Miss Critic's Book Reviews

this way, i won't forget which ones i've read and which ones i haven't

October 11, 2006

The Boy Book by E. Lockhart

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Now, I know what you're all thinking: Miss Critic, is this a blog limited to reviewing books by E. Lockhart? She's gaining a significant advantage over all the other authors, in both quantity of reviews and grading! Well, I'd apologize, but her books are so amazing, I just can't. Sorry!

Ruby Oliver is back at Tate Prep for another year, this time emblazoned with the Scarlet "A" of unpopularity. Her nemesis, Kim, is gone for the school year, but the debacle that was The Boyfriend List hasn't left the minds of the rest of her classmates. Ruby is struggling to stay afloat amidst classmates who want nothing to do with her, a new job at the zoo, therapy sessions, as well as parents who think she might be a lesbian. Life is peachy.

Roo copes with her problems by following her therapist's advice: soon she has a steady "scamming" relationship with a non-Tate boy, new friends in formerly annoying Megan and possibly flirtatious Noel, and a rekindling relationship with estranged friend, Nora. But of course, in typical Roo fashion, everything explodes in her face.

I adored this book. Lockhart's writing is completely infectious - not quite as laugh out loud as Louise Rennison, but close! But unlike the consistently misguided Georgia Nicolson, Ruby is both endearing obviously growing and changing. The Boy Book serves as the perfect sequel to The Boyfriend List: the first book set up the premise and developed the characters, and now in The Boy Book Ruby is shining on her own, meddling through the mess that is high school.

Aside from the snappy dialogue (which is almost impossibly well-written) and the infectious characters, I loved what was beneath the surface of Lockhart's book. So many YA books are about girls and clothes and boys and drama, because, well, teenaged girls' heads are often full clothes and boys and drama. But instead of glorifying the shallow, often manipulative behaviors of teenagers, Lockhart really lets Ruby show us that there are a web of choices being made by these teenagers (both good ones and bad ones) and that while "bad" choices might be so accepted that it becomes a standard for behavior (see some of the advice written in the fictional Boy Book collected by Lockhart's characters), that doesn't mean you can't choose to be a honest, compassionate person. I loved watching Ruby struggle with her own self-efficacy: and that made The Boy Book a cut above the rest of of the pink covered, girly-glitz YA books on the shelves today. '

Oh how I wish the third installment was already on the shelves.

My Grade: A! (oh, how'd you guess)

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October 06, 2006

Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart

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First of all, allow me a little shout out to Jennifer Lynn Barnes and Diana Peterfreund who have linked my reviews of their books (Golden and Secret Society Girl, respectively)! I'm looking forward to the sequels of both books greatly, so thanks for reading.

Now onto the main event: yet another E. Lockhart book review. This book fell into my possession in audio format - my mother brought it to me to listen to in order to guage its "appropriateness" in the young adult section, since one of her branch librarians thought it was too racy. Since Banned Books Week just recently passed, I though it would be fitting to finally get around to reviewing Fly on the Wall.

Gretchen Yee is nobody at the Manhattan School for Art and Music: everybody wants to be different, to make a statement, and all Gretchen has is crayon red hair and a sketchbook full of Spiderman drawings. Her boyfriend dumped her, her drawing teacher can't say anything good about her art, her crush barely gives her the time of day, and her best friend is pulling away? How could life get any worse?

I'll tell you how: by spontaneously transfiguring into a winged vermin, that's how! An unintended wish comes true, and Gretchen spends half of the book in fly-form, flitting around the boy's locker room and learning the secrets of boys. And looking at them naked from time to time. But how can a girl/fly resist a little peek? Not only does Gretchen learn the intimate details of the male anatomy, she also finds out just how difficult it is being a guy, and other school secrets as well.

I'm not sure my summary does this book justice, because I love love LOVED it. Possibly even more than the highly touted The Boyfriend List. I loved Gretchen's voice - full of self doubt, repetitions, and dry humor hidden just under the surface - and I loved watching her grow from mousy introvert to High School Superhero. Lockhart has a complete hold over that quirky, smart teenaged voice that I absolutely can't get enough of.

I can't really say much more other than for everyone to read this book! I've listened to the book in its entirety three times now, so I am definitely a fan.

Note: on the challenged book front, in my, incredibly liberal opinion, deemed the book definitely YA appropriate, despite the playful anatomical descriptions and occasional sexual innuendo :-)

My Grade: A
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September 22, 2006

Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund

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Amy Haskel is a third year student at Eli University. She might not be a prodigy, or a pop star, or a political icon, but she's smart, driven, and editor of the campus Literary Magazine. She has a roommate/best friend, a friends-with-benefits, and a coveted summer internship at a NYC publishing house. She looks good on paper, but that's not exactly enough to be tapped by Eli's most famous and prestigious secret society, Rose & Grave.

Or at least that's what Amy thinks until they tap her! Suddenly, Amy is whisked into a world where she is not only able but encouraged to hobknob with pop stars, political magnates, and prodigies, all the whle participating in mysterious initiation ceremonies and trying to figure out exactly which rumors about society life are true and which are false (Nazi gold? False. Antique grandfather clock awarded at graduation? True... but not exactly glamourous). But how can Amy keep her Society life from hurting her relationships, especially when the Society turns on Amy and her fellow inductees? And pass her War And Peace final??!?

I'll cut to the chase: I was abosolutely entranced by this book. The plot moved quickly, just like the final weeks of college always seem to do in real life, what with trying to squeeze in all the studying, partying, and super secret ceremonies to attend. The book reads partly as the story of a plucky young co-ed, trying to figure out her own merit and where she belongs on campus and in life, and partly as an expose of the exotic underworld of secret society life. It kind of reminded me of the trendy Boarding School genre of YA novels, but much naughtier and more exciting, and not as overdone.

Peterfreund does a great job of balancing the narration of Amy's society life and real life, which certainly kept the reading interesting. And throughout the novel, Amy's voice is consistently snarky, her motives flawed but authentic, and her character obviously growing and changing. A solid protagonist, a high-concept premise, and a great voice? What more can a girl ask for? Other than a grandfather clock, of course.


My Grade: A

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September 16, 2006

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger

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Procrastination and a lovely little tool called MelCat definitely keep me in the books during the school year! So far I have three books on the burner, even though I just spent 40 bucks at Borders, and I have stacks unread on my shelves! Geography Club was the first to arrive, and it didn't even take me too long to finish it (time flies when you're shirking your homework!)

Russel Middlebrook feels like a spy in the enemy territory of his high school. He's gay in a conservative town, and he's so anxious about his sexuality, he can't even tell his very best friends, Min and Gunnar. Basically, life sucks.

But things change when Russel meets a classmate in a gay chatroom: it's Kevin Land, a popular, and smokingly hot baseball player, who just might like Russel back! So how can these closeted teens meet others like them without facing public ridicule from their classmates? They start a club so boring, nobody will ever want to join: thus The Geography Club is born.

Things are dreamy, for awhile. Along with Kevin, Russel finds out his friend Min is bisexual with a soccer playing girlfriend, and so is politically active Ike: the five meet after school and talk about everything, from sexuality to sports, and their friendships are cemented. But of course, just when things start to heat up with Kevin, Gunnar wants Russel to start dating a girl, and then the nasty rumors start spreading, and tensions in the Geography Club are high... it's hard to keep such a big secret in high school!

I'd heard very good things about this book, but I was not particularly impressed myself. I thought the plot moved much too quickly - flitting between relationship drama to friendship drama to school politics to popularity too fast. Some plot points I thought were interesting were glossed over (such as the activist sex ed teacher who's local publicity plays a role in the beginning of the book, but who drops completely from the book after that), which upset me. The book I'm sure realistically portrayed the experience of a young homosexual, but the reader isn't given much time or motive to care for any of the characters particularly much. The writing was quick and fun, and Russel's voice distinct and adorably self-conscious, but the rest of the characters remained anonymous in my mind.

I thought Geography Club had a cute, promising premise, but the unfocused writing really kept me from thoroughly enjoying it.

My Grade: B-

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September 10, 2006

Me vs. Me by Sarah Mlynowski

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So sorry for the hiatus, but I'm back at school and getting into the swing of a new schedule. With work, exercise, class, and writing, it's hard enough to find time to read, much less write about reading!


But last weekend I found myself at Borders, where I treated myself to a few new books. One of them was Me vs. Me, a complete impulse buy, fueled only by word of mouth about Mlynowski's success with Bras and Broomsticks, and the book's position on the 2 for 3 table. Despite a slight anti-chick lit bias (no thanks to the less than statisfactory Size 12 is Not Fat), I enjoyed the book thoroughly.


Gabby Wolf is facing the decision of a lifetime. If she chooses one path, she will take her dream job in New York City, working as a TV news producer for a national news program, and live the breezy single life a la Sex and the City. But then there's Cam, Gabby's loving boyfriend who refuses to leave his family in Arizona, who proposes to her as in a last minute attempt to get her to stay. Which should she choose? How can she decide which path will make her happy?

And then Gabby's life splits. One day, she wakes up in her New York apartment with an exciting job, a slightly psycho roommate, and a slew of potential dates. The next, she's in bed with Cam with a ring on her finger, spending all her time planning a wedding with her overbearing Mother-In-Law. Gabby doesn't know what happened to her, but she also doesn't know how to fix it. So she lives each day twice, battling with a lecherous New York boss, or stewing over her orange themed wedding, and she takes comfort in the fact that no matter how bad her day was, she will wake up somewhere else. But eventually, Gabby has to choose, and the decision still isn't any easier.

I found it pretty difficult to put this book down, despite the lack of any compelling or twisting plot. Mlynowski's humor is completely subtle and I thought funnier than the prodigious Meg Cabot's in Size 12 Isn't Fat (reviewed here). The dual storylines were equally interesting, and Gabby fights between them both in a manner that lets the reader see the good and bad sides of each choice. And the ending, I thought, was perfectly feel-goody and not at all how I expected it to happen.


All in all, Me vs. Me is a fun story about a regular girl, who has to make a regular decision, but Mlynowski's distinctive voice and the expertly woven plot make this book one cut ahead of the average "Chick Lit" novel in my book.

My grade: A

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August 21, 2006

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter

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Hello there, faithful readers. Sorry it's taken so long for my next installment... I've been reading, but I've made the mistake of starting... oh 5 books at once. So it'll take me awhile to get through them all. I also dug this book off of my 13-year-old sister's shelf, and found myself immersed in yet another genre of YA fiction I don't usually read: the high-concept novel.

Cammie Morgan looks like a regular girl, attending a ritzy private school in a podunk town. And that's exactly how Cammie wants to look... since she's really attending the illustrious Gallagher Academy, an all girls espionage school where students are fluent in at least six languages, learn how to disarm bombs, and study under the finest of ex-CIA agents and other men and women of mystery. Cammie's world exists behind the four walls of the heavily secured school, where she rooms with her two best friends, Bex and Liz, and her mother, the Headmaster, keeps her in line.

So when Cammie meets a boy, an "outsider" no less, who thinks all "Gallagher Girls" are spoiled, upper class princesses, she basically has no idea what to do. So with the help of her spy-genious friends, and her new roommate, a reluctant transfer student who knows her way around men and fashion, Cammie launches a formal investigation of the boy and his intentions. After a few staged meetings, searching for personality clues in his trashcans, and hacking into his e-mail box, it seems that Cammie might have a chance with the boy... as long as she keeps up her facade of "normal girl," which proves more and more difficult as the book progresses.

Carter's book is a mix between the popular "Adventures of the Rich Prep School Kids" genre of YA, and an urban Harry Potter, where instead of magic and potions, the girls learn judo and concoct untracable poisons. And much like when reading the Harry Potter series, I was completely immersed in the world of these girl spies. Cammie's adventures in love and normalcy were cute, especially when filtered through the narrator's spy-oriented mind (as in "I know how to kill this guy with my bare hands, but where do I put my hands when we make out?). The characters were distinct, and the balance between teenaged drama, classwork, and extracurricular espionage was right-on.

However, when I finished the book, I didn't feel like the ending or characters suprised me in any way. The characters were unique, but not memorable. As I considered what to cover in this review, I remembered many small plot points or character traits that were left dangling... and not in a good "there's going to be a sequel!" way. The plot was a basic "girl meets boy... then gets caught up in a lie" plot, with only the spy aspect to spice it up.

All in all, the book was entertaining, but one-dimensional. The high-concept setting and the quippy narration carry a so-so plot. But on the plus side, I've heard Disney is optioning the book for a movie! And after reading the book, I almost think it might be better on screen than on paper.

My Grade: B

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August 14, 2006

Golden by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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So I've been checking up periodically on Miss Jennifer Barnes' livejournal all summer, being that she's pretty much living the life I dream of: 22, fresh out of four years at Yale, and now a freshly published author with two more books on the way. Talk about a charmed life! I tucked Golden away into my mental "to read" list, but it wasn't very high priority, since I knew it had a supernatural, fantasy twist, which is not really a characteristic of books that I like. BUT, as I scoured my little sister's room for books to take back up to school with me, I was suprised to find an advanced reader's copy of Golden, so the book was instantly pushed up to the top of my list.

First and foremost, Barnes has definitely found her balance between reality and fantasy: I found Golden incredibly intriguing, even though I have little or no interest in fantastic novels. So congrats! Not only did I make it to the end of the book, I did indeed enjoy the trip.

Lissy James is living out every teenager's nightmare. She's uprooted from her home in California, and plunked down in podunk Oklahoma, leaving all friends and sense of self behind. To make matters worse, her high school is 100% divided into distinct categories: the Goldens, and the Nons. No gray areas, no changing your position, and absolutley no mixing of the castes. And guess which camp Lissy lands herself within the first day at school?

So she's the "new girl" in a small town, she's targeted by a few of the more bitchy Golden Girls (hahahaha... sorry), AND her perpetual aura vision is taking on fascinating qualities. Oh, did I mention that Lissy and almost entire family possess special psychic powers? Well, she does, and a lot of the books charm comes from what happens to Lissy when she gets distracted by auras at school... even though I was unsure how seeing people's auras could be a social hindrance, I quickly found out how studying the colors of the wrong boy's aura could be incriminating, and that active auras draw attention immediately away from things like walking, staying awake, or keeping ones balance.

Oh, and it gets worse. Lissy quickly becomes aware of an evil aura hovering over the student body. It will take Lissy's powers, as well as the help of her plucky but "Blind" younger sister and Lissy's few "Non" friends to stop it, and maybe even help from the Golden girls who seem like nothing more than enemies.

The book reads very quickly, which is generally a good thing, especially for 247 pages! Lissy's attention to auras was fascinating, but it almost distracted me from her ACTUAL interactions with people, especially as the story progressed and became more complex. But I did have a clear sense of what was going on, whether or not I picked up on every detail the author provided, and I always wanted to read more :)

And a lot of the fun of Golden is in the details: Lissy and her family are all different versions of Seers, and see they do, making all sorts of subtle observations that scream "THIS IS IMPORTANT! REMEMBER ME!" It kind of reminded me of watching a movie in that way... you know, when the camera lingers on an answering machine or an envelope or something totally innocent that you just know will come up later. And I definitely consider that an asset to Barnes' story, serving to keep me interested and on my toes.

The ending was satisfying (with enough ends tied and enough left loose for a sequel), but I thought the climax was rushed. By the time I'd figured out the mysteries of Emory High, the book was over, it seemed! I would have liked to see a more drawn out climax, more time to savor the tension and balance between the supernatural and natural elements. But in the end, I was thoroughly jealous of Barnes' obvious storytelling talent at a young age, and I definitely wanted to read the sequel, post haste!

My Grade: B+

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