The Perks Of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

There are books you want to tell everyone about, stories you want everyone to read, those books where the voice is so powerful it haunts you long after the last page is turned and the book is closed. This is one of them.

I listened to this book. I now want to get my own copy to read. I might even rent the movie.

It isn't often that I am blown away by voice in writing, but I think I gushed about it at least 5 times during this book. I suspect that Johnny Heller's narration accentuated this. No matter, Stephen Chbosky has created an unforgettable character.

Charlie narrates his story through letters to an anonymous reader. He will burrow his way inside your psyche. While he was in mine I revisited my own coming of age 30 years before his time. I contemplated my children's experiences of this process since they grew up in Charlie's era.

Charlie is a complicated contradiction. There is something about him that makes him different from his peers. It's not just that he is brilliant, although genius poses its own social problems for kids. He has serious mental health issues, but it's more than this. I wondered if he was on the autism spectrum. Ultimately Charlie is outsider and insider at the same time.

He is more than a character in a book. Charlie is me, you, all of us. These letters are written to us. Right off the bat he lets the reader know that he has high expectations of us because we "listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have."

If I get this book for our library it will have to go on the grade seven shelf. I'm not sure if they will be ready for it, but it is most assuredly a book I would recommend they read sometime in their high school years.

I loved Charlie. I want to know that he grew up to become a truly fine man. I really do.

The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie

What a fabulous picture book!

The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie is the story of Princess Sue, who follows all the rules. She expects that once her prince arrives, her world will be full of excitement. 

Fortunately her prince comes.
Unfortunately, he has different ideas. 

"It's me who wears the armour here,
and you wear dresses, are we clear?
Just smile a lot and twist your curls.
Dragon-bashing's not for girls.

Alone in her tower, Sue started to spit,
"What a disaster, my prince is a twit!"

Then in the skies she suddenly spied...."

And so, with a little help from an unlikely companion, Princess Sue takes her life into her own hands so that she can have the adventure she craves.

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Beware, this book is not for the timid. 

Arn Chorn Pond began his life as an ordinary kid growing up in a village in Cambodia.  This is his story. I listened to it as an audiobook. I don't know if it would be easier to have read it, but I am certain that the cadence of language would not have been as profound. It felt as though Arn was telling his story directly to me. It is a harsh tale to attend to.

Generally I like historical fiction. I like learning about the past through the lives of fictional characters. I certainly learned a lot as I read this book. However Arn is not a fictional character. He is a real person. I wish with all my heart it wasn't true, but it is.

I had heard of the killing fields of Cambodia, but avoided reading the details. It was enough to know that the Khmer Rouge were responsible for at a minimum, the deaths of two million people.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked up this book. It starts out so sweetly with Arn talking about the time before war with his Aunt, his brother and his three sisters. It wasn't idyllic, they were poor, but it is akin to the kind of childhood I had as a kid. 

Arn was 10 years old when the Khmer Rouge invaded his village. Bit by bit his ordinary life disintegrated.  Within a few months he was separated from his family and forced to work long hours in rice fields with other kids his age. They either died a bit each day from starvation, or the Khmer Rouge came up with new ways to evaluate and kill them instantly.
Arn was forced to live with torture and death on an ongoing basis. He learned to become blind, deaf, and numb to it all. He survived because he was able to learn to play music. Even that was embedded with terror. I can't imagine the horror of performing music day in and day out that is played over loudspeakers in an attempt to drown out the sounds of killing and torture.

More times than I can remember I pulled my ear buds out because I couldn't listen anymore. Yet as Arn's narrative progressed, I was compelled to continue. I told myself, if he could live through this, I can listen to his story and bear witness to what he endured. Maybe I just wanted to know that he survived.

He ended up becoming a child soldier before making his way to Thailand.
This is a story of war, but it highlights of the power of relationship and caring. At the same time as it reveals the darkest human actions, it is also a story about redemption.

I couldn't help but make connections to another book, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah,  the story of a child soldier from Africa.

Then I wondered if we will ever get to read the story of our own Canadian child soldier, Omar Khadr. I suspect that if more people could read these kinds of narratives, we might be treating him very differently.  

This book is gonna haunt me for a long time. 

The Dragonet Prophesy by Tui T. Sutherland

This kind of fantasy book is not my favorite genre. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by how the story drew me in and kept me coming back for more until I had finished the book. 

It is the story of five different races of dragons who hatch at the same time and grow up together. They include Clay, the Mudwing, Glory, the Rainwing, Sunny, the Sandwing, Tsunami the Seawing, and Starflight the Nightwing. They have been raised by a group of harsh teachers, who under the directions of the Talons of Peace, have kept them hidden underground from the rest of the world.

It is their destiny, or so they have been told, to end the perpetual wars between the different groups of dragons and bring peace to their world. 

This book, the first in the series, is told from Clay's perspective. The group flees from the cave after discovering that their teachers plan to murder Glory. After a harrowing escape, the dragonets end up captured by the evil Queen Scarlett of the Skywings. She plans to have them battle in her Colosseum as
entertainment before she ends up killing them all. With the help of Peril, the Queen's champion, they manage to escape.

I liked that this book has enough plot twists and turns to keep the story interesting. The individual characters of the dragonets are developed enough for the reader to connect with them.  While there are moments of violence, it wasn't enough to scare me off, or have me skipping sections. (I am a wuss about this generally.) Indeed, when the main characters are in the middle of it, the violence is often accompanied by a kind of moral analysis of the situation. 

 I will definitely recommend this book to fantasy readers, but I still haven't decided if I will read the rest of the series. I think this one was relatively satisfying and will leave it to the kids to tell me what happens in the rest of them.

I couldn't help but make a personal connection between this book and the school where I work. We are a mix of cultures here at Dickens - children from many different backgrounds become friends and work together to make a difference in the world.  I think that our children, like these diverse dragonets, who have learned to live and thrive in conditions of multiculturalism, are proof and hope that the rest of us across the planet can learn to live together in peace.

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

This review is written by Delaney and Millen in Division 14. 

An orphan named Sage lives a dull life in an orphanage in Carthya, a mystical country. Soon, though, after being whisked away by the noble, Conner, he finds himself in a castle with two other boys.  Conner has a plot to place an impersonator in the throne, since the mysterious death of the king and queen has just taken place - and the impersonator will be one of those boys. Sage finds himself tested to prove his similarity between himself and the missing Prince Jaron. The other competitors, Roden and Tobias, try to show Conner they are better suited for the position of king. While at times Sage finds himself being friends with the two orphans, he knows in the end they will have to be enemies. It is unlikely Conner will let the losers walk away with their lives.

This book was a thrilling page-turner. At times it seemed most likely that one boy would become prince, but soon it appeared that the other one would be crowned. The character development and fast paced plot was a brilliant way to engage the reader. Both of us found it difficult to put down because we always wanted to find out what happened on the next page.