Tag Archives: School

Normal People by Sally Rooney (Review by Varsha R. ’21)

Normal PeopleNormal People by Sally Rooney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

TW for Normal People: Sexual assault and suicide

The first thing I noticed when I started Sally Rooney’s Normal People was that she does not use quotation marks in dialogue. What was initially jarring became understandable to me over the course of the novel. At the heart of Rooney’s writing is an innate desire to fully immerse the reader into the narrative; in real life, we don’t talk or perceive language with quotation marks, and her aversion towards such conventional punctuation made me feel as though I myself was a side character in the book, watching the story unfold with an outside, yet involved, perspective.

Rooney’s sentences are short, blunt, and zany. At first glance, her words leave almost no room for interpretation, but she also manages to craft an intense, emotionally draining and, at times, frustrating love story that leaves an impact. It’s perhaps for this reason that people either seem to adore Rooney’s writing or despise it. It takes a while to get used to, especially after reading the more standard works of basically any other established author.

Normal People takes a classic, time-and-time-again-told story of misunderstanding amid romance while weaving key threads of social class, mental turmoil, and simultaneous self-discovery and self-depression. It’s impossible not to sympathize with the lead characters, Marianne and Connell, as they make their individual footprints in their legacies while constantly surrounded by the other’s memory and presence.

They start a clandestine relationship with one another in their senior year of high school with the cliche trope of a popular soccer player and a quiet, misunderstood ugly duckling. What separates Normal People from any other coming-of-age romantic comedy is an unmistakable backdrop of social inequality, emotional uncertainty, and poignant thoughts of philosophy and self-questioning, which are furthered by a strong use of the third person.

Rooney has an irksome talent to keep the magnetically attached Marianne and Connell in her books apart at the most inopportune moments, a trope that gets exasperating after the first couple times. But as she puts it, “All these year they’ve been like two little plants sharing the same plot of soil, growing around one another, contorting to make room, taking certain unlikely positions.”

And of course, a key hallmark of Rooney’s books is a disappointing ending that almost came off as a final “screw you” to the reader after having been swept up in Marianne and Connell’s intertwining tale for so long. But it was impossible for me to stay annoyed for long after having reflected on the profound impact that this book had on me, my perception of myself, and my understanding of how I’m perceived in the world around me. —Review by Varsha R. ’21

For those who enjoyed Normal People, Varsha also suggests Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and The Outline Trilogy: Outline, Transit and Kudos by Rachel Cusk.

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Nietzsche and the ‘Burbs (review by Sophia G. ’21)

Nietzsche and the BurbsNietzsche and the Burbs by Lars Iyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just finished the book Nietzsche and the ‘Burbs by Lars Iyer. Overall I enjoyed it, however, sometimes the main characters were far too edgy for me. They often lament life rather than embrace it, rejecting the concept of amor fati that the real Nietzsche held so close to heart. The book is about a suburbian band of British misfits who try and make music to escape their boring lives as well as adventuring to entertain themselves. Most of the plot points, relationships, parties, whatever, are pretty normal for the YA genre, however I find they are handled with far more poetic prose. If you enjoy long flowing sentences and sardonic humor as I do, then you probably will like this book. If you aren’t a fan of some what emo main characters, I would avoid. Overall, it’s a well written and very original look at the coming of age genre, with some lovely turns and twists. -Sophia G. ’21

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Lovely, Dark, and Deep by Justina Chen (review by Anya W. ’20)

Lovely, Dark, and DeepLovely, Dark, and Deep by Justina Chen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Viola Li has a Plan. After the end of her first trip with her aunt, to Africa, she’s working on several more bake sales to raise money for the causes she’s written about. A few more of her scheduled vacations, and she’ll have just the right resume for acceptance as a journalism major to her dream school in Dubai.
Except, as it turns out, sometimes the malaria vaccine can give you extreme, permanent, photosensitivity. Thanks to her professional disaster manager parents, Viola’s entire life and all her plans for the future are permanently deconstructed within a week. All that’s left now is figuring out how to cope.

Chen’s novel is a good beach read, and typical YA. The romance, while not badly-written, is not particularly epic-it would have had the same impact as a friendship. However, her writing is excellent at evoking empathy within the reader, and breathes life into her main characters.
-Anya W. ’20

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The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (review by Anya W. ’20)

The Poet XThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What’s a girl to do when she’s got too much to say and no one to pour it out to? Fill journal after journal with words turned into verse, spilling her story across pages for no eyes but her own. A diary of free verse is an indulgence Xiomara can allow, one not banned by the strict rules of her cold home, but what about a poetry club? A boyfriend? A crisis of faith? Covering for her brother? As the walls close in, Xiomara has to grow up and decide what’s important, and how far she’s willing to go to keep it.

Acevedo’s freeform masterpiece is a touching and realistic portrayal of adolescence. She perfectly captures the mindset of someone on the verge of adulthood–the contrast between affection and suffocation day in and day out. -Anya W. ’20

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Good Enough by Paula Yoo (review by Melissa K. ’18)

Good EnoughGood Enough by Paula Yoo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

High school students can relate to Patti Yoon, a high school senior juggling six AP classes, SAT boot camp, and college applications. At her Korean church youth group, overachieving is the norm and everyone has their own unique “hook” into the Ivy Leagues: Lisa Kang is a nationally ranked fencer; Isaac Rhee is the captain of the academic decathlon team at his high school; Sally Kim is a Siemens Competition winner. Patti’s “hook” into college is her violin. As a B-tier violin prodigy, she is the concertmaster of her youth orchestra and considered one of the best violinists in Connecticut.

However, Patti’s seemingly predetermined life takes a turn when she meets Ben Wheeler, a trumpet player who invites her over for jamming sessions, takes her to a punk concert, and encourages her to apply to Juilliard even though her parents think that a career in music is too risky. Sprinkled with Spam recipes, SAT tips, and lists of ways to “Make Your Korean Parents Happy,” Good Enough is a candid and surprisingly funny take on the pressures facing today’s high school students. – Melissa K. ’18

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Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (review by Monica K. ’14)

Just ListenJust Listen by Sarah Dessen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If books were meals, Just Listen by Sarah Dessen would be the chicken noodle soup of the YA Lit world. The youngest of three sisters, Annabel Greene withdraws into herself following her sister’s eating disorder, her former best friend’s malicious bullying, her growing lack of interest in her modeling career, and the constant isolation at school and home. However, before she can completely fade away, she meets the music-obsessed, completely honest Owen, who helps her gain the self-confidence to speak of what really happened the night her remaining friendships were ruined. Dessen skillfully combines family story and romance with dashes of humor, making a very accessible, engaging read. Fans of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.Just and other novels by Sarah Dessen will enjoy Just Listen. – Monica K. ‘14

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Looking for Alaska by John Green (review by Joyce Z. ’17)

Looking for AlaskaLooking for Alaska by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Miles (aka Pudge) starts out at his dad’s old high school, he’s not completely sure what’s going on, but he knows that it’s definitely not what he expected. Chip or Colonel, his roommate, introduces him to a girl named Alaska Young whom he immediately falls for. After Alaska crashes into a police car and dies, Pudge has to face what happened that night and try to forgive himself for Alaska’s death. Did Alaska drive into a police car to kill herself, or was it just a simple accident? Was she just a wild, moody prankster or was she a depressed teenager who never got over her mom’s death? John Green draws out suspense throughout the whole novel. The reader has to decipher what really happened from the few, vague clues and the mysterious atmosphere Green deliberately employs. Looking for Alaska will please those who enjoy reading suspenseful stories full of plot twists and guesswork that will keep them on the edge of their seat. – Joyce Z. ‘17

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The Magicians by Lev Grossman (review by Monica K. ’14)

The Magicians (The Magicians, #1)The Magicians by Lev Grossman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is almost impossible to enjoy. The darker, more mature cross between The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, The Magicians follows the school years of Quentin Coldwater, a miserable, isolated genius who is admitted into a secret university of magic. It unflinchingly (and increasingly depressingly) depicts his constant quest for happiness as he navigates his way through classic adult rites of passage. Despite its admirably ambitious thematic goals, the book fails to maintain a strong, engaging plot and ultimately loses the reader. – Monica K. ‘14

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Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (review by Naomi M. ’16)

Little Brother (Little Brother, #1)Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Terrorists have attacked San Francisco. The Department of Homeland Security takes a high school computer genius, Marcus, and his friends without any explanation to be brutally interrogated. Once released, Marcus finds that the government has turned his beloved city into a police state. Everyone is a potential threat. In order to bring down the paranoid authorities, he must figure out a way to bring the truth about the DHS to light. Armed with only his computer, Marcus sets a rebellion in motion larger than he could have dreamed possible. Reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984, Little Brother is a novel of the future – where fighting is done through technology and anyone can change the world. Lovers of dystopian fiction, this is the one for you. – Naomi M. ‘16

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Reasons to by Happy by Katrina Kittle (review by Nikita R. ’16)

Reasons to Be HappyReasons to Be Happy by Katrina Kittle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Normally spunky and fearless, Hannah Carlisle begins to succumb to her insecurities as she enters a cruel high school, struggles with an imperfect figure, and worst-of-all, confronts her mother’s cancer. Despite her affluent household and movie-star parents, Hannah experiences emotions relatable to any teenager. Through her personal fight against bulimia, she provides an insightful view into the destructive nature of eating disorders, along with an inspiring account of struggling to remain true to herself despite peer pressure. Reasons to Be Happy is a great read for almost any teenager, and would be enjoyed by most adults too. – Nikita R. ‘16

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