Educated: A Memoir

by Tara Westover
Educated: A Memoir depicts the lifestyle of a survivalist Mormon family in Idaho. Every morning at 7 AM Tara and her brothers have to work in the junkyard with their father to earn money and sustain their family. As the head of the family, Tara’s father dictates what everyone did and believed in. He does not believe in doctors, therefore mother practices herbalism and midwifery; he does not believe in the public education system, therefore after the first few children he stops sending his children to school; he does not believe in the government, therefore he does not buy insurances and does not register his children for birth certificates. The memoir includes several instances where the members of the Westover family are just steps from death and it recounts Tara’s progress in “escaping” from such a nonconventional, or perhaps too conventional, of way living. Her mindset growing up is strongly altered by her father. Although she disagrees with him, like most of her siblings, she chooses to stay silent more than speaking up. The only person in the family who would stand up against her father is Shawn, who left the house when he was 16. When he returns, he develops an abusive power dynamic with Tara yet still caring for her. Tara’s third oldest brother, Tyler, though becoming an outsider of the family, is her lifeline and last resort. She turns to him when she most needs help and he supports her with her decision of leaving the isolated household. The book depicts how separated the Westover family is from the mainstream community and how big a part education plays in a person’s life. As one of the few family members who has received a formal education, Tara slowly discovers her need of leaving the mountains where she spent her childhood. At the end of the memoir, she explains that she is only in touch with a few of her family and that most of them still live in the mountains in a fundamentalist way. This is a book for both adults and young adults. I recommended it to my mom the moment I started reading it. It astonished me how extreme people’s beliefs can be, especially because it is based on a true story. I do not agree with some if not most of Tara’s father’s views or actions, but I am impressed with how confident and headstrong he is when he is challenged or questioned. Educated: A Memoir uncovered a different way of living for me and the narratives told by Tara captivated me from the first page.


Lucy W.

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott
As a well-known classic novel, Little Women is a book that delineates the lives of the March girls — Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy — while giving details on those around them. Set in Concord, Massachusetts in the years between 1863 and 1868, the stories of the book begin in the middle of the Civil War. Mr.March, the girls’ father, volunteers to join the war as a chaplain before coming home after a few years. Though the story starts with him being away and later positions him often in the background, he is a thoughtful figure who everyone in the family can rely on. Mrs. March, or Marmee, what the girls call her, is compassionate and hardworking. She often puts others’ needs in front of her and she is never too busy to make time for her daughters. She is strong emotionally and able to support them whenever. Meg, the oldest of the four, starts to attend social events at the age of 16. She is seen as the most beautiful and the most proper out of the March sisters. Contrastingly, Jo, the second oldest, is tomboyish and lively. She is the presumed narrator of the book. In her free time, she loses herself in books and begins her career in writing at a young age. Together, they meet their neighbor Laurie for the first time at a party they attend. He is high-spirited and attractive and he gets more and more familiar with the March sisters as the story progresses. He doesn’t want to take over the family business as his grandfather hopes and wants to live a whimsical life, having the chance to run off one day to travel. Jo influences him and transforms him into a more settled and calmer person. In the meantime, his feelings for Jo developed from sole friendship to romantic affections but does not receive the same response from Jo because the latter believes that they are too similar. The same is suggested by Mrs.March, where she remarks that the two are both too quick-tempered therefore would not be a good match. Beth, the shy and quiet musician is seen as the perfect sister. She is angelic and she treats everyone kindly. She is adored and cherished by Mr.Laurence, Laurie’s grandfather, who sees a shadow of his daughter in Beth. Finally, Amy, the youngest of all, aspires to become like the pretentious image she has of the upper class. At the beginning of the novel she is associated with broken grammar and always trying to imitate those of the wealthy, but traversing the book she becomes more unflustered as she is exposed more to the real world. She travels to Europe with Aunt March, who forms a special relationship with the former through an unexpected incident. The novel jumps between the characters’ lives as it progresses. While the readers “grow up” along with the March girls, many criticisms and comments of societal pressures put on women are subtly pointed out. The March girls, but more generally women at that time often struggle to find a place between their homes and society, and they fight to defy gender stereotypes that continue today. In an age without electronics, the connections between characters are what enraptured me into Little Women. From receiving and sending letters to traveling in carriages, time and distance were what manipulated the relationships between people. This book exposed me as a reader to the world that we can no longer experience and taught me how simple yet complicated life can be. This is the perfect book for those who wish to travel back in time and participate in the suburban life of the 1860s.


Lucy W.

Everything I Never Told You

by Celeste Ng
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” Set in the 1970s, the fiction novel Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng reveals the life of a mixed-race Chinese American family that was unseen at its time. Lydia, the middle child, makes up the heart of the Lee household. Lydia’s father James Lee is a Chinese immigrant. His family had to change their names and fake their relationships to survive in the United States. However, James’s road in the new world is full of impediments. During school and work, there are several instances when he is discriminated against based on his race. His only wish for his children is for them to become popular jocks or homecoming queens. His wife Marilyn’s life also complicates the Lee family’s environment. Her connection with her mother ended because the latter disapproves of the former’s marriage. Marilyn struggles between her ambition and her responsibilities in the family. As a woman, she is expected to focus on family and surrender her aspirations in expanding her career in the STEM field. As a result, the burden of becoming a scientist is passed on to Lydia, the seemingly perfect candidate for both Marilyn’s academic fulfillment and James’s desire for social connections.

Meanwhile, Nath and Hannah Lee, Lydia’s older brother and younger sister are invisible compared to her. Lydia looks to Nath for support but his impending leave for college makes her feel more anxious. Hannah is ignored by most of the family members but she slowly becomes used to this treatment. This book reveals aspects of the underlying racist issues present in the American society during the 1970s and it also calls for attention to pressures teenagers receive then and even more now. The first time I read this book I was only reading for the plot, but the second time I felt a personal connection with the characters. The more chapters I read, the more surprised and relatable I feel with Lydia. I felt emotionally connected with her throughout the book and was heartbroken when in the end her complete story is displayed.


Lucy W.

The Wall

By John Lanchester 

The Wall is a funny and unique book about how life in the future has been affected by climate change. In the story a wall has been built around the entire border of an island nation to protect its citizens from rising seas and to keep out the ‘others.’ The ‘others’ do not have a home; they live out on the ocean and struggle with the rising seas, they are desperate to make their way over the wall and into the nation. To stop the ‘others’ every citizen takes a turn defending the wall they become defenders and protect their section of the wall and prevent the ‘others’ from attacking and entering. The story follows Joseph, a young defender who protects his section of the wall and befriends his other defenders. Joseph feels as if he is being punished and blames the older generations for causing this climate change. Everything is going well for him until his section of the wall is unexpectedly attacked. The ‘others’ manage to make it over the wall and end up killing a few of the defenders. As punishment for their failure Joseph and three more defenders are cast out to sea, now Joseph is seen as an ‘other’ and they all have to learn how to survive on the ocean away from home. As they encounter settlements of ‘others’ on the ocean, they are invited to stay and are cared for. Joseph begins to realize that the climate refugees he meets are more welcoming than those who live behind the wall. At the end of the story, Joseph decides that he will live out the rest of his life at sea with the defenders who had been cast out with him and the other friends he has made. I thought it was interesting how this book was set in our world and how it painted a picture of what the future may look like if climate change continues to worsen. This book was very well-written and entertaining and also shows how our actions may have consequences and that we should take care of each other and our planet.

Hannah M.

Flipped

by Wendelin Van Draanen

Flipped is a young adult novel set in the 1990s that establishes the romantic relationship between two teenagers Julianna ‘Juli’ Baker and Bryce Loski. The book begins with Juli meeting Bryce for the first time when he moves into the house across from her. She immediately falls in love with the second-grader with blonde hair and “sparkling” blue eyes. Nevertheless, Bryce only sees her as someone who is annoying
and who wouldn’t leave him alone. To everyone else, Juli has a cheerful personality and is always very animated. She also has a love for nature which she gets from her father who is a painter. In the first part of the book, Bryce’s actions are no other than cowardly. In the sycamore tree incident where Juli decides to start a protest to prevent a tree from being cut down, Bryce fails to support her on what she believes in. When Juli sends her chickens’ eggs to the Loski family, Bryce is pressured by his family to talk to Juli in person but he evades Juli and chooses a different path. He also agrees with his friend’s unkind comment on Juli’s mentally challenged uncle. All these instances lessen Juli’s initial crush on Bryce and create a distance between the two protagonists. However, the story takes a turn when Bryce’s grandfather develops a liking for Juli and shows Bryce an old newspaper article portraying the special relationship Juli has with the sycamore tree. Along with other events, Bryce realizes how much he admires Juli and builds up his courage to ameliorate the situation. He becomes a sweet person and attempts to win Juli’s heart. He gets jealous at a breakfast boy auction where Juli is put on a lunch date with another boy and does something impulsive and unexpected in front of the whole school. In the end, Juli has to choose whether to give Bryce a second chance.
The story is told in altering the perspectives of Juli and Bryce and lets the readers
understand what both the characters’ thoughts are on each of their interactions. The
book is filled with awkwardly cute moments, making the relationship between the two
fascinating yet realistic. Flipped is a fast pacing book for those who wish to observe
the chemistry between two young characters.

Lucy W.

Of Mice and Men

“Of Mice and Men” is a novel originally published in 1937 and written by John Steinbeck. Set in California during the great depression, it follows the experiences of George Milton and Lennie Small who are migrant ranch workers. George is a street-smart but uneducated man of around average size. Lennie is huge and physically strong, however he is mentally disabled. Thus, the two main characters are strikingly different, and this makes for an interesting and at times funny dynamic between the two of them. George is Lennie’s protector (which is ironic considering the latter’s huge size).  They have the ambition to one day acquire their own piece of land, and settle down there permanently. Lennie wants to tend to the rabbits, and he has a love for soft things. At the start of the novel, the two men are on the run. Their was a previous incident in which Lennie was accused of rape after grabbing a woman’s skirt (although in reality his intentions were completely harmless). They find work at a new farm, and almost immediately come into conflict with a man named Curley (the Boss’s son). He has an inferiority complex involving his small stature, and thus decides to target Lennie. They also meet an older man named Candy who offers to pitch in money so that he, along with George and Lennie, can buy a farm together. Things also begin to get complicated when Lennie shows signs of attraction towards Curley’s flirtatious wife. The story takes an unexpected turn, and has an even more unexpected ending. 

Through this novel Steinbeck portrays the harsh reality faced by migrant workers during the great depression. Steinbeck to some extent drew upon his personal experiences working alongside migrant workers as a teenager. It is a very different way of life, and something worth learning about. The novel is also extremely short at only 107 pages, meaning if you’re looking for a quick and interesting read it is a great option. Something about the novel also seems very authentic and genuine. The extreme contrasts between the characters makes for some very interesting interactions in the story. The book addresses themes such as class, race, and gender. The book also deals with the question of freedom, and whether or not it is attainable for certain people.   Despite being an old book, it is certainly worth reading. 

Reid B.

The Great Gatsby

“The Great Gatsby” is a novel originally published in 1925 and written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Set during the Jazz Age (1920s), it centers around the experiences of Nick Carraway (the narrator). In particular, his encounters with Jay Gatsby who is a mysterious millionaire. The story takes place in New York City, and Nick has decided to travel there seeking employment as a bond salesman. Gatsby hosts opulent parties, yet he interestingly does not appear to engage in them himself. It is also an obsession of Gatsby’s to rekindle an old love affair with a woman named Daisy (who is distantly related to Nick). In the novel, she is married to Tom Buchanan, a physically intimidating, wealthy, and ultra-masculine former Yale football player. He peaked early and feels a need to dominate those around him (including his wife). He is also extremely racist, and openly espouses his belief in the superiority of the so-called “Nordic” race. Tom carries on an affair with a working-class lady named Myrtle Wilson simply because he can (she lives in poverty and is desperate to escape it). Tom and Gatsby are rivals, in that both seek Daisy’s love and affection. Gatsby’s desire to be with Daisy largely drives the plot of the story. However, there is a shadow plaguing Gatsby. Everything is not as it seems with him, and he fears others might discover this. As a reader, it is interesting as you discover more and more about Gatsby as a person. Things begin to spiral out of control, and the novel eventually comes to an abrupt and unexpected conclusion.

Fitzgerald sheds light on many societal issues during the 1920s (many of which are still relevant today). The early 20th century was a time when the United States was rapidly changing, and old ideas were being challenged. The novel paints a very vivid picture of the decade as a whole. Many characters are also loosely based on historical figures, such as Meyer Wolfsheim (he is modeled after the famous mobster Arnold Rothstein). Themes such as race, class, and gender are heavily touched upon. The concept of “The American Dream” is also called into question. Fitzgerald utilizes a variety of literary techniques to make the story even more enjoyable. “The Great Gatsby” is an iconic piece of literature, as well as a page-turner, and certainly worth a read. 

Reid B.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

tweet cuteTweet Cute is the lighthearted, fast-paced, pop-culture infused story of how two high school students, Pepper and Jack, eventually find their way to love. Pepper is an overachiever, a perfectionist, and quite lonely. She struggles to balance her real life as a high schooler in a competitive prep school and secretly running the Twitter account of her family’s huge fast-food chain, Big League Burger. Jack is the class clown, a constant annoyance to Pepper, and he has a secret of his own – he is the creator behind the school’s popular anonymous chat app, Weazel. The story begins with Jack’s discovery that Big League Burger’s new recipe is an exact copy of his family’s signature recipe at their small deli, Girl Cheesing. His retaliation tweet goes viral, and the two teenagers, behind the profiles of their respective businesses, engage in a vicious Twitter war. They are publicly attacking each other while simultaneously flirting and falling in love through Jack’s app. As the story progresses, their feud grows more and more personal. What happens when their (multiple) online personas dissolve? Their romance is awkward, genuine, filled with miscommunications, and so so sweet. While the book is cute and sassy, there are also many heavier layers within the characters’ lives. Both characters face so much outside pressure: Pepper is struggling to hold everything in her life together – her family (with her parents divorced and her sister not speaking to her mom), their business’s reputation, and her perfect academic record, among others; Jack is trying to step out of the shadow of his “perfect” identical twin brother and save his family’s deli from bankruptcy while also attempting to escape from the expectation that this same deli will be his entire future. The story alternates between Pepper and Jack’s points of view, and I particularly loved watching them outwit each other online and experience precious moments in real life.

This book brings to light all of the masks we don in this digital age, their consequences, and their effects on real life. Although this is Emma Lord’s first book, it is incredibly well-written, charming, and the characters are so entertaining. Tweet Cute is a perfect witty, wholesome romance, and it is also a story of family, friendship, and finding your own way.

Audrey S.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

badfeminist 2“Feminism is a choice, and if a woman does not want to be a feminist, that is her right, but it is still my responsibility to fight for her rights.”

Is there such thing as a “good” feminist or a “bad” feminist? What exactly does being a feminist mean? In this collection of personal essays by Roxane Gay, she explores identity, its facets, and its consequences. She tackles race, gender, sexuality, and other themes through history, contemporary events, literature, entertainment, and her own experiences as a woman of color. The writing is so dense; she writes about privilege, women in literature, tv shows, movies, sexual violence, Black representation in movies, police brutality, among many many other subjects. However, it doesn’t feel that way because she flows from one insight to the next, and it hits so profoundly. I have read a few personal essay books recently, but this one felt the most personal out of all of them; the language Gay uses has so much character – her humor is witty and dry – but it is also serious and heavy at other times. She is justifiably cynical, but it is clear that throughout the book she is working on her own problems and prejudices, continually trying to understand herself and how she fits (and doesn’t fit) into society. Although this book was originally published in 2014, all of its themes are still relevant – perhaps even more so – today. It is an essential read for teens, as it provides a sharp and accurate perspective of how we are a part of a culture, how we become the culture we consume, and what it means to do better.

Audrey S.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

cinder coverIt is 126 years after the fourth world war, and the streets of New Beijing are teeming with people, androids, and a deadly plague is ravaging the population. Earth’s only hope for a cure is by a marriage alliance with Queen Levana, the deceivingly beautiful and manipulative ruler of the moon. Cinder is a talented mechanic, a cyborg, and a girl living with her scornful stepmother and her two stepsisters. As a cyborg – part human, part robot – Cinder does not have the same rights as a “normal” human, and she is constantly reminded of this fact.

One day, the Crown Prince of the Eastern Commonwealth – Prince Kai – steps into her shop to repair his android. She finds herself reluctantly drawn to him, as they continue to re-encounter each other. Cinder becomes drawn into the world of the shining palace, swept into the panic of finding a cure for the plague, caught at the center of a struggle between the Earth and Luna. The deeper she falls into this glittering world, the more she uncovers about her past; she is forced to make choices – between love and betrayal – and reckon with the society’s perception of her.

While Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella, the setting, the characters, and the way their relationships develop are so unique and unconventional. Cinder is opinionated, stubborn, has the driest sense of humor, but she is also incredibly lonely – with only her stepsister Peony as a friend – until she meets Kai. This book was the perfect mix of familiar storylines, futuristic technology, one of my favorite literary romances, interplanetary struggle, and it also makes us wonder what it truly means to be human.

Audrey S.