Book Review: The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir

Book Review by Ashley Huang

In its essence, The Martian is a tale of survival. A tale of survival on an icy desert with no capability to sustain complex life, that is. When most people hear The Martian, they think of the 2015 film starring Matt Damon. What’s less known is that the film is actually a film adaptation of the 2011 novel by Andy Weir. To skim, The Martian tells of the tale of abandoned crewmate and astronaut Mark Watney from the Ares 3 mission. Stranded on Mars, and believing that the entire Earth thinks he’s dead, Watney must use his wits and problem-solving skills to survive on the hostile planet. Throughout The Martian, Watney encounters numerous setbacks and struggles, but he persists and continues to find a way around the problem. From figuring out how to make water, to tending a potato farm, to finally contacting NASA, Watney amazed me throughout the entire novel. In my opinion, The Martian is just 369 pages of one big, nerdy adventure that will guarantee to make anyone laugh, then cry, then cheer.

What I first noticed about The Martian was its humor. Thinking back to when I watched the movie a few years back, I recall laughing my guts out at how hilarious it was. Turns out the book is just as funny. The very first page brings you RIGHT into the action, and you’re immediately drawn into the story. I believe for those who likes fast-paced novels, The Martian is perfect for you!

A warning: This book is for nerds and geeks! I’d say an entire quarter of the book is spent explaining math and scientific concepts. Weir has considered his audience and indeed dumbed down most of the science, but nevertheless, there were always big words floating around and briefly explained concepts that, I can imagine, won’t make perfect sense to your general reader. For example, when Watney begins tending his successful potato farm, Weir explains the mechanism and logic behind how Watney derived the water for the plants, as well as the biological need for bacteria in the soil. With my general high school education, I didn’t have too much of a problem following along with the math. But towards the end of the book, during (spoiler alert) NASA’s attempt to rescue Watney, a lot of talk on astrophysics is utilized, and I had a harder time following along. Although the “astronaut-lingo” used in the novel gives off a realistic vibe, I didn’t know what half the jargon meant! But I suppose the realistic aspect of The Martian plays a big role into its appeal. Mark Watney didn’t get blasted by giant meteors or abducted by aliens; his problems were very real and very realistic: accidently wiring up/plugging in the wrong tools/cords, unknowingly releasing a massive cloud of (highly flammable) hydrogen into his shelter, and being faced with the looming threat of a sandstorm, just to name a few. I am thoroughly impressed by the wit of Weir, him being able to cook up such impeccably accurate scenarios and solutions!

Overall, I loved this book. I love Mark Watney, who is now my new role model. Hilarious and smart, he will surely charm many readers to come. The heavy science did not make me feel like I was in a science-fiction novel, rather, I felt like I was in a nonfiction novel! I will remember The Martian when, years from now, a manned mission to Mars finally becomes a reality.


Book Review: Every Last Word

Every Last Word

Tamara Ireland Stone


Samantha McAllister has OCD. Not that hint of OCD that we all have that makes us make sure things are perfectly straight. Samantha has Purely-Obsessional OCD, and because of this, she is consumed by dark thoughts and worries that she can’t get rid of. No one knows except for her immediate family and her psychiatrist. Every Wednesday, Samantha gets to be Summer Sam for 60 minutes, a version of herself that she likes and feels comfortable in. She’s tried being Sam at school, but her friends just won’t accept it. They’re not the accepting type.

When Sam meets Caroline Madsen, she must keep this new quirky friend of hers a secret, otherwise she might become the quirky friend. Caroline takes Sam into Poet’s Corner, a hidden room beneath the school stage that is full of misfits like Caroline. Sam is taken by this close group of people, especially AJ, the good-looking, guitar playing guy who shows Sam a whole other side of herself. In this new group of friends, Sam feels more normal than she has ever felt… until something goes terribly wrong that makes her question her own sanity.

Every Last Word is the story of a girl who is attacked by her own thoughts every day and feels she has no place in this world of hers until one day she finds a place she truly belongs. You will cheer and cry for Sam, and while following her story, you will discover that love, friendship, and self-acceptance all come your way when you decide to be true to you, and no one else.

Book Review: How We Roll

How We Roll

Natasha Friend


Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that makes your hair fall out. It sucks. Especially during high school. When Quinn McAvoy’s hair starts falling out the summer before 8th grade, her whole life starts falling apart. She no longer fits in with her school, especially not with her friends. So when her family decides to move Gulls Head, Massachusetts, she has a chance to start over. A chance to start a new life.

On the first day of school, Quinn wears a wig to school. How would anyone know that that’s not her real hair? When the popular girls take her in as one of their own, Quinn thinks she may have finally found a place for herself in this new school, until a boy in a wheelchair turns her world upside down. Ever since his accident, Nick has had a hard time fitting in. When Quinn decides to become friends with him, she changes both their worlds for the better.

How We Roll tells the story of Quinn McAvoy, a girl with many things that go wrong in her life, including everyone finding out her secret, a brother who has autism, and friendship that could possibly fall apart at one touch until one day changes it all. How We Roll is a story of how to deal with whatever life throws your way, how one person can change your life, and how friendship will make you a better person.

Book Review: They Both Die at the End

They Both Die At the End

Adam Silvera


What would you do if you were told you were going to die today? When Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio receive a call telling them that they are going to die today, they both go looking for a new friend on the Last Friend App. In each other, they find themselves. They embark on a journey to figure out who they want to be on the last day of their lives.

They go places they never imagined that they would go, experience things they only dreamed about, and reconnect with some of the key people they were missing from their lives. They go on many adventures in the 22 hours between when they receive the alert that their last day has started, and the time when it all ends. When the conflict that started this all returns to do harm, Mateo and Rufus solve it like true heroes, then run off and discover what it feels like to have someone that will stay with them until the end, no matter how quickly that end comes.

In alternating chapters of Mateo’s, Rufus’, and connecting character’s perspectives, They Both Die at the End is a riveting tale about the ups and downs of life and the difference a true friend can make. When you read They Both Die at the End, you will be sure to cry, for this story of two friends who change each other’s worlds in one day will pull at your heartstrings the whole time you read it.

Book Review: American Radical

American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent

Book Review by Ashley Huang

American Radical is a memoir written by Tamer Elnoury, Muslim FBI agent who worked undercover within al Qaeda in 2012. For the sake of national security, Tamer is not his real name, rather, Tamer Elnoury is the persona of a wealthy Egyptian-American businessman who secretly believes in radical Islam, despises the West and hopes to wage jihad against them. In real life, Elnoury is a patriot who is proud of both the country he was born in (Egypt) and the country he grew up in (United States).

Elnoury worked in the drug narcotics unit for the first few years of his career in the ‘90s, where he was Rico Jordan and posed as a drug dealer to arrest other drug dealers within the slums of New York. Following September 11, he departed and switched over to the counterterrorism unit. Because of his appearance and heritage, he was a secret weapon the FBI had against ISIS, al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups. American Radical follows one of his biggest cases yet: Infiltrating a terrorist cell by befriending 30-year old Tunisian-Canadian Chiheb Esseghaier, essentially getting recruited by al Qaeda, and his task was to arrest the terrorist cell and foil their plans.

At first glance of this book, I anticipated that I would develop a ton of new insight on the counterterrorism efforts of the US, as well as how terrorist cells work, but I expected for it to be a boring read. What surprised me was how much of a page-turner American Radical proved to be. I was hanging on the edge of my chair the entire ride; I would describe this memoir as a roller coaster. It truly felt like I was in the middle of a blockbuster action movie! I am still completely AWESTRUCK at the fact that the events in this memoir happened in real life! Just recently too!

I’d say a big factor in what made American Radical such an exciting read was the humor. You’d expect a book written by an FBI agent to contain mostly documents, details, and facts, but American Radical was brimming with dark humor, snide remarks and smart comments. I found myself giggling every few pages or so. The abundance of humor in American Radical made it an easier read than I anticipated it to be. However, a warning to younger readers: Offensive language is utilized quite frequently!

As I read this memoir, there were many times when I just wanted to shove the book into a stranger and tell them “READ THIS BOOK, IT’S AMAZING!” A big reason for this is because in American Radical, Elnoury articulates and educates the reader on the religion of Islam, the perversion of it in radical terrorists, and how the world can be a better place with just education. In the end, after the case has been wrapped up, Elnoury reflects, “In order to defeat your enemy, you must first understand them. The problems start when every Muslim gets painted with the jihadi brush. Jihadis are using a peaceful religion to further their agendas. That’s not religion. It’s politics. The reality is that radical Islam is a very small minority that twists the Quran to fit its needs… Banning Muslims from the United States throws gas on the myth that the United States is at war with Islam. I believe there should be a strict vetting process, but our world becomes more dangerous when we shut our doors to immigrants.”

In a world where this topic is as relevant is ever, I am thankful that Elnoury stresses this in American Radical. I myself began reading this book with little knowledge on terrorism and how Islam plays a role in it, but when I finished it, I was filled with a sense of fulfillment: learning more about how the world works in the first step to making it a better place, as Elnoury insinuates in his memoir.

Finally, on the topic of education, I learned about how risky jobs like Elnoury’s is. Not only is it risky, putting potentially hundreds of lives and tens of thousands of dollars on the line, it’s also thankless. Tamer Elnoury is not his real name. TV interviews have disguised his face and modified his voice. Heros like Elnoury are seldom recognized, but in American Radical, he provides a real look into the courageous lives of those working for the sake of their country and its citizens, on the frontlines in the war against terror.

Book Review: Delirium

Delirium by Lauren Oliver is a dystopian fictional book that is filled with suspense, drama, and actions that can jeopardize Lena Haloway’s future. Lena Haloway lives in a world that considers love a dangerous disease, amor deliria nervosa. Electric walls entrap the citizens of Portland Maine, where food is rationed, boys and girls are segregated in schools, and youths have strict curfews. As adolescents grow into adults they are forced by the government to undergo a procedure called The Cure. The government controls everything. They control your job, your partner, and your whole future.

Lena looks forward to her 18th birthday, when she can have the mandatory procedure which she believes will make her safe. A few months after the procedure she undergoes an evaluation that will determine her partner. During the evaluations a herd of cows come stampeding into the buildings where Lena and a handful of other teenagers were getting evaluated. As Lena and every other human being in that building gawk in confusion, Lena glances at the observation deck in the evaluation room and sees a boy with golden brown hair and amber eyes standing there. As they lock eye contact he winks at her.

After the evaluations Lena feels confused and backstabbed as she finds out her best friend Hanna is breaking government rules and listening to illegal music and going to underground parties. Hanna invites Lena to the party, and she decides to go. When she attends the illegal party she runs into the boy from the evaluations, she learns that there is a whole other world beyond the electric walls of Portland, Maine. Lena doesn’t want to like Alex, but quickly catches amor deliria nervosa. As she learns more secrets about the city she grew up in, she has to quickly decide if she wants to stay or run to “The Wilds” with Alex.

-Lara M.

Book Review: Spoiled

By Ashley Huang

Image result for spoiled book

It’s the classic cliché: Sixteen-year old girl finds out she’s the daughter of a world-famous movie star, and overnight she finds herself living the Hollywood life, with fame, friends and fortune. In Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, down-to-earth Indiana girl Molly Dix, with her messy bangs and track and field t-shirts, finds out her biological father is Brick Berlin, one of the most well-known movie stars to walk the red carpet. But the story doesn’t follow the father-daughter relationship of Brick and Molly, rather, it follows the rollercoaster of a relationship between Molly and Brooke Berlin, the sixteen-
year old aspiring actress and daughter of Brick. With blonde curls, long legs, and a rosy pout, Brooke is used to the life of money and attention and can’t help but to scoff at the thought of some farmhouse countryside cowgirl being her new sister.

The narrative of Spoiled goes like this: alternating chapters between the point of view of Molly, then Brooke, then back to Molly, etc. What I really like about this book is seeing the different viewpoints between the two characters. For example, from Molly’s point of view, Brooke appears to be the haughty, rude and petty mean girl who knows nothing but spite. But from Brooke’s point of view, Molly is a sly intruder who’s out to compete for not just Brick Berlin’s attention, but the attention of the tabloids and media. I like this way of narration because seeing the perspective of both characters is thought-provoking it really makes you think about how every person has their own flaws, insecurities and struggles that you truly CAN’T tell just from outward appearance. I won’t give spoilers, but as much of a typical “unsympathetic mean girl” Brooke seemed, I saw myself siding with Brooke throughout the story, because she was faking a confident persona throughout the book but inside she’s actually a sensitive and thoughtful girl.

Spoiled is brimming with fun, games and jokes, but I believe that it dealt with a few profound themes. A major recurring theme was parents. The story starts off just months after the death of Molly’s mother. And the biggest void in Brooke’s life is her own missing mother, who left Brooke without ever looking back. Both girls were hurting. And some of the emotions they expressed (especially Brooke) were surprisingly raw and genuine.

Lastly, I loved reading Spoiled because for the most part, it was fun and colorful and took me to a reality that I could dream about. However, I couldn’t help but to be bothered by how… obvious the plot was structured. I felt the authors planned out a rigid recipe that must be followed and doing this made the characters seem rather fabricated at times. Also, Spoiled is written with cinematography very heavily in mind. I felt like I was watching a dramatic teen movie. This style of writing may be desired, based on personal predilection. I believe, having just read The Catcher in the Rye, I’m just not used to such obviously structured plotlines. Anyways, I recommend this book for any middle schooler who wants to dream of the life of a movie star. And for high schoolers, this book, while a little cliché, is a fun read and I actually couldn’t help but to notice the abundance of SAT vocabulary words in the dialogue!