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By Arthur Miller

crucible-picDrama can be a powerful tool in the right hands. For proof of this, one need look no further than Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” a play that still provokes controversy more than 60 years after it was written. Premiering on Broadway in 1953, “The Crucible” met with mixed reviews, but after a Tony Award for Best Play and revisions to the production, it became a staple of the dramatic canon. Today, it’s frequently taught in high schools.

A crucible is a vessel in which elements may be melted or otherwise tried by extremely high temperatures, and the term is often used as a metaphorical representation of any place of testing or trial. Miller’s play is set in colonial Massachusetts in the context of the infamous Salem witch trials. When the curtain opens, the town is in a state of disturbance due to mysterious illnesses suffered by children of the region. Among those afflicted is the daughter of Reverend Parris, Salem’s minister. Parris’s glimpse of his slave girl Tituba, his niece Abigail, and some other young women dancing in the forest leads the deeply religious townspeople to fear witchcraft.

Abigail binds her cohorts to secrecy but points her finger at Tituba, who under interrogation not only confesses to witchcraft but also incriminates several other women from the village. Hysteria grows among the townspeople, leading quite literally to an all-out witch-hunt in Salem.
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By Donita K. Paul

9780310735809(Disclaimer: The reviewer has a professional relationship with the author.)

In her new Realm Walkers series, Donita K. Paul is building an interesting new fantasy world in which realms are stacked on top of one another like pancakes. They’re not different dimensions nor different planets, but each realm has its own government, people, and character, and the only way to travel from realm to realm is through portals.

Which is where the realm walkers come in. Only a few people are able to see the portals, some of which seem to be permanent, some of which come and go as they please, and some of which can be summoned when you need them. These few people with the ability to see—and call—portals are trained as realm walkers and are guided by the realm walker guild, the only governing body with authority in all realms. But in recent years the guild has become more and more evil and corrupt, and only a few noble realm walkers remain.

Fortunately, two of these noble realm walkers have raised our hero, Cantor. As “One Realm Beyond opens, Cantor has finally reached his initiation and sets off to find his “constant,” the shape-shifting dragon companion who will accompany him on all his adventures as they travel from realm to realm and right wrongs.

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Click here to hear Valen Caldwell discuss these two books with Hayley Schoeppler, Amos Peck, and Grace Olson of Redeemed Reader. And if you and your family did the Summer Reading Challenge, go here to read about how you can enter your child in the drawing for an Amazon gift card!
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By E. Lockhart

downloadHave you ever slept so hard that when the alarm clock or the telephone has managed to penetrate your slumber and prod you erect, you still find yourself stumbling through your morning rituals with one foot in reality and the other still in the dream world?

That feeling pervades much of the atmosphere of E. Lockhart’s bestselling novel “We Were Liars.” Partially because of her amnesia, and partially because of the drugs she is on for her continual headaches, the narrator, Cadence, tells her story like one emerging from a nightmare that she cannot quite remember, yet which is slowly becoming clearer, one memory at a time.
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By Gayle Forman

ifistay(Note: This review contains major spoilers.)

Even though we know intellectually that life is temporary and that death can come at any time to us or to those around us, we tend to have certain expectations about how our lives should play out. Parents and siblings, for example, are supposed to be there to watch us grow up, get married, and bounce our kids on their knees, not be ripped away from us tragically, leaving us alone in the world.

This was 17-year-old Mia’s mindset, too, until a traffic accident claimed her parents and her brother and left her battered body in a coma. Gayle Forman's “If I Stay” tells the story of how Mia's life is suddenly torn from her, leaving her hovering between worlds.
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Our own Valen Caldwell wrote the introduction for these two entries in our Summer Reading Challenge. Visit Redeemed Reader to read her take on them!
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By Harper Lee

9780060935467To Kill a Mockingbird” is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, first published in 1960. It is the only novel written by Alabaman Nelle Harper Lee, and achieved such success that it was made into an Oscar-winning film in 1962 and led to Lee’s receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” begins innocuously enough as a coming-of-age story told by a little girl named Jean Louise Finch, known as Scout. It is set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, in the early 1930s. The book revolves around the lives of Scout, her older brother Jem, and their lawyer father Atticus. The title is drawn from Atticus’s instruction upon giving his children air rifles: “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” As he explains that mockingbirds hurt no one and bring only joy to those around them, the concepts of prejudice, justice, and innocence emerge as the principal themes.

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By Jennifer E. Smith

Happy(Note: This review contains spoilers.)

One of the most popular and enduring plots in the history of romantic comedy goes something like this: Boy meets girl via letter; boy and girl don't know each other's real identities; hilarity (and, eventually, romance) ensues. The best-known modern version is the 1998 film "You've Got Mail," which traces its pedigree back through Broadway's "She Loves Me" (1963) and Hollywood's "In the Good Old Summertime" (1949) and "The Shop around the Corner" (1940), to a 1937 Hungarian play called "Parfumerie."

Now Jennifer E. Smith has added a few twists to this reliable old plot and fashioned it into a teen romance called "This Is What Happy Looks Like." Read More >
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This post at Redeemed Reader contains both the introduction to C. S. Lewis's "Out of the Silent Planet," written by Amos Peck, and our podcast about the book.
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By Katherine Rundell

RooftoppersOn the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.

So begins the story of Sophie, the plucky, clever, brave, vulnerable heroine of “Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. Sophie is found by Charles Maxim, a survivor of the same shipwreck, and he names her, takes her in, and raises her in his own eccentric way. Their love for each other is true and fierce and beautiful, even if their life is delightfully messy.

Sophie adamantly believes her mother also survived the shipwreck despite all of the adults in her life, even Charles, telling her it is almost impossible. Sophie clings to the almost and insists that if her mother’s survival is only almost impossible, than it is still possible. When she reaches the age of 12 and the British government decides it is no longer appropriate for Charles to raise her on his own, the two flee to Paris to look for Sophie’s mother with the help of a single clue: the address of the shop Sophie’s cello case came from.
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By Erin McCahan

McCahanNavigating the teenage years is hard. It’s especially hard for 15-year-old Josie Sheridan, who consistently finds herself caught between worlds that clash: high school and college, boyfriends and break-ups, and family and friends. How does Josie handle the war between worlds? She attempts to assimilate into whatever group she finds herself in at the time. “Love and Other Foreign Words” by Erin McCahan chronicles Josie’s discovery of the worlds around her, and finally, her discovery of a world of her own.

Josie has an impressive IQ—so impressive that she is dual-enrolling in college and high school classes by the time she is a freshman in high school. Josie’s intellect doesn’t simply manifest itself in her grades; it fuels a wry sense of humor that often gets a stern look from her parents, and a laugh from the reader. Most importantly, Josie uses her intellect to help her translate the various languages she encounters in each of the groups.
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As you may recall, we were going to cover E. K. Johnston's "The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim" for our Summer Reading Challenge, but then changed our minds over content issues. However, we went ahead and did a podcast on it anyway! (Call it an auxiliary podcast.) Click here to hear our discussion about some ways that families can handle YA books like "Owen" that present particular spiritual and moral challenges.
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