> The Things You Can Read: YA Reviews

The Things You Can Read welcomes you and thanks you for your readership. We, here at The Things You Can Read, ask your help, if you visit our site regularly, please follow us either via email or Google Friend Connect.  Launched on June 7, 2012, our site has already attracted a great deal of attention.  One of the goals of the site is to feature reviews of Children's Picture Books, Young Adult novels and Adult Literary Fiction/Nonfiction.  A second goal for the blog is to be a resource for teachers of English and writing--with examples of student created writing, writing tips, resource links, and the opportunity to pick the brain of a seasoned English teacher.  To spice things up...every now and then, we'll also include random quotes and thoughts on education and life in general, but our ultimate goal is to reach out into the blogosphere and be a "Book Whisperer" and "Writing Whisperer" to children and adults of all ages.   Thank you for your readership.  Here is to a lifetime filled with reading and writing.

YA Reviews

Young Adult Reviews

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton-a woman by the way-is a story of family, friendship, differences, loss, and redemption.  This coming-of-age novel does not pull any punches, it tackles each of these issues head on.  The setting of the novel is Tulsa, Oklahoma in the mid-60s.  The protagonist, Pony Boy Curtis, is a greaser, a kid from the wrong side of the tracks.  The story is told from his first person point of view, which brings an intimacy to the story; drawing the reader in from the moment Pony Boy steps out of the movie theater on the first page, "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."  Truly a great first line.  

Pony Boy lives with his two brothers, Darry and Soda Pop.  Darry is acting as both mother and father to his kid brothers; after the loss of their parents in a horrific car accident that haunts Pony Boy in his dreams.  Pony Boy resents his older brother's parenting style, which leads to a major altercation between the brothers.  Pony Boy leaves and the direct consequence of this act is that Pony Boy and his best friend, Johnny Cade, land up in the wrong place at the wrong time, resulting in the death of a socs.  With the death of Bob Sheldon, the socs, Pony Boy is changed forever.  To say more about the plot of The Outsiders is to spoil the novel, so follow the rest of Pony Boy's journey to redemption by reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

Let me start by saying I am extremely biased towards The Outsiders.  One of my favorite novels from "back in the day" when I was in seventh grade...now, as a teacher of seventh grade English, it is still beloved by this reviewer.  The Outsiders is the novel I use with all four of my English extension/enrichment classes.  For those math people out there this means that for the past three years I have read and taught this novel twelve times, and counting.  I can honestly say the novel never gets staid or boring.
Published in 1967, Pony-Boy and his band of brothers--literally and figuratively--are as vibrant and alive to the twelve and thirteen-year-old readers of today as they have been to YA readers in the late sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties. Hard to believe that a novel that is forty-five years old is able to pack such a punch, but yet it really does.  I see it year after year.  I have witnessed reluctant readers become avid readers by introducing them to S.E Hinton's body of work.  The Outsiders opens the floodgates for her other books:  Rumble Fish, That was Then, This is Now, and Tex.  Yes, the novel is violent, but that is the world of the Curtis brothers.  The violence is realistically portrayed, and not gratuitous, which is what strikes a resonating cord with so many readers.  Students feel Pony Boys pain, and as a result it allows for some wonderful classroom discussions.

Pony Boy will forever "Stay Gold" in this classic YA novel.

The OutsidersThe Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Links that I use to teach the novel:
S.E.Hinton's Site
NYT Book Review: 40 Years Later
Web English Teacher: The Outsiders
Some Novel Ideas: Teaching The Outsiders
Book Trailer for The Outsiders
Introduction of the Themes Found in The Outsiders Visually
NYT Coppola Pays a Return Visit to His 'Gone With the Wind' for Teenagers
The Outsider Quiz 

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins...Wait, I know what you are already thinking...Do I really need to read another review of The Hunger Games? Well, lets talk about what a review really does. A review allows the reader to digest...so to speak...their reading experience. It allows said reader to mull over the key virtues or defects the reader found in the book he or she has just finished.   A review is a personal comment on the reader's personal reading experience. So in essence, by penning a review the reader is allowed to connect with the reading community at large, which doesn't often happen; since reading is usually a solitary activity. So, yes I do want to offer my personal take on the colossally popular YA novel.

The Hunger Games has been sitting in my To Be Read (TBR) pile by my bed, since it first came out. What I'm saying is, I didn't just jump on the bandwagon, because it became this giant hit in 2011/2012. I haven't even seen the movie. Honestly, the dystopian genre has always been a favorite of mine. Science fiction is what I called it back in the day, but now this offshoot of science fiction has emerged with its own characteristics (see chart below). It is really amazing to watch a whole new genre come to life from the ashes-so to speak-of science fiction. I guess it is important to identify what classifies a book as dystopian. Robinson Wells defines dystopia on his blog
(http://www.robisonwells.com/2011/05/d...) as, "Utopia with a fatal flaw. Think of all the classic dystopias—1984, Brave New World, The Giver, etc.. These novels all show worlds that attempted to create a perfect society, but that 'perfection' was attained at a horrible cost." (I'll add Shirley Jackson's The Lottery to this list of past dystopian classics) I like this definition, so lets go with it; since there are dystopianites all over the world debating the "real definition" of this genre as I press the keys to click out this review.

Is it Dystopia? A flowchart for de-coding the genre  by  Erin Bowman  is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License . Based on a work at www.embowman.com . Feel free to share it for non-commercial uses.

Now for the review...I read the The Hunger Games back in May/June 2012, it jumped to the top of my TBR pile when I was asked to write the English Department's request to add this novel to our seventh grade approved list of "teaching novels."  You can't very well write such a document unless you have read the book, but I seem to continue to digress.  

I read the book and wrote up the request, but I did not write my review.  Before I felt comfortable penning my commentary, I needed some mulling over time.  I now have had several weeks to carefully consider this novel, and here are my thoughts...The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is one of the best dystopian novels, I have read to date.  It has so much to offer.  With that said, I will add that I am going to present my review in a most non-traditional manner.  First, I am going to assume that anyone who is reading this review already knows the basic premise of the book, in other words, I'm skipping the summary part of the review.  Instead, I am going to focus on the themes the novel has to offer in the hopes that YOU, the reader of this review, will make some connections and develop new original thoughts based on the various and sundry themes floating amongst the 374 pages of this dystopian YA novel-and there are many.  Here is what I came up with...


Friendship is seen in many forms throughout the novel:
Katniss and Gale
Katniss and Peeta
Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch
Katniss and Cinna

Throughout all of these relationships, friendship is revealed to be a crucial factor in the triumph of Katniss.

Family and Sacrifice

Loyalty and protection of family – Katniss makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her sister by volunteering as a tribute in the games. This is an important theme for young people, as the life of social media, and fragile connections between friends and family is now the norm. Through the lens of the novel, teens will be forced to imagine if they would be brave or valiant enough to stand up and protect family members, and thereby, decide how much personal relationships mean to them. Would they give up their Gameboys, their Internet or Facebook? What about their cell phones? Young people today are so connected with their technology, they often don’t think about what is at stake.


Survival/Importance of Nature – There are many interesting techniques dealing with surviving in nature on one’s own found throughout the novel. Katniss shows the importance of knowing how to stay alive with no technology, or help of any kind. This is important for young adults today because of society's heavy reliance on technology. Through the protagonist, Katniss, teens are forced to imagine life with no technology. Questions such as-How might a modern day teenager communicate, eat, or provide for their families if they lived in the world of The Hunger Games?- can be addressed by the reader of this dystopian novel.

Freedom and Oppression

Freedom of Speech – The Avox character in The Hunger Games is a distinct representation in our "real world" of the dangers of losing our Constitutional rights as citizens. These servant characters have had their tongues removed for slanderous remarks, or simply questions pointed to the capital of Panem. The novel allows teens to examine the importance of the Freedom of Speech, and think about what we, as a society, should be doing to protect this right.


Loss of Identity through Fashion – The character of Effie Trinket is a colorful, and fashion driven lady who is “always up on the latest fashion”. She does a wonderful job of showing the reader how far fashion trends can go. She is the bridge to discussion of social classes and the gap between rich and poor. The wider this gap becomes, the more apparent it is to outsiders to be able to identify the rich from the poor. The fashions become a symbol of social status in the world, and something that the rich are unaware they are marketing. A great eye opener for fashion driven teenagers.

Class Structure

Defining the “haves” and the “have-nots” – Through the novel, teens are forced to compare and contrast the population of the capitol with the population of the districts. Young adults are forced to use critical thinking skills to decide what is important: the relationships of family and friends as shown in the districts, or material goods as in the capitol. Also, the novel allows teenagers to examine the unfair nature of government, as it is portrayed in the novel, as all products are filtered through the walls of the capital, and thereby the reader is allowed to examine what is wrong with the capital's system of government.


Dangers of the Media – In The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins makes a clear issue of the dangers of reality television, something that our whole society is exposed to on a daily basis. The concept that the reader should be taking away from the novel, is that with little provocation, our society is very quick to forget about the people (tributes) involved in many “media challenges”. As viewers, we disregard the human aspect of television, and focus on entertainment alone. Panem’s capitol is representing the future of our culture if reality television keeps going in the direction it is aimed. The novel forces teenagers to make connections by relating the media circus of The Hunger Games to shows like Jersey Shore and Hoarders. Very savvy teenagers will readily see the dangers of using people’s problems as entertainment. Mature teenagers will also ask questions, such as, do we see these people as people or characters? In asking these types of questions teenagers will become aware that media has a way of making us forget just who is on the other side of the camera.


Loss of Identity through Media – Peeta’s struggle to be more “than a pawn in the games”, is a large theme in the novel. His fight to keep his loyalties with Katniss though the games is honorable and is a good example of overcoming peer pressure. The teens will observe the methods that Katniss and Peeta use to overcame the game’s influence to become killers, and instead hold fast to their morals, and only do what is necessary to survive. In contrast to other characters, Katniss and Peeta did not abide by the capitol’s wish to “put on a good show” for the viewers of the games. They often use the influence of the media in their favor, as well, in helpful and peaceful ways, as opposed to the violence used by the other characters in the novel.


The mockingjay pin - The mockingjay pin worn by Katniss in the novel, symbolizes the revolution of the districts. Using the “historical context” of the pin, which is a jab against the capital (mockingjays were created to spy on the people of the districts, but the districts discovered the birds and used them as a way to feed the capitol false information), becomes something that represents not only the revolution, but hope, freedom, and the ability to change.

Historical Context

The Hunger Games Arena – The Arena that the tributes fight in is very much influenced by the Roman Era Arena. The whole idea of people having to fight to the death as entertainment for the “upper class” is parallel to Roman times gladiatorial competitions held in coliseums all over the Roman Empire. This might potentially opens up a teens interest in a historical time period. It can also allow teens to identify elements of the novel that are inspired by history.

Whooh!  I have come to the end of my list of themes. I know this is not what you might have been expecting since this is labeled as a review, but do note the question mark in the post heading.  I may expand this to another post and discuss character development in The Hunger Games, but I am running out of writing steam as it is already the wee hours of the morning (when I do my best writing).   I would love to hear what other themes I may have missed--and I am sure I missed a few. Please, feel free to add to my list.  Leave a comment and lets cooperatively expand the list.

*Note: I would like to thank A. Eiben for her contribution to the "generation of themes" for The Hunger Games


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was lucky enough to win an autographed copy of OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy back in April 2012 on the YA Reads for Teachers (And Any Other Adults!) Goodreads group. I was so excited to receive the book and join in the discussion on Goodreads, but alas the last third of the book waited for my summer break to finally see me complete this charming YA novel. Well, having just completed OyMG, I wanted to share my thoughts.

OyMG is the story of a young teenager, Ellie Taylor. Ellie is a born arguer, and she has par-laid this talent into becoming a successful debater. However, Ellie has just finished middle school, and wants to attend the private and ultra-exclusive Benedict High School, which is known for having the best debate team around. Not having the money to attend, there is only one way Ellie can make her dream reality, and that is to win the scholarship that is offered at the Christian Society Speech and Performing Arts summer camp that is held at the school. The one fly in the ointment is that Ellie has been raised in the Jewish faith, although her father is Christian, her family embraces her mother's Jewish heritage. How will she handle the problems that arise at camp?

I'll jump right in, the concept of uniqueness is one that has always intrigued me. OyMG addresses this theme in a big way. In movies we see memorable characters that are unique and different, and we love them. However, movies are not reality and even though these unique characters are placed on a pedestal and admired for their unconventional, unexpected, and unorthodox qualities-think Amelie-this is not the way of the real world. I guess the question I keep asking myself is does the majority of society really value this type of person? We tell children that everyone is unique and that this is something to be valued, but yet "sameness" and conformity is often what is expected, and ultimately more valued, especially at school. I don't want to explore why this is true, but rather state that it is and relate it to the novel.

The main character, Ellie Taylor, is faced with having lived her life as someone who is unique-different, but when her dream of attending an exclusive private school forces her to deny who she is, she is quick to conform. All the while, telling herself she still is the person she always has been, and this conformity is just a means-to-an-end. In other words, Ellie lies to herself. Ellie is lucky enough to have her parents and her grandfather in her life, each try to help her see that by denying who she is, she is selling out, and this choice has consequences. One of the consequences is that Ellie will never be the person she once was if she denies her heritage/race and her beliefs.

I truly enjoyed following Ellie's progress through the novel. It is an easy read, geared more to tweens, in my opinion. The main characters are believable. One of the most flushed out characters in the novel is Ellie's Jewish grandfather, Zeydeh, who truly helps Ellie value and accept herself-just as she is. The wealthy antisemitic antagonist is painted in a manner that helps teenagers see how someone can appear ever so nice on the surface, but harbor deep seeded prejudices. Throughout the arc of the story, young people learn that discriminators don't look different; it is their actions that make them appear ugly, and this is what sets them apart.

Happy Reading!
Things You Can Read
Believe In Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Love, and the Power of Books!


  1. I love Hunger Games... and I love your review!!!

    P.S. - I am your new followers. If you don't mind you can follow me back.

  2. I love Hunger Games and your review is awesome.

    P.S.- I am your new follower. If you don't mind then follow me back.


Your Comment is awaiting moderation. It will appear once it has been approved.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...