Star Wars: Ahsoka by EK Johnston – A Book Review

Perhaps the greatest Star Wars character to never actually appear in one of the films, Ahsoka Tano broke out during the animated Clone Wars series.  If you’re unfamiliar with her, she once served as Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan.  She and Anakin had an incredible bond, and when she left the Jedi Order, it broke Anakin’s heart.  In fact, her departure coupled with the perceived betrayal of the Jedi absolutely led to his downfall.  One must wonder if he could have resisted the Dark Side had Ahsoka been with him.

Nonetheless, due to her break with the Jedi, she escaped Order 66.  Ahsoka picks up later after Palpatine took control.  Now permanently on the run, Ahsoka must use an alias wherever she goes and downplay her connection to the Force.  She’s a hero at heart, though, and like her Master, she can’t help but get involved when she must.

The first half of the book is comparable to the other Star Wars books in that she lands on a remote planet, she meets characters of no real significance, and a small–ultimately inconsequential–operation begins against the Empire.  I felt real disappointment at this premise because everything felt rather … unimportant.  The beginning of this book seemed entirely forgettable.

But then the second half of the book happened … and I couldn’t put it down.

I won’t spoil it for you, but Ahsoka leads directly into both the cartoon Rebels and Star Wars:  A New Hope … maybe even Rogue One.  Want to know why the Sith’s lightsabers are red?  Want to know how Ahsoka ended up with white lightsabers?  Want to know how Ahsoka became Fulcrum?  Want to witness the beginning of the Inquisitors?  Ever wondered about Bail Organa’s role with the Rebels?  The second half of the book answers all of those questions and sets Ahsoka up for big, big things.

Johnston understands Ahsoka’s character well, especially in terms of where she was in Clone Wars and where she’s going in Rebels.  I’m not sure how I’d feel about it without  having watched both cartoons, but as it stands, Ahsoka ended up being incredibly satisfying.

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Books To Win Over Your Reluctant Reader

I have the privilege of teaching a reading class primarily aimed at seniors in high school.  It is by and large a free-choice reading class, meaning students choose to read whatever they desire.  If a student doesn’t like a book, they are welcome to put it down and pick up a different one.

Some of the students come in excited with a long list of what they hope to get through during the semester.  Other students are not so excited to read, and those are the students I most enjoy.  I love those students in particular because I get the honor of helping them to rediscover their love of reading.  It all comes down to finding the right kind of book for them.  Once they discover their niche, they are off to the races.   I’ve had so many tell me that they like to read again because of the class, and I tell you what, you haven’t experienced joy until you’ve heard a student say that to you.

Listed below are books that always prove to be winners with my reluctant readers.  I’ve tried to divide them up by very general genres, and I’ve included a very simple summary.  Though this is but a small sample of literally hundreds I could recommend, I hope one of these will win over the reluctant reader in your life!

YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE

Monster – Written from his perspective, Steve is a sixteen-year-old on trial for the murder of a drugstore owner. He says he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and had nothing to do with the killing.  The prosecution refers to him as a “monster,” and the book features Steve struggling to deal with the awful stress of an uncertain future.

Eleanor & Park– Perhaps the most authentic book I’ve ever read about high school romance, this book is funny and heartwarming while still retaining an edge.  It perfectly captures the very adult emotions teenagers experience while still having to abide by their parents’ rules.  Best of all?  It never veers into the dreaded world of “sappy.”

Touching Spirit Bear – Cole, a juvenile delinquent, accepts an offer to follow a Native American practice and live isolated on a deserted island rather than face jail time.  Angry, unreasonable, and bitter, Cole respects nothing until he chances upon the Spirit Bear, a legendary creature that will inspire Cole to change after a violent encounter.

Tears Of a Tiger – When a high school superstar dies in a drunken car accident, his best friend Andy, who drove the vehicle, must deal with the guilt of the horrible tragedy.  It has one of the most shocking endings students will ever read.

The Fault In Our Stars – Though this book deals with very serious subject matter — teenage cancer — John Green somehow blends great humor into his characters.  In order to deal with terminal cancer, the teens make fun of it and riff on it to no end.  A romance ensues, but beware, there can be no happy ending with terminal illness.  Fast, funny, and thought-provoking, this one is always in demand.

Crank –  A brutal book depicting the depravities of meth addiction, this is the story of Kristina, a good girl who becomes addicted and develops a split personality to handle the awful things she does for meth. This book is graphic and pulls no punches, so be aware.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

Batman: Year One – This gritty book depicts Batman during his first year as a crime fighter.  He is raw, inexperienced, and at his most vulnerable.  Fans will love the moody art, quick dialogue, and grim characterization.

American Born Chinese – This book blends Chinese Mythology into a young boy’s life as he must deal with racism we rarely take into account.  Insightful with great swatches of humor, this one very much will make a student look at life a little differently.

Wolverine – Students love this graphic novel because it finally provides Wolverine’s origin story.  They will be shocked to learn Logan’s life is far different, and longer, than anyone expected!

Kingdom Come – Set in the near future, this beautifully painted graphic novel deals with older classic heroes like Batman and Superman coming to terms with new, violent, immoral crime fighters.  Poignant in today’s world, this story delves deeply into the problem of how far one should go to save people from themselves.

The Dark Knight Returns – This graphic novel changed the entire industry.  It imagines a retired Bruce Wayne in his sixties who decides to put on the cape and cowl again.  However, he is not nearly as fast, agile, or reflexive, and so he must learn to become a whole new Batman if he expects to survive.  Dark, violent, and generally unsettling, this story illustrates a side of Batman never before seen.

All-Star Superman – This book will delight even the most casual of Superman fans.  Grant Morrison has taken the best Superman stories since 1938, put a modern twist on them, and connected them into one linear, cohesive story.  The art is exquisite, and this Superman is charismatic, fun, and a true hero.

NOVELS

World War Z – Written as nonfiction, this book will make you forget it’s all make-believe.  Delivered as a series of eye-witness accounts, field reports, and interviews, you will begin to think this book really happened and get more and more unsettled with each page.

Gone Girl – If you’ve seen the movie, the huge surprise is already ruined, but this book is fantastic because it keeps you guessing and virtually none of the characters have any redeeming qualities.  It’s a little bit of a thriller, a little bit of a mystery, and it will keep a student riveted throughout.  Be aware, however, it is written for adults.

The Gunslinger – Part one of Stephen King’s epic series, Roland is a cowboy with a six-shooter forged from Excalibur who must make his way to the Dark Tower in order to restore order to reality.  As the series goes on, it weaves its way into other Stephen King books, and at one point Stephen King becomes a character himself!  This series is amazing because once reluctant readers get into it, the enormous size of the books don’t bother them at all!

The Martian – Set in the near future, Mark Watney is left behind after a manned mission to Mars.  Much of the book is from Watney’s perspective, and it’s fascinating to watch him run though the math and mechanics to keep himself alive on an inhospitable planet.  Though the book is very heavily rooted in science, Watney’s sense of humor as he’s describing it makes it very entertaining to read.  This is definitely a feel good book and a must-read.

American Gods – This novel imagines the gods of the old world covertly battling the gods of the new.  While it can be something of a crash course in world mythology, at its core the book is about Shadow, and ex-convict trying to find peace with his past, his present, and also his future.  Lovers of the fantasy genre will adore the scope and nuance of this masterfully written work.

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Don’t let the title fool you, this is the absolute best time travel story that I’ve ever read.  The author goes to great lengths to make sure everything is connected, logical, and executed well.  The main character is genetically predisposed to lose his place in time, and in doing so, meets his wife as a little girl.  But then a question arises … does he condition her to one day be his wife, or, when she meets the young adult version of him for the first time, does she condition him to be her husband?  The complexities of cause and effect mixed with potent emotional moments between man and wife make for a wonderfully written, highly engaging read.

 

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – A Book Review

A friend recommended I give We Were Liars a read, and so I promptly picked it up at my local library.  I’m unfamiliar with E. Lockhart, but the blurbs, particularly John Green’s, encouraged me.

Most of We Were Liars captivates.  Our main character and narrator, Cadence, belongs to an old old money family and she, along with her cousins, spend their summers on their own private island off the coast of Massachusetts.  Something happened to Cadence on that island, though, something that resulted in amnesia, crippling migraines, and depression.  The majority of the book sets up the mystery, providing clue after clue as it races along, and it is difficult to put down.

However, the ending fell a little flat with me.  Without giving anything away, I felt the conclusion switched direction without much precedence and that abrupt shift in tone disheartened me.

We Were Liars features young adult characters.  They are filthy rich thanks to their racist grandfather and probably too clever.  We even have a festering teenage romance between Cadence and Gat, an Indian cousin who is not really blood-related and forever falls into the category of “outsider.”

But despite some of the genre’s cliches, I must admit the sparse language, short page count, and mysterious plot kept me turning page after page.  I think some will love this book and most will like it very much.  Sure, the ending disappointed me, but the book as a whole proved satisfying.

Though, admittedly, I think John Green may have been a little too generous.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green – A Book Review

The Fault In Our Stars is a must-read, and I don’t use that term lightly.

There are some books that simply must be experienced, and this is one of them.  From now on, when anyone asks me for a book recommendation, this book will be at the top of my list.  I say this not because it changed my life—it didn’t.  But, as an avid reader, this book resonated with me so deeply that it will forever be ingrained as a part of my existence.

The story is all too real.  A sixteen year old with terminal cancer meets a contemporary who happens to have been cured of his cancer.  They hit it off immediately, and she introduces him to a book that she loves, and he falls in love with it, too, as well as the girl.  Of course, falling in love with someone who has terminal cancer is a complicated situation at best.  Before long they take it upon themselves to reach out to the author of their favorite book, and the result is not exactly what they expected.  Furthermore, as one would imagine with a book featuring cancer afflicted characters, heartbreak ensues, but not necessarily in the way most readers predict.

Green’s teenagers are precocious, witty, and downright hilarious.  This is a difficult juxtaposition for many readers because these characters, for the most part, do not expect to live normal lives or, in some cases, to live at all.  It feels inappropriate to laugh at things these characters say and do, but I think that’s the point Green is trying to make.  Life is horrible, wonderful, and everything in between, and when we’re not crying, we’re laughing.  The teens pull no punches, they accept their reality, and they force the reader to make peace with their burden as well.

Green has written a book unlike any other I’ve ever read, and I’ve read quite a few.  At one moment he had me rolling, the next he had me nearly in tears.  The Fault In Our Stars never felt completely realistic only because the characters—Hazel, Augustus, Isaac, and both sets of parents—were too charismatic to be real.  They leapt off the page and demanded to become a part of my everyday life.  I struggled with this, because I don’t know anyone quite as charming, funny, or quick on their feet as these characters.  But, that’s also what makes them so utterly lovable.  They are not real, and so they are allowed to say the exact right thing at the exact right time.  They are welcome to charm the heck out of us.  A book like this is meant to be magical in many ways, and tragic in others.  After all, nearly all of the characters are made to suffer, so why shouldn’t they get to go down as some of the most dynamic literary figures to have ever existed upon the page?  Why can’t they be the coolest kids in the room?

I am a married thirty-six year old father of two, an English teacher, an author, and I generally don’t read much young adult literature.  With all that being said, The Fault In Our Stars is now counted among my favorite books and I urge you to read it as soon as possible.