The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

 

scarThe FlavorsThe Scar Boys tastes like a cheeseburger. It Is the quintessential example of life as a teenager. They layers of toppings are mixed and mashed and rearranged in a million different ways. It’s also sweet, salty, greasy and cheap.

The Recipe: Harbinger (Harry) Jones has not had it easy. After being physically scarred as a young child when some neighborhood kids tied him to a tree that got hit by lightning, he has also had to struggle with the emotional scars of depression . This begins to change when Johnny rescues him from some bullies at school and befriends him. Eventually these two guys start a punk rock band. Harry finds new confidence by playing music, but he won’t be able to deal with his own issues until he learns to accept his scars as well as the scars of others.

My Thoughts: Vlahos writes The Scar Boys as a very extended version of a college essay. I liked the format because Harry as the narrator is trying to tell the reader who he is. He is someone who cannot be described by 250 words and some test scores can define him; the reader needs to know the whole story. Following Harry on his journey shows how Vlahos can create a well-rounded character who changes over time. He touches on the typical teenage ideas of friendship, love and rebellion with a backdrop of a burgeoning punk scene in the 70s. This is a short read that gives you quick insight into what it is like to experience trauma and how to grow from it if you can. Johnny is written as your typical teenager on a bit of a power trip and does not come off as very likeable, but I can see why he and Harry were friends. I like at the end we start to see Harry take a bit of control over his life and demonstrate at least some of his independence and drive.

Source: I picked this up as an ARC at ALA.

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Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

bofThe Flavors: Better off Friends is a hot fudge sundae of a book. It’s got all of the comfort of the classic vanilla ice cream and hot fudge topping with a new twist.

The Recipe: Macallan and Levi become fast friends when they discover their shared love of Buggy and Floyd. They test the limits of whether or not girls and guys can be best friends as they navigate their transition into high school. Loyalties are tested throughout the book as each of them begins to date. Eventually they begin to question whether they are just friends or if there might be the possibility of something more between them.

My Thoughts: Eulberg does an excellent job of writing snappy dialog. The banter between Macallan and Levi in this book is what makes it such an engaging read. I also loved the fact that the alternating perspectives of each character were printed in different fonts. It made it easy to identify who was telling the story as it progressed. The interludes and interruption of present-day Macallan and Levi also provided great insight into what was happening in the story. Eulberg manages to offer an exciting and exuberant new twist on the trope of whether or not girls and guys can be friends.

Source: Picked up an ARC at ALA.

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Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

floraThe Flavors: Flora and Ulysses tastes like a Dr. Pepper. Fizzy and fun this soda is made up of 23 different flavors all packed into each sip. The complex layering of flavors matches up with the text, illustration and poetry that carries through Flora and Ulysses.

The Recipe: Flora feels invisible to her mother. Her relatively normal life gets turned upside down when Ulysses, a squirrel who suddenly became a superhero after an unfortunate incident involving a vacuum cleaner comes into her life. This meeting has a great impact on Flora’s life as she begins to see her world in a new light and befriends a cast of quirky characters.

My Thoughts: I picked up Flora and Ulysses when it was announced that it won the Newbery this year. I made it a point in the last year to read through all the Newbery winners so I had a firm grounding in what I thought I could expect from the winners. Wow, I was unprepared for how incredibly adorable this book would be. I seriously want my own Ulysses. DiCamillo wrote a heartwearming story about a superhero squirrel. Just talking about the premise makes it sound ridiculous, but DiCamillio pulls it off by creating a lovable cast of oddball characters and masterfully crafting the story with interspersed illustrations and poetry. To be honest, I also loved LOVED loved the squirrel poetry. It was the perfect mix of poignancy and whimsy. When will Ulysses come out with his own book? I would totally read that.

Source: Checked out from my local public library.

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Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan

untoldThe Flavors: Untold tastes like a soft, chewy salted caramel. The melty bits encompass the melting of emotions going on in the town while the bite of the salt foreshadows the battle to come.

The Recipe: *SPOILERS FOR UNSPOKEN CAN BE FOUND IN THIS REVIEW* In the second book of the Lynburn Legacy series Sarah Rees Brennan ups the ante in the world of Sorry-in-the-Vale where sorceror’s battle for control of the town. On the backdrop of magic, Kami Glass is trying to figure out what she, a mere mortal, can do to help while also trying to sort out her feelings towards the mysterious Jared Lynburn. At the end of the last book their link was broken and their friendship was torn apart in the process. Rob Lynburn is building an army of sorceror’s to take back the town and everyone must choose between running and staying to fight.

My Thoughts: Sarah Rees Brennan writes the best banter. I love the character of Kami and all of the words that come out of her mouth. I think that this 2nd installment managed to stay strong, move the story forward, give complexity to more of the characters and all around entertain the reader. The vibe feels very much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show, not the movie) with a group of scoobies trying to save the world. However, Kami’s main superpower is her unwillingness to give up against all odds. This is a definite must-read! I cannot wait to see what Rees Brennan has in store for readers in the next installment.

Source: Checked out from my local public library!

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Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

ketchupcloudsThe Flavors: Is it too obvious to say that it tastes like ketchup? It does, though, in a way. The book is a mix of salty and sweet, of sadness and love.

The Recipe: Zoe (who’s real name isn’t actually Zoe) killed someone. She is writing her confession to a death row inmate, the only person who she thinks might understand. In the course of her confession she tells the story of falling in love with two boys who happen to turn out to be brothers. In the end, one brother is dead and Zoe is left wracked with guilt for all sorts of reasons.

My Thoughts: Okay, so maybe I’m a sucker for books written in epistolary form. I don’t know why, but they always get to me. Pitcher tells this story in small episodes within Zoe’s letters. I find the entire concept of writing to a death row inmate to confess your crimes to be fascinating. We never get to hear from the serial killer, but I SO wonder what he is thinking if he’s even reading the letters at all. The characters are nicely developed and the love triangle is done in a way that doesn’t feel overdone. Deep down I like that the book is about guilt and about dealing with your mistakes, whatever they might be. Guilt clearly plays a role in the Dot storyline. Sidenote – I loved Dot! Overall, I think Pitcher does an excellent job of capturing Zoe’s voice and letting the mystery slowly unweave itself over the course of the letters. I kept asking myself which one was going to be the one who died and how the death was going to occur. Pitcher built up the reveal in a way that kept me wondering right up to the end. My one complaint is that the last letter in the book didn’t sit particularly well with me. I didn’t like that it was in another character’s voice. In this case I would have MUCH preferred it to be something from the death row inmate. It felt a bit like an afterthought rather than an important part of the story. Sometimes I think I’m biased against epilogues, but I guess only when I feel like that when I didn’t enjoy the epilogue (i.e. Harry Potter).

Personal aside: I met Annabel Pitcher at ALA this year and she was amazing in person. We fangirled over Harry Potter audiobooks and David Tennant (who narrated the audiobook of her first novel). She also signed my books with “Dumbledore’s Army” and I kind of wish we were best friends.

Source: Picked up a free galley from Little Brown at ALA.

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Reality Boy by A. S. King

reality boyThe Flavors: This book tastes like rocky road ice cream, for sure. Held together by chocolate ice cream, Gerald’s life is a mix of the hard nuts of reality and the the creamy marshmallow swirl of Gersday.

The Recipe: Gerald Faust is famous for pooping on TV as a child. He has  dealt with being called the Crapper for as long as he can remember. Who knew that what was supposed to be one episode on a Nanny-based reality show would color the rest of his life? He deals with his intense anger issues while trying to navigate the halls of high school and survive his sociopath sister. Gerald’s future is teetering back and forth on a precipice of ending up in jail or trying to make something of his life. It really could swing either way.

My Thoughts: I adored this book. It helps that I am extremely fascinated with the idea of reality TV. Who doesn’t want to know what Honey Boo Boo’s life is going to be like in 10 years when she has to deal with the aftermath of living life in the public eye? This book still has King’s trademark Kingism, but it’s done in a more subtle way than usual through the interjection of summaries of nanny episodes that Gerald’s family starred in. I, for one, adore these breaks from the narrative flow. They add context to the story without necessarily advancing it. Reality Boy‘s Kingism isn’t quite as quirky as some of the past ones have been, but it is equally enjoyable. If you couldn’t tell I am a big fan of King and her ability to write fearlessly while addressing issues pertinent to today. Please go out and read this book!

Source: Picked up an ARC at ALA.

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Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

roseThe Flavors: Rose Under Fire tastes just like dark chocolate. It’s a chocolate so dark that it is bitter. We’re talking at least 72% here. If you revel in such flavors, you will revel in this book.

The RecipeRose Under Fire is the companion book to Code Name Verity. Rose Justice, an amateur poet, is an American ATA pilot ferrying planes for the British. She gets caught on one of her runs and ends up in Ravensbrück where she faces incredible hardships. The story is told through Rose’s journal entries with a few letters thrown in. This heartwrenching book paints a portrait of the cruelty of the Nazis as well as the conviction and drive of the prisoners of Ravensbrück.

My Thoughts: Fair warning — I really like to read books about the Holocaust and World War II. It just happens to be a period of history that I find incredibly fascinating for a myriad of reasons. I had concerns when I heard that Wein was writing a companion novel because I LOVED Verity so very much. However, she does not disappoint. We do get some glimpses into what is going on in the lives of some of the characters in Verity, but she gave us these glimpses in a masterful way without having it seemed like a tacked on epilogue. Their bits fit right into Rose’s story while, at the same time, Rose’s story is truly her own. It paints a portrait of what humans can survive and what humans will do to survive. We also see the very distinct change in Rose’s tone from the beginning to the end of the book. Her arc is jarring if you remember back to the early entries in her journal and compare them to the ones at the end. Wein astounds me in how she can place the reader firmly in the past. I would love to know more about her research process. If Verity is a story about Friendship, then Rose is a story about Courage.

Source: I got this as a signed advanced reader’s copy at ALA.

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