You’ll enjoy this quick read, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter; published by Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2007; 236 pages.

Cammie Morgan’s sophomore year continues in this sequel to I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You.  After her two week winter break, Cammie is quickly deposited in Washington, D.C. with her mother for debriefing of the fall term; in other words, about Josh.  Cammie has to choose between Josh and spy school, while taking a lie detector test.  What follows is another light-hearted retelling of the exploits of Cammie and three other Gallagher Girls.  But this time, boys have infiltrated the school in an exchange program with Blackthorne (the boys’ spy school). 

While there are details of the school work, the most interesting part of the story is how Cammie deals with a new boy after her crushing relationship with Josh; as well as how Cammie and new friend Zach encounter and deal with Josh, who is now apparently dating DeeDee.  Typical teen angst in an atypical setting provides typical teens with a storyline they can relate to in a circumstance that many teens may fantasize about.  I know I dreamed I was a secret agent sent to live with my parents (who were definitely not my birth parents; they were European royalty for whom I’d sacrificed all to protect them).  Anyway, a heart-pounding mission ends the book and leaves us wondering what the Gallagher Girls will have to face in their junior year.

I enjoyed this quick read for its humor but also for the naive teen perspective on what constitutes a life-and-death situation.  Great prose?  Not really, but for entertainment and a quick diversion, this is a great book in a fun series.  I also appreciate that the girls are typical teens but are also independent and empowered: Go Gallagher Girls!

4P     3Q     Grade Level: 6-9

cross my heartCover Art: The same image of a teen in uniform whose face is unrecognizable is used again (nice job tying the series together), but this time, the blue theme is replace with green and her fingers are crossed, tying in with the title of the book.  Teens will recognize the cover and pick this up to continue the series.  The plaid spine with ransom-letters in the title will also stand out on the shelves.  I think this cover works well for its intended audience.

Suggested Reading List: Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults


Adoration of Jenna Fox: Is this our future?

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson; published by Henry Holt and Co., New York, 2008; 265 pages.

Viruses out of control. Biotechnology replacing God. Genetically modified plants overtaking landscapes. This is the world that Jenna Fox, 17-year-old amnesiac, awakens to. Memories wash back in frustrating and uncontrolled flashes, some even reaching back to the Sacrament of Baptism when she was an infant. But Lily, her grandmother, and her parents, Claire and Matthew, don’t realize the experiences their adored Jenna Angeline Fox suffered through during her nightmarish coma. Now awake, she is also awakening to her past (the voices of her friends Kara and Locke haunt her) and her future: Mr. Bender, her first friend in her new life, is hiding from his past and is thus a marker in the fork in the road Jenna faces; Dane is human, but soulless; Allys is crippled by uncontrolled viruses yet fights for the end of scientific interventions; and Ethan represents a future she may not be able to have. For after all, Jenna is a genetic mutant herself, only 10% of her pre-accident body exists. What kind of future can a Bio Gel filled, nanobot controlled teenager have?

I may seem like a broken record here, but I enjoyed this book. What teen hasn’t felt alien in his or her body? What teen isn’t struggling for identity? And who among us isn’t concerned about the out-of-control spiral science seems to be reeling on? In addition to crafting a coming of age story that is as old as time itself (but leads us to the future that is just out of our reach), Pearson’s layout of the story is ingenious.  Although the book is written from Jenna’s perspective, we get the most honest glimpses into her thoughts. those that fall between the black-and-white, on gray pages with insightful poetry.  These gray pages seem to mark sections of the book, with chapter titles that seem to be attempts by Jenna to define words that she lost during her reconstruction.  I hesitate to call this science fiction because it is so readable, even for the most literal readers.  However, like all good science fiction, it is through the scientifically impossible scenarios that we are given glimpses into the defects of human nature. 

My only gripe with the book is that the last chapter, which projects us into Jenna’s future, is wrapped up too neatly and very abruptly.  Another issue, that is probably more me than the book, is that the theme of being “the perfect child” was too subtle.  As the oldest, I could relate to Jenna’s sense that she had to be perfect at everything; it was as an adult that I realized that perfectionism was my issue, not my parents’.  I guess I wish that storyline had been emphasized more than the Allys-science-out-of-control line.

4P     5Q     Grade Level: 8-12

jennafoxCover Art: The pons, or butterfly, is the 10% of Jenna’s brain that her dad was able to save.  Jenna also struggles with her fingers not interlocking comfortably (“monster hands” I believe she calls them).  With her hand and a blue butterfly on the cover, the story is summarized; however, it doesn’t make sense before the book is read.  However, the slightly out of focus image with a title that include “adoration” in it, should get teens interested.  The white, interesting, font on the black spine is easy to locate on the shelves.  I think word-of-mouth is going to have to sell this one, particularly to boys.

From Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

Speak volumes without words

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson; published by Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 1999; 198 pages.

Melinda Sordino is an incoming freshman.  The transition to high school is never an easy one, but for Melinda, the transition includes precious losses.  The preceding summer included attending a bacchanal party that came to an abrupt halt when she called the police.  As her physical losses mount, she loses more and more of her ability to speak.  Friends abandon her like she is a plague.  Parents and teachers notice the change but blame it on “acting out,” rather than considering what could have caused the dramatic alteration.  With the encouragement of an understanding art teacher, Melinda finds her voice, figuratively speaking.  In the end, she is confronted by the crippling source of her pain and is able to stand up for herself, find her physical voice and transform the villain into the school heroine.

Laurie Halse Anderson uses the diary format she employed in Catalyst again in Speak.  We are tranported into the brain of a traumatized, victimized 13 year old girl.  In this case, Anderson uses grading periods to divide the book into four sections, with each divided into “chapters” that highlight events during that nine week period.  As an adult, I had a pretty good clue about the events of the party before Melinda revealed them, but I don’t know that younger teens would predict what had happened.  In the end, it didn’t matter that I had figured out the horror she went through, it was more important to experience her transformation.  Once again, I was deeply impressed by Anderson’s ability to involve the readers’ five senses in her descriptions–I found myself chewing on my own lips looking for the scabs, for example.

With so many young adults feeling like outsiders, this book should resonate with teen readers.  Boys and girls alike experience personal violations and losing friends, so the themes should touch appeal to both genders. 

4P     5Q     Grade Level: 8-10

speakCover Art: The face is haunting–no mouth, eyes two different colors and looking like they’re focused somewhere past the reader.  The tree includes old growth and new.  The spine is read with white lettering and should be easily found on the shelves.  Overall, I think this cover would pique the interest of teens.

From Reading List:  Margaret A. Edwards Award, 2009 winner

combining(5 senses) + character development = {catalyst

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson; published by the Penguin Group, New York, 2002; 231 pages.

This is not your average coming of age story.  Sure, the same struggles exist: friends and family don’t understand the main character; she grows and her maturity helps her understand her past and prepare for the future; and the threshold from high school to the real world is about to be crossed.  But Kate Malone isn’t your average teen and Laurie Halse Anderson isn’t your average author.  Kate Malone is an honors student, athlete, and minister’s daughter.  Anderson gives her a unique voice; we read as though paging through Kate’s chemistry notebook cum diary.  Sometimes her thoughts are jotted down sentence fragments, committed to paper in a rush; sometimes she fleshes out the details so they won’t be forgotten; always, the narrator’s voice is letting us in on just enough of her thought process to keep us eavesdropping for a few more pages.  Anderson also excels at drawing us into the story with all our senses—you can almost feel the sweaty watchband on your skin, hear the metal clanging as Kate tries to open the locked locker, smell the chicken and biscuits, see the glare off the Bert’s windshield, and taste the stale glazed donut dunked in diner coffee.  In some ways, the stories of death, of college application missteps, of her friendships, are secondary to character development.  By watching Kate Malone fall apart and resurrect herself, we witness her coming of age; the plot is important but not the real story in Catalyst.

I enjoyed this book and want to read more of Anderson’s work to better understand why she was chosen for the Margaret A. Edwards Award.  Witnessing Kate Malone reach outside herself to support Teri Litch was an inspirational example of Kate’s character growth.  Being able to feel the stress and exhaustion then finally resignation and peace are the result of Anderson’s remarkable storytelling talent.  Kate Malone could be any type-A personality student in any college prep program anywhere in the country.  Her growth and development, especially in the hands of Anderson, provide inspiration and a good read for high school students.   I think the depiction of a type-A teen will appeal to most teens as they prepare to step over the threshold to adulthood.

4P     5Q     Grades 10-12

catalystCover Art: Boring.  Plain and simple.  The underlying chemistry theme is done in muted tones.  The portrait, I assume of Kate Malone, is not striking.  The use of the bracket in the title and all lower-case letters is interesting, but not enough to generate interest based solely on the cover art.  The dark red letters on the dark spine did not stand out on the shelf—I was looking for this title in particular and had a fairly difficult time locating it.  Overall, teens would have to be looking for this book to pick it out; the cover seems to be designed for a class assignment!  When searching for the cover image to include here, I did notice that there is an updated cover that is more graphically interesting.

From Reading List: Margaret A. Edwards Award, 2009 winner

Jellicoe Road: Piecing the puzzle together

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta; published by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2008; 419 pages.

Do you know that feeling when you dump out all the pieces of a really big, really complex jigsaw puzzle?  It’s frustrating to find those first connecting pieces and you probably debate whether or not to continue to sort through 500—or  1,000 or more—pieces; is it really worth the effort?  Then, a shift in your thinking occurs, you can’t really identify when it happens, but you’re drawn in, the challenge grips you; and the beauty of the emerging image intrigues you, holes and all.  As the last few pieces call you to place them on the board to finish the project, you slow down and savor those last few moments of the sweet challenge.  That describes Jellicoe Road

At age 11, protagonist Taylor Markham was abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road.  Miraculously, the mysterious Hannah found her within five minutes and took her to the local boarding school where pieces of Hannah’s life weave their way into the puzzle of Taylor’s life.  While she sorts through the puzzle pieces of her own life, Taylor becomes embroiled in the turf wars between her school, the Townies and the Cadets; and of course, there is a boy and there is angst and there is rebellion.  By the end of the book, Taylor’s existence not only parallels that of Hannah’s youth but becomes inexorably intertwined.  In the process, she rediscovers trust, love and faith. 

I almost put this book down in favor of a less-confusing, and therefore faster, read.  I am so glad I persevered!  Marchetta unfolds the mysteries of the stories to us as Taylor discovers them for herself.  And, oh!, it was a treat to meet Taylor Markham.  She faces similar (yet magnified) coming of age issues as Bella Swan (from the Twilight series), and finds solace in the strength and support of a young man, but Taylor is an independent young woman that recognizes she must be independent and have an existence outside of her relationship to Jonah Griggs.  Beautifully written in language accessible to young adults, Marchetta weaves a mysterious tale that would draw in any teen who can overlook the confusion of the first few chapters.  Love, war, and self-discovery pave Jellicoe Road for Taylor.  This puzzle is worth the time to solve!  As a mystery with a strong protagonist, I think it will appeal to teens.

 4P     5Q   Grades 9-12

jellicoe_roadCover Art:  The image of the orange poppy is explained in the story, but the real value of the cover is the font.  It’s edgy and playful and must have been chosen by a teenager!  The bright orange of a painted swath above the orange poppy and green background makes the black type pop and the visual appeal is echoed on the spine.  This book would definitely stand out on a bookshelf—in fact, I was looking for another book when this caught my eye and I chose it because I recognized the title from the reading list.  It’s not the image that provides the appeal to teens, it is the use of bright orange with an edgy font that will get their attention.

From Reading List: Michael L. Printz Award, 2009 Winner

RSS Braingle’s Teasers

  • Today's Daily Brain Teaser (Jun 18, 2019)
    The Last Stand General Custer is surrounded by Indians and he's the only cowboy left. He finds an old lamp in front of him and rubs it. Out pops a genie. The genie grants Custer one wish, with a catch. He says, "Whatever you wish for, each Indian will get two of the same thing." Custer ponders a while and thinks:"If I get a bow and arrow […]