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A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

A VERY LARGE EXPANSE OF SEA
by Tahereh Mafi
(Harper Collins; $18.99, Ages 13+)

 

cover art from A Very Large Expanse of Sea

 

 

National Book Award Longlist
Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

 

 

In Tahereh Mafi’s riveting YA novel, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Shirin, a 16-year-old Muslim girl living in post 9/11 America, has moved from town to town her whole life. She is constantly berated with judgmental stares and back hand comments from her peers at school no matter what school she attends. When she moves to yet another school, she finally feels able to channel her frustrations through breakdancing, a club her brother, Navid, formed.

Unlike Shirin, Navid tends to become popular in whatever school they go to. Shirin believes the reason she is an outcast is because of her decision to wear a hijab. The siblings bond over their love of break dancing as a way to express themselves. Shirin was impressed that Navid created the club as they had both talked about when they were younger. For Shirin, joining the club allowed her to have a support team during her period of debating whether or not to have a relationship with a boy named Ocean James.

Usually Shirin keeps her head down and never tries to make friends, that is until she meets her lab partner, Ocean.. Shirin does not want to look at people because she knows everyone is looking at her. She believes that if she looks back at them it is an invitation for them to ask her questions which will either be dumb or offensive. On top of that, because she is always moving, she feels that it is hard to form lasting relationships anyway. In the past, she claims she would have friends but would lose contact with them over time, and it was emotionally draining for her to make and lose friends. Ocean feels drawn to Shirin and hopes to start a romantic relationship with her. He finds her different and beautiful. But she is apprehensive that she will draw attention to him, especially because she’s Muslim. “But the harder I fell for him, the more I wanted to protect him.” Will Shirin ignore Ocean’s advances in order to protect him or will she give in to his pursuit?

Mafi perfectly conveys the emotions and complicated personality of Shirin through her writing. As a Muslim Iranian-American herself, she can identify with Shirin’s struggles and authenticate the experiences within the story. This novel deals with the harsh realities of discrimination and racism towards Muslims, heightened to scary proportions following 9/11 yet still present today. The relevance, detailed descriptions of events, and Shirin’s choices certainly enticed me to continue reading. It’s no surprise this gripping story won numerous accolades and I can easily add mine to the long list.

Click here for a reading guide.

  • Reviewed by Rachel Kaufman


Rachel Kaufman is a current sophomore studying communications at the University of Southern California. She’s passionate about books and hiking with her dog, Scout. Rachel enjoys how books reshape her imagination of the world around her. Rachel knows firsthand how important books are in aiding children’s futures, working with a reading program, Reach Out and Read, by reading, organizing, and donating over 200 children’s books. In her free time you can find her either reading or thinking about what she might read next.

Every Drop Counts – Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

DRY
by Neal Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman
(Simon & Schuster; $18.99, Ages 13-17)

 

 

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman book cover

 

 

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
NYPL Best Books for Teens

 

New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman’s YA novel Dry follows the perilous adventure of 16-year-old Alyssa in Southern California during a major drought that turns deadly. The drought or “The Tap-Out” has resulted in a cutoff of water from reaching any homes, sending Alyssa’s parents in search of other water sources. Unfortunately, her parents do not return. This turn of events results in an unexpected and dangerous journey for Alyssa, her younger brother, Garrett and their survivalist neighbor Kelton. Companions they meet along the way include rebellious Jacqui and barterer, Henry.

This suspenseful story is told through the eyes of each teen, switching between them and snapshots of outside characters whom the teens encounter in their harrowing journey through California in a desperate search for water. Dry is a fantastic dystopian novel yet its closeness to reality, due to California’s already barren lands, makes the story even more gripping as we could easily be Alyssa or Garrett and so look to see how all the characters deal with crisis. The writing appealed to me because the authors were able to create compelling and distinct individual personalities for the characters, allowing me to identify with certain actions or people within the story. I was fascinated by how the characters reacted in each situation the authors’ depicted because it made me question if I would react in the same way.

This novel is guaranteed to keep readers on their toes. If you’re unsure as to whether to read Dry, I’d say definitely give it the benefit of the drought!

  • Review by Rachel Kaufman

 


Rachel Kaufman is a current sophomore studying communications at the University of Southern California. She’s passionate about books and hiking with her dog, Scout. Rachel enjoys how books reshape her imagination of the world around her. Rachel knows firsthand how important books are in aiding children’s futures, working with a reading program, Reach Out and Read, by reading, organizing, and donating over 200 children’s books. In her free time you can find her either reading or thinking about what she might read next.

 

Inherit The Stars by Tessa Elwood

INHERIT THE STARS
by Tessa Elwood
(Running Press Teens; $9.95 Trade Paperback, Ages 13+)

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In her debut novel, Inherit the Stars, book one in a duology, Tessa Elwood creates her own little universe that consists of several inhabited planets, feuding families, an economic crisis, and a political hierarchy all wrapped up in both a tale of adventure and a classic love story. The protagonist, Asa, lives on Urnath, a planet that becomes contaminated. Forced to ration both food and fuel, the inhabitants revolt against those who govern including The House of Fane, which happens to be Asa’s family. When Asa’s oldest sister Wren is caught in the crossfire, Asa tries to save her sister, but struggles. In fact Asa finds she struggles to succeed in most things. Asa’s father and sisters have very little faith in Asa’s abilities and maturity. However, in order to save her family and her people, Asa forces her way into the most difficult role of her life, marrying into the House of Weslet and trapping herself in a “blood bond” filled with insufferable expectations. Once the merger is complete with the marriage of Asa and Eagle, the two have to find a way to coexist with each other and to trust each other, which ultimately leads them to depend on each other.

Although it took a while to get absorbed into Elwood’s Sci-fi world, once I did there was no turning back. I became engrossed in the love story between Asa and Eagle and couldn’t put it down. While I felt the ending was a bit abrupt and, perhaps, unnecessarily rushed, I was merely disappointed that such an enjoyable story was over. I look forward to reading the sequel and hope to see the bond between Asa and Eagle grow. I can only begin to imagine what other trials they will overcome together and am certain Elwood will deliver a most satisfying conclusion to this engaging read.

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

 

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

 

LIBRARY OF SOULS 
THE THIRD NOVEL OF MISS PEREGRINE’S PECULIAR CHILDREN
By Ransom Riggs
(Quirk Books; $18.99, Ages 13 and up)

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The Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs is an intriguing tale of mystery and magic, inspired by a collection of inexplicable vintage photographs. The story that began in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and continued in Hollow City, comes to an electrifying end in Library of Souls. Having traveled to a mysterious island off the coast of Wales to try to make sense of his grandfather’s untimely and cryptic death, sixteen-year-old Jacob Portman discovers his grandfather’s oldest and most peculiar friends, including his dearest love, Emma. Jacob fights alongside her and the other peculiars against unimaginable enemies and monsters that threaten their world. When their headmistress, Miss Peregrine, and all her fellow ymbryne leaders of Peculiardom are abducted, Jacob allies with the peculiar children and discovers he has power of his own.

Library of Souls opens as the children are trying to escape their enemies (and the monsters they control) while attempting to rescue their ymbrynes and the many other peculiar children who have been captured. Their journey takes them to Devil’s Acre, a sinister labyrinth of dark alleys and mysterious characters. We struggle along with Jacob and Emma, not knowing whom to trust and fearing the worst for their beloved friends. As Jacob discovers the strength of his powers, he also discovers true friendship and a love he never knew existed. While this particular leg of the story is a maze in itself and takes more than a few twists and turns, it remains a captivating series that comes to a fulfilling end, allowing readers to truly appreciate the extraordinary.

Click here for more information about the boxed set of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

 

Finding Forever by Ken Baker, A Blog Tour

FINDING FOREVER: A Deadline Diaries Exclusive
Written by Ken Baker
(Running Press Teens; Trade paperback, $9.95, Ages 13 and up)

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In Finding Forever, E! News Correspondent and SoCal resident, Ken Baker, has used his entertainment news background to enthrall readers with a riveting fictional tale of life inside the celebrity scene and its fascination with Hollywood’s Holy Grail, the elusive fountain of youth. His main character, a teen blogger named Brooklyn Brant, covers celebrity news in her blog Deadline Diaries, but in her latest quest she uncovers more than she bargained for.

When sixteen-year-old celebrity sweetheart Taylor Prince goes missing from her birthday party in L.A., tabloid blog STARSTALK splashes headlines that Taylor is in rehab for drug addiction. Taylor’s assistant, Simone, enlists the help of Brooklyn Brant to help find the missing starlet, as she insists Taylor is not on drugs and this is more of a conspiracy. However, with Simone’s shady past, it’s hard to know whom to trust. Brooklyn must use her sleuthing skills to uncover the truth before time runs out on Taylor.

While the mystery behind Taylor’s disappearance had my attention, what really drew me in was Brooklyn’s backstory, including her late father’s mysterious death and his legacy she is trying to uphold. As a police officer, Brooklyn’s father believed in getting at the truth. Ever since his death, Brooklyn has tried to follow in her father’s footsteps, finding the truth and revealing it with integrity, but as a journalist not a cop, trading the gun for a pen. Her blog Deadline Diaries began as an outlet for her to cope with his passing, but it grew into a passion and potential future. And the story of Taylor Prince’s disappearance, in all its web of secrets and lies, is perhaps the big break in her budding career that she’s been looking for.

Using a dual narrative, bouncing back and forth between Taylor’s and Brooklyn’s points of view, Baker kept me wondering what was going on and what would be revealed next. The more I read, the more I began to see that the rehab place was suspect and almost cult-like, and its head, Dr. Kensington, creepily Peter Pan obsessed. I found myself rooting simultaneously for Taylor to escape and for Brooklyn to save her. While the ending seemed a little rushed, it still provided the satisfying closure I would expect as a reader, and reinforced the fact that eternal youth is as much a façade as a Hollywood set.

Read more about Ken Baker here.

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

 

 

 

The Meme Plague (Memento Nora Series #3) by Angie Smibert

The Meme Plague, (Skyscape/Amazon Children’s Publishing, $16.99, Ages 13 and up) the third book in the Memento Nora series, by Angie Smibert, is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

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The Meme Plague (The Memento Nora Series Book #3) by Angie Smibert, Skyscape/Amazon Children’s Book Publishing, 2013.

Here’s what the jacket flap says: In THE MEME PLAGUE, the final book of the Memento Nora series, Micah and his friends have each lost something—a parent, a relationship, a home, maybe even their own identities as they remembered them to be. But together, they can make sure some things are never forgotten. Election Day is coming, and Mayor Mignon is certain to be elected to Congress. It’s time to build a new electronic frontier (MemeNet), one that’s not controlled by the mayor and his cronies. It’s time to get out the vote and shake up the system. Will they succeed before it’s too late?

I decided to take my first dive into a dystopian world, one I usually don’t visit, and found it easy to lose myself in the futuristic east coast town of Hamilton where the main characters Nora, Micah, Winter, Velvet and Aiden live. Considering the controversy surrounding the NSA’s invasion of privacy, Smibert’s trilogy including her most recent, The Meme Plague, could not be more relevant.

It’s important to note that, to get my head around the dystopian society where most of the action occurs, I needed to read books one and two before I could attempt to follow book three. Smibert’s created a detailed world with wonderfully realized characters and a complex back story that would make it difficult for most readers to just pick up The Meme Plague without first finishing the others. Memento Nora (Book One) and The Forgetting Curve (Book Two) introduced and developed a time period not so far in the future in which government and business conspire to suppress free thought in individuals through mind controlling chips implanted in them. TFCs (Therapeutic Forgetting Clinics) are cropping up everywhere and savvy teens Nora and Micah, along with their friends, figure out that not only are their actual memories being whitewashed, but new, more government and corporation serving ones are replacing them!  This concept intrigued me and hooked me in, especially the idea of technology’s role in implementing such an oppressive plan and how hacking can have its pros and its cons.

A MemeCast, a pirate broadcast to citizens who have avoided getting chipped or have been chipped but refuse to submit, serves to disperse details about where legitimate information can be found. This underground movement has grown by the time The Meme Plague take place, and efforts to brainwash Micah about his father’s past (did he really betray his country as everyone’s been led to believe) only make Micah and his friends more determined than ever to fight back and expose the wrongdoing.

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