Monday, January 27, 2014

Full Ride by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Genre: Contemporary
Rating: *****
Pages: 352
Becca Jones has spent the last four years keeping her head down. The summer before she started high school, Becca's dad was caught embezzling and used her as an excuse. "How is a guy like me supposed to put his kid through college?" Becca knows the only way to get into college is hard work. Now she's a senior with a 4.0 and no close friends. But that might not be enough. Once she was a millionaire's daughter. Now she's "at risk"-the daughter of a single mom living below the poverty in a dusty apartment.
Her only chance may be the Whitney Court Scholarship. Write an essay about a student who graduated from her school the same year as Whitney Court and win a full ride. But what happened to Whitney after graduation, and why won't anyone in town talk about it?
As Becca's deadlines creep closer her chance at college grows dimmer. Loneliness, stress, and haunting memories of her father tear her life apart. But her father might be the only person who can show her how to move forward in life-and what happened to Whitney.
It's always bothered me when characters casually describe themselves as straight-A students. If you have a 4.0,  you suffer for it. You don't have time for wild parties, hilarious dates, and quirky friendships. Your life is school. That's why it's so hard for me to take contemporary novels seriously. Full Ride is the first novel I've found that provides a rare, realistic view into high school life.
Some readers may be turned off by the lack of action in this story. Or romance. It's the story of a girl who struggles with the pressures of academics and shuts out her friends. But for other readers, it will ring true. This is a book for anyone who has curled up sobbing under a computer desk at 3:00 A.M. because they've got a report due in four hours. This is a book for the AP student, the honors student, the just-scraping-by-with-a-C+ student. Some may call Becca weak or whiny because the biggest challenge in her life is school. But to the readers who have never slayed a dragon or saved a planet, that's challenge enough. It's hard not to feel for her.

Top Quote: "Most people couldn't be rich if they wanted to be honest; most people couldn't be honest if they wanted to be rich.” 

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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Rating: ****
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 343
Series: Stand alone
Before the war, Lina Vilkas dreamed of art school and cute boys. Now she just wants to survive. When the Soviets come for them in the middle of the night, Lina's ripped from her home with little more than her mother, brother, and beloved sketchbook. They're packed into cattle cars and shipped to Siberia.
 In the concentration camp she learns to live off smuggled beets, rotten potatoes, and hope.
So what is this, you ask? Another grim, tragic tale of the Jewish holocaust? Nope. Lina's a Lithuanian Christian deported to Siberia because her dad helped a family cross the border into Germany. For that, the entire Vilkas family gets twenty five years of hard labor in the middle of nowhere.
I think we've all read a concentration book or two. We know about the six million Jews who died in gas chambers. But the Lithuanian side of the story is rarely told. Before this book, I had no idea it happened. That's where most of the suspense lies. When Lina's family is uprooted from their Siberian labor camp you have no idea where they're going. Hint: it's the one place on Earth more bleak and miserable than Siberia.
This isn't a cheery book and at times it's hard to get into Lina's head. She's not one of those characters with such a powerful voice that you feel like you've crawled inside her body and stepped into her world. At times I had to look up from the book and think, "Now how would I feel in this situation?" rather than just letting her emotions seep in. But the writing is so beautiful in places like this-
I clung to my rusted dreams during the times of silence. It was at gunpoint that I fell into every hope and allowed myself to wish from the deepest part of my heart. Komorov thought he was torturing us. But we were escaping into a stillness within ourselves. We found strength there. 
-so I'll overlook that.
Like I said, Between Shades of Gray isn't a cheery book. It's a thinking book. It's the story of people making the most out of their misfortune and sacrificing themselves to help each other. Scenes and characters will stay in my mind for a long time, I'm sure.

Also, please note that this is not the same book as that sexed up lemon fic that somehow managed to sleep its way to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Between Shades of Grey just has the misfortune of sharing a similar title. This video should help clear up any confusion.