The Castaways

By Jessika Fleck

This book captivated me by the cover alone, so when the author offered me a copy to review, I pounced. I could not wait to read it. A combination of Lord of the Flies and maybe even Heart of Darkness, though set on the island from lost, dropped out of time. Sounds cool, right?

Summary30973550

The Castaway Carnival: fun, mysterious, dangerous.

Renowned for its infamous corn maze… and the kids who go missing in it.

When Olive runs into the maze, she wakes up on an isolated and undetectable island where a decades-long war between two factions of rival teens is in full swing.

Trapped, Olive must slowly attempt to win each of her new comrades’ hearts as Will—their mysterious, stoically quiet, and handsome leader—steals hers.

Olive is only sure about one thing: her troop consists of the good guys, and she’ll do whatever it takes to help them win the war and get back home.

Musings

Olive Maxi Gagmuehler has been bullied her entire life. Her name is the main source of her punishment, and a trio of mean girls at school have been tormenting her, even torturing her, using it as an excuse. When Olive lashes out, then runs in terror, she finds herself on a mysterious island, lost in time with other children from long ago.

The idea refreshing and bold; children, from different decades, end up on this mysterious island. Take Neverland, and turn it sour.  Each of them was running away from something, for the most part actual people, or in Tilly’s case the bombs if WWII, which sent them running for safety. And then, they were here. But while the Island might be safe from their bullies and fears, it offers new problems. Thirteen children trying to understand what put them there, and how to survive. Split into two factions at war with each other, Olive must find her place before she can hope to make a change.

The metaphor here obvious:  You can’t run away from your problems, you need to face them and move on. And this lesson has very physical repercussions on the island.  It might be a little preachy, but it’s an important one to learn.

While the plot was exciting and new, it was the clichés that got me. A friend posted a “YA trope bingo” the same day I started reading The Castaways, and I filled my squares quickly. Bullied MC? Check. Token minority best friend? Check. Olive falls for a boy that she shouldn’t fall for? Double check. There were a lot of cliché-ed lines that pulled me out of the story.

But while the clichés were there, they worked. The relationship between Olive and Will, while at first seeming forced, actually built into something healthy and supportive. And Olive being bullied, and growing and fighting back, was actually a major plot of the novel and so, so important to read. It’s amazing to see her strength grow!

I have to give it to Fleck, she sure knows how to write tension. There are some scenes in there that make me really clutch my tablet as I read faster and faster. She makes us really care about everyone, especially the tiny kiddos. And the lesson Olive learns is so important and profound. That, and the lesson Will learns too.

And it’s refreshing to see a well written, enjoyable novel that stands alone! With a happy ending! Gosh I love happy endings!

All in all, a fun read, if a little clichéd. Perfect for lovers of YA!

Published April 3rd 2017 by Entangled TEEN

Advertisements

Weightless

by Sarah Bannan

Reviewed by SA

High school drama can seem pretty funny from the outside, but truthfully, for some it’s life or death.  With the technology we have today, it’s becoming way too easy to bully someone without consequence; it’s becoming easy to get distracted and not notice the warning signs of someone that needs help. For anyone who recognizes these problems, and for those who haven’t any clue what I’m talking about, this novel is mandatory reading.

Summary (taken from goodreads)

When 15-year-old Carolyn moves from New Jersey to Alabama with her mother, she rattles the status quo of the junior class at Adams High School. A good student and natural athlete, she’s immediately welcomed by the school’s cliques. She’s even nominated to the homecoming court and begins dating a senior, Shane, whose on again/off again girlfriend Brooke becomes Carolyn’s bitter romantic rival. When a video of Carolyn and Shane making out is sent to everyone, Carolyn goes from golden girl to slut, as Brooke and her best friend Gemma try to restore their popularity. Gossip and bullying hound Carolyn, who becomes increasingly private and isolated. When Shane and Brooke—now back together—confront Carolyn in the student parking lot, injuring her, it’s the last attack she can take.

The thing that caught me right away about this novel was the narrative form. The perspective is from a first person plural – we – and it catches you off guard. I know when I started to read Weightless I was waiting to know the name of the person who was recounting all this, only to find that it actually represented everyone. The perspective of the novel is an eye opener: everyone can see what’s happening and completely ignore the warning signs. It’s a little scary, honestly.

The issues that are brought up make me sad, because I know so many people caught in similar situations. Eating disorders, the fear of becoming fat when in fact you are fading away. Cyber bullying, out for everyone to see and no one can, or will help. Physical bullying, where everyone turns a blind eye. Depression, and suicide, when people say they never saw it coming, when in fact they were part of the problem. Weightless deals with the issues teenagers face in a high school environment, and it is not sugar coating any of it.

The novel chronicles the rise and fall of Carolyn, a young fifteen year old girl, remarkably smart, who moves to this new, small town. Everyone in Adamsville has known each other for years: they all attend church together, pray over the sports team together, gossip and grow together. And no matter how much they like her, Carolyn will always be an outsider: she’s too pretty, too nice, too smart. She doesn’t know how to deal with the small town popularity contest, doesn’t even want to play. This is what makes the first person plural narrative so powerful: the “We” is always sharing gossip, telling itself things about this girl. We is turned into this creature, a monster that thrives on partial truths and full on lies, warping its perspective of this normal person until she has become some kind of non-entity. Who even is Carolyn?

The pacing was slow, thoughtful. It takes place over an entire school year, so that the transition between loved and popular to hated and outsider is slow, natural. I loved how the author used Facebook posts and letters, even Carolyn’s essays, to show us how her character was evolving. It felt incredibly realistic. The hints about her fate, slowly dropping through the novel, created fantastic anticipation and made me crave to read more.

The ending, however, did not. I felt as if the reaction of the community (even the world) was blown out of proportion, it’s what we would have wanted to see happen rather than an actual, realistic consequence. I do not want to spoil anything for anyone! But I did find it was odd, more like wish fulfillment for the reader.

In any case, this is a tough novel to read because the subject matter is so important and heavy. Even so, it’s a fantastic book.

Find Weightless on June 30th.

N.B. (A micro rant about the American school system) I don’t get American high schools, you know? So much bitching! Not only that, but is “Protagonist” really a word too complicated for a Junior in Advanced english? I learned it in sixth or seventh grade! Come on! And do you really have to be in an higher math class in 11th grade to learn what a cosine is? I was taught trig in ninth grade, I just don’t get why it takes so long here.

But the bitching, the bitching! One thing that almost made me put down the book was how bitchy everyone was to each other. Encouraging eating disorders in order to slim down! (That scene in the bathroom physically hurt me). Calling people sluts and spreading rumors about STDs? What is wrong with this picture?

That’s probably why this book was so on point. For me, it was provocative. It opens the discussion on the issues on the forces social structure within the confines of the public school environment. And there’s a whole lot to talk about.