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Category Archives: Teen Romance

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When I took my daughters to see The Fault in Our Stars, we saw the preview for the upcoming film, If I Stay, based on the book by Gayle Forman.  And while I was hoping the TFIOS would fulfill our rip-your-heart-out movie quota for the year , I knew as soon as this preview started that there was to be yet another traumatic movie going experience in our future.  And I’ll admit I was intrigued too.

Of course I had to read the book.  One, because I know my girls will want to read it.   And two, because I cannot resist the opportunity to feel superior to all the people in the theater who have not read the book.

If I Stay is the story of Mia Hall, a classical cellist and the daughter of former punk rock parents.  From the beginning of the novel , we see that Mia’s is a happy, close-knit family.   Her relationship with her parents is easy and laid back, and she adores her nine year old brother Teddy.  When her school calls a snow day, the entire family decides to take advantage of the day off and enjoy a family outing.  Unfortunately, the outing turns tragic when their car is hit by an oncoming truck.

It takes Mia a few minutes to realize what has happened.  Her parents are dead.  She and Teddy are horribly injured.  And she is watching the entire scene unfold from outside her own body.   This is of course confusing to Mia.  How can she be lying in a hospital bed unconscious and at the same time fully aware of what is going on around her?  It is in this state that Mia realizes that the decision to live or to die is up to her.    The chapters that follow alternate from Mia watching what is happening at the hospital  to flashbacks of her life before the accident.

In these flashbacks we learn about Mia’s life.  Her parents are cool – permissive yes, but loving and devoted to their children.  This is a refreshing change from so many YA novels in which the parents are detached, selfish, clueless and more messed up than any teenager,  Still,  some parents of  teenage readers might want to discuss the Hall’s lax parenting style.  For example Mia’s parents seem to be fine with her sexual encounters in her upstairs bedroom. And when Mia gets her first boyfriend, her mother is quick to offer to take her to Planned Parenthood and to give her money for condoms.

But the real story of Mia and her parents is their deep love for each other.  In fact, their deaths are the main reason Mia considers giving up the struggle to live.  She can’t imagine a life without the family she loves.  But there are other people Mia loves too.  Her best friend Kim comes to the hospital and reminds comatose Mia that she still has a lot of people left who love her and want her to stay – aunts, uncles, cousins.  There is a particularly moving passage in which Mia’s grandfather talks to Mia about her decision to live or die.

And of course there is Adam, Mia’s boyfriend.  Her flashbacks detail their romance, one her mother describes as real but inconvenient at 17.  Adam is the lead singer in a punk rock band.  In a lot of ways, he is more like Mia’s parents than she is.   Her impending admission to Julliard and his rising singing career are a source of difficulty for the young couple.  As far as teenage romance novels go, the relationship between Mia and Adam is in some ways easier to take than others.  It is more mature, less desperate.   One version of the novel’s cover (see above) contains a review stating this story will appeal to TWILIGHT fans.  Perhaps, but unlike Bella Swan, Mia is accomplished and self-possessed.  She does suffer from the same unfortunate “why me”  response when Adam first notices her, but her entire existence and self-worth are not dependent on him.  If that were true, his love would make her decision about staying or leaving easy.  But it isn’t.  In fact in spite of his love, the thought of staying behind without her parents is almost unbearable for Mia.  Bella Swan, on the other hand, was willing to ditch her parents in a heartbeat to follow Edward into immortality.  So yes, Mia is a much stronger character than Bella, but I’m still waiting for the YA novel in which the girls knows how awesome she is before the boy falls in love with her.

The thing that is conspicuously absent from this novel is Mia’s concern for what will happen, where she’ll go, if she decides to die.  At one point she wonders if death will be just like a deep sleep, but other than that she spends little time contemplating eternity – Heaven, Hell, judgement, abyss, God, or an afterlife.  Hers is not a religious family, but they are not atheists, and they do sometimes go to church.  Her grandmother’s beliefs about the afterlife – people becoming angels in the form of an animals – crosses her mind, but in general, Mia seems more concerned about what living will be like than what being dead will be like.  This novel is not anti-religion or void of spirituality.  Rather, these things are only alluded to and not explored.  Perhaps this type of temporal thinking is realistically typical for a 17 year old.  But still, in a novel that tackles the subject of choosing life or death, one would hope the main character might wrestle with these questions.  However, even though Mia doesn’t, the reader of  If I Stay certainly might be inspired to do so.

LANGUAGE

Yes.  Mia’s mother in particular is a big cusser – the F word included.

SEXUAL CONTENT

There is a scene that takes place in Mia’s bedroom that is not graphic (in fact it’s not entirely clear how far they go), but it is very sensual.  There are also references to making out and to Adam sleeping over.  Still, Mia and Adam’s sexual relationship is not a major part of the novel or even of their relationship.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

Mia’s grandmother does believe that some of her relatives have returned in the form of animals, but Mia does not seem to take this too seriously.

VIOLENCE

None.  We do not get any details of the accident; however, Mia does describe how her parents look lying dead in the snow.  Very sensitive readers might find this disturbing.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

1.  Do you think Mia’s relationship with her parents might be different if they were less permissive?  Less cool?

2.  Do you agree with Mia’s mother that sometimes you can fall truly in love too soon?

3. Mia doesn’t give a great deal of thought to the afterlife.  Do you think this is realistic or do you think someone facing her own death would be more apt to consider the afterlife?

4.  What is Mia’s relationship like with her brother, Teddy?  Why do they share the bond that they do?

5.  Do you think people in a situation like Mia’s can will themselves to live or to die?

6.  Do you think people in a coma can hear people talking to them?

7.  Like Bella in Twilight, Mia can’t quite believe that Adam really likes her.  She feels unworthy.  Do you think it is common for girls to base their worth on the  boys who like them?  Do you think that Mia is ultimately a stronger character than Bella?

QUOTES FROM THE NOVEL

“And even though they don’t know who we are or what has happened, they pray for us.  I can feel them praying.”

“But the you who you are tonight is the same you I was in love with yesterday, the same you I’ll be in love with tomorrow…Hell, you’re the punkest girl I know no matter who you listen to or what you wear.”

“I shouldn’t have to care.  I shouldn’t have to work this hard.  I realize now that dying is easy.  Living is hard.”

“Sometimes you make your choices in life.  Sometimes your choices make you.”

“…seventeen is an inconvenient time to be in love.”

“Either way you win.  And either way you lose.  What can I tell you?  Love’s a bitch.” (Mia’s mom)

“I’ll let you go.  If you stay.”  (Adam talking to comatose Mia)

 

 

 

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Growing up Jake thought his Grandpa Portman was the most fascinating man in the world.  He loved to hear his grandfather’s stories about life in the Welsh orphanage where he had been sent as a boy to escape the Nazis. Grandpa Portman mesmerized Jake with tales of his childhood friends and their peculiar gifts. One could hold fire in her hand. Another could levitate.  Another was invisible.  Still another had amazing strength.  To add to the intrigue, there were photographs, strange and haunting photographs, of these children displaying their unusual gifts.

But as time passed and Jake grew older, he began to realize that these stories and even the photographs were too fantastic to be true.  In time, Jake came to see them as merely a kind of family fairytale – that is, until the night that everything changed.

When Jake’s grandfather is attacked in the woods behind his home, the police blame wild dogs. But Jake was there, and he saw the attacker. He was no dog. He was terrifying.  And he was right out of one of Grandpa Portman’s stories.

Unfortunately for Jake, no one believes him – just like no one believed Grandpa Portman.  To confront the nightmares and fears that consume Jake’s life, his parents try therapy, drugs, and distractions. Eventually Jake tries to convince them to let him travel, with his father, to Wales to see if he can find out more about Grandpa Portman and the place where his strange stories originated. Reluctantly they agree, hoping it will put to rest Jake’s belief in the truth of these tales.

However, there on the island of Cairnhom, Jake finds Miss Peregrine’s orphanage, old and decaying, but teeming with information. Digging through rubble and remains of the old house, Jake begins to uncover, artifacts, photographs, and  the dark secrets of Grandpa Portman’s strange and disturbing childhood and the orphans he shared it with.

Set in a quaint Welsh fishing village and in the fog-shrouded Welsh countryside, this novel, part mystery part horror story, takes us with Jake on his this quest.  Who were these children his Grandfather grew up with? Were their gifts real or just fantastic stories? What happened to them? And where are they now?

As intriguing as this story is, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children might not be the book for everyone.  I’ll admit that I half hoped the story would turn out to be a mystery of the ordinary variety. But no. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is definitely an extraordinary story.

However for adults and teens who enjoy the strange and the scary, this book is a nice departure from the witches, vampires, ghosts, and werewolves that we see in so many YA novels. The children, although very peculiar, are just children, some darker and creepier than others, but they are not supernatural nor other-worldly. There are monsters in this story, but they former Peculiars whose own attempts at immortality caused their mutation.

Another refreshing thing about this book was the lack of steamy romance.  There is an emerging romance between Jake and one of the teenage orphans (yep, they’re still there), but this is not necessarily central to the plot. Unlike most YA fantasy novels where the sexually-charged relationship between some misfit human and some ultra cool vampire, ghost, or witch is the storyline, in this book the romance is more of a subplot.

Like so many YA novels today, this one is the first in a series. So, it looks like fans will have to read the next novel, The Hollow City, to see if Jake’s romance is taken to the next level.  In fact, we’ll have to read on because at the end of the Miss Peregrine Jake’s adventure is really just beginning.

LANGUAGE

Yes, there are some swear words in this book and some crass expressions.

VIOLENCE

Yes.  Jake and the other orphans must battle the monsters who threaten their safely.  The last 40 pages or so  involve a pretty intense battle between the opposing sides.

SEXUAL CONTENT

There is a kissing scene that starts to get mildly heated and at one point Jake refers to himself as a “horny teenager.”   There are also references to “making out.”

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENT

Not really.  As I said, neither the peculiar children nor the monsters they fight are really other-worldly.  But the monsters are scary and some of the children are downright disturbing.

THE MOVIE

To give you some idea of the type of book  this is, Tim Burton will be directing the movie slated to come out in the Summer of 2015.  Check out this article and creepy book trailer.

THE PHOTOGRAPHS

To add to the eerie factor, this book is filled with photographs of the Peculiar Children – holding fire, levitating, swarmed by bees, etc.  The creepy thing is that all the photos in the book are actual photos found in various flea markets, antique shops, and private collections. Chilling.

Due to language and crass expressions some parents might feel this book is not suitable for tweens and younger teens. 


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The cover of Eleanor and Park has this review from New York Times bestselling author Gayle Forman:

This sexy, tender romance thrums with punk rock and true love. Readers will swoon.  

Eleanor and Park, set in the 80’s, is the story of two misfit teenagers who share and preference for punk rock and comic books and who fall madly, deeply, and I will admit, tenderly in love.  They meet on the school bus.  When every other kid on the bus treats Eleanor, a large redhead with a flamboyant style, cruelly, Park begrudgingly offers to let her sit with him.  Day after day he tolerates her.  Day after day she endures heartless classmates and an almost unimaginably abusive home life.   But when Eleanor and Park discover their shared interest in comic books and alternative music, an unlikely friendship slowly blossoms.  That friendship eventually turns into love.

Park falls in love with Eleanor for all the right reasons.  She is funny, smart, and easy to talk to. Yet, in spite of his love for her, he struggles a little with embarrassment over her misfit ways.  Eleanor’s love for Park seems equally un-shallow, but after years of abuse and neglect,  she struggles to let herself get close to Park.  And while  attraction for each other definitely grows out of their friendship and plays a part in their story, Eleanor and Park seem to be really in love – not just in “He’s so cute/ she’s so hot.” teenage love.  I like that about this book.

I also was struck by the story of Eleanor’s tragic home life.  I felt like this book gave me a deeper insight into what life is like for some kids.  For that reason alone, I’m glad I read it.  I have renewed empathy for some of my students.

Rowell does a masterful job of describing what it is like to be young and in love.  But there is an intensity to Eleanor and Park’s love that, as a parent, I find unsettling.  I know that in our culture many people see young love as a right of passage.  We have glorified high school romance to the point that most young girls (and guys) feel like their high school years aren’t complete until they find that one special (for now) someone. This is just the kind of books that feeds into that way of thinking.

I think in her review of this book, Gayle Forman is spot on.  This book is well-written, full of  beautiful and heartbreaking writing.  I guess the questions is whether or not you want your teen or preteen daughter to swoon over a sexy, tender, punk rock love story.  For mine, I’m going to go with no.  There’s a lot of great literature out there that does not perpetuate the myth that young love is what teenage life is all about.  I think I’ll encourage my kids in that direction.

VIOLENCE

Despite her horrible home life, most of the abuse that Eleanor endures is verbal abuse and neglect.  Her stepfather’s violence is mostly hinted at.

LANGUAGE

YES!  Almost all of Rowell’s character’s have filthy mouths and no respect for the Lord’s name.  That alone might disqualify this book for a lot of families.

SEXUAL CONTENT

Park and Eleanor have a couple of heavy make out sessions, but remarkably they don’t go all the way.  However, this is due more to a lack of opportunity than a moral compass.  There is also language that is extremely vulgar and sexual in nature.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

None

QUOTES FROM THE BOOK

“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly.  Or a heartbeat.  Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”

“I don’t think I even breathe when we’re not together,..”

“Eleanor was right:  She never looked nice.  She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”

“You think that holding someone hard will bring them closer.  You think that you can hold them so hard that you’ll still feel them, embossed on you, when you pull away…Every time Eleanor pulled away from Park, she felt the gasping loss of him.”

“Or maybe he thought now, he just didn’t recognize all those other girls.  The way a computer drive will spit out a disk if it doesn’t recognize the formatting…When he touched Eleanor’s hand, he recognized her.  He knew.”

“They talked about the White Album on the way to school, but just as an excuse to stare at each other’s mouths.”

“He’d thought he was over caring about what people thought of him.  He’d thought that loving Eleanor proved that.  But he kept finding new pockets of shallow inside himself.  He kept finding new ways to betray her.”

“He felt himself smile.  He felt like something warm spilled in his heart.”


Debbie from Yulpa Reads has reviewed The Fault in Our Stars for us.  As a cancer survivor herself, she shares a unique perspective.

The Fault in Our Stars

Sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster has terminal cancer, but because of a “Cancer Miracle,” has purchased for herself an unknown bit of time. She wishes to minimize the damage her death will cause by staying close to home, spending her time taking classes at the junior college, reading, and watching reality TV.  To please her parents, who are, as she says, the only ones in a worse position than she is, she attends a Cancer Kids Support Group.  There she meets Augustus Waters who had “a little touch of osteosarcoma a year and a half ago…but is on a roller coaster that only goes up”.  As their relationship slowly develops, Hazel shares her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, with Augustus.  The author, Peter Van Houten, is the only person Hazel has come across who seems to understand what it was like to be dying but not have died.  An Imperial Affliction ends in mid-sentence. Hazel accepts that the main character, Anna, has died but wants to know what happens to everyone else in the novel.  She has written to the author many times without an answer.  Augustus makes it possible for the two of them (and Hazel’s mother) to go to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive author.
Does this sound like a book that is sweet, funny and life affirming?  Well, it is. The dialogue is witty and intelligent.  It is wonderful to watch these two young people fall in love despite their circumstances.  And it is particularly delightful to watch Hazel bloom and become stronger in spite of her frail body.
Violence
Very mild violence that involves the smashing of Augustus’ baseball trophies (with his permission) by their friend Isaac when he finds out his “forever” girlfriend dumped him because he was going to be blind.
Language
I remember a few mild appropriately descriptive words.
Sexual Content
Normally, I’d be disturbed about a sexual encounter between sixteen and seventeen year old kids, but in this case it felt life affirming. Others may disagree. Most of the explicit language was about her oxygen and his artificial leg.
Supernatural Elements

Hazel and Augustus and Hazel and her Dad have some discussions about what they think happens after death. And the Dutch Tulip Man, a character in Imperial Affliction, is a metaphor for God.
Personal Reflections
As a cancer survivor, I identified with Hazel. There is not even a hint of sentimentality in the book, no brave sacrifice, no heroic messages, just reality. Her story felt true, so I was not surprised to find at the end of the book an acknowledgement to Esther Grace Earl and her family.
Even a successful fight against cancer involves loss. Hazel’s lungs can no longer do their job alone and their friend, Isaac, must pay a price for survival that would horrify most of us, the loss of his eyes. Even without such side effects, the body that you are left with is not the same one you had before. John Green respects his readers enough to tell them the truth and believes they can handle it.
Hazel loved An Imperial Affliction because it was her story and an honest story. She wanted to know what happened to the other characters because if they were doing well, maybe her parents would be OK, too. I love The Fault In Our Stars because it is an authentic story of hope and the daring to risk love in the face of death.
To find out more about the foundation created in Esther Earl’s honor go to tswgo.org .
Unlike Peter van Houten, John Green answers questions about his books. You can read some of them at johngreenbooks.com

End note from Laura Catherine – I LOVED the book.  It was funny and clever and profound.  But I have to give my “mom of two young girls” disclaimer.  The sexual encounter between Augustus and Hazel is not graphic or steamy, but it would be the thing that would prevent me from recommending this for middle schoolers and younger teens.  


  After Life of Pi and Between Shades of Gray, I was definitely in the mood for a light read.  I knew Matched by Ally Condie is dystopian novel, but it’s not dystopian like The Hunger Games or Divergent.  Teenagers aren’t fighting and killing each other.  They are getting married – or at least getting introduced to the person they will marry.

Matched is set in a world that is free from disease, hunger, crime, and nearly all suffering. The Society has created this world for it’s citizens by carefully managing data on everyone.  Every person’s nutritional needs, exercise, dreams, school work, career, free-time and even marriage are all managed in order to insure optimal health and happiness.

I’ve got to admit, in the beginning of the book it all sounded kind of appealing.  All the grown-ups have jobs they enjoy – jobs tailored to their specific abilities and interests.  The children grow up in a close-knit group of friends.  Meals, custom prepared according to each family member’s specific nutritional needs, are delivered to homes morning and night.  And at age 17, teenagers are introduced to someone who has been selected, based on extremely comprehensive date, to be their perfect match.  The Society believes in providing it’s citizens with everything they need to live happy productive lives, and since a happy family life is crucial to a good life, young people are given the best possible chance at this happiness through a sophisticated matching system.  It’s a life free from choices, true.  But it’s also a life free from worry.  It’s nearly a life free from suffering.  What could be bad?

Turns out, a lot.  Initially, the main character, Cassia, is thrilled with her match.  He’s handsome, charming, smart, and her best friend, Xander.  Maybe she has always wanted Xander to be her match, but she never really let herself consider it.  People are very seldom matched with someone they know.  They are only 17, but Cassia knows that in four years, they will begin a marriage every bit as happy as her own parent’s marriage.  But when the face of another boy, Ky Markham, pops up on Cassia’s Match Information Portcard, Cassia is confused.  Suddenly, she knows more about this boy than anyone else in their close-knit circle of friends, and all of the sudden he is catching her eye.

Along with unexpected feelings for Ky, Cassia experiences other strange new feelings when her grandfather secretly gives her a forbidden poem – one eliminated  by The Society decades ago. Now Cassia’s perfectly planned, perfectly safe life doesn’t seem so perfect anymore.

I don’t want to give too much away on this one because I think it would make an excellent mother/daughter book discussion.  It  raises a lot of interesting questions about marriage, happiness, choices, and their consequences.  Even though there are no troubling elements, the subject matter (marriage) is a little sophisticated for younger readers.  Middle schoolers are not as likely to get as much out of this book as high school students.

LANGUAGE

No.  I think The Society has weeded that out.

VIOLENCE

No.  There are hints of past violence, but The Society has weeded that out too – for now. Of course, like with pretty much all books these days, there’s a sequel.  That’s another discussion for another post, but I’m really tired of sequels.

SEXUAL CONTENT

Cassia makes a brief mention of the awkward knowledge that she and Xander will one day have children, but it’s sweet and innocent.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

Cassia and Xander wonder about angels they have seen in old paintings,but  until now there has been no need for a Higher Power in their perfect world.

FOR DISCUSSION

Cassia is genuinely nervous and excited on the night of her Match Banquet. Why?  Doesn’t the idea of having your future husband or wife picked out for you eliminate all the fun?

Cassia’s parents truly love each other.  Yet, they were matched.  Can an arranged marriage be a happy one?

What are the ingredients of happy marriage?  Compatibility? Passion?  Commitment?

What does Cassia see in Xander?  What does she see in Ky?

Who do you find yourself rooting for? Xander or Ky? Why?

The Society really does seem to have the best interests of its citizens in mind.  At least Cassia has always been secure and happy.  Think of what The Society has provided. The citizen’s are free from so many of the worries that plague us today.  What has this freedom really cost them?


Whew!  I’m exhausted. I just spent the last week in a futuristic, dystopian Chicago. It was brutal. Divergent is the story of Beatrice Prior, a sixteen year old girl who has grown up in a society divided into five factions – each dedicated to a particular virtue.  Beatrice as been raised Abnegation, a faction dedicated to selflessness, but now she is of age to choose her own faction.  Unfortunately for Beatrice, the aptitude test designed to help young people choose, has come back inconclusive.  She is not fully suited for Abnegation, nor any other faction.  She is Divergent.  Beatrice doesn’t know what this means. She only knows (thanks to a warning from Tory, a kindly, albeit cryptic, test administrator) that being Divergent is very dangerous.  After covering up Beatrice’s test results, Tory admonishes her not to tell anyone she is Divergent.

This makes choosing a faction very difficult for Beatrice, who has never really felt she belongs among the selfless Abnegation.  On choosing day, Beatrice surprises herself  and her parents by choosing Dauntless, the faction devoted to bravery.

Most of the book is devoted to Beatrice’s (who renames herself Tris once she joins her new faction) training to become Dauntless.  Initiates who fail training must live Factionless – a fate worse than death in a society that places “faction before blood.”  Initiates must undergo weapons training, hand-to-hand combat training, and worst of all, fear simulation exercises in which trainees are injected with a serum that cause hallucinations of their worst fears.  While all this is going on, poor Tris must deal with injuries, homesickness, sadistic roommates, and a growing suspicion that Dauntless leaders might be hiding something.  It is Tris’s handsome trainer, Four, who first suspects what Tris is hiding.  Lucky for her, he is a good guy, and he has a thing for her. Like her test administrator, he helps her hide the fact that she is Divergent.

Eventually things escalate, and Tris and Four discover the truth about Dauntless.  Together they foil Dauntless’s plan, but not without a bloody battle.  And not for good.  I guess I’ll have to read the sequel, Insurgent to find out what happens next.

While violence and sexual tension might make some parents squeamish about this novel, Divergent has the potential to open some very fruitful discussions about bravery and sacrifice – something many of today’s teens know little about.

LANGUAGE

There might have been a few four letter words, but not enough to make the language a disturbing factor for me.

VIOLENCE

Oh my, yes.  In this novel we are treated to descriptions of brutal beatings, near drownings, a guy getting stabbed in the eye with a butter knife.  I’m not a complete weenie when it comes to violence, but this book was just exhausting.  It was like one long action movie.  Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t put it down, but I’m not sure it’s the right book for my sensitive eleven year old.

SEXUAL CONTENT

Since this is a teen novel, it’s no surprise that a romance blossoms between Tris and Four.  They only kiss, but there is a sensuousness to their relationship that might not be appropriate for younger readers.  This book is by no means steamy, but she definitely likes him for more than his eyes.  Also, in one of her fear simulations, the fear Tris must face is sex with Four.  She fears intimacy.  She faces it by saying no, and after the simulation, he assures her that he does not have experience in that department either and that she is under no pressure. Of course, I would have preferred he said he does’t believe in sex outside of marriage, but I guess that’s just too much to hope for in a modern romance – even one for teens.  I just hope Tris and Four don’t  take it to the next level in the sequel.  I definitely felt like the author left that door open.

SUPERNATRUAL ELEMENTS

There are no supernatural elements in Divergent.  However, in one of her near-drowning scenes, Tris recalls the waters of her baptism.  I thought that was nice.  Also in the acknowledgments, Roth’s first thank you is to God and His Son for her blessings. This bodes well for a chaste sequel!

WHAT TO DISCUSS

Divergent is a dystopian novel.  What other dystopian novels are popular for kids today?  (The Hunger Games, Among the Hidden, The Ugglies, Matched…)

Was the violence too much, or did it add to the story by helping readers imagine what life was like for Tris and the other Dauntless?

To join Dauntless, Tris must, for all intents and purposes, leave her parents forever.  What does this say about her?

Tris is not terribly sympathetic to some of her fellow initiates.  Is Tris a likable character?

What role dose forgiveness play in this novel?

What is the role of self-sacrifice in this novel?  Selflessness?  Selfishness?

What is bravery?


Shiver is the story of young girl who falls in love with a mythical creature. No it’s not Twilight, but it’s close. In this story the girl, Grace, loves a werewolf, not a vampire. Since she was attacked by wolves as a child, Grace has been fascinated and drawn to wolves – particularly the wolf with yellow eyes who was there the day she was attacked (but he didn’t bite her) and who continues to watch her from the woods beyond her house.

When a boy from Mercy Falls, Grace’s hometown, is attacked and (supposedly) killed by wolves, the locals take to the woods with their guns. After some fast thinking and white lying, Grace is able to stop the hunters but not before they get off a few shots. When she returns home, Grace finds a naked boy curled up and shivering on her deck. He has been shot. Grace instantly recognizes the boy as “her wolf” and rushes him to the hospital. Fortunately it was just a flesh wound and werewolves are crazy fast healers, so the two duck out of the hospital and head straight to Grace’s bedroom. To make the plot less complicated, Stiefvater has given Grace parents who are entirely self-absorbed and rarely home. This makes it easy for Grace to stash Wolf Boy Sam in her bedroom night after night. Even though they have been longing for one another for years (yes, technically Sam has been a wolf every time Grace has ever seen him, but there has been longing nonetheless) they maintain self-control – for a while.

The remainder of the novel deals with Sam and Grace falling ever deeper in love and dreading the approaching winter since it is cold weather that causes Sam to turn into a wolf every year. To further add to their angst, Sam is worried this will be his last year to get to be a boy during the warmer months. Eventually all werewolves just stay wolves.

When the schoolmate of Grace who had been “killed” by wolves weeks before begins showing up in Mercy Falls, things get even more complicated. He is convinced that Grace must have a cure since she herself was attacked by wolves as a child but never actually became one. Turns out, there is something that just might work.

I don’t want to give away too much, so I’ll just say that in the end, the cure does work for some, but not all, of the werewolves in this story. Even if I didn’t know there was a sequel, I’d know by the way this book ends, that Stiefvater has left the door wide open for another best seller.

LANGUAGE

Yes, some. I don’t remember any instances when the characters take the Lord’s name in vain, and they don’t drop any F bombs, but some four letter words do fly.

VIOLENCE

There isn’t a lot of violence per se (except when Sam recounts the story of a dog fight he was involved in as a boy), but the descriptions of the process of the change from human to wolf might be disturbing for some.

SEXUAL CONTENT

Spoiler alter!….Yep, they give in. It isn’t graphic, but it is sensual. Shortly after their encounter, Sam turns back into a wolf (the two incidents are not related), so there’s just the one time, but I’m guessing the romance gets a lot more heated (and frequent) in the sequels.

SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS

Are werewolves supernatural or just mythical? I’m going to go with mythical, so I’ll say there are no supernatural elements in this story.

WHAT TO DISCUSS

  • Why are Grace’s parents so uninvolved in her life? Does this affect who she is?
  • Grace and Sam fall hard and fast. They seem to have some sort of connection. Is this realistic? In other words, do they really have a connection? Are they really in love? (Remember Grace only knows Wolf-Sam until several chapters in.) Or are they just hot for each other?
  • Why are there so many books for teenagers about vampires and werewolves? What is the fascination?
  • How is this book like Twilight? How is it different?