Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#4: Dear Evan Hansen (Val Emmich)

During my most recent library trip, I decided I was in the mood for some Young Adult fiction. I hadn’t done any advance research and didn’t have anything in mind. Unfortunately, scanning the shelves led to unsatisfactory finds. (I’m going to have to try again to see if the selection is really that poor!) As I was heading to the circulation desk, a book caught my eye on the bottom of the new selections display – Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich with Steven Levenson, Benjamin Pasek, and Justin Paul. I immediately recognized the last three names as the team behind the hit Broadway show of the same name. I had just found my next read!

Dear Evan Hansen is the story of a high school senior, Mark Evan Hansen, who often feels unnoticed and overlooked. He avoids crowds and shies away from the public eye. While visiting his therapist (just to make his mother happy!), Evan is instructed to write daily letters to himself. While they are meant to focus his attention on the positive aspects of life, Evan is also told to simply be truthful about how things are going.

After a particularly trying day that included an encounter with the school recluse and bully, Connor, Evan heads to the computer lab to write his feelings. “Dear Evan Hansen,” he begins and lays his feelings of hopelessness and frustration with life on the line. As he prints the letter, he discovers that Conner is also in the lab. Before Evan can get to the letter, Connor has already retrieved it from the printer, read it, and leaves with the letter in his possession.

While Evan waits for his world to be destroyed by Connor sharing the personal letter with the public, Evan’s world takes a sharp turn. Connor has committed suicide and his parents found Evan’s letter. But they don’t think the letter was written by Evan! Instead, they assume that Connor was preparing to share his feelings with his best friend, Evan Hansen.

What can be done? Evan must decide between telling the truth and admitting to his own embarrassing circumstances or he can create a facade that will bring relief to Connor’s grieving parents while making Evan an overnight sensation and hero! Dear Evan Hansen beautifully examines the conflict between fact and fiction by those teens who feel they are not noticed by anyone and the guilt that comes with the lies.

Perhaps one of my favorite passages from the novel comes in the Epilogue. Since I am certain it will not spoil important plot points, I want to share it here to let you see the beauty of the narrative and to let you think about the quote’s important message.

It reminds me of that saying: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” I guess that means we’re just products of whoever made us and we don’t have much control. The thing is, when people use that phrase, they ignore the most critical part: the falling. Within the logic of that saying, the apple falls every single time. Not falling isn’t an option. So, if the apple has to fall, the most important question in my mind is what happens to it upon hitting the ground? Does it touch down with barely a scratch? Or does it smash on impact? Two vastly different fates. When you think about it, who cares about its proximity to the tree or what type of tree spawned it? What really makes all the difference, then, is how we land.

Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich, p. 334

Go to your local library or bookstore and pick up a copy of this book about love, loss, and the power of friendship. Most importantly, remember that none of us is truly alone!

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Insurgent (Veronica Roth)

This post has been challenging to write. Why? I finished reading Insurgent while on vacation with my parents last week. When I closed the novel, I found myself asking “What am I going to say about THAT?” I don’t know. Even as I am beginning to write this post, I don’t really know what I’m going to say. This may be an interesting review for all of us….

Insurgent continues the story of Tris and Tobias’ love affair in their dystopian world. As war looms, our young heros face the issue of figuring out who they can trust and who is telling them the truth. Themes of loyalty, forgiveness, freedom, and independence course throughout the work. As a work of fiction, however, I found myself unimpressed repeatedly. The plot simply seemed to circle on itself and never move forward. I was no longer drawn into the story as I was in Divergent and discovered that I kept reading because of my commitment to the previous novel. As I neared the end, I began to question if I really wanted to read the final novel in the trilogy. I don’t have the confidence that the story and writing will grab my attention again. Part of me wants to read it just to complete the cycle; the other part of me hears my former literature teacher telling me to walk away from a bad read without guilt because there are so many good books awaiting my attention. We will just have to see what the future holds.

I’m rather shocked that this has been my response to Insurgent. The reviews for the book were tremendous. The book appears at first glance to be the kind that I will thoroughly enjoy. I can’t really put my finger on what it was about the second installment of the trilogy that turned me off so badly, but I can’t really come up with anything good to say about the reading experience.

So I’m taking a departure from young adult fiction for a while and returning to more familiar territory. I wanted to immerse myself in several different books in hopes that SOMETHING would re-ignite a passion for reading at the moment. So what am I reading right now? I’m working my way through 3 books — which is rather unusual for me!  I am reading The First American (H.W. Brands), The Finishing School (Joanna Goodman) and Ballplayer (Chipper Jones). Hopefully I’ll have a new reading review on one of these books by the end of the week. Now I’m going back to my reading chair and diving into a book.

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Divergent (Veronica Roth)

I tend to avoid getting on the bandwagon with popular series. It took me forever to experience the world of Harry Potter and the Hunger Games saga. Why? I didn’t want to get swept up into the hoopla of the popular experiences. By waiting, the books are able to stand on their own merit and my encounter with the written word is mine alone.

To that end, I dove into Veronica Roth’s Divergent this summer….and I thoroughly enjoyed the first book of the series! The storytelling was engrossing and the plot easily kept my attention through its many twists and turns. Now I completely understand why Roth’s writing was so well received by the young adult audience.

For those who have no idea about Divergent, the novel is set in a world where people are sorted into factions — essentially a caste system — based upon skills that they possess. There are a select few, however, who have superior skills that cannot be manipulated by the sorting process. They are classified as the Divergent….and face constant danger if their status is discovered. 

The adventures of Beatrice, Four, Will, Peter, and the others will keep the attention of every reader. Looking for an exciting adventure story? Look no further than Divergent. Need a little romance in your life? It’s here, too! Hoping for something that raises questions about bravery and selflessness? Roth’s novel addresses these topics splendidly.

I highly recommend that you and your teen read this book! However, be advised that there are scenes depicting violence, warfare, sexuality, domestic abuse and death that may be disturbing for some readers.

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#1: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling)

To begin my reading in the new year, I completed the fifth volume of the Harry Potter saga. In this 5th year at Hogwarts, Harry learns much about his past and destiny while struggling with his own demons as well as the Dark Lord and the infuriating High Inquisitor of the school. Of all the books I have read thus far, Phoenix has been my least favorite. I do recognize its importance to the story as a whole, however.

I found The Order of the Phoenix to get off to a very slow start. Truthfully, if I had not been so invested in the series, I probably would not have completed the book. (I tend to quit reading books that have not grabbed my attention within the first 75 pages or so.) Additionally, I found myself longing for Dumbledore's influence on the story. I love the adventures of the children and have enjoyed watching them grow up, but their stories make a much more profound statement when they are enjoying the interaction of all the faculty. My reading was often distracted as I kept wondering why the Headmaster was not commenting on the situation.

As the novel began to reach its climax, I became enthralled with Harry's story again and just couldn't put it down. The quality of the writing of the final scenes restored my confidence in Rowling and has me looking forward to the 6th year of our heroes' studies at the Wizarding Academy.

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#22: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The fourth year tale of our boy hero, Harry Potter, is significantly longer than the novels that have preceded it and takes on a decidedly darker tone. As Harry, Ron, and Hermione grow on the pages of the novel, the reader is treated to more mature discussions of relevant topics raised by the plot. The Goblet of Fire centers around an international competition that Harry has been entered in against his wishes. With each passing task, Harry discovers the importance of honor and honesty in his pursuit for victory. Additionally, the novel addresses topics of racism, deception, and death in a manner that is appropriate for the young reader.

What I found most intriguing in this year at Hogwarts’ was the return of Voldemort. It is interesting to see how the horrific memories of past events have faded in the minds of many of the HP world while others valiantly strive to keep Voldemort from regaining power. As the novel comes to its conclusion, a clear line is drawn between those who choose to ignore the changing scenario and those who are preparing for battle against the forces of evil. It is very clear how Christian overtones and themes can be applied to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Quite simply, the novel speaks powerfully of the necessity of man to choose either good or evil.

Without a doubt, Rowling has prepared the reader for a powerfully charged read as we approach year 5 with Harry and the gang. I’m already looking forward to diving in!

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#21: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I wanted to keep things light at the beginning of the semester, so I returned to the world of Harry Potter for the third installment in the series. Although I found the book a little slow in the beginning, HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban quickly turned out to be my favorite of the novels I have read thus far. I especially liked the themes of self-empowerment and overcoming darkness with light that pervaded the book. As the reader discovered more about the death of James Potter, we learned a little about making rash judgments right along with Harry. Perhaps the most powerful lessons were taught about assumptions through the stories of the hippogriff and Black. Both were thought to be extremely dangerous, killing machines. In the end, the truth about both the magical creature and the feared wizard came to light.

There are so many other things that could be discussed…..the battle between the Patronus and the dementors……prisons that must be escaped (both literally and figuratively)……as well as ideas of discernment and true friendship. I am certain that I will return to this book again and examine the themes more closely now that I know where the story is heading. Prisoner of Azkaban has definitely made an impact on my reading life….and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining read.


#17: Reboot (Amy Tintera)

As I continue to work my way through My Library Shelf, I encountered Amy Tintera’s Reboot. The story is narrated by Wren, a HARC assassin identified as 178. Her number signifies the number of minutes she remained dead five years ago before she woke up — or before she was rebooted. In this futurist society in Texas, teens are being wiped out by a highly contagious virus. HARC, the Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation, resurrects these victims and creates an army trained to follow orders without question. The result is a community marked by fear and governmental abuse. When Wren meets Callum, another Reboot, her opinion of the situation changes and the two set out to escape in order to obtain freedom.

I found Reboot a difficult book to dive into. The opening scenes felt stunted and contrived. Honestly, I found myself repeatedly thinking that Tintera was attempting to capitalize on the success of The Hunger Games. I found little exciting or original in the work. I don’t plan to read the sequel (Rebel) either. Here’s hoping that the positive reading experiences resume as I continue my way along My Library Shelf.

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#12: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)

When Harry Potter made his way to American bookshelves in 1998, I was a graduate student who had just started working with the children’s ministry of a local church. In that position, I felt the need to read the controversial book in order to have an opinion to share with children and their parents. As I read, I was looking for problems…..and found some things that I thought parents should know before making their own decision about the book. In my search for information, however, I missed the story and excitement of Rowling’s characters. Almost 17 years have passed since the novel made its American debut and I have found myself wondering what all the hype was about, so I decided to read the series this summer. What I found was a charming book filled with moral dilemmas, images of pure love, and the challenges of finding your own identify during childhood. Additionally, I only found a few scenes that I found questionable for pre-teen readers (the target audience of the book). Instead, what I discovered is that I was enthralled by the story and simply could not put the book down. I have actually had to forbid myself from returning to the library to pick up the next installment before I finish a couple of other books that are on deck.

I realize that I am just beginning my journey with Harry, Hermione, and the rest of the cast at Hogwarts, but I am definitely excited to see how the story continues. I’m just glad I don’t have to wait as long as the original readers did to find out what happens in the next year of school.

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#5: Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)

I finally completed The Hunger Games trilogy! I certainly didn’t see some of the twists and turns in this final episode. Now that the revolution against the Capitol is in full swing, the book becomes much darker in tone. Almost too dark, honestly. While I understand the necessity of making the shift, I found myself not very fond of the final book.

The scene that most upset me was when the surviving tributes vote about the possibility of hosting another Hunger Game, featuring the children of the Capitol. While Collins explained Katniss’ vote, I found it to be completely out of character. While I was thrilled with Katniss’ final choice of beau, I didn’t like the series’ ending. I felt the final resolution was trite and contrived. It seemed obvious to me that — in relation to Collins’ writing — “The odds were NOT ever in her favor.”


#32: Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins)

Catching Fire has been sitting in my to-read stack for almost a year. This summer, I finally got around to reading the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy. When I first began reading the book, I was sorely disappointed. It didn’t begin with the spark that I had come to expect from Collins. I almost put the book away in order to move on to something else. I suppose I was picking up on the feelings that my youngest niece had expressed about the book. As I continued to read, I found extremely thought-provoking writing about revolution and rebellion that fascinated me. When the twist of the games finally appeared, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down. I’m anxious to read the final volume of the trilogy to learn how the story ends. I’ll pick up the book next week and add it to my bedside collection in order to guarantee that I return to the adventures of Katniss, Gale, and Peeta before the summer is over.

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