Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

In case you have been living under a rock for the past couple of months, you may have 13 reasons why.jpgmissed the overwhelming success of the Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why.  13 Reasons Why launched on March 31st, streaming all 13 episodes at once.  It was the most tweeted about show in history; that is pretty insane.  However, along with its wildly huge success, it is also shrouded in controversy.  But, before we get into that, we need to remember that 13 Reasons Why started off as a YA novel.

Back in 2007 when Thirteen Reasons Why was published, Jay Asher was an unknown debut author.  The book had won several awards, but it was not until 2011 that it hit the New York Times Bestseller List.

The synopsis of the book is that Hannah Baker had committed suicide two weeks earlier when Clay Jensen returns from school and finds a mysterious box on his doorstep with no return address. When he opens the box he discovers cassette tapes numbered 1 thru 13. Clay soon discovers that he has received these because he was one of the reasons that Hannah decided to take her own life. Through this harrowing night, the reader will discover who the other people were that led Hannah to her demise.

I first read this book in 2012 and was not sure what to expect.  I thought the premise was so original and really dark.  Once you see how things build up for Hannah you will have sympathy for not only her, but for Clay as well.  The Netflix series really does a fantastic job at watching Clay go through the tapes and how he deals with his involvement in her death.  I believe anyone, teen or adult, should read the book itself.

(Michelle Colbert, McGirt-Horton Branch Library)

Lucky Strikes by Louis Bayard

lucky strikesFourteen-year-old Melia inherits a rough road of living when her mother dies of an undisclosed ailment and leaves fatherless Melia with two younger siblings to raise, and a decrepit gas station up to its eaves in debt.  Their mom, a free spirit in a tight-knit community, has left them as outcasts, their only trusted contact being the family lawyer.  The usual customers of the gas station are hard-boiled truckers, glad to see their little station after a stretch of twisty roads.

The Great Depression is on full swing, and ruthless Standard Oil franchisee Harley Blevins wants their gas station as another acquisition in his list of service centers in northern Virginia.  Officials of Virginia are also likely to make the kids wards of the state, depending on how much they do, or don’t know.  Then a hobo appears, tumbling out of a coal truck, and Melia has an idea.   And wall-eyed Hiram Watts, disheveled and needing a cigarette bad, has a new lease on life.

Brenda’s Oasis, as they come to call their gas station/general store, becomes just that on their stretch of mountain road.  Hiram has a sense of gab and business that brings in truckers and tourists aplenty, and all three kids find their places in the operation of a once-questionable enterprise.  Melia, who learned her mechanic’s acumen from her mom, earns the trust of many a motorist.  Earle, middle child and junk collector, hones his underage driving and customer service skills.  Janey, the youngest and wise beyond her years, has a flair for the bookkeeping that she learns from Hiram.

Good fortune only lasts so long, and the insatiable Mr. Blevins wants their store bad enough to play dirty.  But you’ll have to read on to figure out who really handles the competition.

Lucky Strikes is an endearing yarn of familial love, heartbreak, acceptance, and growth in the harsh realities of Depression-era Virginia.  You’ll cheer on Melia as she gets tough with the world and occasionally becomes tender from young love.

Melia is a heroine similar of mettle to Mary Call Luther from Where the Lilies Bloom, an early 1970s classic with much the same subject matter (orphaned hardscrabble family, tough teenage sister holding the family together).  I am quick to compare the two, as WTLB is a personal favorite.  As it is, Lucky Strikes stands on its own, and I would say it is a warmer, more personable book than the previous.  Read them both, if you like your YA characters gutsy and real.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

bone gapThe O’Sullivan brothers are an unlikely pair that live in the bump in the road otherwise known as Bone Gap. Capable Sean, early twenties and strapping, supports himself and his younger brother as an EMT.  Dreamy-headed Finn is known as the town kook.  He has difficulties in facial recognitions, and sees things – well, differently – than other people.  Which is why he sees a beauty in the local beekeeper’s daughter that nobody else catches.  And why he can’t, for the life of him, describe the sinister stranger that kidnapped Roza, the young Polish woman who has been staying with the brothers since they found her sleeping in their barn, bruised and bleeding.

Roza blooms as she recovers from injury, and the town of Bone Gap blooms with her.  She brings a great sense of life to everyone she encounters, and the O’Sullivan brothers have a special love for Roza.  So it is particularly distressing when a tall stranger takes her, and Finn is the only witness.  And he can’t remember the right details, what the man really looks like, to describe him to others.  It’s as if Roza has fallen through a crack in the earth.

Bone Gap alternates between two storylines – the town in the aftermath of Roza’s disappearance, and the places Roza is taken, each of them disconcerting.

In some ways, the town is worse off – nothing grows as it should, and there is a lack of focus, as if everyone is stumbling through a pitiable sort of half existence.  Finn does his own stumbling, right up to the house of Petey Willis, the beekeeper’s daughter that everyone else thinks as homely.  Finn doesn’t.  He finds her interesting and smart, and she accepts him.

Regardless of his new-found happiness, Finn still feels responsible for finding Roza, but doesn’t have a beginning clue.  Maybe it has something to do with the corn talking to him.  Or the mysterious horse that takes up residence in the barn, conveys Finn to many a midnight visit to Petey’s, and takes both of them on wild rides through unknown places.

Maybe it is Finn himself who knows the way to Roza’s otherworldly prison.

The author uses mythology and fairy tale motifs to craft a satisfying yarn about young love and youthful confusions.  Those that read young adult fiction and like the fantastical might like Bone Gap.

Listen for the corn whispering through the wind.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Divergent by Veronica Roth

divergentAlthough this science fiction novel – a number one New York Times bestseller – is in the library’s young adult section, it is of interest to adults as well.  If you liked the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, you’ll find a similar appeal in Roth’s book.

The setting is Chicago, sometime in the future.  The city includes five factions, each located in a different area, and each with its own lifestyle and value system.  At the age of sixteen, each teenager must make a permanent choice of the faction to which he’ll belong.  If he fails in the initiation into his chosen faction, he’ll spend the rest of his life without a faction, which places him in the lowest role in society.

Beatrice is a member of the Abnegation faction, which values unselfish service above all else.  She sometimes feels that she doesn’t fit in here.  Will she choose to remain with her family, or will she transfer to Candor (which places its highest value on honesty), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (friendship and cooperation), or Erudite (scholarship)?  Which faction best suits her talents and personality?  Will she succeed in the path she chooses?

The movie version will be in theaters in March.

Divergent is the first of a trilogy, followed by Insurgent and Allegiant.  I’ve already started reading Insurgent and am eager to find out about Beatrice’s continued adventures.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

messengerEd Kennedy is a nobody, it seems, until he disarms a hapless bank robber.  Then he has the attention of everybody in town, including a mysterious entity that mails him a series of playing cards with clues written on them.  Each clue concerns a person in town who has a problem that Ed needs to solve.  As he fumbles through these daunting tasks, Ed grows up – from a nineteen year old illegal cab driver to someone with ideas of possibility and responsibility.

I Am the Messenger is a feel good book that takes a while to get there.  Our hero has to step into situations he could barely fathom in his earlier life.  Ed gets threatened, beat up, cajoled and bullied.  He also resolves issues that ultimately improve the lives of all involved. 

When I first started reading I Am the Messenger, I had to remind myself that the setting is in Australia.  Some of the slang takes some getting used to, and the reference to the seasons (Christmas in the summer, but they’re in the southern hemisphere) is a little confusing.  That being mentioned, the book is still a quick and entertaining read.  You’ll be pulling for Ed and friends as they slog their way through nowhere jobs, card games, and life.

This book is available in hard copy and as an e-book.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

book thiefDeath is the narrator in The Book Thief .  He’s is not your typical grim reaper, but a figure of compassion who expresses concern for the souls in his charge.  Often, his presence is welcomed in a time of suffering. 

The setting of this novel is World War II Germany, where food shortages and deprivation are the norm, and the National Socialist “dream” is a hard swallow for the inhabitants of Himmel Street in Molching, a town on the outskirts of Munich.  The main character, Liesel Meminger, is a young girl with misfortune thrust upon her early, when her brother dies on a train journey to Molching.  Afterwards, her mother gives her up to Hans and Rosa Hubermann, a couple who are happy to get the meager supplement for adoption from the government, although they at first seem questionable as foster parents.

Liesel makes friends with Rudy, her next door neighbor, gets into scraps at school and on the soccer field, and gets used to her new parents – Rosa, who possesses a steady fury with the world and whose every other word is derogatory, and Hans, an occasional house painter who reveals himself to be a gentle soul.  He is the first to have a rapport with Liesel; he teaches her how to hand-roll cigarettes from rationed tobacco and more importantly, to read, using a book that she stole from the grave-digger when her brother was buried.

The Hubermann’s situation, precarious as it is, becomes harder when the family hides a Jewish man in their basement.  He proves to be a humanizing factor for the Hubermann family and a strong friend for Liesel, as she navigates early adolescence in their war-torn world.  As for Liesel, her new desire to read leads her to steal even more books from an unlikely source, and she enlists Rudy for help with her booklifting ventures. 

As with any wartime novel, The Book Thief has lots of sorrow within its pages.  It’s one of the first books in a long time that moved me to tears.  Needless to say, Death as narrator has little idle time.  Amidst the heartbreak, though, you’ll cheer on Liesel and her family as they survive in some wretchedly difficult times.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

It’s not like Catching Fire, the second in the Hunger Games trilogy, needs any type of plugging.  The series has been hugely successful, and just for that reason, I wouldn’t read them for the longest time (it could have been the length of the waiting lists), until accolades from several of my book-addicted friends got me going.  And yes, I got addicted as well, and can’t wait for the third book.

Let’s not divulge too much of the plot, except to say that things get uglier than the first book.  The heroine of the series, Katniss Everdeen, emerges a victor of the Games but has the ire of the government on her because she technically didn’t win by their rules.  As such,  Katniss has become the unwitting poster child of rebellion in the outlying districts that make up Panem, the futuristic country in the series.  As she and Peeta, her co-victor, tour the country, these rebellions become more evident, and the government grows over more vigilant and vicious in suppressing them.  Then both of them are selected for the Quarter Quell, a version of the Games fought every twenty-five years by previous victors; the Quell proves to be just as maddening and grisly as the annual games. 

I thought that, typical of second books in series, that Catching Fire would fall flat – far from it.  It’s just as engrossing as the first.  So if you’ve made it through the first book, liked it, and wonder if it’s worth continuing, well, please do.  You’ll be pining away for the third installment soon enough.

(William Hicks, Information Services)