More Student Book Reviews

Below are excerpts from the second edition of student book reviews in Critical Reading. For more book recommendations from Mrs. Boland’s students or for information about this part of our curriculum, check out this post.

The Eye of Minds, James Dashner

Subsection after subsection, chapter after chapter, even at the end of the book, The Eye of Minds, leaves you dangling off the side of a ravine. After series such as The Maze Runner and 13th Reality, James Dashner has churned out yet another action-packed, heart racing adventure, The Mortality Doctrine series. The first installment, titled The Eye of Minds, depicts Michael, a teenage boy, who enjoys video games??clich??, right? However, it??s quite the contrary. Dashner has successfully created a realm of science fiction that has yet to be explored.

Plunging his cordial characters into an imagined future with a whole new world of virtual reality, the VirtNet, Dashner takes video games to the next level. To enter such an online game, one submerges into a Coffin or a NerveBox. Every sensation is realistic beyond belief, which is more of a curse than a blessing when it comes to the mission presented to Michael and his friends, Bryson and Sarah. A cyber-terrorist by the name of Kaine has caused harm in not only the virtual world, but the real one as well. The VirtNet Security needs the trio to lead them to a place that has never been found and is ever-so dangerous to get to. This requires tremendous concentration, programming skills, and courage, leaving you to wonder if the heroes and heroine will ever make it. Their fates hang in the balance, only to be determined by James Dashner and his intricate use of words.

Dashner??s writing style is simple, with a certain subtle complexity. While the vocabulary could probably be understood by a 4th grader, the basic language helps, in a way, to drive the plot. If a reader has to look up a plethora of words in the middle of something big, then it could ruin the effect. For example, if Dashner would have said ??brobdingnagian?? when describing a large opponent, it would cause the reader to have to pause instead of continuing with the battle. The author also mentions details that you barely notice, but turn out to be important. The smallest sentence can be identified later as foreshadowing to the end of the book. This layered, but simplistic word use is included in the equation when identifying the type of reader that should read the book.

Personally, I think that certain aspects (such as cyber-terrorism and the book??s opening suicide situation) should be warned and cautioned against elementary and maybe even some secondary students. However, by middle school, students should be ready to read this book. As far as the vocabulary, high school students may scoff at a book like this, but as an easy-to-read, just-for-fun book I think it would do the trick. Its plot is intriguing enough for me, at least, to overlook the basic word choice. James Dashner, based upon other book reviews, seems known for his rather simple language, but intense themes and suspenseful plot. Readers who are fond of technology and video games may be fond of that characteristic of this book, yet, the main audience would be readers of action, adventure, or science fiction.

Delacorte Press, 308 pages

Caroline H.

Matched, Ally Condie

This enthralling book, like the so many others we have read in class lately, is a dystopian book. The government controls everything in an orderly, organized fashion, with pre-set births, mates, jobs and death dates. Once you??ve reached a certain age, there is a big ceremony to find out who you will be matched with for life. The main character, Cassia, is thrilled to find out she will be marrying her best friend, Ky, but soon finds out there is more than one person that she could end up with.

Ally Condie does a great job of delving into the thoughts of a teenager and the anxiety and excitement that Cassia must feel with a situation like this. Condie paints great pictures and really helps you visualize what??s going on with the plot. Even in the sense that this book has a very good plot line and great visualization, it not a very hard book to read and is easy to follow. This book is a little thick but not too bad at 366 pages.

The prime audience for this book would be middle to high school girls, since this book is more of a romance/action/dystopian. Although boys may enjoy it too because of some adventures that Cassia goes on, but it may be harder for them to relate to because they don??t have to go through the same things a teenage girl goes through.

This book was published by Dutton Books, who also helped publish books two and three, Crossed and Reached.

Kelsey M.

Jarhead, Anthony Swofford

Tony Swofford is a ??jarhead.?? A US Marine, his signature high-and-tight haircut shapes his head like a jar. Swofford points out, in this autobiography, that their heads are also jars because their superiors fill the jars with everything that they want them to know and do. The jarhead is the grunt of the Marines: they do everything and anything that is asked of them. When the jarheads are deployed to Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield, Anthony Swofford finds that hellish conditions are waiting for him. These conditions, however, have nothing to do with the cataclysmic violence of modern warfare, but rather, the boredom, monotony, and apparent pointlessness of their mission. He camps in desert, digging holes and moving sand with his Surveillance and Target Acquisition platoon, all the while reflecting on how pointless it is to go to war over oil fields. The whole book focuses mainly on this mental and emotional toll taken on the marines in the desert, with various moments of action interspersed.

Swofford??s straightforward writing style is that of a simple, easy to understand memoir, so Jarhead is not a dense read at all. However, there are times when the style seems to get so simple, it??s confusing. This usually happens when describing the brief moments of combat action Swofford experiences. It is unlikely, though, that these confusing moments are the result of an inability to write well. Rather, the run-on sentences and fragments reflect what someone??s thoughts must be like while in the heat of battle: disjointed, frantic, fragmented. There is one point when his patrol is under rocket attack, and Swofford completely forgets the procedure he??s supposed to follow and simply repeats the word ??rockets?? over and over.

Though engaging and hard to put down, Jarhead is not for the faint of heart. Swofford describes the details of the life of a jarhead with great detail, which includes a large amount of violence, language, sex (sometimes explicit), drinking, and various other mature themes. I don??t recommend this book for anyone not in high school. Though sometimes unsettling, this style lends to the realistic nature of the book by exposing the often menial life of the post-war jarhead. He describes going to bars and starting fights for the fun of it, just because they can??t fight in the desert anymore. Swofford said that he and his friends filled their lives with entertainment, in the hopes that they forget the war they fought, but, ??A man fires a rifle for many years, and he goes to war. And afterwards he comes home, and he sees that whatever else he may do with his life – build a house, love a woman, change his son’s diaper – he will always remain a jarhead. And all the jarheads killing and dying, they will always be me. We are still in the desert.??

Scribner, 272

Michael M.

Java for Everyone, Cay Horstmann

Java For Everyone is a book by Cay Horstmann in which it teaches the reader to program in JavaScript. Published by Wiley in 2011 the book is four hundred and thirty seven pages long not counting any of the extra stuff in the end or beginning of the book.

Java For Everyone covers everything from integers and strings to hashes and methods. The book starts off from the very beginning assuming the reader has no prior knowledge of computer programming only assuming that the reader knows basic math and how to use a computer; and while that??s all fine and dandy the one thing the book does not tell the reader is how to install the programming software which you need in order for any information in the book to be useful although you can also find that information easily on the internet.

In this book you will find many colorful pages with pictures which helped me read the book because it kept me from getting bored and putting the book down to do something else but it also did not help me read the book because the images were sometimes distracting and irrelevant. Which speaking of distracting and irrelevant the book also has sections dedicated to testing you to see how much of the last chapter you remembered which is also very annoying because it is a constant interruption and along with the sections of the book dedicated to testing your knowledge there are also sections of the book called ??fun facts?? which are lengthy but sometimes interesting useless information.

All in all I would recommend this book to people around my age (14) who want to learn to program in JavaScript but I would also suggest getting other books along with this book to fully enrich yourself on the given topic.

Daniel M.

Copper Sun, Sharon Draper

Do you know the feeling of being taken away from your home? Sharon Draper, a Coretta Scott King award winner, conveys an emotional experience of Amari, an African Native being taken into slavery. Sharon Draper takes you through the terrible experience of becoming someone’s property and the true horrors of slavery. The book goes through Amari??s daily routine of belonging to the Derby family. You meet different characters throughout the book that Amari soon befriends. In captivity a traumatic experience occurs only further complicating Amari??s life. The event leaves Amari and her friends with a difficult decision to make. Do they stay at the Derby plantation or do they try to escape? Either option will not be easy. Sharon Draper writes in a style that switches between the two main characters of the book which are Amari and Polly. This gives you a glance of what the characters are thinking throughout the novel. Sharon Draper writes the book in a way that will keep you in suspense. She writes the book so that the reader only knows as much as the characters know. Copper Sun is truly eventful and will keep you wanting read more. This is a more mature read and I would recommend this for any teenager. I would also recommend this book to anyone who is interested in historical fiction and anyone who wants an exciting read.

Antheneum Books, 363 pages

Yasmin A.

Scenes of Literacy and Thievery

The basement of 33 Himmel Street

The basement of 33 Himmel Street

What if you could make a movie for the book you were reading? What if you had total artistic control — with an unlimited budget? Ninth grade readers of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief have been given precisely that chance.

Well, in their imaginations at least. They’ve been creating storyboard-like scene compositions for memorable or meaningful scenes from the novel.

Josiah, one of our students who happens to be an aspiring animator, has really gone above and beyond with these assignments. Rather than sketching out stick figures, he creates three-dimensional Lego scenes and photographs them. His work shows both a careful attention to detail from the book and a solid grasp of the cinematic techniques we discussed in class.

You can see more of this student’s work below. Continue reading

Student Book Recommendations

In Mrs. Boland’s Critical Thinking class, students have been reading a self-selected book during class. For information on why we think this is an essential part of our curriculum, check out this great defense of self-selected reading (SSR).

After finishing their first book, students had three options for how to respond to what they had read. Students could present an in-class book talk, a 2-3 minute review and recommendation. So far, we’ve heard reviews about books such as Maze Runner and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Students could also choose to interview a friend, teacher, or family member who had read the same book. One student chose to interview his father about Godel, Escher, Bach, and another chose to interview a friend about The Fault in Our Stars. Finally, students could choose to write a book review about the book they’d read, modeled after the great work of the students at the CTL in Edgecomb, Maine.


Student book reviews were then published near the classroom library. Below are excerpts from some of the student book reviews:

Continue reading