Review-Chris Lynch’s “Angry Young Man”

The once-good relationship between two half brothers and their mother grows tense as Ma’s money grows thinner and Robert’s brother Xan’s behavior grows stranger. Xan’s tendency to care a lot (perhaps too much) about everything and his ability to be persuaded prove to be curses-especially when he makes the wrong friends. Robert tries to help him get back on the right track, to show him that there’s a place for his big heart right at home.

I very much enjoyed the two main characters, Robert and Xan, for several reasons. Both of them are out of high school, which isn’t something I see a lot in teen fiction. Also, the story focuses mostly on Xan and his struggle to be accepted; yet the narrator is his older brother, Robert. Sometimes viewing a unique character from the outside makes that character seem stronger and even more intriguing-that was definitely the case with this book.

I would consider the book general fiction, but it has an original quality that sets it apart from the rest. Lynch crafted a story that stands out, without using any clichés (no vampires here!).

For me, the book started out slow and gradually built up toward the end. I think the story could have easily been more of a thriller had less time been spent developing the relationships between the characters. (Character development is great, but sometimes revealing a key detail near the end makes a book more fun and interesting.) The writing was pretty good, although many of the characters spoke in the same way. There weren’t many distinguishable changes in tone or dialect when a new character started talking.

There isn’t anything too special about the format-it’s straightforward, but good. I would recommend this book to high school readers, since some of the story’s elements are very mature. Also, there’s a sprinkling of obscenity. Not too much, but just enough to add some drama and give the book a “PG-13” rating.

Angry Young Man tells an original story with some memorable characters. Overall, I’d say the book could have moved faster, but it’s a quick read anyway (just over 150 pages). Some characters are a bit dull and some parts are slow, but it’s worth the read to get to the ending. This story hooked me and made me care about how this angry young man finds his way in the world.

 

Want to give it a shot?  Click HERE to check it out on Amazon.com!

Review-Pete Hautman’s “Blank Confession”

Given that Pete Hautman won a National Book Award for his book Godless, I picked up his latest work, Blank Confession, with high expectations. I was very disappointed. I have to give the book some credit though, since it did keep me interested enough to finish. I’ll even admit I liked it at first. The description on the back introduces the reader to a mysterious teenage character, Shayne Blank, who confesses to a murder, creating more questions than it solves. Most importantly, “Who is this boy?” The concept was great, but the rest of the book’s elements didn’t do it justice.

The book’s format, though unique, didn’t work. The novel is written in chapters that alternate between Shayne and a cop, explaining his crime and the events leading up to it, and those same events as seen through the eyes of one of Shayne’s friends. The scenes in the interview room where Shayne is confessing had the potential to be tense, dramatic, or at least interrogative–but they were none of those things. Sometimes the story relied on the police officer’s flashbacks to fill in the holes in the plot (he’s incredibly laid-back and hates his job), which distract from the suspense that should be building. The rest of the story was told from the point of view of Shayne’s friend, Mikey. Most of the actual story and character development took place there, but it was a bit awkward. I felt like the only reason it was there was to make the plot-twist ending less expected. A lot of the characters were either underdeveloped or made up of clichés, as if Hautman left a trail of breadcrumbs leading to an easy literary analysis. “Of course, ___ happened!”

I had one thought that would have made the whole book better–had the entire novel been set in the interview room, it would have helped add suspense while retaining the mystery surrounding Shayne. Why not just bring Mikey and the other characters there, too? That would eliminate all the hints Mikey drops about the ending, and make it easier to hide the surprise.

As much as this book didn’t work for me, there are things I appreciated. It was clear that Hautman did his research; he created very believable lives for the teenage characters. I saw definite clichés that made a lot of the plot predictable, but some moments seemed very real. I’d recommend this book to middle school/early high school readers looking for a summer read that isn’t too complicated, but still somewhat enjoyable.

 

Sound like your kind of book?  You can purchase it through Amazon HERE.

Review-Brain Falkner’s “Brain Jack”

From cover to cover, Brain Jack is a healthy dose of refreshment. Sam, a high school senior and self-taught computer hacker, lands a job with the government’s Cyber Defense Division. The next technological leap brings on neuro-headsets, which enable users to browse the Internet with the power of their minds. Unexpectedly, Sam’s dream job becomes a nightmare when the public’s best friend turns out to be the government’s worst enemy.

 

I found this book to be exciting! In a similar way to M.T. Anderson’s Feed, Falkner used the near-future setting as a canvas for a horrifying technological scenario, which made the story feel surreal. Though not probable, many of the story’s events are possible. I could tell that the author put some serious effort into creating a realistic, believable universe. The little details provided while discussing, for example, the issues of game addiction, terrorism, and more sophisticated cyber defense systems helped hold everything together. It got me thinking about a lot of things I don’t normally think about. Teen fiction needs more of that!

I’d recommend this book to high school readers, since it contains a large amount of “computer-speak.” Falkner did a great job of explaining unfamiliar or uncommon terms and planting context clues, though sometimes it was a little much. Younger kids may find it difficult to relate to some of the characters (though they were wonderfully fleshed out and developed). For a 300-plus-page book, this was a fast read, but I had to be sure to read it thoroughly. Every detail was important, keeping me focused and into it.

I don’t know if it was intentional, but I enjoyed finding allegorical meaning in some parts of the book. I think it’s safe to say that the stories in most teen novels aren’t allegories, so when I started finding a deeper meaning I got excited! It’s just my interpretation, but I believe the issues explored in the story represent the Internet, and more specifically, social networking. Instant teen appeal, right? All the time the Internet becomes more social, gets more information, and therefore is, essentially, a collective intelligence of its own. We, as users, are a part of it, but it’s a resource rather than a part of ourselves. Though fictional (for now), the concept of neuro-headsets represents the next step in our information-hungry future, where having the world at our fingertips isn’t enough.

 

Sound good?  You buy it at Amazon HERE.

Review-Jessica & Danielle Dunn’s “A Teen’s Guide to Getting Published” (2e)

The Scale

This is an informational book, to the key points here are organization, enjoyability, helpfulness, and formatting.

Organization: This book is very organized, with a section for publishing tips for online, standard, and magazine publishing, as well as a publishers directory.  Everything is easy to find, which is helpful for writers not interested in every topic this book covers.  (It covers pretty much anything a young person could need if they’re interested in publishing!)

Enjoyability: Although an informational book, it has a definite enjoyability factor.  The voices of the authors are great, especially since they wrote the book as teenagers.  They present advice in a cool, active way.

Helpfulness: I can clearly see why Jessica and Danielle became such as success as teenagers with this book.  Everything they have to say is fantastic and use-able!  They provide step by step instructions on how to prepare a piece for submission, writing submission letters, and catering to the requirements of different publishers.  A directory of publishers to submit to and contests to enter is included near the index, which can prove to be an amazing resource once a reader knows what to do!  The way everything is presented, even though the publishing world can be a scary one, makes it sound manageable.

Formatting: The only issue I had with this book was its format.  Yes it was organized, but for some reason or another it annoyed me.  Step by step instructions were provided on how to do a lot of things, but where to use the processes the book teaches in one chapter were in some other part of the book.  I would’ve liked to see the directory of publishers split, maybe put in sections at the end of each chapter.  Teen writing sites at the end of the online publishing chapter, and so on.

Final Rating–> 3.5/4

Would I recommend this book?  I suppose, as long as he/she’s a teen!

Review-Ivy Reisner’s “The WritingCast”

The Scale

for all forms of media, work must be enjoyable, organized, and well-done. “The WritingCast” is informational and digital, so I’m looking for helpful, realistic, and useable tips, as well as a nice lack of technical difficulties.

Enjoyability-Ivy speaks very well, and is always prepared. This (to me) makes her seem more comfortable addressing her listeners, which allows her to be herself. She’s quite funny as well…


Organization-As I mentioned earlier, Ivy always is prepared for her shows. It is obvious she prepares in-depth notes before recording. She’s generally very good about releasing episodes pretty regularly, which is especially impressive considering this isn’t her only podcast. She’s precise and clean, never at a loss for words.

Information-Ivy begins each show with a resource for writer’s to use. These can be anything from a book, website, sometimes other podcasts. These are great! As far as the help Ivy herself provides for writers, it’s also helpful and useable. She usually focuses on one topic per show, or interviews authors. Her topics are never unhelpful. Even if you’re familiar with what Ivy’s talking about, you’ll always find something you never knew before.

Technical Issues-How I wish I had Ivy’s luck with technology! At least when I began listening to her podcast, she changed microphones AND computers a couple times and I could tell no difference. Her sound quality is superb. The overall sound changes slightly every once in a while, but it’s honestly not a big issue.

Would I recommend this podcast? Of course!

Final rating—>4/4 stars