With the exception of two books, I’ve been on a roll this year with my book reading. I’ve read so many good books in a row, I’m constantly holding my breath worrying the next one will be terrible. Since I’ve enjoyed so many titles in 2014, I thought I would again share excerpts from my book reviews at Common Sense Media, where I’m a senior reviewer for movies and books. Here are three of my favorite CSM reviews so far in 2014.
Brillant end-of-the-world chronicle is unforgettably weird.
It’s a testament to Andrew Smith’s considerable skills as a writer that reading Grasshopper Jungle is reminiscent of reading One Hundred Years of Solitude or Slaughterhouse Five or Everything Is Illuminated. The plot is so scrambled that Austin tells you on the very first page that it includes “babies with two heads, insects as big as refrigerators, God, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, wars, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty.” And that’s basically all you need to know. The plot goes backward, sideways, and forward all at once, and on every page you realize what a genius Smith is to write this book about history and life and the importance of books for clever teens who will appreciate his candor, authenticity, and mastery of language. Read the full review
Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, 4 stars
Sweet, funny When Harry Met Sally romance for teens.
Countless movies and stories have explored the issue of whether men and women can be friends without attraction getting in the way, but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for another witty, well-crafted take on the age-old question. Eulberg’s well known for her sweet, “clean” high-school romances (Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, The Lonely Hearts Club), and this is her best so far. Inspired by Nora Ephron’s When Herry Met Sally screenplay, Eulberg crafts a tale of bantering best pals, who, like Billy Crystal‘s Harry and Meg Ryan‘s Sally, prefer each other’s company to any one else’s — including people they’re supposed to be dating. Read the full review
The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson, 4 stars
Poignant tale of a fictional dictator’s teen daughter
A former CIA agent, J.C. Carleson was inspired to write a book after wandering around in awe at the elaborately opulent children’s quarters in Saddam Hussein’s palaces. Making Laila, her family, and her home country a composite of various oppressive dictatorships lets Carleson conflate facts from several countries; she never shies away from noting that the United States sometimes backs these regimes as it suits its international policies. The Tyrant’s Daughter is equal parts international politics lesson, coming-of-age story, and classic immigrant “fish out of water” tale. Read the full review