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Viewing Blog: TO READ OR NOT TO READ, Most Recent at Top
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A high school librarian reviews books for Young Adults. The vast majority are books written specifically for YAs. The remainder are adult books appropriate for the high school crowd. Each review receives between one and five stars. Here's a guide to deciphering my ratings: ***** Read it. Now. **** Highly recommended. *** Good choice. ** Not so good unless this is your type of book. * A waste of perfectly good trees
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1. How to Be Bad ****

Lockhart, E., Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle. How to be Bad. 2008.

Three girls go on a road trip to see one of their boyfriends who has gone off to college. Jesse works at the Waffle House with the other two girls. Her mother has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She is a very strict Christian and judges others around her for their choices. Vicks' boyfriend Brady just went off to college a few weeks earlier and the only time he has contacted her so far was with one text message in the middle of the night. Mel, a rich girl and hostess at the Waffle House, just moved to Florida from Canada and doesn't have any friends. She gets invited on the road trip because she offers to pay for it. All three go for different reasons and by the end they learn about themselves and each other. Along they way they have some adventures and break a few laws.

Recommended for fans of these three authors. The book is really about female friendship, so fans of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants should enjoy this one too.

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2. Ivy ***

Hearn, Julie. Ivy. 2008.

This story takes place in London in the early 1800s. Ivy's family is poor and makes it's living in dishonest ways. When she is little, she is taken away from her family by Carroty Kate, a woman who comes from a gang of criminals worse than her own family. They use her to help them rob people, particularly other children. When Kate dies, Ivy ends up back with her family again. Ivy ends up as an artists model for a rich artist but his mother hates her immediately and does everything she can to be rid if her. Ivy has a problem with laudanum, which is a liquid that was put into water and would put a person to sleep. It's a drug that could easily kill a person if taken improperly.

There were aspects of the story that didn't make sense to me, which I won't write about here because I don't want to give away anything about the plot or characters. Certain things that were in the book didn't add to the story at all and left me wondering why they were in there at all. This book won't disappoint fans of historical fiction, but other readers might not find much to like about it.

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3. Sunrise Over Fallujah ***

Myers, Walter Dean. Sunrise Over Fallujah. 2008.

I had high hopes for this book, but it did fall a little short. It had been called the Fallen Angels for this generation, but Fallen Angels was far superior in my opinion. For anyone not aware, Fallen Angels was written by Myers a long time ago about the Vietnam War.

This book is just like Fallen Angels but for some reason it just didn't have the same feeling. The novel centers around Birdy (his real name is Robin) and his fellow members of the Civilian Affairs Unit. The aren't infantry, their job is to try to be nice to the locals and help them out. Birdy is from Harlem and his family is really irritated with him for joining the Army after 9/11. His father wanted him to go to college and be an accountant. Birdy seems to send a lot of letters to his Uncle Richie who had served in the Vietnam War. Birdy gets close to Jonesy and Marla, two people in his unit. There are other people, but he seems to not really talk to many of them or have any sort or relationship with them.

It's probably common sense that at least one person is going to die, and I won't spoil that for you. I would recommend this book for anyone wondering what it is like to be over there fighting this war. It did have a lot of detail, some of it disturbing so anyone that reads it will learn a lot. It is worth reading for this reason alone since it is informative.

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4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society *****

Shaffer, Mary Ann and Annie Barrows. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. 2007.

This is an adult book appropriate for YAs. At that present time, this novel has been on the NYT Bestseller list for several weeks.

This is one of the cutest books I have read in a great while. Juliet, an author is looking for the next thing to write about when she begins a correspondence with a Literary Society on the island of Guernsey, which is in the English Channel and had been occuppied by the Nazis during World War II. The novel, which takes place in the time just after the war, takes the form of letters to and from Juliet to her editor, her best friend, and to the members of this Literary Society. They write to her about how their Society was formed during the Nazi occupation and why. Eventually, Juliet decides to visit Guernsey and her pen pals.

The book is somewhat predictable at least as far as how it is going to end, but that's not really a problem. The real point of the book is to fun and entertaining, and it succeeds at that.

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5. Geek Magnet ****

Scott, Kieran. Geek Magnet: A Novel in Five Acts. 2007

KJ is the stage manager of her school's Spring Musical and she has one big problem-- she is a geek magnet. She doesn't lack for male attention but she seems to get all the guys she DOESN'T want, while the one guy she wants doesn't seem to know she is alive. There is Fred, her neighbor who has been following her around for years. Then there is Andy, her Assistant Stage Manager. Then there is Glenn, the kid on the light crew who stares only at her boobs and touches her inappropriately.

Tama, one of the popular girls who happens to have a lead in the play is friends with Cameron, the love of KJ's life. Tama manages to get Cameron interested in KJ. She also offers to help KJ get rid of her guy problem by teaching her to be mean. She manages to get the geeks to back off, but she ends up hurting a lot of feelings along the way and also manages to alienate herself from her best friend and most of the cast in the process.

Meanwhile, KJs father is an alcoholic. He drinks every day and is often mean. The entire family is on eggshells trying to keep him from flying off the handle. Her younger brother Chris is a mess all the time and her mother seems to be oblivious. The alcoholism seems to take a backseat to the whole drama of the musical and doesn't get the treatment it might deserve. I guess the point of the novel was to be fun, so the focus was more on the musical drama and not on the social issues. It makes me wonder if it really needed to be in there to begin with, but that's just a small criticism and it doesn't take away from the novel at all.

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6. Love Sick ***1/2

Coburn, Jake. LoveSick. 2005.

I enjoyed the book, but the whole premise was so wacky that I had a hard time buying it. First of all, the author states that this is really a true story and that he had their permission to tell it. The story is rather implausible so I would have had issues with it anyway, but saying it is a true story made me even more annoyed because I really doubt this could have happened.

Ted was on his way to a full ride scholarship at a great school. His only problem was his alcoholism, which lead him to crash his car into a tree, busting up his knee. He was ordered to AA and lost his scholarship too. Erica is a rich girl from NYC. She is a bulimic who is supposed to be in recovery but she keeps slipping. Her father and therapist don't think she should go away to school because she isn't totally recovered yet, but she insists she is going. Her father pays an associate of his, Michael, to find someone that needs money, and hire him or her to spy on Erica for them. The job pays full tuition for 4 years, and the only job is to live near her in the dorm and report her activities to Michael. Ted needed the money since he lost his scholarship. Predictably, he ends up falling in love with her and telling her that he was hired to spy on her.

The book was fast paced and I am sure most teens will enjoy it. My only reservation with it, as I stated above, is that it seems totally unrealistic. But, many teens may not care, and just enjoy the story for what it is.

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7. Sweet Valley High ***

Pascal, Francine. Sweet Valley High #1: Double Love. 1983/2008

They have decided to bring back Sweet Valley High, which is a series *I* loved when I was in middle and high school. They are basically re-packaging the series, bringing it up to date with cell phones, different cars, etc., but the plot lines remain the same. I don't know how many they plan to bring back-- they used to have a new book out every month. I find that SVH is basically a more wholesome version of Gossip Girl, so for schools that can't have them due to content, this is a good alternative.

Liz and Jessica are twins. Liz is the smart nice one, the one on the school newspaper. Jessica is the one that isn't so nice, the cheerleader etc. She has no conscience whatsoever. This first book basically introduces everyone to the case of characters that we will deal with in the rest of the series, but also focuses on the girls wanting the same guy, Todd. Jessica knows Liz and Todd like each other but she stops at nothing to get him.

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8. Cuba 15 ***

Osa, Nancy. Cuba 15. 2005.

This book wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. Violet is half-Cuban and half-Polish. Her family refuses to talk about Cuba. Violet's Grandmother insists that she have a Quince, which is a traditional party in many Hispanic cultures, celebrating the 15th birthday, similar to a Sweet 16. Violet isn't really into it, but she agrees. There is a lot of tension in the house as the party is planned, particularly between Violet and her father, who doesn't like Violet trying to learn about Cuba.

Meanwhile, she is forced to join the school's speech team and competes in the humorous story category, in which is acts out a story. She writes a story about her crazy family, and that is what she competes with all season. She isn't very good at it.

I would recommend this book to anyone Cuban or Hispanic, as they might be interested in reading about a Quince. Otherwise, I wouldn't recommend it. There are a few things that don't really make sense and certain things never come together. And, then there are aspects to the story that seemed unnecessary, as they don't add to the story at all. The writing is also not very smooth, it feels awfully choppy a lot of the time. The problems in the book are enough to make a person not interested in the subject matter put it down and not pick it up again.

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9. In the Company of Crazies ***

Baskin, Nora Raleigh. In the Company of Crazies. 2006

Mia is in middle school and suddenly finds herself troubled. Her grades are slipping and she is shoplifting. Her parents send her away to a boarding school for troubled kids. The kids there, only about a dozen it seems, have various psychological diagnoses that make it hard for them to function in a regular school. They are there for a therapeutic environment.

It seems unclear to me why Mia is there. While she has had some problems, it seems that the other kids have a lot more going on that Mia. It didn't seem like Mia really needed to be pulled out of school and put in a residential facility. The other characters were a lot more interesting to me and kept me interested in reading the rest of the book, to see what they were like and what might happen to them as time went on. The ending also seemed a bit rushed to me. There didn't seem to be any real resolution to her problems, but maybe that was because she didn't really have any problems to begin with. Maybe her parents were the ones with the problem!

I would recommend this book for middle school students interested in reading about kids living in a special school.

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10. Game ****

Myers, Walter Dean. Game. 2008.

I generally enjoy everything Myers writes, and this is no exception. This novel follows a HS basketball team through one season, through the eyes of Drew, a senior on the team. The team has a great chance of making it to the playoffs, and Drew thinks he has a chance of getting recruited by some big name colleges to play ball. Suddenly, the coach adds two new white guys to the team and it shakes things up. The rules all change and it seems that the coaches are favoring the white guys, who they encouraged to move to Harlem so they could be on their team.

Recommended for male readers. This is also a great book for reluctant readers who enjoy basketball or sports.

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11. The House of Djinn. ****1/2

Staples, Suzanne Fisher. The House of Djinn. 2008.

This is a sequel to Shabanu and Haveli. It's not necessary to read the previous novels to read this. It seems to stand all on its own.

Mumtaz (Muti), daughter of Shabanu, is living with her cousin Omar and his hateful wife Leyla. Leyla mistreats Muti and treats her like a servant. It is her desire to get rid of Muti as fast as she can, but as long as her Baba is alive, she is safe from Leyla. When Baba, the family patriarch, dies suddenly, Muti's life becomes more unstable, particularly when she finds out she is to married to her cousin Jameel, who is to become the head of their tribe. Jameel, who has been living in the US, does not want to come back to live in Pakistan and he doesn't want to marry Muti. Complicating matters is the fact that Muti has discovered her mother has been alive this whole time, living in secret with her Aunt, to stay safe from Uncle Nazir who would kill her if he knew she was still alive.

This was a fantatic book and I highly recommend it for most readers.

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12. Me and Orson Welles ***

Kaplow, Robert. Me and Orson Welles. 2005.

Why this book was recommended by School Library Journal is beyond me. I don't imagine any teenager would be interested in reading this. In fact, I can't imagine many people would be interested in reading it.

The book follows a week in the life if Richard Samuels who lives in NJ. In an unlikely turn of events, he is cast as Lucius in an Orson Welles production of Julius Caesar. He has to skip school to get to the rehearsals and the performances. He falls in love with Sonja and gets involved in the drama that is the theatre.

I am not sure if the goal of the book is to be coming of age story or a story that exemplifies how crazy Orson Welles was. Either way, it doesn't matter because I don't think either angle is working very well. I also find that most teens aren't all that interested in historical fiction so I don't think a 1930s NYC theatre novel would fly off the shelves of many libraries. I would skip this book unless you have some sort of fascination with Orson Welles.

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13. In the Cards: Fame ****

Fredericks, Mariah. In the Cards: Fame. 2006.

I didn't realize this was a part of series until I started reading it. The first book was In the Cards: Love. Unlike some other series, however, this book is fine all on it's own; the reader doesn't have to have read the first book in the series to understand what is happening in this one.

The school is abuzz when the music teacher, Mr. Courtney decides to put on the first musical the school has ever had. Eve, a total drama queen auditions for the show and does get in. Her friend Anna is the stage manager and their other friend Syd is also brought in to help out with playing the piano. The show is filled with drama right from the beginning with backstage fights, romance, and feuds. The star of the show has a famous father and starts to fall apart; it's not clear whether or not she will be able to perform at all. All the while, Eve keeps wondering what will happen because the tarot cards predicted something, but she's not sure how it's going to happen.

I recommend this for middle school/early high school girls interested in the theatre or performing, or girls just interested in reading a story with a whole lot of drama and backstabbing.

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14. Cheater ***1/2

Laser, Michael. Cheater. 2008.

Karl is really smart. So smart that a group of students ask him to join their cheating group. The kids all come from different groups in school and no one would ever suspect they are working together. They use high tech cheating methods, like using cell phones and electronic pencils that send radio waves. Karl knows it's wrong and tries to get out, but he's in too far at that point. The maniacal Vice Principal starts going after cheaters with a vengeance, vowing to expel everyone he catches cheating. This makes things even riskier, but Karl can't seem to get out of it.

The only aspect of the book I had a problem with was that it was unrealistic. I know kids cheat, and they do it a lot. However, I don't think many are using methods like this. If they were smart enough to organize like this and get it to work, they probably don't have to cheat in the first place. Furthermore, the VP expelling people for cheating was also a stretch. A policy like that would never fly. At the very least, the parents would need to get a lawyer and there would be an expulsion hearing, but that didn't seem to happen here. These sorts of things made the book impossible to enjoy thoroughly.

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15. The Pull of the Ocean *****

Mourlevat, Jean-Claude. The Pull of the Ocean. Text copyright 1999, Translation copyright 2006.

This book won the French Prix Sourcieres and won the American Library Association's Batchelder Award.

This was a great book but it is only appropriate for the middle grades, not high school.

This novel is basically a re-telling of Tom Thumb in modern times. Tom Thumb is a midget/dwarf. He comes from a family of 7 children-- all of the sets of twins except from himself. His father is abusive and his mother is useless. Tom doesn't speak so everyone thinks he is stupid. He is, however, the smartest one in the bunch and he talks with his eyes and body. One night Tom warns his brothers they are in dangers from their parents and they run away.

The novel is written from multiple points of view, from the social worker that brings Tom home from school at the beginning of the story, people they encountered along the way, and all of the siblings themselves. This change in point of view makes the book interesting and keeps it flowing. It wouldn't be nearly as interesting and compelling if it were told from only one character's perspective.

Highly recommended for middle school.

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16. The Missing Girl ****

Mazer, Norma Fox. The Missing Girl. 2008.

This was a disturbing book. The chapters alternate between five sisters and a man who is obsessed with them. The sisters are having lots of problems at home-- their father is out of a job and the mother is making the only income. She is stressed out and they have no money. The family makes the decision to send one of the sisters to an Aunt so she can help out and take the burden off the family. Meanwhile, a pedophile is obsessed with the girls. He looks forward to seeing them every day. His only problem is choosing which of them he wants. They are all enticing to him in one way or another.

The pedophilia angle can be disturbing to some readers so I would urge caution for readers that might be sensitive to this sort of thing. Otherwise, this was a great book and I had a hard time putting it down.

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17. Ask Me No Questions ***

Budhos, Marina. Ask Me No Questions. 2006.

This book received a starred review in Booklist and has received favorable reviews just about everywhere else. Despite that, I found I had a hard time getting into this book. Nadira and her sister Aisha are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. After 9/11 they got caught up in a situation where the government was trying to roung up alll potential enemies. They got caught as they tried to escape to Canada. Their father was thrown into prison and left there for questioning. Nadhira and her sister are left to try to help get their father out of prison and get permission to stay in the country despite their illegal status. I found the ended really implausable. I think if the ending was more realistic I would have enjoyed the book a lot better.

I think teens may enjoy the book, particularly those that are interested in the issue of the Patriot Act or illegal immigration.

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18. Repossessed ****

Jenkins, A.M. Repossessed. 2007.

This is a Printz Honor Book.

What I love about Jenkins is how her books all seem to be so different from each other. It must keep things interesting for her as a writer.

As the book begins, Shaun is about to walk in front of a truck and die. Kiriel, who comes from Hell, has been observing people for some time, and Shaun in particular. Sick of his job in Hell, he takes over Shaun's body just before he is about to die. He is then himself, but in Shaun's body. He takes over his life, but only better. He is actually nice to his annoying brother. He is nice to all of the kids at school. He dresses decently. He does his homework. His one goal now that he is a human it so have sex, specifically with Lane, who he finds beautiful but no one else does.

This book was amusing. It's funny to have a person take over the body of a teenager and to see what his reactions are to the whole thing. Highly recommended for any readers, but male readers in particular.

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19. Catalyst ****

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Catalyst. 2002.

This was a great book about a girl whose life seems to be falling apart. Kate lives with her brother Toby and her minister father. She seems to take on a lot of the responsibility around the house. Her father means well but seems to always be busy with things. She is really stressed out about college. She only applied to MIT and is eagerly awaiting their decision.

Teri, an unpopular girl at school, steals Kate's watch. Kate follows her home and discovers that Teri's mom is unable to do much for herself and Teri is the one taking care of things at her house too. Then her house burns down. Her father lets Teri and her little brother move in which really gets Kate's blood boiling. She has to give up her bed and can't sleep for all the snoring.

I won't give anything more away about the plot. This was a great book about a high strung high school student, which is something many readers will relate to.

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20. Feathers ****1/2

Woodson, Jacqueline. Feathers. 2007.

This is a Newbery Honor Book.

This was a great book. I normally only read books aimed at HS students, but this book was a Newbery Honor book so I thought I would read it anyway. No high school student would be interested in this book at all, but younger readers would.

Frannie is going through a lot. She lives on the side of town where all of the black people live. Her brother is deaf. Her mother has lost babies in the past and is pregnant again. A new white boy moves in and is the only white boy at their school. Because of his long hair, people start calling him Jesus Boy. Immediately, some of the school bullies start to give him a hard time. Frannie feels a connection to him but doesn't want to get involved and become a target of the bullies herself.

Frannie is an honest and flawed character. She is easy to like and her story should keep readers interested.

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21. Before I Die ****

Downham, Jenny. Before I Die. 2007.

I read this book because it's on the ALA's Best Books for YAs List. In fact, it's in the Top 10. After reading the book and finding it lacking, I looked at some reviews of it on Amazon. It seems that people either really love this book or, like me, don't understand what all the hype is about. I wanted to give three stars, but given the fact that so many people loved it, I decided to bump it up an extra star. I figure dozens of other people have loved it, so I should take that into account.

The main character, Tessa, is dying from Leukemia. She has a list of 10 things that she wants to accomplish before she dies. Some of these things include having sex, falling in love, getting her parents back together and breaking the law. She manages to fulfill all of the things on her list, or least tries.

The book might be rather depressing to some, although I didn't think so. I saw it as a positive story, at least insofar as Tessa was trying to make something positive out of the little time she had left. I think the problem I had with the book is the characters, Tessa in particular. They were unlikable. Tessa isn't really likable at all. Her best friend Zoey seems like a bad influence. Her mother is a loser. Her father is a main character, but I didn't get a sense of anything about him. I think, since Tessa is the narrator, that it's all about her and she doesn't bother with telling us much about him and his life. I don't think she even bothers to know what her father's life is like outside of taking care of her. I know she is dying but she seems awfully self-centered which makes her unlikable to me.

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22. American Born Chinese ****1/2

Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. 2006.

I am a little late to the party as far as this book is concerned. It won all sorts of awards and accolades and I am just now getting to it. In my defense, I am not really into graphic novels, so I put it off for that reason.

Anyway, the book starts out with appears to be disconnected stories. Then, as the book comes to an end, the different story lines come togehter and it all makes sense. The story primarily revolves around Jin Wang, a new student in school. He was born in America, but is of Chinese decent. He eventually befriends a new Taiwanese kid who is, as he calls it, fresh off the boat. They stay friends all through school until there is a fight that splits them up. Meanwhile, we hear the story of the Monkey King. We also have a story line with a white boy that is followed around by his embarassing Chinese relative who is a total stereotype. It's a little hard to explain the book, honestly.

Fans of graphic novels would enjoy it. Anyone looking to read something different should check this one out. It's definitely different and interesting.

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23. If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where's My Prince? ***1/2

Kantor, Melissa. If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where is my Prince? 2005.

I could tell you what was going to happen in this book right from the beginning. This is stereotypical YA lit. In a nutshell: Girl's mother dies. Girl's father remarries a woman with two children. Father moves them across the country. Stepmother treats her unfairly. In the end, they come to an understanding and live happily ever after. And, on top of that, there is the "new girl" stereotype on top of it. She falls for the most popular guy in school, he falls for her and now she is instantly popular too, even though no one would talk to her just last week.

There is nothing new here, but it's still entertaining if if you are into this sort of thing and haven't read it 20 times already. The good thing about this one is that Lucy is pretty cool and readers might enjoy her sarcastic wit.

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24. The UnResolved ****

Welsh, T.K The UnResolved. 2006.

I have to admit that I had never heard of the boat accident that is detailed in this book, despite the fact that it was apparently a huge disaster. The book in narrated by Mallory who is dead. She begins by telling us how she died--her and her family were on a boat headed to Long Island for a church activity in 1904. She meets Dustin in an empty room so they can kiss. While they are in the room, a group of boys catch them and a bit of a scuffle occurs. Shortly thereafter, the boat catches fire.

Mallory dies in the blaze and then sticks around, visiting her family, Dustin, and those that are partially responsible for the wreck. There is plenty of blame to go around but no one seems to be able to figure out the truth. The grieving familes, thirsty for revenge, want revenge on Dustin, who they believe to be at fault.

This was a great book. It's another in a recent trend in YA lit in which a dead person narrates the story. This one was very well done and I recommend it for fans of historical fiction.

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25. Persepolis *****

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. 2003.

I'm a little embarassed to admit it has taken me this long to read this fabulous graphic novel. I saw an advertisement for the new movie and it reminded me that I had been meaning to read it for years.

This is an autobiographical work about Marjane's childhood in Iran. It starts out with her going to school as a carefree girl, and then shows the changes that occurred in the country as it came under religious rule. All of the girls had to wear the chador and follow other Islamic rules. This was a hard time for Marjane's family since they were a modern family and opposed the new regime. Then the war with Iraq occurred which made things even more unsafe for the citizens of Iran.

I think even people that aren't generally interested in graphic novels would enjoy this book.
Not only is there now a movie version of this book but there is a sequel entitled Persepolis 2.

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