Tag Archives: audiobooks

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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by John Green

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I feel like I have to tread carefully here because it seems like everyone else LOVED this book. It was solid, don’t get me wrong. But I kind of thought that it would be… I don’t know… more, somehow, than it is.

Aza Holmes, aka Holmesy (to her best friend, Daisy Ramirez), is drawn into solving the mysterious disappearance of a billionaire whose son, Davis, was a friend of hers years ago at a camp for kids who had lost a parent. (Davis lost his mom; Aza, her dad.) Daisy pursues the case for a while, until Aza has reconnected with Davis and fallen into a relationship with him. But Aza’s OCD and anxiety keep her from fully participating in the relationship and in her own life.

I don’t know OCD from the inside, but Green’s depiction of what goes on in Aza’s mind seems utterly believable and terrible. I had this book as an audiobook and listened to it on my drive to Thanksgiving dinner and it was really hard to stomach. Some of the scenes were quite intense, especially when Aza swallows hand sanitizer in an attempt to kill bacteria inside her. I especially enjoyed Aza and Daisy’s fight when things finally came to a head for them – Green somehow nailed female friendships and how you can be totally loyal to someone and love them, and also be totally annoyed by them and find them self-absorbed. (Side note: Daisy has been writing Star Wars fan fic for years and Aza finally reads it and learns of an annoying character named Ayala who is apparently based on her.)

There were several themes throughout the story. The one I liked the best was about Aza’s grappling with the death of her father 8 years before. She (by which I mean Green) has some interesting things to say about the nature of death and mourning. I also learned about the tuatara, the pet lizard that Davis’ dad owns and thinks is the secret to immortality and therefore has left his entire fortune to, instead of to his own kids. Davis is really into both astronomy and poetry. I’m not a huge fan of the grappling-with-death-of-parent and high-schooler-mysteriously-super-into-poetry because I wasn’t that kid and didn’t know any of those kids in high school so it always rings fake to me and like the adult writing the story is more into those as devices for sounding deep. Aza’s dead parent story does add to the overall story, though, so I’ll give that one a pass.

I really just didn’t know how to feel about Aza and Davis’ relationship, or Daisy and Mychal’s. They both broke up and got back together and broke up with such apathy. And I couldn’t tell from Aza’s description of Davis whether he was cute or not. It threw me off. And the kissing scenes made my partner giggle out of discomfort at the awkwardness. But I did like Davis’ younger brother, Noah, and his struggle to deal with their dad’s disappearance. At 13, Noah is just on the cusp of adulthood and really teeters a lot – one minute acting like a full-on teenager, getting busted for pot at school and drinking too much, and the next minute crying like a vulnerable child.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

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by Jerry Spinelli

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

There’s a new girl at school in Mica, Arizona, and she’s making her presence known. Rumor has it she had been homeschooled and named herself Stargirl. Her parents are huge hippies and let her do whatever she wants, which is usually fine because she has a heart of gold, sending anonymous cards to people and singing happy birthday to them on her ukulele in the cafeteria. She becomes incredibly popular until she joins the cheerleading squad and cheers for the other team, and then she’s ostracized. The only person who will talk to her is our fearless hero, fellow tenth-grader Leo, who has gone and fallen in love with her. (But it’s a very chaste love, not all hormone-y, so this story is still appropriate for middle schoolers.) Mostly the story is about the social whims of the high school jungle. Stargirl, having been homeschooled, is oblivious to what people think of her, and needs Leo to tell her. His own reaction to her trying to become mainstream is a bit sad to someone who wishes more kids would learn to love themselves as they are, idiosyncrasies and all. One day she just up and disappears, and that’s where the story ends.

The only annoying thing about this book on CD this was that the narrator (who turned out to be John Ritter, who frankly should have known better, may he rest in peace) could not pronounce saguaro. Instead of “swarro” (as I’ve been told by people who live in Arizona), he says “cigar-o” and it irked me. Another thing that stuck out to me is that the story starts off told in the first person plural, which I’ve only ever seen in The Virgin Suicides. However, in Stargirl, Leo quickly emerges from the masses as an individual – notably, the only one who still talks to Stargirl after the ostracizing.

Fish in a Tree

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by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Oh wow. This book has all the feels. I was sort of keeping my distance since this one was already really popular at my library so it felt like one that was selling itself and I had a general idea that it was good and also that it was along the lines of Wonder somehow. But then I actually read (or rather, listened to) it, and was just blown away.

Ally is in sixth grade and has mostly skated through school by being a troublemaker and pretending a lot. The truth is, she can’t read. The resident mean girls (really one mean girl and her crony, who actually turns out to be sort of nice) figure this out and target her more than they do other kids. But their teacher goes on maternity leave and they get a new teacher who doesn’t let her get away with much – and she finds she doesn’t want to. She wants to work hard, but she has so internalized what Shay has been saying, which is that she’s stupid. There are some completely heartbreaking scenes – so many, in fact, that I almost couldn’t get past the second of five CDs. Finally the new teacher, Mr. Daniels, figures out that Ally has dyslexia and manages to get her reading. There are themes of friendship and misfits, silver dollars and wooden nickels, poetry and spelling and class president and student of the month – everything you could want in a middle-grade story.

Ally starts the year with no friends, but soon irrepressible Keisha, who doesn’t care what anyone says and somehow doesn’t already have friends, decides nothing Ally says or does will make Keisha not like her. They also team up with Albert, who is nerdy and poor. They all get picked on by Shay, who it turns out has an overbearing mother, but they stand up for each other.

The other main theme, aside from the bullying and dyslexia, is family. Ally’s grandfather has passed away sometime relatively recently, maybe about a year ago, and her father is in the army, currently deployed. The scene where they go to a neighbor’s house to skype with him is incredibly moving. Ally adores her older brother, Travis, who adores her back, but he has his own issues. I couldn’t help thinking of Mr. Daniels as a sort of substitute father figure for Ally.

Double Review: Audiobooks I Quit

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The Knife of Never Letting Go
by Patrick Ness
Overall: Unrated

Something about the combination of the reader’s voice (Nick Podehl, if you’re interested) and the whiny opening had me hitting the eject button after just a few minutes. The concept is intriguing: a boy escapes from his world where everyone can read minds (“noise”) to one where there is privacy but at a cost. However, the opening scene has the boy interacting with his dog, who can also talk but is very unintelligent, in such a mean way that really ruffled my feathers. It’s possible there was something about the boy’s home life, or maybe just that society in general, that made him be so mean and annoying, but I wasn’t about to stick it out to find out. (I do suspect it was the words and not the voice, so apologies to Mr. Podehl.)

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Sent
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Overall: Unrated

This is the second book in The Missing series. The first one, Found, was incredible! But, as I suspected, because the first one was all about solving the mystery, and then it was solved, I did not like the second book. Spoiler alert: the trick was time travel, so in the subsequent books, the kids go back in time to 1453. Could be a good way to learn about different eras of history, and definitely good to have in a librarian’s toolbelt, but I wanted to free up that CD player space for something new.

Onward! So many books, so little time.

Fenway Fever

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by John H. Ritter
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Alfredo “Stats” Pagano has grown up in Fenway Park. Papa Pagano’s hot dog stand has been in the family for decades and they have season tickets. Stats has a particular friendship with the Boston Red Sox’s young hotshot pitcher, Billee Orbitt, who has just entered a slump; Stats’ heart defect is acting up and he needs surgery; and Pops finally reveals the family’s financial troubles to Stats and his older brother, Mark. Stats and Billee investigate what they’re sure is a new curse at Fenway and try to figure out how to break it. Meanwhile, Mark is in danger of losing his perfect season record as little league shortstop and playing in the all-star game against Japan at Fenway Park. Oh and Pops is still mourning the death of Stats’ and Mark’s mother four years ago. So, there’s a lot going on.

It took me a little while to get into this one, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It’s an original story, and the moments between Stats and Billee (and pretty much all the other characters, including his brother) are touching. Stats and his brother are close and care for each other and put the family first. The ending is very sweet and more than a little contrived with how the money troubles and heart condition get resolved. But overall, good themes and really good tension in the story. I wasn’t quite expecting the story to wrap up so quickly and when it did. When the CD belted out “THE END” I jumped a little and then rewound a couple of tracks to relisten. Sure enough, things had wrapped up so quickly I had just missed them. But overall, really great, and a perfect summer book – especially if you live in Boston and/or like baseball!

Note: I had this book as an audiobook, narrated by James Colby, who did a great job with all the Boston accents!

The Thing About Jellyfish

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by Ali Benjamin
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The thing about The Thing About Jellyfish is that it’s one of those books that adults find really powerful and kids think is just okay. It’s sort of like broccoli – every now and then you’ll find a kid who really likes it, but in general it’s more of an adult thing. Of course it was well-written and made me teary in parts and had meaningful themes and tied together nicely, but it wasn’t really a favorite. I’ve had a few kids asking for it so it must have been a word-of-mouth thing, but interest has really waned recently.

Twelve-year-old Suzy Swanson’s former best friend drowned last summer. When Suzy found out, she stopped talking. She became obsessed with the idea that Franny had actually been stung by an Irukandji jellyfish, and set about finding a world expert to help her prove it.  The story is told in flashbacks to sixth grade as their friendship falls apart because Franny started growing up faster than Suzy (being interested in fashion and boys, making friends with more popular girls), and then in present tense to seventh grade without Franny. Suzy remembers that Franny had asked her to send her a signal if she ever became “like that” – like the girls she does eventually befriend – so Suzy decides to send her a big signal.

Rounding out the cast of characters are Suzy’s seventh-grade science partner, Justin; their teacher, Mrs. Turton; her parents, who are getting divorced; and her brother Aaron and his boyfriend, Rocco – all of whom I found very compelling, almost moreso than Franny and Suzy. The whole time, I was wondering, who cares why Franny died? Which is eventually the conclusion Suzy comes to as she begins to heal.

Note: I read this book as an audiobook and it doesn’t work quite as well as the print copy due to illustrations and textual/formatting clues.