurs the line between good and evil. Gemma’s gut-wrenching torment is palpable throughout the novel.  Her voice is powerful, yet fragile but always real.  Let us not forget she was Stolen.


The Darkest Minds February 20, 2013

Filed under: Books — Jessie @ 4:42 pm
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The Darkest Minds
Alexandra Bracken

The United States has recently fallen victim to Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegenation, IAAN, a disease that targets children between ages 8 and 13. Those that haven’t died have been left with psychic abilities and are now considered dangerous to be around. In order to protect the country, the government has created camps to rehabilitate the survivors. When Ruby turned 10 she was sent to Thurmond Camp where she has spent the last 6 years being “rehabilitated” and trying to hide her abilities. Everything changes when a rebel group breaks Ruby out of Thurmond when they learn that she is really an Orange. Once out of Thurmond, Ruby does not know who to trust and sneaks away from the rebel group and meets up with a group of runaways from another camp. Together they begin looking for the legendary Slip Kid who may have the answers to their problems and be able to keep them safe.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read this book but the premise looked interesting. A disease that kills off so many of the country’s young population and leaves the survivors with unnatural abilities sounds plausible in a not too distant future. I liked that the kids all had different abilities but they were focused into 5 main categories. There was no sugar-coating in this book and violence and death were very real. I hate to compare it to The Hunger Games but it was very similar in that there is so much violence and even though the characters cling to a small bit of hope, there does not seem to be a happy ending in sight.

Ruby started off as a timid character because she was so afraid of her abilities but she learned to trust herself and become more confident. Lee was a great love interest. He is kind, loyal, and protective and never gave up on what he believed. I really liked Chubs, he was brutally honest and a little standoffish but he grew into a great character by the end and I really started to understand feel for him.

One of my big issues with dystopian novels is the world building but Bracken did a really good job building Ruby’s world. We learn what was the cause of the problems, IAAN, and what happened to get them where they were then, the government setting up camps for the surviving children to “rehabilitate” them. Overall this book was very good. It was interesting and definitely action packed however, because of all the violence, this book is not suitable for all readers.


In Darkness by Nick Lake February 14, 2013

Filed under: Books — Heather @ 10:17 pm
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in-darkness-nick-lake-130x200Shorty is a Hatian boy trapped in the rubble of his hospital room after the catestrophic earthquake in 2010.  As his mind wanders over the traumatic events of his short life, he waits in vain for rescue.  Shorty remembers the violence living in Site Soley, the most poverty stricken and violent area in the Western Hemisphere.  The murder of his father and kidnapping of his twin sister by gang members, the death of his friends Biggie, finding a baby in the trash on the side of the road…all these memories swirl around him as consciouness comes and goes.

Alternately, we go back to 1791 where Toussaint Louverture, famed Haitian revolutionary, is leading the Slave Rebellion in the French colony of Saint Domingue.  Toussaint witnesses Vodou rituals with fellow revolutionary Boukman.  Superstition and ritual spurred on the slaves, as they revolted and reclaimed a free Haiti.

What brings these two stories together?  Struggle.  Oppression.  Hope.  Superstition.  Zombis.  Life.  Death.  Darkness.

Nick Lake has done a masterful job intertwining these two tales of Haiti, one modern and one timeless.  Rich in history, In Darkness opens a window to a seldom seen part of our world.  I can see why In Darkness was named 2013 Printz  Award winner.


Leverage by Joshua Cohen February 13, 2013


This isn’t your average High School sports story.  Leverage is a story about bullying and abuse.  At its heart, it’s about friendship and survival.

Ruled by the popular yet sadistic football captains, Oregrove High is like any other school.  Gymnasts and footballers engage in an escalating prank war that culminates in the unthinkable.

Danny is a talented gymnast with dreams of the Olympics.  Kurt is the new guy, fresh from foster care, a wounded soul.  His stutter and his size make him an immediate target.  This odd couple comes together to get justice when the school and community turn their back.

Leverage is a super-intense, gritty, and unfortunately realistic take on some extreme bullying and abuse that takes place right beneath our very noses.  Joshua C. Cohen has brilliantly illuminated this taboo and all too common topic.