Great Reads for Teens and Tweens!

Helping you make an informed decision about that book

Dork Diaries: Tales From A Not-So-Fabulous Life By Rachel Renee Russell

 Title: Dork Diaries: Tales From A Not-So-Fabulous Life

 Author: Rachel Renee Russell

 Publisher: Aladdin     Year: 2009

 ISBN -13: 978-1416980063

 Genre: Fiction

 Age: 9 and up

 Themes / Subjects: junior high, popularity, comics, middle school, cliques, humor

 Awards:  New York Times Bestseller list for 42 weeks; USA Today Best Sellers list for 7   weeks; 2010 Children’s Choice Book of the Year Award for the 5th/6th grade division; nominated as Book of the Year by the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice

Plot Summary:

Fourteen-year-old Nikki Maxwell is a self proclaimed dork. This school year she has been awarded a scholarship to a prestigious private middle school, thanks in part to her dad’s contract with the school as their bug exterminator.  Nikki believes that a new iPhone will help her cinch a spot in the school’s  CCP (cute, cool & popular) group so when her mom returns home from the mall with a “special back-to-school”  present she is pretty ecstatic. What does her mother purchase for her? A stupid little diary. Nikki swears not to write in it but soon the pages are filled with sketches and stories of drama with the school’s resident mean girl, her embarrassing parents, new friends and hot crushes.

My Take:

For being a self-proclaimed dork, Nikki Maxwell is a pretty mean girl herself. Her character is shallow and self-centered and changes very little by the end of the book. While some of the situations she finds herself in are humorous there were twice as many situations where I felt like cringing with things that she had said or done.  This book is recommended for ages 9 and up, but some of the humor and situations would be much more appropriate for older girls. How would you like to explain to your 9 year old why “…hordes of celebrity party girls regularly FORGET to wear undies, not a single one would be caught dead without her cell phone” (p.4)? Hopefully we see some sort of character development in the next book, but I won’t be rushing off to read it.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars – Girls are probably better off reading “Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Similar Read: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

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Soul Eater, Volume 1 by Atsushi Ohkubo

Title: Soul Eater

Author: Atsushi Ohkubo

Publisher: Yen Press    Year: 2009

ISBN -13: 978-0759530010

Genre: Manga

Age: 14 and up

Themes / subjects: Science fiction, fantasy, comics & graphic novels, manga, weapons, school, death


Plot Summary:

Death Weapon Meister Academy (DWMA) is a school run by Shanigami Death where students (meisters) are partnered with living weapons and trained to battle and absorb evil souls. The goal of  meisters and weapons are to absorb the souls of 99 evil humans and 1 witch, greatly increasing the weapon’s power and transforming them into death scythes which can be used by Shanigami Death. Volume 1 of Soul Eater follows the individual adventures of Meister Maka Albarn and her weapon partner Soul Eater, Black Star and his weapon partner Tsubaki Nakatsukasa, and Death the Kid with his weapon partners Liz and Patty Thompson. The biggest issue is not the evil minions they face, but their own “quirky” personalities!

My Take:

This was my first Manga read and came highly recommended from one of my students who actually let me borrow her copy. A word to the wise, figure out how to read the book first! Soul Eater is a Japanese manga which is read right to left or “backwards” to the American reader. I didn’t realize this at first and was very confused because the story didn’t seem to flow right but a couple pages into it, I got it.

With that said, I am hooked on this series! I found the complexity of the meisters relationship with their weapons to be very intriging. Maka is a young, cute schoolgirl yet her weapon Soul is obnoxiously brash. Assassin Black Star considers himself a big show-off while his weapon Tsubaki is sweet and tries to keep him in line. Death’s kid is completely nuts about symmetry to the point he can’t continue his task if he thinks the toilet paper at home is not folded correctly. His twin weapons Patty and Liz don’t understand his problem but they still love him anyway. Despite the characters obvious personality differences, they work extremely well together and in fact make excellent teams. This goes to show that the most unexpected persons can make great partners.

Manga is a very unique and distinctive art style that is specific to Japanese graphic novels, typically intended for adults. Ohkubo’s chiaroscuro panels, askew close-ups, and quirky style blend to create supernatural worlds with a Halloween feel.

Soul Eater is a dark comedy/action series meaning it contains violence and some sexual content. I think it’s important to note that this book and its characters are not violent for the sake of violence, but rather they are battling demons and evil souls in an effort to save their world and mankind. Know your teen and what they can handle!

** Soul Eater is also an anime series (available through youtube) which I found to closely follow the book in both design and dialogue. Here is a link to the first episode

Rating: 5/5 stars … this book left me wanting more!

Similar Read: One Piece by Eiichiro Oda

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The Arrival by Shaun Tan

 Title: The Arrival

 Author: Shaun Tan

 Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books     Year:  2007

 ISBN -13: 978-0439895293

 Genre: Graphic Novel, Fiction

 Age: 12 and up

 Awards: 2006 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards Book of the Year ; 2006 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards Premier’s Prize ; 2007 Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year

 Themes / Subjects: Graphic Novel, social situations – immigration


Plot Summary:

From the School Library Journal

Tan captures the displacement and awe with which immigrants respond to their new surroundings in this wordless graphic novel. It depicts the journey of one man, threatened by dark shapes that cast shadows on his family’s life, to a new country. The only writing is in an invented alphabet, which creates the sensation immigrants must feel when they encounter a strange new language and way of life. A wide variety of ethnicities is represented in Tan’s hyper-realistic style, and the sense of warmth and caring for others, regardless of race, age, or background, is present on nearly every page. Young readers will be fascinated by the strange new world the artist creates, complete with floating elevators and unusual creatures, but may not realize the depth of meaning or understand what the man’s journey symbolizes. More sophisticated readers, however, will grasp the sense of strangeness and find themselves participating in the man’s experiences. They will linger over the details in the beautiful sepia pictures and will likely pick up the book to pour over it again and again.—Alana Abbott, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

 My Take:

Normally I write my own plot summary but I found it exceptionally difficult with this book. This was my first experience “reading” a graphic novel and quite honestly, not the most pleasant experience. I expected to have to use my imagination to create the story based on the illustrations but without any prior knowledge of what it was supposed to be about I had no idea where the story was going. On Tan’s website he explains that in this book “the absence of any written description also plants the reader more firmly in the shoes of an immigrant character.” In my case, the absence of written description left me thoroughly confused. So I passed the book on to my eleven year old friend Josh. When he finished reading it, Josh turned to me and asked what is it about?

The illustrations are beautifully drawn and I understood that I was following the trials and travels of an immigrant, but the little alien creatures and strange language really threw me off. After reading the artist’s note at the end, I finally understood what the artists was trying to portray. With that said, I think the complexity of the story will go over many young kids heads, heck even older kids. This book is an excellent way for parents or educators to open up a discussion on immigration but I strongly suggest giving kids an idea of what they are about to read.

Rating: 1/5 stars … needs some sort of preface or text to help guide readers

Similar Read: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (“…not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things.” – from Brian Selznick’s website)

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Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman

 Title: Son of the Mob

 Author: Gordon Korman

 Publisher: Hyperion  Year: 2004

 ISBN-13: 978-0786815937

 Genre: Fiction

 Age: 12 and up

Awards: American Library Association 2003 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults Annotated List – Book 2001 Son of the Mob

Themes / Subjects: humor, mystery/detective, family life, social situations

Plot Summary:

17-year-old Vince Luca just wants to be your normal high school student and lead a normal life. He spends his time chasing girls, playing on the football team and hanging out with his best friend Alex. But there is absolutely nothing normal about his family. His father happens to be THE mob boss running the “vending machine business” in New York and Vince’s “uncles,” brother, and dad expect him to join the family business. Vince on the other hand wants nothing to do with it. Instead he rebels and attempts to escape his family’s image and reputation. However, nothing goes as Vince plans and to make matters worse he’s fallen for the one girl whose father could take down the whole Luca family and business.

My Take:

This was my first time reading anything by Gordon Korman and I am hooked! This book is not your typical kill/torture mafia story but rather less talk more action, page turning suspense and just a hint of romance.  Korman does a phenomenal job describing and bringing to life the internal and external struggles Vince Luca experiences as a result of being a “mob prince” and a senior in high school. Torn between loyalty to his family and the desire to be a good, normal kid, Vince is going to have to make some rather gutsy decisions that are going to impact everyone around him.

There are some references to drugs and sex but they do not play a major role in the book. Violence is a big part of the mafia life, aka “vending machine business”, but it is important to note that Vince does everything in his power to avoid violence being used. I think his lack of threats and weapons is what makes him such a powerful and relatable character. Plus, it is very interesting to read about falling in love from a guy’s perspective without it ruining the pace of the story.

This book is a great way to open up a discussion with younger readers regarding morals and values because of the questionable acts of the Luca family and the ways in which Vince handles them.

And just because I love the way they describe it, from Publishers Weekly … “The Sopranos (minus the vulgarity and violence) meets Leave It to Beaver (minus the “aw-shucks” tone and dated sensibility) in Korman’s (No More Dead Dogs) brassy, comical caper. With its razor-sharp dialogue and bullet-fast pace, this tale could fly on either the small or big screen, yet it makes a page-turner of a novel.”

Rating: 5/5 stars … This book is a must read if you like action, suspense and a little romance. Or if you happen to find random bodies in the back of your car and suspect your parents to be in the “vending machine business.”

Similar read: Breaking Point by Alex Flinn


The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

 Title: The Red Pyramid

 Author: Rick Riordan

 Publisher: Hyperion Book CH

 ISBN -13: 978-1423113454

 Genre: Fantasy Fiction

 Age: 10 and up

 Awards: A #1 New York Times bestseller ; A School Library Journal Best Book of 2010 ; Winner: Children’s Choice Book Awards 2011: Best Book, Grades 5-6

Themes / Subjects: Fantasy, adventure, Egyptian Mythology, family life, siblings

Plot Summary:

Carter Kane, 14, and Sadie Kane, 12, have grown up practically as strangers since their mother’s death six years earlier. While Sadie has grown up with her grandparents in London, Carter has travelled the world with their father, Egyptologist Dr. Julius Kane. On Christmas Eve, the family is reunited in London and headed to the British Museum for an experiment to “set things right.” Things, however, go terribly wrong and five Egyptian gods are released, including Set who entombed Dr. Kane and causes the children to flee for their lives.

Now the siblings must embark on a journey to master their hidden powers as descendents of magicians who can host Egyptian gods, learn to work and understand one another and save mankind from Set’s destructive red pyramid.

My take:

After reading the Percy Jackson series by Riordan, this book was very hard for me to get into even with my love for Egyptian mythology. I expected it to have as much action and adventure as the Percy Jackson series and instead felt like there was a lot of down-time/explanations which made the story seem to drag on. Riordan does an excellent job incorporating Egyptian mythology and providing readers with additional information and a means of keeping track of all the gods in the back of the book.

The best  part of the book was the way the character’s personalities and relationship developed throughout the book. The book is told from both Sadie and Carter’s perspective, alternating chapters and as though it were an audio recording allowing readers inside the thoughts of both the main characters. I was especially impressed with the impact race/ethnicity played and how it impacted the characters. Although they are siblings, Sadie and Carter are not only practically strangers but physically look nothing alike. Sadie is caucasian with an English accent who likes to wear combat boots and a streak of color in her hair. Carter on the other hand is African-American and always dressed presentable in slacks and a button down shirt. Immediately I felt sorry for Carter because of the two he always seems to get the raw end of the deal and is overshadowed by his little sister.

Rating: 3/5 stars because it was not as adventurous as some of Riordan’s other reads but still an interesting insight to how Egyptian gods might spend their time and the hilarity of sibling rivalry.

Similar Read : The Pharoh’s Secret by Marissa Moss

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Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Title: Incarceron

Author: Catherine Fisher

Publisher: Penguin Group Year: 2011

ISBN: 9780803733961

Genre: Science fiction / fiction

Age: 12 and up

Awards: Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2010

Subject/themes: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy


Plot Summary:

Incarceron is a prison like no other. Imagine a prison with no guards or bars but a futuristic and artificial world containing forests of metal trees, cities, oceans and the ever watchful red-eye. Incarceron has been sealed for centuries and escape is only a dream that few believe in and supposedly achieved by only one man, the legendary Sapphique. However, prisoner and “Starseer” Finn, has no recollection of his past and strongly believes he is from the Outside.

Outside is a world that was once a realm of advanced technology and discovery but is now trapped in the 17th century because time has been forbidden in an effort to save humanity. Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is tangled in an arranged marriage to the (wrongful) heir of the throne and an assassination plot against the queen. She is suspicious of the death of Giles, her original betrothed and rightful heir to the throne, and believes the answers to her questions lie within Incarceron.

With the help of a few friends and crystal keys, Finn and Claudia must work together to save each other and discover who they really are.

My take:

This book was AMAZING and will seriously blow your minds! At first the idea of two separate worlds existing within one world was hard to wrap my brain around and I would stop and think to myself, “Isn’t Incarceron suppose to be a prison?” But I strongly urge readers to keep reading and it will all begin to make sense, I promise.

Incarceron was supposed to be a grand experiment where “undesireables” would be removed from our world and placed within its boundaries with everything needed to create a utopia. 150 years after it was sealed, the Outside still consider Incarceron to be a success, however the prison has become a complete failure. Violence and tyranny are rampant, resources have dwindled, and the prison has developed its own self-awareness. And yet no one, not even the Warden does anything about it. Yet on the Outside, things are just  as restrictive as being in a prison. Although advanced technologies and science once flourished, it has been forbidden by the king and the world has plunged back into the 17th century. Strict protocols must be followed at all times and resentment grows among the nobles. Imagine having to wash clothes by hand or not being able to drive a car but knowing those technologies exist.

The details to describe these two worlds is superb and the relationship between the characters is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. Claudia is easily my favorite character because she is strong, stubborn, spunky, and intelligent. Finn, on the other hand, is not very strong but I found his reliability and compassion for his friends, despite their vices to be relatable.

Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars. This book had the ability to get a five star rating if some parts of it weren’t super confusing and didn’t require me to reread sections.

Similar in style and theme to : The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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