The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe

by Ally Condie

Review

Poe and Call, orphans of the Outpost, have always wondered what lies beyond the walls of their confining city. When an opportunity to join the crew of a mining ship comes along, they both take it. Together, Poe and Call create a plan to jump ship to race towards freedom. Yet when the ship is attacked and Call is struck dead, Poe is left to seethe in anger at the Raiders who attacked them. In THE LAST VOYAGE OF POE BLYTHE, a glorious exploration of grief and revenge, Poe embarks on her last journey that starts off in anger but ends in understanding. THE LAST VOYAGE OF POE BLYTHE is a fast-paced, riveting tale that many readers will relate to.

The lead-in of this book was so gripping. I don’t know how Ally Condie did it but within the first five pages, she captures the reader’s attention and makes them fall in love with Call as much as Poe is in love with him. The writing was tremendously easy to read and fast-paced.

“Ally Condie explores grief and revenge expertly, creating a character as real as you and me. THE LAST VOYAGE OF POE BLYTHE is a well-crafted story with fantastic characters, superb action sequences and dystopian vibes.”

I was a bit hesitant to start this book. I read MATCHED when it first came out and didn’t like it at all. It was a bit slow and too romance-centric. However, this past autumn, Ally Condie wrote THE DARKDEEP with Brendan Reichs, which was imaginative and action-packed! So when I heard about THE LAST VOYAGE OF POE BLYTHE following a female captain of a mining ship seeking revenge, I knew I had to check it out. When I first read the synopsis, I thought this may be about pirates. Unfortunately, it is not. The ship the characters sail mines the gold at the bottom of the river. There are some scenes of Raiders overtaking the ship but none of the Raiders call the river their home. However, there are similar elements to that of pirates that I would recommend the book to readers who like pirates and sea-faring adventures.

There are some dystopian undertones in this book. Instead of building a world, Condie placed us in a world that had ended and been reborn. People live in this one concentrated area called the Outpost. They exchange freedom for life under the supervision of the Admiral. Citizens of the Outpost believe that the outside world is not safe. Poe used to strive to break free from the Admiral’s hold which would have turned this into a dystopian novel, for sure. Instead, she decides to seek revenge for the death of a loved one and to do that, she needs the leverage the Admiral provides.

There were many paths the plot could take. It’s a revenge narrative. Yet, at one point, it was the mystery of a potential traitor. At another time, there was a survival plot. THE LAST VOYAGE OF POE BLYTHE connects it all but it does seem as if there was a bit too much going on. There didn’t seem to be one primary focus.

Condie created an entire cast of amazing characters. Each one was so well written. With Poe’s narrative — she doesn’t make small talk and knows very little about her crew — readers are only given the bare facts about each character at first. Condie lets readers interact with the characters through dialogue and action which immerses readers further into the story. It makes the cast of characters much more dimensional that way.

Poe is complicated, in-depth and relatable. Readers’ hearts will surely go out to her. Her grief is shrouded by her desire for unrelenting revenge against the Raiders. She makes many mistakes along the way which makes her relatable; yet, it may also make her unlikable. She’s a strict captain. She doesn’t want to make friends. She doesn’t like to make conversation. Poe is blinded by one path: ridding the world of Raiders. She intends to see her mission through without fail. Poe is such an excellent character.

There was a slight romance — that I wouldn’t even categorize as a romance — more like a mere desire. It is easy to decipher that Condie wanted there to be something between Poe and the other character, but there wasn’t. It would have been interesting to see how it turned out but Poe’s desire is underdeveloped and mostly imaginary.

The ending of THE LAST VOYAGE OF POE BLYTHE leaves it open to questions, even room for a possible sequel. Condie made the right choice in ending it that way, as it left readers wondering and wanting more.

This is a plot we’ve seen many times before. However, Ally Condie explores grief and revenge expertly, creating a character as real as you and me. THE LAST VOYAGE OF POE BLYTHE is a well-crafted story with fantastic characters, superb action sequences and dystopian vibes.

Reviewed by Jeanna Michel on March 20, 2019

  • Publication Date: March 26, 2019
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0525426450
  • ISBN-13: 9780525426455

Night Music

by Jenn Marie Thorne

Review

Jenn Marie Thorne’s NIGHT MUSIC is a heartwarming tale about loving people and loving things. About growing older and removing your rose-tinted glasses to see the injustices in the world. About ignoring prejudices and about forging your own path in life.

‘NIGHT MUSIC is a poignant book tackling issues relevant to teens….Thorne spins a cheesy yet adorable tale with valuable life lessons in an entertaining fashion in NIGHT MUSIC.”

Ruby Chertok is the daughter of famous composer/conductor, Martin Chertok. Her mom is on tour playing the piano, and her three siblings all have jobs related to classical music. Needless to say, music has been a huge part of her life. But when she totally bombs her audition for the summer program at the prestigious music school her dad works at, Ruby decides it’s time for her to take a break from music. Permanently. What is she going to do in all the free time she suddenly has? Then comes Oscar. An African American boy from Maryland, he has all the natural music talent Ruby doesn’t. Oscar has been chosen to study with Martin Chertok for the summer, and even more surprisingly, is staying in their home. Oscar is intriguing, talented, and charming — enough to woo Ruby. But Oscar knows that falling for his mentor’s daughter is not the best way to win any favors. Especially not from strangers. Who knows what they will think about the black newcomer going for the white musical royalty. Can Oscar and Ruby make it work?

NIGHT MUSIC is an ode to what it means to be a teenager, being thrust into an uncertain environment and struggling to figure it out. Neither Ruby nor Oscar was perfect, but they were raw and represented the challenges that teens face globally. Thorne did an excellent job of using dialogue that real people would use. Real people don’t convey things perfectly every time. Real people get distracted. I also liked how Thorne didn’t gloss over hardships. Not everything is sunshine and rainbows. People fight. People are mean and they swear and they break promises. Thorne doesn’t pretend that everything is easy, but she still makes you believe that anyone is capable of a happy ending.

NIGHT MUSIC is a commentary on racism, on prejudices. NIGHT MUSIC reminds readers that not every white person is rich and thriving, that not every black person is from “the hood” with dysfunctional parents. NIGHT MUSIC challenges readers to think beyond stereotypes and to understand the life circumstances of others. Although I feel like the arts community of New York City is probably more open to diversity than this book suggests, this topic is very pressing to readers everywhere.

As is expected about a book about classical music, there are lots of references to classical music. This shouldn’t be a problem for most readers, but there may be occasions where one might need to look up a musical term or listen to a song.

NIGHT MUSIC is a poignant book tackling issues relevant to teens. Stress, love, life. NIGHT MUSIC lets its audience know that it is okay to be a kid and to let loose. We don’t need to have everything figured out. It’s okay to just live. NIGHT MUSIC reminds us that we should judge others by their merits and not their skin color. Thorne spins a cheesy yet adorable tale with valuable life lessons in an entertaining fashion in NIGHT MUSIC.

As always, a disclaimer. Cursing, underage drinking, sex, infidelity. None of it is too scandalous but it’s definitely there.

Reviewed by Becky N., Teen Board Member on March 22, 2019

  • Publication Date: March 19, 2019
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Books
  • ISBN-10: 0735228779
  • ISBN-13: 9780735228771

The Weight of the Stars

by K. Ancrum

Review

A story that’s intimate and expansive all at once, THE WEIGHT OF THE STARS is a slow burn, character-driven queer girl love story that shimmers with longing.

Ryann Bird dreams of going to space. It’s not entirely far-fetched — around when she was born, NASA was absorbed into the military, catalyzing a rise of private space programs. One such program, SCOUT, was initiated to send a team of young people to explore the cosmos, never to return to earth. But it’s far-fetched for Ryann. No matter how much she studies, she can’t change the fact that her parents are dead, and she has to take care of her brother and his infant son in their shared home in the trailer park.

“THE WEIGHT OF THE STARS will stick with you. It’s a compelling, page-turning read, with Ancrum’s signature style of short chapters working so well…its impact will linger long after the final page.”

Here on Earth, though. Ryann shifts the cosmos in her own way. She’s butch, queer, and naturally muscular, and her friends are a misfit bunch who carve out a safe space for each other. When a new girl comes to school, they welcome her in — though she’s not very friendly, at first.

Because Alexandria stands out from the crowd for a very unique reason. Those young people, chosen for SCOUT nearly two decades ago, they were specifically selected so they wouldn’t leave anyone meaningful behind. Except…one of them got pregnant, right before she had to leave. Under SCOUT’s directive, she kept it quiet, delivered, and left the planet forever.

That woman was Alexandria’s mother. Now, Alex spends every night on her roof with a satellite, gazing out into the abyss of space, trying to pick up whatever signals from her mother she can. Ryann is drawn to her, wanting to help however she can, but what does she have to give?

THE WEIGHT OF THE STARS will stick with you. It’s a compelling, page-turning read, with Ancrum’s signature style of short chapters working so well in this setting, but its impact will linger long after the final page. Though the conceit speaks to space travel, the novel is rooted in a small town, in the intimate ways we can harm or uplift each other.

Every character is so full and vibrant. Ancrum portrays a diverse, inclusive friend group beautifully — I wanted to hang out with them! — and equally diverse, inclusive families. This is in part a heist novel, in part a coming of age, in part a love story, and it does every part justice. Expect a soft, powerful narrative. Gays in space, but make it poignant! I’ve ached for a story like this, and Ancrum truly, gloriously delivers.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on March 22, 2019

  • Publication Date: March 19, 2019
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Imprint
  • ISBN-10: 1250101638
  • ISBN-13: 9781250101631

Superman: Dawnbreaker (DC Icons Series)

by Matt de la Pena

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Bestselling author Matt de la Peña continues the DC Icons series with SUPERMAN: Dawnbreaker. Similar to the other books, this one goes back to Superman’s past as Clark, as he discovers his origins.

All his life, Clark has known he’s faster, stronger and just plain different from others. During freshman year, he accidentally injured his football teammate with his sheer force, and he only just grasped the concept that he could be dangerous. After hearing a girl crying in the distance at school, he finds Gloria Alvarez, who tells him people have been disappearing and something is definitely wrong with the town. Teaming up with his best friend Lana Lang, who runs the school paper, they discover that the problem is much deeper than it seems and Clark must utilize his powers for good. The Mankins Corporation is in town, a company that made a fortune on bringing cutting-edge technology to farm. Clark meets Bryan Mankins and his friend Lex Luther, as well as Dr. Wesley and his suspicious activities. As Clark and Lana dig deeper into the story, the darkness from beneath is exposed.

“Matt de la Peña crosses various threads with…a coming-of-age story, action scenes, science fiction and current immigration problems. [His] version of Clark represents the Man of Steel that we know so well; he stands for the hope of the people.”

This action-packed novel doubled as a high-school book in a way, as Clark is still in high school and must deal with the social hierarchy of football, or the gossip of the town. Because of Superman’s known “perfection,” it can be a struggle to write a sort of coming-of-age story, as Clark has basically been perfect all his life, but de la Peña succeeds in his telling of Clark’s origins. Instead of attacking a deep character development arc, our author twists together a story of mystery and discovery to keep the attention of his audience. Superman is an icon of our world, and his powers are well known. The excitement in watching Clark discover the full extent of his powers is incomparable to any other aspect of the book.

SUPERMAN: Dawnbreaker’s conflict comes from a very prevalent problem in today’s society: racism. The evil chemist laboratory has kidnapped several people and the one thing they have in common is darker skin. It was invigorating and satisfying to see Clark’s anger, fire and compassion when he discovers the targets of the company. I loved how de la Peña crafted a story that antagonizes racists and shows what even normal humans can do to stop it. Smallville encapsulates the United States and represents its conflicts. The prevalent immigration mistreatment in America is bluntly showcased underneath the villainous plans Clark hopes to destroy.

One of the villains of the story is revealed as a surprise, although most of the audience can assume who it is, based off prior knowledge of the DC Universe. However, his moral conscience breaks through and he strives to redeem himself, but I felt like that transition between the original evil intent was overcome way too quickly.

We are able to see Superman put on his suit for the first time and use it for the first time as well, knowing that he is truly Kal-El. He is able to embrace himself and discovers the reasons behind his powers. De la Peña creates the character we all know and love with his characteristics of bravery, sympathy and, most importantly, hope. Clark’s love interest is also introduced, Gloria Alvarez, as well as hints to his future girlfriend, Lois Lane.

Overall, Matt de la Peña crosses various threads with SUPERMAN with a coming-of-age story, action scenes, science fiction and current immigration problems. De la Peña’s version of Clark represents the Man of Steel that we know so well; he stands for the hope of the people.

Reviewed by Jeremy H., Teen Board Member on March 20, 2019

  • Publication Date: March 5, 2019
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 039954965X
  • ISBN-13: 9780399549656

Field Notes on Love

by Jennifer E. Smith

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British-born Hugo has had his life mapped out for him since the day he was born: he will attend his town’s University with his five other brothers and sisters. He is the youngest of a set of sextuplets and has always longed for something more: to get away and be his own person outside of the group. Unfortunately, Hugo was just dumped by his girlfriend a few weeks before they were supposed to embark on a train ride across the United States together.

“I am constantly blown away by [Smith’s] simplistic yet detailed writing style. [FIELD NOTES ON LOVE] does not disappoint.”

In comes Mae Campbell, an aspiring filmmaker, who was just rejected from her dream school’s film program. Despite this, Mae is looking for a new film to produce, something that will expand her horizons because she is convinced that was the reason why she was denied. Much to Hugo’s dismay, the train tickets were bought under his ex-girlfriends name, Margaret Campbell, and are non-transferable. On a whim, Hugo decides to offer a spare ticket online to any Margaret Campbell, and to his luck, Mae jumps at the opportunity to go on an adventure and get material for her next film.

I have had the opportunity to read all of Smith’s novels, and I am constantly blown away by her simplistic yet detailed writing style. This one does not disappoint. Her cultivation of the main characters, Hugo and Mae, but also the side characters, leads me to feel like I actually know them as people; she meticulously details their hopes, fears, aspirations, personality characteristics, etc. The reader is able to watch Hugo and all of his five siblings and parents interact, and she captures the supportive, loyal, loving relationship they have. Smith lived a few years of her life in the United Kingdom, and this is apparent with the numerous details she utilizes to describe Hugo’s home, packed with British words and their dialect. We are also able to get a glimpse of Mae’s family dynamic, with her two dads, and her grandmother who served as the sole female role model in her life.

Among many aspects of this story that I adored, the one I treasure the most is that this journey opened both Hugo and Mae’s eyes to new places, people and feelings. As the novel progresses, Mae has an epiphany that she will interview other passengers on the train, who are of varying demographics and use the material to create a film. To keep the interviews consistent, Mae asks the subjects three questions, two of which were taken from Hugo’s first correspondence with her and the third: what is love? In the end, Mae’s own definition of love begins to change while Hugo makes a critical decision about his future.

Highly recommended to any young adult reader who is searching for a quick, light novel to read, with hints of romance, trains and pizza. Smith has outdone herself again!

Reviewed by Ryan H., Teen Board Member on March 22, 2019

  • Publication Date: March 5, 2019
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press
  • ISBN-10: 0399559418
  • ISBN-13: 9780399559419