July 5, 2014

Review: Divergent Thinking

I am a huge fan of Roth's series, so when I received an email asking if I was interested in reviewing this book, I jumped at the opportunity.

Title: ‘Divergent Thinking’
Editor: Leah Wilson
Pages: 256
Publisher: Smart Pop
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: BenBella Books

Summary (from Goodreads):

Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy (DivergentInsurgentAllegiant) has captured the hearts and thoughts of millions of readers. In Divergent Thinking, YA authors explore even more of Tris and Tobias’ world, including:

� What Divergent’s factions have in common with one of psychology’s most prominent personality models
� The biology of fear: where it comes from and how Tris and the other Dauntless are able to overcome it
� Full-page maps locating all five faction headquarters and other series landmarks in today’s Chicago, based on clues from the books
� Plus a whole lot more, from why we love identity shorthand like factions to Tris’ trouble with honesty to the importance of choice, family, and being brave

With a dozen smart, surprising, mind-expanding essays on all three books in the trilogy, 
Divergent Thinking provides a companion fit for even the most Erudite Divergent fan.
My Thoughts:

I was surprised not by how much I enjoyed reading the essays in this book but by how applicable I can make them in my classroom. As an AP Language teacher, I am always looking for interesting non-fiction pieces, especially ones that connect to YA, and this book definitely meets those standards.

This book covers a lot of interesting questions, several focusing on how factions work not just in the series but in life as well. We naturally “faction” ourselves off, and the authors explore and connect how “factions” define who we are as people as well as how they define the characters in the series. This was one of my favorite things to read throughout the book.

I really enjoyed several things about this book, and I can see teachers using excerpts of these essays within their own classes. You do not need to read the series to use the material, but it will help. Most of your students will probably be familiar with the series/film at the very least.

Ideas explored in the essays include connecting the factions to pop culture (Hogwarts/Star Wars/Batman/Superman), the “Big 5” of psychology, mapping out of the factions in Chicago, a mother/daughter conversation about choices that can be made again, bravery, fear as a biological response (cross-curricular with science teacher), etc.

The essays are wide-ranging, do not need to be read in order, and really are just an interesting look at the series.

Do I recommend this book?

I would recommend this book for the die-hard Divergent series fan and/or English teacher looking to bring something interesting into the classroom. With common core, I hear a lot of teachers looking for non-fiction ideas. This would be a great addition.

What's been your favorite non-fiction read lately? Share below. I am always looking for books to add to me TBR pile.

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

July 3, 2014

Review: Sinner

I am such a fan of Stiefvater's world-building. She creates solid stories with solid characters thrust into interesting worlds. For her latest novel, world-building happens in an interesting way because the world is already there: Los Angeles; however, she creates a microcosm of L.A. that will keep readers turning the page.

If you have not read the Mercy Falls trilogy, it's okay. Stiefvater fills holes in for readers as needed, but my guess is that if you read this first, you will want to go back and read that series just to see where Stiefvater started with Cole and Isabel versus where she takes them in this novel.

Title: ‘Sinner’
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Pages: 368
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

A standalone companion book to the internationally bestselling Shiver Trilogy.

Sinner follows Cole St. Clair, a pivotal character from the #1 New York Times bestselling Shiver Trilogy. Everybody thinks they know Cole's story. Stardom. Addiction. Downfall. Disappearance. But only a few people know Cole's darkest secret -- his ability to shift into a wolf. One of these people is Isabel. At one point, they may have even loved each other. But that feels like a lifetime ago. Now Cole is back. Back in the spotlight. Back in the danger zone. Back in Isabel's life. Can this sinner be saved?

My Thoughts:

First, let me say that I read this book in a single sitting—I was that captivated by the story. But I wasn't sold from page one.

As the novel opens, readers are in a car with Cole, who is doing a live radio interview via cell phone. During this interview we meet Leon, the man who has been charged with driving Cole to his destination—and who becomes one of Cole's best allies in the novel. While the interview was not compelling, the moment Cole steps out of the car to walk to his destination, I was curious. Curious to see how Stiefvater was going to unfold this story.

And I was surprised. I was—because at first I didn't think I was going to like this novel. I went into it thinking, “Hey, I really enjoy Stiefvater's writing, and the cover is kinda cool, so I want to give this novel a chance.” But when I got to that opening, I was convinced that this novel was not going to be for me.

I was wrong (not the first time; won't be the last).

So, if you open the novel and see that interview and think, “I don't know if I'm going to like this,” keep going. It is worth it.

This story is told in duel narration with Cole and Isabel, and I liked this approach. It broke up the monotony a little, especially when Cole was being a bit too wild or Isabel was being a bit too, well, Isabel.

Cole sold this story for me. He is a character on the brink of re-fueling his career, finding love, fighting the wolf inside him. But this story isn't about Cole the wolf. It is about Cole the musician; Cole the man; Cole the friend; Cole in love.

Cole the wolf does make a few appearances—and I won't spoil the why. But let me say that it is cleverly woven into the storytelling.

Cole has come to Los Angeles for one reason, and one reason only: Isabel. He wants her in his life, but he is scared of what he will find when he reunites with her.

Stiefvater doesn't make us wait either. The reunion happens early in the text because this reunion is what sets the stage for the rest of the story.

While Cole is trying to re-start his career via a reality show, readers will find Isabel living with her mom, aunt, and cousin and working for a fashion designer. Isabel is sharp-tongued, and she has some of the best lines in the novel. Isabel is as lost as Cole, but she hides it a bit better. She has started her studies to become a doctor, but her parents are on the brink of divorce, and this eats at her soul. The chip on Isabel's shoulder is a heavy one, and it is going to take a lot for it to be chipped away.

If anyone can do it, it's Cole.

What I loved about this book is how Cole and Isabel's characters are weaved nicely together as a couple but also as individuals. They both have their own interests and pursuits in life, and they both go for them. But they also celebrate what makes each of them so wonderful, and this is honesty on a page.

There are minor characters of note in the novel that contributed to my enjoyment, but two stood out the most as my favorites.

There's Baby, the producer of the reality show, was a bit cagey for me, but of course she is meant to be. She tries to pull fast ones on Cole several times, but he turns the tables on her and her show, and it is fantastic.

And then there's Leon. He is my absolute favorite character in the novel. We meet Leon at the beginning because he is the man charged with driving Cole to his destination. Leon becomes an important figure in the story, not for his driving skills but for the friendship he develops with Cole. Leon is Cole's voice of reason, the guidance that Cole needs to help him stay focused on his life goals. I just want to hug Leon. He should have his own story.

There is an epilogue that takes readers into a chunk of the future to see if Cole and Isabel achieved their dreams together, separately, or at all.

I think on that note, this is the time to stop because I am afraid I will give away key points in the story, and I really don't want to spoil anything for you.

Do I recommend this book?

I absolutely do. I read this book in one sitting because I really wanted to see where Stiefvater would take Cole and Isabel, and I was most curious to see how she would tie it all together.

What's been your favorite read lately? Share below. I am always looking for books to add to me TBR pile.

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator