Teen Volunteer Book Review: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

This review was written by Kiryn Spicer-Preedy.

Kiryn is fourteen years old, and a 2021 Summer Teen Volunteer.

First Line: “It was dusk – winter dusk.”

Summary: This book follows the story of a little girl named Bonnie Green. Bonnie’s mother is ill, and must go away on a voyage to sea with her father, leaving her under the care of Miss Slighcarp, a governess who is very rude and mean to the servants and to Bonnie. What Bonnie thinks will be an enjoyable time spent running about and playing with her cousin Silvia, who has come to stay with them at Willoughby Chase, quickly turns into a nightmare of the very bad sort. As soon as Bonnie’s parents leave, Miss Slighcarp sets her evil plan in motion. She dismisses all of the servants and sells the furniture. When Bonnie protests against her doing these things, Miss Slighcarp shuts her up in a closet, with only Silvia on the other side of the doors for comfort. But they discover a secret tunnel in the walls to help them avoid Miss Slighcarp and listen to her plot. When Miss Slighcarp has sold everything of value that once belonged to Bonnie’s family, she sends Bonnie and Sylvia to her friend, Mrs. Brisket’s prison-like orphan school, where the children are forced to work day in and day out until they drop from exhaustion.

They are fed very little and hardly get to sleep, working in harsh environments with only rags for clothing. Bonnie and Sylvia have to learn to work for hours and hours on little food and little sleep, in the harsh cold. When the children behave badly, they are thrown into the coal pit for up to days without food. Except for Mrs. Brisket’s own daughter of course, who gets to boss the other girls around and lives a life of luxury while the other girls are forced to suffer. But one day when Bonnie spots her old friend Simon coming along, driving his geese to town to sell them, she tells him about their predicament and he helps them escape. They run from Mrs. Brisket’s prison-school to London to try to get Sylvia’s great aunt Jane to help them. But Sylvia has fallen ill from the harsh work at Mrs. Brisket’s orphanage. A friendly farmer gives them shelter for a few nights, but then they must travel on. Will they make it to Aunt Jane’s in time? And if they do, how will they stop Miss Slighcarp’s evil plan to turn their home into a school run by herself and the horrible Mrs. Brisket? 

Highlights: Watching Bonnie and Sylvia work together to get through they’re hardships and learn to think for themselves and figure out how to escape from their captors. 

Lowlights: For it being called The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, there aren’t a lot of wolves in it. There’s a few at the beginning, but if you’re looking for a story about a thrilling chase fleeing from a pack of bloodthirsty wolves, this isn’t it. 

FYI: This book is good for children of all ages. Other than harsh punishments from the adults in this story, it is perfectly fine for younger children.

Teen Volunteer Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Book Review written by Stephanie Brock

Stephanie is fourteen years old, and a summer 2021 teen volunteer.

It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.

First line of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 follows the tale of Guy Montag and his conflictions as he lives in a dystopian, book-despising society. He works faithfully at his job as a firefighter, someone who burns books and the homes of disobedient citizens, until he meets people that cause him to question his values and beliefs. Maddened by the constant desire to learn more, Montag finds more and more flaws in the society that he lives in. He makes friends and enemies, one of which is an animatronic canine. There are multiple suspenseful moments as well as thought-provoking statements woven throughout the story.

Even though it was written in the 1950s, the book’s description of a futuristic world is oddly like our current world. It shows the addiction to technology extremely well. Montag’s wife wastes away her time in a room surrounded by screens and false realities. She does not care about the world outside or her neighbors. The book also describes a fast-paced world where silence and rest are unnatural. Nobody takes walks for enjoyment and even when nothing is happening, people are listening to their own personal entertainment in Seashells, the dystopian version of ear buds. One character mentions how communities have become indistinguishable. Every joke is the same. Conversations are dull, only consisting of talk about fancy cars or clothing, or new television shows. All knowledge about classical works of literature and true art are nonexistent. While Fahrenheit 451 does exaggerate some realities, it is still very close to our lives in the 21st century. Bradbury’s imaginings of the future can be somewhat discouraging, seeming as if our world is drifting away from the love of books and knowledge, but it offers hope when Guy Montag fights for change.

An enjoyable aspect of the book is Bradbury’s talent for exhibiting anxiety and creating suspense. It is easy to get caught up in the emotions of the book. In a couple situations, Montag becomes overwhelmed. Bradbury showcases Guy’s anxiety through realistic inner monologues. Montag’s emotions, whether it is stress, anger, or despair, are clearly communicated and can be relatable to those who feel stuck in a constantly moving world. Montag has some suspenseful scenes that lead to moments far from any cliché. With these small but essential aspects of the story, Bradbury draws every reader into Guy Montag’s journey.

However, no book is completely enjoyable, and Fahrenheit 451 has some rough parts. There are a few odd metaphors that can be confusing, and some paragraphs are tedious to read because their topics get overcome by too much poetry. A slightly annoying factor about the book is that it is split up in a strange way. There are not frequent chapter breaks, and it can be hard to find a break in the text. These aspects do not overcome the many good parts of the book, though, and are simply things that were not enjoyed.

There are a few things to be aware of about the book. Characters understandably get angered, causing them to spout mild profanity. As mentioned earlier, Montag deals with anxiety, and overwhelming situations are expressed in a very realistic way. Some sensitive readers who cannot handle emotionally intense situations may want to be wary.

Overall, Fahrenheit 451 is a fantastic book for anyone looking for a classic, but exciting read. It offers topics to think about or discuss such as a fast-paced world vs. a slow, simple life, or the importance of maintaining knowledge and wisdom. It is a wonderful and enjoyable book full of surprises, thoughts, a little bit of poetry, and adventures.

Teen Volunteer Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Book Review written by Maya McKinnie

Maya is sixteen years old, and a summer 2021 teen volunteer

First line of the book: “Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair Family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.”

Summary: We Were Liars is the story of Cadence Eastman, a girl with a “perfect” family that is falling apart. Each summer they travel to a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. The Sinclair family is composed of Grandfather Harris Sinclair, the aunts: Penny, Carrie, and Bess, the littles: Will, Taft Liberty, and Bonnie, and last but not least the liars: Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. The story centers on Cadence and her group of cousins nicknamed the liars. Cadence suffers from post-traumatic headaches ever since an accident that happened two summers ago (summer fifteen). The thing is she can’t remember anything about the events that led up to her accident. Her mother claims that she would tell her every day what happened but then the next day Cadence would simply ask again. Finally the doctors told her mother to leave it alone and that it was best if Cadence remembered on her own. The only part of the story Cadence seems to retain is that she went swimming one night in late July all alone, was later found curled up on the beach half naked, and no one knows what happened. In addition to this piece of information, she remembers bits and pieces of summer fifteen but there are a few gaps in her memory. The main plot of the story begins when Cadence returns for the first time since the incident to the island to spend three weeks of the summer with her family and beloved liars. Determinedly she makes it her goal to discover for herself the truth of what happened during summer fifteen.

Thoughts: One of the best aspects of this story is the ultimate friendship that exists between Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. I also loved the idea of a broken family that looks perfect on the outside. Overall I thought it was really well written and I loved the unique style the author wrote in. The ending was very unexpected but I absolutely loved it and would definitely recommend it for anyone who loves a story about overcoming tragedy narrated by the main character.

Favorite Quote: “We should not accept an evil we can change.”

FYI: There is definitely some foul language but not much more than your average YA novel. This book also might be unsuitable for those who are triggered by death, grief, or fire. 

Teen Volunteer Book Review: Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Book Review by Aleah Jones

Aleah is fourteen years old and a summer 2021 teen volunteer

At my school library, the William Allen White award is a big deal. Each class gets a short summary of each nominee book, with the hope of getting students interested in reading them, and eventually, voting for their favorites. I enjoyed the opportunity to read several different nominee books and then vote. That’s how I stumbled upon Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster.

First Line: “There are all sorts of wonderful things a person might see very early in the morning.” 

This book is about a girl named Nan, who lost everyone and everything she ever knew. She is left with only two things to remember Sweep, her father figure. His hat, and a clump of soot that sometimes seems to have a mind of its own. Nan is hired to join a group of climbers, boys that climb chimneys to clean out the soot and grime, and she becomes a sisterly figure to them. When an “accident” happens on the job, and Nan is assumed dead, she escapes to an abandoned house. With new friends of the most unlikely kinds, including a magical golem, she continues to live in fear of her old boss, Wilkie Crudd. Her golem, whom she names Charlie, continues to protect her from harm. Nan starts to feel the pressure when she finds out that a golem doesn’t have a happy ending. She doesn’t want that to happen to Charlie because they are such great friends. Then, the time comes that she has to make a decision; continue to live in hiding or risk being found by Crudd as she protests unjust conditions of the climbers all over London? 

This book is not only an exciting adventure, but it also has historical elements in it as well. When I read this book, I learned about the children who took on the role of climber to provide for themselves. It also teaches a lesson of friendship. Nan becomes friends with characters of all shapes and sizes, and also, characters of all species.

This book is really enjoyable to read because of all the plot twists woven in throughout the story. It is also a fun read because of the uniqueness of all the characters and their different personalities. 

For some, this book might be a little confusing because of all of the flashbacks that appear throughout the story. Thankfully, all of Nan’s flashbacks are in separate italicized chapters, so it should be easy to distinguish when the flashbacks occur.

Sweep is an amazing story. It is a fantasy, history, and adventure story all rolled into one. It is a really exciting read, and I would recommend it to anyone who is over the age of ten. Younger kids may find some events in the story a bit intense.

This is an amazing story, and I would highly recommend that you read it and some of the other William Allen White Nominees. You may find a new favorite!

FYI: A few of the scenes in this book are a little intense, and a couple “accidents” happen that are slightly gruesome, but are not described in great detail.

Here’s a library link to Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Teen Volunteer Book Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Book Review by Claire Stewart

Claire is fifteen years old and a 2021 Summer Teen Volunteer

Three luscious lemon tarts glistened up at Catherine.

First line of Heartless by Marissa Meyer

    This book begins by telling the story of Lady Catherine Pinkerton, one of the most desired girls in all of Wonderland, amidst her real dream – baking. She spends the novel fighting fate, avoiding the King’s marriage proposals and her mother’s insistence that she will be Queen. 

    Of course, she will eventually be Queen – the infamous Queen of Hearts, in fact. And that’s not a spoiler, don’t worry! In fact, it’s the theme of the whole story. We all know who the Queen of Hearts is, and what it is that makes her so well-known; namely, one phrase: “Off with their heads!” So what is it that made Catherine of Hearts, the sweet girl who fell in love and wanted nothing more than to open a bakery, into the terrifying and memorable ruler of Hearts? 

    This story leads its readers through twists and turns, keeping us on our toes as we try to piece together the puzzle and differentiate fact from fiction in this strange world. We meet famous characters like the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, and, of course, the Queen herself. She does what she can to avoid love by the King and finds it elsewhere, at his black-and-white ball – a love that sends her spiraling, literally and figuratively, through Wonderland. This story features everything from lemon tarts and unfortunate turtles to strange pumpkins and unbeknownst best friends to magical rose bushes and criminals who aren’t so villainous. In short, it’s a thrilling read, one that practically jumps at you from off the pages. 

    As for the novel itself, my family can attest to the fact that it was practically glued to my fingers while I was reading it. I’m hesitant to speak too highly of this book, in case you, dear reader, end up not actually liking it, but this book was definitely to my taste. It’s quite sad, to be honest, and not for the faint of heart. It’s a given that there will be loss of life, love and limb – how else will Cath become the raging “off with their heads” kind of person? So, as long as that’s down your alley, I think you’ll quite enjoy it. 

    I also found each and every character rather enthralling, just because of intricate backstories and quite humanoid feelings and motives each one possessed. It isn’t the kind of book you’ll find yourself scratching your head and saying, “well, no real person would do that!” – if, of course, you can remember that no rabbits in our world speak and a multitude of hats doesn’t make you magical. I found myself really relating to our leading lady, and being pulled so deeply into her feelings that it was as if they were my own.

Overall, this book was quite sad, so I do give a word of warning to anyone who’s a bit too empathetic and accidentally ends up as an unpaid therapist for fictitious beings. But it was also witty, and interesting, and, ironically, magical. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and hope you do, too!

Mom and Me Reviews: My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World

Henley is given a homework assignment to bring his favorite book to class the next day to share with the class. He goes to the library and the bookstore but cannot find what he is looking for. Then, Mama makes a suggestion that helps him fix his problem.

First Line: Hi! I’m Henley. And this is a story about finding my very favorite book in the whole wide world.

Summary: Henley is given a homework assignment to bring his favorite book to class the next day to share with the class. He goes to the library and the bookstore but cannot find what he is looking for. Then, Mama makes a suggestion that helps him fix his problem.

Ratings:

               

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Maggie

               

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2 “hmm”s: Conor
3,143 BEST 4 5 Stars IMAGES, STOCK PHOTOS & VECTORS | Adobe Stock
Mama Lala

Their Thoughts: Conor was screaming when we started reading this, so the fact that he quieted down enough to pay attention and copy what the boy in the book was doing (saying “hmm”), shows that he enjoyed it, or at least the illustrations. Maggie said she could relate to the book– “I don’t have a favorite book, maybe I could write my favorite book!”

My Thoughts: This was a cute story, with thought out reasons I hear often from kiddos struggling to find a good book they enjoy. I enjoyed the solution Henley (and his mother) found to his problem. I do wish the librarian had been able to find Henley something, but I suppose I understand that wasn’t the point of this story.

Happy Reading our friends,

Mama Lala, Maggie, & Conor

Mom and Me Reviews: You are Enough

This book explains how people are different, and how being different doesn’t make you less. The book’s inspiration is Sofia Sanchez.

You Are Enough: A Book About Inclusion: O'Hair, Margaret, Sanchez, Sofia,  Cardoso, Sofia: 9781338630749: Amazon.com: Books

First Line: “No two people are exactly the same.”

Summary: This book explains how people are different, and how being different doesn’t make you less. The book’s inspiration is Sofia Sanchez.

Ratings:

               

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Maggie

               

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Conor: one head nod
3,131 BEST 4 5 Stars IMAGES, STOCK PHOTOS & VECTORS | Adobe Stock
Mama Lala

Their Thoughts: Maggie liked this book because it was a “feel good” book. “It makes a point. You should feel good about yourself no matter what– no matter how you look or how you talk, as long as you are yourself. It shouldn’t matter what other people think about you, it should matter what you think about yourself.”

My Thoughts: This book was a great conversation starter. It covered many topics, or types of people who might feel excluded. We were able to talk about all of those, but we focused on the inspiration of this book (sofia sanchez) and what makes her different, and some times excluded. Sofia Sanchez is a child with Down syndrom. Like many people, my kiddos didn’t quite understand what that meant. Luckily for us, the book has some information in the back to help explain all the “big” questions.

Happy Reading our friends,

Mama Lala, Maggie, & Conor

Teen Volunteer Book Review: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

Book Review by Rachel Johnson

Rachel is fifteen years old and currently a 2021 Summer Teen Volunteer

    When I picked up The Ruins of Gorlan, I did it to escape the constant heckling of my school librarian. According to her, the book was infinite in virtue and would never be praised enough.

    Right off the start, the author caught my attention with his – shall we say interesting – writing. Take the first line for example:

“Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, former Baron of Gorlan in the Kingdom of Araluen, looked out over his bleak, rain-swept domain and, for perhaps the thousandth time, cursed,” – Flanagan pg 1.

That quote gives you a pretty good idea of what the rest of the book is written like. The dialect is interesting and is not unrealistic. Even though the book is set in feudal times, the book is never hard to read and is easy to follow. 

    The Ruins of Gorlan is an exciting adventure that I couldn’t put down. The book starts with an orphan named Will, hoping he is chosen to be a knight, like his father. Though that wish is not fulfilled, he does find happiness being trained to become a ranger by Halt,the mysterious man who lives in the forest. Then Morgarath, lord of a whole bunch of depressing stuff – as was shown in the quote – hatches an evil plot and Will and Halt team up with a few side characters to take care of it. The ending was riveting and plausible. Let’s just say Will got his chance to save the day and prove himself, and leave it at that. 

    Not only is the book interesting, it also encourages hard work. Will starts out with nothing and no one, but through working hard to become a Ranger, he gains skills, admiration, and a few close friends. Will doesn’t get all that stuff for free – he has to study and practice with his bow and knives to earn his triumph. 

    In The Ruins of Gorlan even the side characters are interesting. Firstly there is Alyss, who trains to become prominent in the diplomatic service. She is interesting, strong, and witty. Horace takes Will’s dream and makes it become a reality for himself. He struggles through Battleschool, and truly has a hero’s journey as surely as Will does. He starts out bullying Will, then after joining Battleschool and working harder than ever before, he has a few adventures with Will and they end up as best friends. Halt is perhaps the most interesting of the side characters. He starts out as grumpy and enigmatic. Then through Will’s young and cheerful influence, he becomes cheerful and begins to love Will like a son. One of the most interesting plot lines in the story is Will discovering Halt’s mysterious past.

    I enjoyed this book a lot and owe a big thank you to my school librarian. Even though I might not have enjoyed it quite as much as she did, I still liked it a lot. Since reading the first book, I read the whole series and found each of the books to be just as – if not more interesting than the first. I would recommend this book to anyone who can read and is older than ten.

FYI: There was a little action and violence, but no more than one might expect in a fantasy adventure.

Mom and Me Reviews: On a Magical, Do-Nothing Day

The main character travels to a cabin in the woods with their mother. They experience a day like every other day the spend together in the cabin. Until, their game gets dropped into the pond! (exclamations inserted) At first the main character was very sad, then they started to notice all of the things around them, turning the forest magical.

First Line: “Here we were again.”

Summary: The main character travels to a cabin in the woods with their mother. They experience a day like every other day the spend together in the cabin. Until, their game gets dropped into the pond! (exclamations inserted) At first the main character was very sad, then they started to notice all of the things around them, turning the forest magical.

Ratings:

                Maggie:

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                Conor:

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                Mama Lala:

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Their Thoughts: “It was adventurous.” (9 year-olds can be so difficult to talk into expanding on their opinions!)

My Thoughts: I give you permission to be frustrated with me for judging books by covers, or in this case titles. I expected more “magic” in this story. It was still a lovely read, i just hoped for a bit more imagination. The illustrations were well-done. I like the thematic color choices and the bright orange hoodie.

Happy Reading our friends,

Mama Lala, Maggie, & Conor

Mom and Me Reviews: The Odyssey by Jennifer Adams

First Line: “I keep Odysseus here with me, since I saved him from the wine-dark sea.”

Summary: Jennifer Adams’ retelling of The Odyssey is an extremely paired down introduction of the story via the characters. In other words, there is no plot in this board book, but there are a lovely assortment of classic characters (monsters) displayed across the 10 pages.

Ratings:

                Maggie: did not participate in this adventure

                Conor: two kisses and one throw down from the high chair

                Mama Lala: 5 stars.

Their Thoughts: Conor was quite attached from the beginning. He was even smart enough to figure out the sirens were the characters to be kissed. He wasn’t interested in the wordy descriptions, but the illustrations were more than enough to keep him entertained.

My Thoughts: What a great way to introduce the classics to the little ones!

Happy Reading our friends,

Mama Lala, Maggie, & Conor