Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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Wonder is a middle grade contemporary novel which follows main character, August -affectionately known as Auggie-as he begins 5th grade. Auggie has a facial deformity, and has had to undergo numerous surgeries, because of this he had been home schooled all his life. He’s decided he wants to attend ‘traditional’ school and begins going to Beecher Prep in Manhattan. 
Unfortunately, but as expected, Auggie is bullied at school and has to overcome some adversity. Although his school life isn’t always easy he has a pretty great home life and a very likable family. As you read the book you don’t just fall in love with Auggie, but with his entire family, both of his parents and his older sister Olivia. Bullying, is a major subject that runs throughout the story, but this is still a book that can restore your faith in humanity. Although there are kids his age that bully him, there are also some his age that don’t ‘other’ Auggie and/or treat him differently. 
Wonder is beautifully written and the story develops so naturally. I’m an adult, and this novel still made me think so deeply about the things that I say, think and feel about others. This book is written in a way that allows it to be very easy to comprehend for someone within the target age range, but is still very relevant for adult readers. Every so item I’m lucky enough to read a book that is just so important and that shapes and molds my outlook on the world around me. This novel is able to do that so brilliantly for Middle Grade readers. Wonder is able to take real world issues and makes them digestible to young readers. The forefront topics are bullying, acceptance, and self-love, but the outlooks and lessons explored in Wonder are easily transferable to so many current issues.I would absolutely recommend this novel to all contemporary lovers! I give Wonder a rating of 9-out of-10 Unicorn Horns

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The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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This book is one I’ve considered taking off my favorite self many times, primarily after reading something I know I enjoyed way more, but I never actually manage it. I struggled for quite a while trying to puzzle this out, but after re-reading it I remembered: I love this book. It’s not the type of favorite that stands out, demanding constant attention, and actively battles it out with new arrivals for a top spot. It’s also not one that immediately pops into my mind when I consider a recommendation. This is one of very, very few that subtly and permanently settled into my mind and quietly made itself at home, yet has somehow rarely made itself known. I’m still not even entirely clear on what it is that’s made it a favorite of mine, but I will try my best to explain it.

The Scorpio Races weaves an enchanting story about a young recently orphaned 17 year girl named Puck who, along with old and younger brothers (Gabe and Finn respectively)-a generally private and close knit family- who live on the only island known to occasionally grant wishes, favour the brave, and every year during the Fall…it’s willful ocean parts with dozens of man killing, flesh eating horses. Yup, you read that right: flesh eating horses straight out of the sea. Despite this each November Thisby becomes a thriving tourist destination, not because these foreigners all have a death wish, but because this is the time the people of Thisby, who have lived alongside these carnivorous water creatures (known as capaill uisce) for generations, take these horses and race each other on their backs right next to the sea- the place where they will and have killed many men in a struggle to return to.

It was to these capaill uisce that Puck Connolly lost her parents. Yet due to an unexpected turn of events, Puck is forced to make an insane decision: to not only be the first woman to ever ride in the races, but to also do it on the back of what the capaill uisce often view as food, her normal island horse.

After much pacing and head scratching I finally came to understand what it was about this story that set it apart for me. While of course the original story was part of it. Yes magical flesh eating horses that occasionally lure people out to the sea to drown is actually a well know fairy tale, but I have never come across one that was done quite like this. Much like with Stiefvater’s other series Shiver, she has taken this common fantasy creature and made it her own. All this is a big part of what made me love and favorite the series, that and of course the horses themselves, but it was actually the characters that’s kept it a definitive favorite.

I’m very impressed with how Stiefvater has created the characters, namely Puck, Finn, and primarily Sean Kendrick (the quite 19 year old, 3 time winner of the Scorpio Races) with whom Puck switches POVs with. The amount of body language and carefully put together dialogue that went in to creating Kendrick, who’s silence manages to command power and authority instead of the opposite, has really made this story stand out in my mind. The beautifully realistic and natural way relationships between people and horses alike (Kendrick and his capaill uisce, Corr, among the top), are expressed was another. There was also the communication between all these human (and other) characters (both platonic and otherwise)-a thing Stiefvater accomplishes like nobodies business. Being able to get to the root of the characters, and the snippets of the islanders long standing  and complex relationship with these deadly horses in Scorpio Races is something I really loved.

8.5/10 Overall, with a recommendation to all animal lovers and Y.A. and fantasy lit fans.

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

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In Real Life is a Young Adult Graphic novel that follows Anda, a teenage girl who is introduced to Coarsegold Online, a multiplayer role-playing game through a presentation in one of her classes. A female gamer in Coarsegold visits her classroom and entices the female students to represent themselves as females in the game and join her guild on a one-month temporary basis. Anda jumps on this opportunity and soon starts kicking ass in the game. Eventually, she comes across a impoverished Chinese gamer who uses his avatar as a means of getting money in the real world by collecting objects in Coarsegold. There is actually a very great introduction to the graphic novel that is written by Cory Doctorow, and I highly suggest reading it before commencing the story itself. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the art style and coloring of this graphic novel. The art isn’t all clean lines and mono-coloured, which I appreciated. The colours were vibrant and bold, yet soft on the pages. The colours used in many of the battle scenes and that were used for many of the gamer’s avatars were imaginative and very easily stood out from many graphic novels that I have read in the past.

The story itself felt like it needed to be just a bit longer. In Real Life is supposed to take a look at the real-life repercussions of gaming, poverty, economics and culture. It is very evident what the authors are trying to get across through the contents, but somewhere the connections fell a bit flat. There needed to be more fleshing out on the subjects of economics and poverty…and the way that cultural experiences shaped the story.

Overall, the story is great and I think that it is a good read for readers in the target age group. The book is able to be a great conversational piece and is thought provoking, especially in high school where I wish I would have been able to read something like this for English class. Although I wish we would have been able to delve into social constructs, societal differences, and the ways that poverty drastically shapes lives…I still believe that this is a bold graphic novel. I give In Real Life a rating of 7-out of-10 Unicorn Horns and recommend it to any lover of graphic novels to give a try.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

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In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the publication of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, there is a new edition being released today by Penguin Young Readers Group (ISBN: 9780425288290). It is a beautiful hardcover edition that includes exclusive and never before released photographs and letters. To join in the celebration, I decided to do a review of one of my absolute favorite books. I can only hope to do it justice! 

My first read of The Outsiders was as an assigned reading in Grade 9 (I’m pretty sure, but don’t quote me on that). It wasn’t until I read the novel again some years later that I realized that I absolutely adored it. My first time reading this, I got too caught up in the narrator’s voice. I found him to be a bit whiny, and I was not interested in the story whatsoever. Also, I didn’t actually ‘read’ the novel so much as I ‘skimmed’ over the vast majority of the text. I was quite the bull****ter when it came to required readings, and when test time rolled around I just wrote down what I assumed the teacher wanted to hear. When I was a bit older and re-read the story (actually reading it that time), I was able to do so without being disinterested with the writing of the 60s and the narrator.

Maybe the two worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.

I really wanted to get around to reading The Outsiders again before writing this review, but between the time I found out about the anniversary edition and posting this review I wasn’t able to. With that in mind, I don’t remember every detail, theme and nuance about this novel but I will do my best to not just make this review a gush-fest and actually write something comprehensive. The story follows narrator, Ponyboy Curtis, a self-proclaimed greaser. In this novel the teens are divided by class and called either a ‘greaser’ or ‘soc’. A soc (short for ‘social’) is a privileged person who has money, has life easy, doesn’t have to work for much, sacrifices very little, and yet feels entitled to everything. On the other hand, greasers don’t have life the easiest and that is evident from the very beginning as you follow Ponyboy, his two brothers and their group of friends. As the story progresses, we begin to see that the lines between a greaser and a soc isn’t as definitive as it seems and that maybe there’s more that connects people than where they live and what socioeconomic class they were born into.

For many, The Outsiders is considered the OG of Young Adult Fiction. Maybe it’s the fact that S.E. Hinton was only a teenager herself when she wrote this novel, which allows it to resonate so well with teens. Although the novel doesn’t lose any of it’s luster with an older audience it just has this magic about it that allows so much of the themes to be grasped by a younger reader. A lot of people read this story as a required reading in junior high and/or high school, but even without the classroom discussions you are able to see that Hinton tries to highlight issues such as class, identity, poverty, ‘othering’, etc. The main emphasis of this story does seem to be on class, but the story can easily also be applied to other topics such as race and sexuality. Various forms of media have made teen angst into a cliched topic, but this novel portrays numerous different issues that plague many different teens in a way that is honest.

They grew up on the outside of society. The weren’t looking for a fight. They were looking to belong.

The Outsiders may not be the most important work of YA ever written, but it has accomplished a lot. The novel most definitely will have a special place in YA and the contents can easily be enjoyed today. It is a novel that I would recommend to older teens, not because younger teens would be unable to understand it, but because there is just so much more to the story than meets the eye. I would still very much so recommend this novel to younger teens, there isn’t really any mature sexual content or violence that you wouldn’t see on television at any time of the day, and the level of readability is such that a younger teen would absolutely be able to read it without any difficulty comprehending. I give The Outsiders a rating of 8 out of 10 unicorn horns.

Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold.

All Hallows’ Reads-Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

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At the beginning of this month I set out to post a few horror-centric reviews in celebration of Halloween. I searched every ‘best of’ horror list I could find and combed through my shelves to find some good horror reads. I expected to be scared senseless by the end of the month and jumping every time I saw my own shadow. That most definitely did NOT happen! I find myself, as October comes to a close, on the cusp of declaring that ‘horror’ is just thrillers with some sort of paranormal activity. I know that there are some real horror stories out there and I actually read a few this month, but novels like Rosemary’s Baby had me outright laughing…hysterically.  I snort when I laugh…that’s about the only horrific thing that occurred!

Rosemary’s Baby follows the title character Rosemary, and her husband Guy as they move into a famous apartment complex in Manhattan, New York. They’ve have had their eyes on the apartment for quite some time and are thrilled at the prospect of being able to live there. After pulling out of a rental agreement that they had just recently signed the couple happily move into the ‘Bramford’. Shortly after moving into the Bramford they  meet their eccentric, odd, elderly neighbors Minnie and Roman Castevet. On a trip to the building’s laundry area in the basement Rosemary meets Terry, a young woman who is living with the Castevets. Not too long after they meet and become friendly, Terry commits suicide. This sparks an opportunity for an acquaintance to develop between the two couples that leads into a friendship of sorts.

The story is well written. I initially feared that the writing and language used would be a barrier stopping me from understanding the story and from being able to get the mood/tone of the novel. This was not the case and I quite enjoyed the writing style. The story was well thought out and the execution was purposeful. If not for darling Rosemary’s complete naivety and borderline idiocy the story would have been great! I just could NOT get over how ignorant she was about practically E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G! By the time we got to the climax of the novel, all I could do was shake the book in frustration and groan “I saw that coming a mile away….and Rosemary sure as F**K should’ve seen it too!”. As we made our way to an attempt at conflict resolution I had already stopped caring about what happened to Rosemary and was slightly wishing something would just kill her so I could be rid of her for what little was left of the book at that point. I  want to attribute her lack of overall “life wisdom” to the era in which this novel took place. I’m not knowledgeable on the 60s, so I shall give Rosemary the benefit of the doubt and blame her ignorance on a lack of access to information. Even with that consideration steadily running through my mind while I read the book I still had a hard time reading past Rosemary’s character.

The novel has a very creepy, sinister undertone running throughout and Levin does a fantastic job of conveying that. There were a lot of different things that were done extremely well and a level of suspense that is sustained until whatever revelations occur take place. The writing is very easy to follow and conversational, which adds to the overall readability of the story. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this novel as a Horror, but as more of a Psychological Thriller with aspects of Suspense and a dash of the Paranormal. Taking out my negative bias towards Rosemary’s character, I think Rosemary’s Baby was a good novel and I can absolutely see why it has been revered as a novel that helped to instigate an obsession with the Occult in North America in the decades following its release. I would recommend this novel to readers who maybe want to try reading some horror, but don’t want to be too traumatized by things jumping at them, going BOO! The novel definitely has that suspenseful factor that will maintain a level of frightful anticipation without being over-the-top. I give this novel between 5 and 6.5 unicorn horns out of 10, depending on which aspect of the novel I’m critiquing.

 

 

 

Wytches by Scott Snyder & Jock

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This comic has got to be one of the best horror stories I’ve come across in  a very long time, but not because it was amazingly told or had mind-blowing characters or anything like that. The characters and stories are good with a couple twists and development here and there, but to be completely honest they were nothing all that special in my opinion. Yet this is still what I would call one of the best, simply because it had what I consider REAL horror. That’s it. As someone who grew up watching movies like Poltergeist, Hannibal, Chucky, Pet Cemetery, and just about every Steven Speilberg movie out there I haven’t been too impressed with the type of horror movies being put out today (enjoyable stuff, but they tend to lean much more towards thrillers/straight up gore than horror). This story, however, is a much appreciated throwback to my good old type of horror story.

Wytches is a story surrounding a small family, Charlie, Lucy, and primarily their daughter Sailor, after they move to a small town in the hopes of starting over and escaping past trauma. Unfortunately their problems are the type to slowly creep after them no matter where they try to hide.

This was, for me, a pretty clichéd horror story what with the whole family moving to a new town before shit hits the fan thing, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment. Sailor was the type of main character I enjoy getting to watch stumble and grow, and Charlie (her father and arguably the real main character) was everything I look for in a main horror story character- brave, weak, strong, smart, and genuinely terrified. It would have been great if the story was a bit longer but the extent to which Snyder fleshed out his characters personalities (namely Charlie) was very impressive. The art was beautiful, though some of the colouring actually made some scenes a bit hard to understand.

A really good story for those looking for a great Halloween Read and aren’t afraid of few graphic scenes here and there. Personally it’s around a 7/10 but overall I think it’s a lot closer to 6.5/10 Unicorn Horns overall.

 

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

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I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios is a Young Adult contemporary novel that follows main protagonist, Skylar Evans during the summer after her senior year of High School. At the beginning of her summer, during a party Skylar encounters Josh Mitchell, a nineteen year-old guy that she used to work with at Paradise Motel before he enlisted in the Marines and was deployed to Afghanistan. Josh lost his leg during his time with the Marines, and has returned home  to Creek View, where he ends up working again at Paradise alongside Skylar. The two rekindle their friendship and become much closer than they ever were before. Theirs, is a beautiful love story with dark undertones and very real and truthful depictions of young, blossoming love. 

I really really enjoyed this novel and it is a book that I have recommended to numerous people since first reading it. The contemporary novels that I tend to enjoy most, are those that have flawed characters because they ring the most true to life. Skylar does not have the most happy and ‘healthy’ home life. Her mother loses her job during the summer and Skylar is depended on to make a reliable income to support herself and her mother. Skylar wants nothing more than to be rid of the small town where she grew up and go off to art school at the end of the summer, but life inevitably gets in the way and threatens to put that dream on hold. I did have a few issues with Skylar’s outlook on the people in her community and although it’s been awhile since I read this, I remember there being a few moments when I had issues with slut-shaming. One good thing about this, is that the issue is eventually addressed by one of the side characters in a way that feels genuine to the story and helps the reader to understand that Skylar’s opinions are there to enrich the story and add to eventual character growth. 

Josh was a refreshing love interest. It was amazing to read a Young Adult novel with a main character/love interest that has a physical disability! I have not researched and ventured into finding YA novels that have characters with disabilities…but it was great to see one that was ‘popular’ and promoted in various book related places. During the development of Skylar and Josh’s relationship, one of the things that made me absolutely fall in love with Josh’s character and the overall novel occurs. I can’t go into detail because I do not want to spoil anything…but it’s a turning point in the story and adds conflict and depth. These events highlight how flawed Josh’s character is and is explained so well that I couldn’t stop myself from completely identifying with Josh. I enjoyed reading an event that I may not be able to identify with, but be able to grasp the emotions and intent behind an action and the author brilliantly conveyed those feelings. Josh also has a mental disability which is PTSD. Although I said that Josh is a flawed character and that’s something that I love about him, neither of his disabilities are what makes him ‘flawed’! People are not spoiled or ruined in any way if they have a disability and I don’t want anyone reading this review to think that those are the ‘flaws’ that I’m referring to. He doubts himself and doubts what he is able to accomplish romantically…and though he probably never had those thoughts prior to his injury…the actions that he undertakes because of those doubts, in regards to his relationship and any hesitancy to peruse a relationship are the ‘flaws’ that I’m referring to. NOT his PTSD or physical disability! 

I fell head-over-hoof in love with this story, especially with how organically and realistically it progresses. I would absolutely recommend this novel to any fans of contemporary literature! This is also a great choice if you are making it a goal to read more diverse books/stories. I give I’ll Meet You There 8-out-of-10 unicorn horns. Happy Reading!