Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tara's Book Review: Circle 9 by Anne Heltzel

I initially picked up this book because the cover led me to believe it was a dystopia of some sort, but after reading the blurb, I figured I’d give it a try anyway. It’s difficult to discuss the plot without some major spoilers due to the book’s twists and turns, but the basic idea is this—Abby wakes up by a burning building with no idea of who she is or where she came from, lying next to a boy named Sam who promises to keep her safe. At first, it seems as though her life with Sam in a “cave palace” is a romantic dreamworld, and Abby is content to let him provide for her and tell her who she is. However, as Sam’s actions become sketchy and Abby starts to remember snippets of her former life, Abby realizes that she needs to find out more about her past and starts to understand that the world she sees may not be what it seems. More and more cracks appear in Sam’s story as heinous things happen to Abby, eventually culminating in a test of Abby’s will to survive. This book was intense, even though it was pretty slow-moving at times, but I found myself wanting to keep reading to see how it would all play out. If you’re a careful reader, many aspects of the plot are a little predictable, but that doesn’t diminish Heltzel’s capacity to make Abby’s realization of her circumstances compelling and heartbreaking. The book’s final act seemed a bit rushed to me, and the ending leaves things pretty open, but this psychological thriller is definitely worth a read if you can handle some heavy topics.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Susan's Book Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Seventeen-year-old Jill is still reeling from the loss of her father a year ago (who was, it’s no secret, her favorite parent) when her mother, Robin, drops a bomb. They’d always talked about fostering or adopting other children, and after losing her husband and learning a harsh lesson in mortality, Robin decides to go ahead with their dream and adopt a baby. Except the baby is from a pregnant teenager named Mandy who Robin met on the internet. Not only that, but she’s going to let her stay at their house until she gives birth. This is one change too many for Jill and she can’t bring herself to be nice to Mandy when she arrives.

Jill thinks her mom’s gone crazy and is being too trusting of a total stranger, and she’s right—Mandy isn’t telling the complete truth. I enjoyed the character of Robin because I don’t see many realistic portrayals of parents in teen books and I love how kind she is to everyone, but especially Mandy. The story is an interesting study of grief. Jill and Robin handle it in totally different ways, with Jill taking her anger out on the world, and Robin looking for ways to help.

How to Save a Life is told in dual perspectives, one chapter by Mandy and one chapter by Jill. Jill’s chapters show her struggling to be the girl she used to be and involve a subplot with her longtime boyfriend and a new accidental crush. Mandy’s chapters show us the life she’s escaping, so we understand why she’s not being completely honest. Mandy somehow comes across as innocent and experienced at the same time, thinking Robin is too good to be true and waiting for things to fall apart like they always do.

I loved Sara Zarr’s first book, Story of a Girl, so much that I read everything she publishes. That book is still my favorite of hers, but I really enjoyed How to Save a Life. It has an interesting, unconventional plot, realistic characters and a few surprises. I thought it would end in one of two ways, but instead this perfect, yet unexpected third way presents itself and I was happy for everyone as I turned the last page.