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March Books

Books Read:

1. STOLEN by Lucy Christopher.
2. GENERATION DEAD by Daniel Walters.
3. HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT by Natalie Standiford.
4. WINGS by Aprilynne Pike.
6. SPELLS by Aprilynne Pike.
7. BLACK BOY by Richard Wright.
8. ILLUSIONS by Aprilynne Pike.
10. OUTSIDE IN by Maria V. Snyder.
11. SAY THE WORD by Jeannine Garsee.
13. ALICE 19th VOLUME 2 by Yuu Watase.
14. REINCARNATION by Suzanne Weyn.
15. THE TIPPING POINT by Malcolm Gladwell.
16. SEAN GRISWOLD'S HEAD by Lindsey Leavitt.
17. WHAT CAN'T WAIT by Ashley Hope Perez.
19. DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver.
20. THIS GIRL IS DIFFERENT by J. J. Johnson.
21. BLOODTHIRSTY by Flynn Meaney.
22. ALMOST PERFECT by Brian Katcher.
23. ONCE WAS LOST by Sara Zarr.
24. THE VESPERTINE by Saundra Mitchell.
25. FLIRT CLUB by Cathleen Daly.
26. THE DEAD-TOSSED WAVES by Carrie Ryan.

Pages Read: 8430 pages
Total Pages: 20299 pages

Challenge Updates:

2011 Reading Challenge: 66/180
2011 Manga Challenge: 5/15
2011 Debut Author Challenge: 5/44
2011 YA Historical Fiction Challenge: 4/10

Favorite Books: HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT by Natalie Standiford, JERSEY TOMATOES ARE THE BEST by Maria Padian, THIS GIRL IS DIFFERENT by J. J. Johnson

Biggest Disappointment: GENERATION DEAD by Daniel Walters

Biggest Pleasant Surprise: THE VESPERTINE by Saundra Mitchell, FLIRT CLUB by Cathleen Daly

The Betrayal of Maggie Blair: Review

Title: The Betrayal of Maggie Blair
Author: Elizabeth Laird
Release Date: April 2011
Published By: Houghton Mifflin
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 435 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.58 stars

Review: Maggie Blair lives in seventeenth century Scotland, where one of the worst crimes is to be a witch. When her cantankerous old grandmother is accused of just that, the crime falls on her, too. To avoid being hanged, Maggie escapes to her patriotic uncle's home, but things don't get any easier. She brings danger down upon him and to save him, she has to risk her own life in the process.

I've read a couple books dealing with witch hunts (such as The Crucible, which I had to read for school), but they were all set in Massachusetts during the famous Salem witch trials. It was interesting to read about such a similar topic but in a completely different location - namely, Scotland. Even a lot of historical fiction takes place in the same areas and times, like Victorian England, so THE BETRAYAL OF MAGGIE BLAIR was quite original in terms of setting.

Generally, historical fiction isn't quite my cup of tea. I'm making an effort to read more historicals this year since I don't read a lot of them, but it takes a truly excellent one to make me really enjoy it. Unfortunately, this book didn't quite make it for me. There's nothing exactly wrong with it, but I didn't find myself connecting with Maggie as much as I wanted to.

This is not to say that I didn't like it. I enjoyed the adventures she had to undertake and the characters were possibly the greatest part of the book. The cast was rich and varied, going from cranky old Elspeth to clumsy, adorable Tam to even scheming, bratty Annie. I did feel the plot could drag on a little bit, but there must have been an enormous amount of research involved for 17th century Scotland to be presented so vividly. While this may not be the perfect fit for those who don't enjoy historical fiction that much, fans should definitely add this one to their collection.

FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review. This is no way affected my review, which is 100% honest.

Required Reading

Everyone's had experience with books you've had to read for school. My feelings with them are a bit mixed. In elementary and middle school, I hated them because they were always books below my reading level - I remember once in fifth grade, I was assigned a book I had read three years ago. But once I came to my new (and much more academically rigorous) high school, lit class has become much more interesting!

We don't read as many traditionally classic books (if that made any sense). For instance, this year, we haven't read anything from before the 1950s, and some books were quite modern. They were all books I would never read on my own, but for most of them, I ended up enjoying them and having to actually think, which was nice.

The first book (well, play) we read was The Crucible by Arthur Miller. This one's about the Salem witch trials, but it's actually about communism, and was written in the 1950s during McCarthyism and all that fun stuff. The communism angle was pretty interesting, but the story as a whole did bore me. There were places where things got quite intriguing, but they were few and far between. It probably doesn't help that I only got a B+ on the essay. (My essay skills have improved greatly since then!)

Next we had a choice between Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter and Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes. I was rather torn between the two and finally went with Angela's Ashes, just because the cover was cooler. I don't really regret it, though. Although the memoir could be a little graphic (I really didn't need to read about the author's sexual exploits and though I don't have anything against sex when it's an actual part of the story - e.g. The Duff - I felt toning them down couldn't have hurt anyone), I ultimately had a positive experience reading it.

After that we read Richard Wright's Black Boy. Initially, I didn't like it that much and found it equally disturbing and boring. However, as I went on, I found Wright's introspections to be increasingly interesting and profound. Of course we're all familiar to some extent with racism, but he had some intriguing thoughts on how deep-rooted it is/was(this book is from back when racism was more prominent in everyday life) and how that affects not just colored people but non-colored people, and what it does to warp society.

Finally, we're currently reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I'm only about a third of the way through so I won't offer much about my thoughts yet. I will say that it's definitely a fascinating read thus far, and I'm actually excited to write the essay for this. So much to analyze!

So, what do you think about school-required reading? Share your positive and negative experiences in the comments!

The Forest of Hands and Teeth: Review

Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Release Date: July 2009
Published By: Gollancz
Genre: Dystopian
Pages: 310 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.60 stars

Review: Mary lives in a world where the Sisterhood is right, the Guardians protect, the fence separating them from the Forest of Hands and Teeth saves lives, and the Unconsecrated kill. But soon she's discovering that the only thing true in that is the last one, because the Sisterhood has secrets, the Guardians are helpless, and the fence has broken down. She must choose between a past and a future, love and happiness, life and death. And most of all, she must choose whether or not to finally learn the truth.

Carrie Ryan has a distinctive writing style in THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH that propels the reader through the book even when the plot drags. Her beautiful sentences flow perfectly, reaching to the depths of emotion and character, allowing her to express horrific event after horrific event with both grace and impact. The prose is anguished and thoughtful at the same time, but has a certain dreamy quality that makes it read almost like poetry. Mary's conflicted and confused feelings are transmitted directly to the readers, as if they are experiencing everything themselves.

Although technically a zombie novel, this is far from the cheesy stories that come to mind at that phrase. The Unconsecrated are painted with horror and sadness, and though their origin is not elaborated on, their shambling, twisted existence is such a constant in Mary's life that it feels as if they are in the readers' own backyards. They are to be feared, but at the same time, Carrie Ryan portrays a sensitivity to them, making them out to not be so much monsters as humans undergone some terrible transformation.

THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH touches upon themes of love, family, and happiness, all to the backdrop of Mary's horrible world. The beautiful writing is juxtaposed with the chilling events, creating haunting scenes that will stay with the reader long past closing the book. This book stands out in a way many don't, and leaves the reader not only with an eagerness for the next books in the series, but questions to think about.

In My Mailbox (20)

Such a wonderful two weeks! I feel like I'm saying that with every IMM post, but really, I've been getting such fantastic books lately :)

For Review:

This Girl is Different by JJ Johnson. I adore the cover! Isn't it so cool? I'm already about halfway through, and trust me, the book is just as awesome as the cover. Which, you know, is pretty darn awesome.

What Can't Wait by Ashley Hope Perez. I saw a review of this by the lovely ladies over at Forever YA, so naturally when I got the chance to review this, I grabbed it!

Bumped by Megan McCafferty. I am such a huge fan of the Jessica Darling series, so I'm hoping for some more snarkiness in this one. Let's hope I'm not disappointed!

Girl Wonder by Alexa Martin. Haven't heard too much about this one, but the cover is just so pretty and the synopsis sounds pretty interesting.

Jersey Tomatoes are the Best by Maria Padian. Totally didn't expect to get this, so I was so pleasantly surprised to get it in the mail! My dad forgot to tell me at first, so he popped in while I was slaving over a history essay and waved it in front of me. So much for finishing up that essay!

Borrowed from a Friend:

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. My friend and I are working our way through Gladwell's books. I've now read everything except What the Dog Saw. He is so brilliant.


The ABC's of Kissing Boys by Tina Ferraro. I don't even remember where I heard about this, but I put it on my to-read list. It seems interesting, though I hope it's not too chick-litty for me.

So Shelly by Ty Roth. I got this for the Debut Author Challenge. The cover is so pretty! I don't really know what this one's about, but I suppose I'll find out.

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher. This one sounds like an awesome read! Again, I haven't heard a lot about this.

That's it for me! What did you get in your mailbox?

8 Facts of My Week (7)

1. I was taking a math quiz yesterday, and it basically had one question: Graph this really scary-looking function. I took a deep breath and did my best, but kept getting the weirdest, squiggliest thing that definitely did not look right. My heart was pounding, and I kept envisioning the big fat 0 I was sure to get with this mess in front of me. At last I handed it in, hoping for the best. My teacher glanced down at my paper and said, "Oh, good, that graph is correct." Hooray squiggly graphs!

2. I swear, every time I take a shower the water's either icy cold or scorching hot. Why is there no perfect temperature in the middle? These are the great questions of life I find myself pondering.

3. Third trimester begins at school. I made a list of all the grades I need this trimester in order to have an A for the year. Some are pleasing (I only need an 85 in physics to maintain an A) while others are frightening (a 97 in lit?). It's pretty much impossible to get a 4.0 at the school I go to (I think I know of one person who did), but I still want to be pretty close.

4. In my nanotechnology class, we were looking at lotus leaves. Basically, if you look at them under an electron microscope, they have all these pointy little nanofibers. When a water droplet lands on them, it kind of balances on those points, so if you take  a beaker of water and a dropper and just drop the water beads (how many times have I said "drop" so far?), the water droplets (oh, there's another) BOUNCE. Like, legitimately bounce around on the leaf. HOW COOL IS THAT.

5. I'm very excited because on Monday, I start special sessions at school to learn how to use the electron microscope. I hope to get accepted to the school research program! Before I can use the microscope, I have to pass a safety quiz, so my teacher gave me some materials to look over. Did you know that you're not allowed to drink radioactive materials? Who knew!

6. Zhong zi is the best food in the world. Seriously. Randomly this past week I've been having such a craving for it. You take meat, sticky rice, and vegetables, and wrap it up in either lotus leaves or bamboo leaves, and then steam it. The result is so delicious.

7. In math, an exclamation mark means "factorial", and it means that if you have something like 5! (five factorial), it's equal to 5 times 4 times 3 times 2 times 1. On my quiz, my chemistry teacher put "100!", so I guess I got 100 times 99 times 98 times 97...

8. Someone mistook my locker for theirs, and put their combination lock on it. That was a pleasant day :P

Book Blogger Hop (19) and Follow Friday (7)

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is...

If you could physically put yourself in a book or series, which one would it be, and why?

This is a hard question because a lot of books, even those with fantastic world-building and a fun cast of characters, still have major downsides. Take the Harry Potter series, for instance - all that magic and Quidditch and delicious food is undeniably awesome, but then consider all the trouble Voldemort causes. But since the question says in a book or series, I'll just go with the first Harry Potter book, before things got too bad.

This week's Follow Friday question is...

Give us 5 book related silly facts about you.

1. I love smelling books. It doesn't matter if they're old or new - their individual scents are all lovely to me.

2. For me, eating and reading go hand in hand. There's nothing like eating a bowl of watermelon with a book propped up in front of you. Of course, I always have to be careful not to get it dirty!

3. I have a nasty habit of dog-earing books. I try not to since it's bad for the pages, but sometimes I slip into the habit before I realize.

4. I have a constant stack of library books that I never allow to dip under 5. Whenever it gets to 6 or 7, I quickly order another batch.

5. I love the feeling after you read for such a long time that your head is fuzzy and your eyes are a bit strained. It's actually kind of nice.

If you're new to my blog, welcome! Please leave a link in your comment so I can go return the favor :)

The Lipstick Laws: Review

Title: The Lipstick Laws
Author: Amy Holder
Release Date: April 2011
Published By: Graphia
Genre: Contemporary
Pages: 240 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.90 stars

Review: April Bowers isn't exactly the most popular girl in school, leading her to even attempt stuffing her bra with tissues. But then she actually gets a shot at popularity when she comes in contact with Britney Taylor - or rather, THE Britney Taylor, queen bee of Penford High School. She loves suddenly being someone who exists, but quickly finds that there are definite disadvantages of being one of Britney's cohorts. Friendship with Britney Taylor comes with a price tag, and April has to wonder: just how much is she willing to pay?

THE LIPSTICK LAWS is a story that's been told many times - the unpopular girl ditches her friends to join the popular gang, except it's really not "all that", and she learns her lesson. Despite all these clich├ęs, however, I found this to be a hilarious read. April's voice was wonderful and fresh, and I was chuckling my way through the book, from her commentary on the school to her own tissue-stuffing habits.

But while the voice was fantastic and made the novel such a fun read, I was still a little bored in certain spots. The story was rather predictable and I could see things coming from a long way. Although the lessons taught in THE LIPSTICK LAWS might be good to learn, they often came across as a bit preachy to me. With the exception of April, the characters could be stereotypical archetypes in places, with the super popular girl and her dumb followers.

I still enjoyed the book, because it was a cute, funny read that was good for a quick pick-me-up. It did feel a bit young and might appeal better to a more upper middle grade audience. Some readers may find the novel to be a bit monotonous in parts with the repeated message, but other than that, this was fun, and I'll be on the look out for more by Amy Holder.

FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for review. This is no way affected my review, which is 100% honest.

Doppelganger: Review

Title: Doppelganger
Author: David Stahler Jr.
Release Date: May 2006
Publisher: Eos
Pages: 272 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Goodreads Rating: 3.73 stars

Review: Doppelgangers are monsters that kill people and take the form of their bodies. This is usually preceded by meticulous research so that they can assume their lives as smoothly as possible, and then dispose of them once their limited time is up. One such nameless doppelganger has been abandoned by a mother who hates him, and goes off for the first time into the world. Except he messes up and kills a person, Chris, by accident, and now he has to figure out how to navigate this new life.

Chris seems to have it all - the wealthy parents, the awesome football skills, the respect of everyone in school, and of course, a hot girlfriend. But as the new Chris discovers, the life is far from perfect, with a destructive home life, a little sister he has to save, and the hot girlfriend no longer has the hots for him. Always different from other doppelgangers, Chris must now face a battery of challenges, from fixing the screwed up life he's landed in, hiding his secret and learning some, too, and above all, figuring out what it means to be a monster.

Despite being a monster, Chris remains a likeable character frustrated with his life and the world at large. Although he himself didn't have the easiest home life, he's shocked by the abuse the family had to suffer and learns that the real Chris wasn't as straightforwardly cruel as he initially appeared to be.

A romance develops between him and Amber, the real Chris' girlfriend, even as she uncovers the horrifying truths. The relationship could border on unrealistic, and often Amber appeared to be too accepting of what she discovers. The love seemed too sudden and strong for such a short period of time and especially given the circumstances.

This is a grim story that deals less with the fantastical aspect of doppelgangers and more with Chris adjusting to surviving the world. He struggles throughout the book with several problems, from the moralistic to those normal teenagers can relate to. David Stahler doesn't shy away from portraying the grittier sides of murder and its inherent issues, exploring the confusing sides of "right" and "wrong" without being too overbearing or eclipsing the story. Readers may prefer a better romance, but otherwise, Doppelganger was a suspenseful, chilling, yet surprisingly thoughtful read.

Shoes from Hell

It started in the store. I was just walking through, glancing from time to time at a display of blouses or skirts, when I passed the shoe section. My mom paused for a second but I went on, confident in the knowledge that I had plenty of shoes and would rather use my limited money on something else. (Let's face it: I'm a high schooler, I'm broke.)

"Wait!" My mom grabbed my arm. "Look! Isn't that so pretty!"

I followed her finger to see what was possibly the most hideous pair of shoes on the face of the planet. They were very large, very pointy, and had many little... things... dangling off of it, sure to make a horrifying jangling noise with every step you take. You know, like your own private alarm to tell people, "Watch out, I'm coming through, and my shoes are so pointy they might possibly accidentally stab you in the legs and leave you dying in the streets!"

But right next to those beasts of shoes?

The most gorgeous pair of flats I had ever laid eyes on.

I rushed over and threw off my own shoes, trying them on immediately. They were a little tight in the sides, but otherwise rather comfortable, I found as I walked around that little shoe section. I checked the price on the box: $45.

Ouch. $45 could translate to two pretty shirts, or one whole outfit. But then I saw that beneath the price was a bright red sticker: ON SALE, ONLY $26. And when I looked up, I saw my mom waving a 10% off coupon.

I swore to myself that I would never again tease her for her obsessive coupon-clipping.

I bought the shoes and, since it was only February, waited for the right day and the right outfit. Then, last Friday, it was a miracle - the weather was in the 70s, so I quickly assembled the perfect outfit for my perfect shoes and set out for school.

Oh, and if you couldn't tell, I haven't worn flats since I was like seven. I was not aware of this whole "breaking-in" thing. But trust me, I became aware rather quickly.

Within thirty minutes, I already had three bleeding blisters. An entire tissue pack and first aid kit of bandaids did nothing. I spent the day hobbling around amid many stares, wishing fervently that I had brought back-up shoes. At last, I was down to my second-to-last class, and when that ended, I prepared to go to my final class.

Let me draw you a map.

Oh, and I had three minutes to get there.

Definitely the highlight of my day.


So, what about you? Have you ever worn shoes from hell? How did you survive it? And how exactly do you go about breaking them in?

Illusions: Review

Title: Illusions (Wings #3)
Author: Aprilynne Pike
Release Date: May 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 384 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.44 stars

Review: When I received this in the mail, I hadn't read the previous books in the series, so I got Wings and Spells from the library and began to read. Wings didn't impress me too much, but I found Spells to be an improvement and so, with uncertain expectations, I started ILLUSIONS. I liked it even better than Spells, but it still didn't turn my world upside down.

Laurel bothered me a lot in this book. She was mad at David for being jealous of Tamani, but she kissed the guy. David had good reason to be jealous, but even though people pointed this out to her, she didn't listen. I didn't like her that much in previous books, but I found her even harder to relate to in ILLUSIONS.

Despite that, I still enjoyed this book. Not for the characters, because I'm firmly Team David and we all know that's not working out so well, but the plot. This is actually pretty rare for me because I tend to prefer books for the characters, but I was propelled through the pages by the action. The twists carried me through, and the final one revealed at the very end is what made me certain I want to read the next book in the series.

This book has a lot of elements that would normally turn me off - okay writing, okay characters, okay romance, and fairies - but I was still gripped by the suspense. Even if you didn't enjoy the previous books that much, like me, you should still give ILLUSIONS a try because you might find it to be right up your alley.

FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for a review. This is no way affected my review, which is 100% honest.

In The Storm Giveaway Winners

Congratulations to...

Melody and Lacyinthesky!

I will be emailing both of you soon with your coupon codes.

More Spotlight, Please! (9)

More Spotlight, Please! is a feature here at My Words Ate Me where I choose one book that hasn't gotten a lot of attention. Usually these are books I haven't read yet but sound like they might be good reads.

This week's choice is...

My Worst Best Friend by Dyan Sheldon! Savannah and Gracie couldn't be more unalike. After all, Savannah is a gorgeous, fashion-conscious girl who loves flirting with hot guys, while shy, smart Gracie would rather be studying lizards. Still, the two have remained best friends through thick and thin. When Savannah starts dating a college boy, Gracie, always loyal, lies for her despite her growing discomfort. But she starts to wonder - is Savannah really her best friend? Or is she her worst?

This seems like such a cute, fun read about friendship! I'm sure a lot of teen girls would be able to relate to Gracie, because even if we weren't necessarily part of a relationship like that, I'd be willing to bet that nearly everyone has at least witnessed one like Gracie and Savannah. I've heard almost nothing about this book, but I hope to get my hands on it and then I'll be sure to post a review.

Have you heard of or read this book? Do you think it sounds interesting?

Book Blogger Hop (18) and Follow Friday (6)

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is...

Do you read only one book at a time, or do you have several going at once?

It depends. Usually I try to stick to one at a time, but sometimes I'm reading an ebook (I don't have an ereader, so I need my computer for that), and I want to go somewhere so I pick up a second book. Other times it could just be that I don't want to read a certain book in public (like if it's an ARC and I don't want to lose it, or just a book with an embarrassing cover), so then I'll pick up another. I don't mind reading more than one book at once, but I try to cap it at three.

This week's Follow Friday question is...

How did you come up with your blog name?

I wanted something that was a little bit of a wordplay to show my quirkiness, while still memorable and different from all the other book blog names. I thought of the expression "ate my words" and my undying love of om nom nom, and My Words Ate Me was born!

If you're new to my blog, welcome! Please leave a link to your blog in the comments so I can go return the favor :)

Trickster's Girl: Review

Title: Trickster's Girl
Author: Hilari Bell
Release Date: January 2011
Published By: Houghton Mifflin
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 288 pages
Goodreads Rating: 2.88 stars

Review: In 2098, there still isn't a cure for cancer, as Kelsa knows all too well. What she didn't know about was the boy who appeared the night she had to bury her father. A boy who claimed that the reason for the planet's slow dying isn't just human foibles, but magic. And only she can help. The problem is, will Kelsa even acknowledge the presence of magic, let alone go on the wild trip Raven suggests?

This book was a mix of a lot of things - adventure, fantasy, and dystopian - so I had some trouble classifying the genre. I went with fantasy because that seemed to be the biggest element. Often while reading this I felt like the futuristic setting was unnecessary. Its only purpose seemed to be to have a place with the environment is in trouble, but seeing as this is the case for our modern world too, I don't see any reason why the book couldn't be set in our times.

I also had a lot of trouble getting into TRICKSTER'S GIRL. Kelsa was difficult for me to relate to, although I can't pinpoint exactly why. The plot and writing simply didn't grab me hard enough. One thing I will say, though, was that the magical element of the book was interesting. I applaud the author for being different and using Native American mythology; I found that to be a fascinating and original aspect.

All in all, this wasn't really the book for me. However, others who enjoy paranormal books but want something different but not too different might like to take a look at this one, as it has a lot of elements similar to paranormals while still being unique. Adventure and magic are the two strongest parts, so this may not be the one to pick up if you're firmly a dystopian fan. I didn't enjoy TRICKSTER'S GIRL as much as I wanted to, but I hope anyone else who tries it does.

Shine: Review

Title: Shine
Author: Lauren Myracle
Release Date: May 2011
Published By: Amulet Books
Genre: Contemporary
Pages: 376 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.14 stars

Review: Patrick is found dead, with wounds from a baseball bat, a fuel nozzle connected to a gas pump in his mouth, and the words "Suck this, faggot" written on his chest in blood, all because he's gay. His tiny home town, Black Creek, is disturbed but doesn't seem too interested in finding out who did it. But sixteen year old Cat, who had been childhood friends with him, is, and wants to make up for betraying him by solving his murder. As she investigates, what she learns isn't just about Patrick, but other people too... including herself.

One of the most striking aspects of this book is the setting. Although I live in a suburban town much larger than Black Creek, the small town Lauren Myracle paints feels honest. It's gritty, surrounded by poverty and drugs, but provides so much more depth to Cat's story. The intolerance and you're-either-in-or-out community portrayed is horrifying but scarily believable, given all the hate crime that goes on in the world, and Myracle shows this without ever becoming the slightest bit preachy.

Each character has his or her own heartbreaking story, but it never feels forced. Everyone suffers real problems, lending a great deal of emotional intensity to SHINE. I got an ache in my chest from reading this, and I appreciate that the author refused to shy away from such tough issues. The prose was unflinchingly honest and raw, digging deep into the heart of matters that other books might dance around.

The mystery wasn't an obvious one, even though SHINE was about not so much the mystery but the emotional journey accompanying it. I didn't see the answer coming until the very end, finding out at the same time as Cat. The ending was perfect for the story, wrapping things up well without presenting it in a pretty little package and a smiley face. Like the rest of the story, it struck me as true.

Though it's still early in the year, I can tell that this will make it onto my Best Books of 2011 list. I had my reservations going in because I didn't enjoy the author's previous books that much, but I was completely blown away by the intense, emotional ride SHINE provided. This is a book I recommend to everyone, because it's rare to find one with such a heavy story, and such beautiful prose brimming with honesty and strength. I will be reading more of this author's work.

FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review. This is no way affected the review, which is 100% honest.

In-Class Essays (a.k.a the Bane of My Existence)

Crate-fuls of essays!
In general, I'm okay with essays. When my teachers aren't assigning them in crate-fuls (*cough cough* like they are now, since it's Hell Week), they can even be sort of fun to write. I like analyzing literature (not that I'm very good at it), and even those terrifying historical investigations are sometimes interesting. Still, a lot of work goes into essays, from the thinking to the outlining to the drafting to the revisions to the final, final, final edits. It takes a while to write them, like at least a few days if not a week.

Fifty-one minutes, however, is hardly sufficient.

Because yes, my lit teacher decided that he would give us an in-class essay that would be worth approximately 400% of our grade. When we walk in, he would give us a passage from the book we read (Black Boy by Richard Wright - fascinating book, by the way) and make us analyze it. In fifty-one minutes.

When I got the passage, it was my worst nightmare come true: there was nothing I could find to analyze. I spent five minutes sitting there in a growing pool of sweat, wracking my brain, before deciding that I would just come up with random junk and call it an analysis.

I scanned the passage. Frequent use of the word "I" and phrases like "the others", "the boys", and "white people"? Evidence of society-permeating racism isolating him! Saying "could not" five times? Evidence of society-permeating racism leaving him hopeless! Using short, choppy sentences? Evidence of society-permeating racism leaving him as flat and dreary as the sentence structure!

Yeah, I kind of just pulled all of that out of the air. Trying not to think about how horribly weak my arguments were, I moved on to the next part - drafting. I realized that with only about forty minutes left, I didn't exactly have time to both draft and revise and edit, so I decided to do the worst possible thing - combine all three processes.

I frantically wrote for a while, tearing through my pile of loose-leaf paper, and then doubled back and scribbled out half of what I'd written, replacing it with sentences that said more or less the same thing. Then I went on, reading and rereading the passage if I got stuck and trying to remember all those Deep Thoughts we came up with in class discussions.

I changed my thesis five times mid-essay. In the end, I'd crossed and re-crossed it out so many times that I had to squeeze it in the margins and use arrows. After the final thesis change, I still had to write about my main point and then do the conclusion.

I glanced at my watch. 2:15. Fifteen minutes? That was plenty of time! I would even have time to do a quick proofread at the end. A warm feeling spread throughout me as I thought about how I could possibly get a high enough grade to maintain my 96 average (got an 88 last trimester, hence my need for a 96 this one).

Then I realized that the class didn't end at 2:30. No, it ended at 2:20.

I surveyed the mess of papers surrounding me, swallowed, and began to write as fast as I could. My pen scratched the paper so hard that I made several tears, and my wrists and fingers began to ache like nobody's business. But my grade was on the line, so I kept spewing out words.

At last, with two minutes left, all I had left were a few sentences to finish up my conclusion.

Except I couldn't think of what to write. Not a single word came to mind. For 120 long seconds, I sat there, numb and getting numb-er. A series of images flashed through my mind: failing the essay, failing lit, failing high school, unable to get into a good college, forced to take to the streets, becoming a hobo, dying alone and hungry with a change-filled plastic cup....

With nothing to write, I picked up my hastily scribbled brainstorming from the beginning of class. And, right there:

Say [blah blah blah] at end of conclusion? 

There! My life was saved!

"Izzy? Class is over." I looked up to see my lit teacher and an empty classroom around me.

"Wait, I just have to write a few more sentences!"

"It's 2:25."

As he and I spoke, I ignored the cramps in my hand and scrawled the final words down. "Done," I said, with a sigh of relief, handing in my seven-page monstrosity.

But hey, at least I won't be a hobo.

XVI: Review

Title: XVI
Author: Julia Karr
Release Date: January 2011
Published By: Puffin/Speak
Genre: Dystopian
Pages: 325 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.63 stars

Review: Nina lives in a world where girls are primed from a young age to be "sex-teens", and they must receive a government-issued tattoo of the letters XVI when they turn sixteen to let people know they're ready for sex. At fifteen, Nina is terrified of becoming a sex-teen. At least, until her mom suddenly dies after a horrifying attack and reveals to her shocking secrets that are even more terrifying. Everything she thought she knew about her past is shattered and now she must try to pick up the pieces to find herself again. Except things are never that easy, because her mom's killer is still out there. And he might be after her.

What I loved most about this book was the concept. In Nina's world, looking sexy and being flirtatious is put forward by the media as something that can get you anything you want, but is that so far from our own world? Even in such an enlightened age as ours, so many books and movies and TV shows display girls and women alike using their appearance as a tool for power and it's not too hard to imagine a world where this is taken to the extreme.

But although the concept was intriguing, I found the execution to be lacking in certain respects, such as the characters. Nina was a decently likeable character, and Wei was hands-down my favorite character (seriously, she was brimming with awesomeness). Sal was okay - I never really felt that he was particularly swoon-worthy but I didn't dislike him. The character that I did dislike, however, was Nina's best friend. Sandy was supposed to be an example of a sex-crazed teen girl, but even though I understood that, I wished that she had at least some depth to her and a bit more of a personality.

The author also makes frequent use of coined slang terms, like "emo-detector" and "trannies". Phrases like these can be clever and enjoyable if used in moderation, but I felt like they were just a bit too excessive and were sometimes confusing. It took me quite a while to figure out what FeLS meant, and every time I read "tranny", I couldn't help but think of the shorthand term for transgender people, which is a very different image from hovercars.

I still liked this book, but I wouldn't recommend it if you're picky with your dystopian novels as I am. The concept is fascinating, and most of the characters were well-developed and diverse, avoiding YA stereotypes. I did wish that Sandy was more interesting and that there were fewer made up terms, but other than that, this was an enjoyable read.