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April 23, 2015

Black-Eyed Susan Book Award recommendations

by Zoe Johnson, Online Editor-in-Chief, Sarah Trunk, Staff Writer, Neida Mbuia Joao, Online Op/Ed Editor, Amalia Chiapperino, Online Managing Editor, Arthi Vijaykumar, Staff Writer and Eleanor Linafelt, Online Editor-in-Chief
As the year winds down, it’s time to make a lot of decisions. Who are you taking to prom? What are you doing this summer? Will you or will you not write that essay that was due two weeks ago? Luckily, one of the easier decisions to make is which Black-Eyed Susan Book Award nominee you’ll be voting for. Why is this easy, you may ask? Well, Silver Chips Online has read, reviewed and ranked the books--so you don’t have to.

To vote for your favorite book, go to the Media Center before the end of the week.
"Eleanor & Park," by Rainbow Rowell, is SCO's top pick of the Black-Eyed Susan Book Award nominees.
"Eleanor & Park," by Rainbow Rowell, is SCO's top pick of the Black-Eyed Susan Book Award nominees.

1. “Eleanor & Park,” by Rainbow Rowell

It is rare to find young adult literature that is at once so realistic and so beautifully written. “Eleanor & Park” is a love story, but the kind of love story that exists in the true, mundane, brutal world of adolescence. It has some very mature themes that can be difficult to read, but it is absolutely worth it; Eleanor and Park are both fascinating and likable characters who not only could be sitting next to you in class, you want to invite them over to play video games, too. If you read one book on this list, read this.

2. “Bruised,” by Sarah Skilton

"Bruised" embodies every essential element of a successful young adult novel. It is quirky, raw and engrossing, without being melodramatic. The subtle focus on martial arts is unexpected, and also quite interesting. The protagonist of the novel, Imogen, is relatable and honest, adding a very necessary layer of depth. "Bruised" is certainly not without its flaws, but they are few and far between. Following Imogen as she strives to recover from her difficult experiences, while rooting for her the whole time, makes "Bruised" a worthwhile read that is sure to leave its mark.

3. “Bomb: The Race to Build--And Steal--The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon,” by Steve Sheinkin

Though World War II history may not be everyone’s cup of tea, “Bomb” is an eminently readable and fascinating book. It tells the story of the race between the U.S., Germany and the Soviet Union to build an atomic bomb, including the sabotage and espionage that happened along the way. Sheinkin deftly weaves the story with tons of details and quotes from first-person accounts, somehow managing to make it suspenseful even though we all know how it ends. Though the writing could be simplistic for upperclassmen, and the book may have benefited from more German first-person accounts--it’s almost entirely quoted from American, Soviet, British and Norwegian sources--”Bomb” is a highly enjoyable read.
"The Beginning of Everything" has excellent writing, but mediocre characters. Courtesy of Maja Estelle
"The Beginning of Everything" has excellent writing, but mediocre characters.

4. “The Beginning of Everything,” by Robyn Schneider

"The Beginning of Everything" is 335 pages of quick-paced, intriguing action and reflection on youth, life and love, with satisfying, enjoyable insights and conclusions. Ezra, the 17-year-old protagonist, is thoughtful and witty, and his emotional development and character arc are impressive. However, Cassidy, the "unpredictable new girl" with whom Ezra falls in love, is not a real person, and her Manic Pixie Dream Girl-ness is a deeply disappointing part of an otherwise good book.

5. “The Living,” by Matt de la Pena

“The Living” is a wholly unrealistic but gripping survival tale. It's both filled with what you would expect from any adventure on the high seas (a catastrophic storm, a sinking ship and a secluded island) and completely surprising twists (evil doctors, mass infections and secret helicopters). De la Pena writes from the point of view of a fairly typical teenage boy, but gives him an interesting backstory to keep the book fresh. Though it is hard to keep your disbelief suspended for some parts of the book, the sheer excitement and drama keeps the story constantly moving. “The Living” may not have the most well-developed characters or most believable plotline, but it's a fun and fast-moving book with surprising twists that make it different from other survival stories.

6. “Out of Nowhere,” by Maria Padian

Maria Padian's Out of Nowhere is not your typical coming-of-age novel. The book exceeds the tired and typical teenage novel by presenting issues such as bigotry, immigration and addiction in a way that gives it a sense of substance that many novels of the genre lack. It follows and is narrated by Tom Bouchard, a popular and successful student and soccer captain of Chamberlain High School. His small hometown of Enniston becomes a secondary migration location for Somali war refugees after the events of 9/11, a few of whom join the school's soccer team. One of the students, Saeed, quickly becomes the team's most valuable player, until questioning about his eligibility makes things much harder for both him and Tom. Soccer is a central element to the novel, but those who don't like sports can still appreciate its portrayal of different issues teenagers don't usually come in contact with. While its means of delivering its messages isn't perfect, Out of Nowhere shows a refreshing sense of sincerity, sensitivity and heart.

7. "Not A Drop to Drink", by Mindy McGinnis

Though the market for teen post-apocalyptic fiction has been oversaturated in the past few years with books like “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and “The Maze Runner,” “Not a Drop to Drink” by Mindy McGinnis manages to be both original and realistic. The book follows 16-year-old Lynn and her mother as they try to survive in a world in which fresh water supplies are low and the pond in their backyard is their only sure source of drinking water. Her whole life Lynn has been taught to isolate herself from the outside and shoot strangers on sight, but when her mother dies she learns that she may need others to survive the harsh world in which she lives. Lynn is an independent, if annoyingly stolid character who manages to take care of herself while also exemplifying great compassion for those around her. Thorough her sparse and stylized prose, author Mindy McGinnis manages to make “Not a Drop to Drink” is a refreshingly realistic addition to the already over-stuffed young adult dystopian fiction genre. For fans of “The Hunger Games” and “The Walking Dead,” “Not a Drop to Drink” is a must read.
"Unbreakable," by Kami Garcia, is decent but unoriginal. Courtesy of Geek Girl
"Unbreakable," by Kami Garcia, is decent but unoriginal.

8. “Unbreakable,” by Kami Garcia

"Unbreakable" is a decent read: fast-paced and action-packed, relatable, at least as much as any teen supernatural thriller can be and utterly and entirely predictable. Besides the fact that most characters, including the protagonist's two (2) love interests, were directly lifted from the show "Supernatural" (they're angsty demon hunting brothers), the entirety of the plot was full of clichés. Main character Kennedy Waters is your typical "not-like-other-girls" girl with a propensity for art over parties. Her mother dies under mysterious circumstances and she must go on a quest to retake her destiny and kill demons. But this predictability was offset by real moments, real struggles of acceptance and belonging that readers might be able to relate to. So, if you're a fan of "Supernatural" but would like to see a girl who lives, "Unbreakable" might be a good choice.

9. “Thousand Words,” by Jennifer Brown

Despite a prevalent and fascinating premise, “Thousand Words” was an unfortunate disappointment that made me doubt the level of respect that young adult authors hold for teenagers. With an overly-simplistic and melodramatic revealing of every single plotline, as well as unrealistic and clichéd depictions of the characters and their relationships, the only positive takeaway from reading the novel is the admittedly important message warning teens about the perils, both legal and social, of underage sexting. Still, even with the important message, we cannot in good conscience recommend this book to anyone.

10. “Clockwork Scarab,” by Colleen Gleason

"Clockwork Scarab" is the perfect read-- if you're into disappointing and confusing relationships, too many male love interests and an utter lack of plot. Although Gleason's concept for the steampunk Victorian England in which the story takes place is almost intriguing, her paper-thin characters ruin the plot and unfortunately make it about them. With Alvermina Holmes' two conflicting boiz and Evaline Stoker's dark mysterious stranger boy, with modern-day stranger Dylan Eckhartt's inexplicable existence and interference, with the huge amount of potential for a relationship between two strong girls and a fascinating mystery that goes wholly unrealized, with Gleason's puzzlingly juvenile writing style, this book disappoints on almost every level. "Clockwork Scarab" is just one in what will become a series, so maybe Gleason's future works will help redeem it. But for now, "Clockwork Scarab" remains one of the worst books we have read in a long time.



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