Secret Society by Tom Dolby

First of all, you need to know right off the bat that I read the last sentence of Tom Dolby’s Secret Society and yelled, “You have got to be kidding me!”  This ends on  a cliffhanger and I immediately went to the internet to see if there will be a secret.  According to Tom Dolby’s blog, he is working on the next Secret Society book as we speak.  Phew!

Books about New York City’s Upper East Side teens are a guilty pleasure of mine.  (So are TV shows about the same- I adore Gossip Girl and even watched a few episodes of that painfully awful Prep show on Bravo).  I picked this one up as a fluff read over the Christmas break because I knew I would enjoy it.   I have to admit that I didn’t love the whole thing.  At times the characters felt more like archetypes then real people.  Because the point of view switched between the four main characters, I felt like I didn’t really get to know any of them.  However, then I got to the last chapter.  BAM!  I could not put the book down and I am dying for the sequel now.

It’s hard to summarize this book.  Phoebe is the new girl at Chadwick School, having just moved to New York City with her artist mother. Lauren is one of the rich girls of Chadwick. However, she hides her family secret, the fact that her mother is a raging alcoholic and slowly losing all of her clients.  Then there are Nick and Patch.  Childhood friends who grew up in the same building, but worlds apart, they both attend Chadwick and have managed to stay close.   Nick’s family is wealthy and powerful, but he feels like a failure to them.  Patch lives downstairs in a tiny apartment with his grandmother. His mother is in a psychiatric institution and his father died when he was much younger.  He doesn’t have the money or power to make it big in society, so he hopes that his talent with film will land him a reality show.

When Nick, Lauren, and Phoebe receive mysterious text messages while clubbing, they find themselves being initiated into the Society.  Nick and Lauren have always heard rumors of this powerful and secret group, while Phoebe feels like an outsider in the wrong place.  While the initiation is strange and over-the-top, they learn that membership in the Society comes with great privileges.  Suddenly, Lauren’s jewelry line is picked up by a major designed, Nick gets hooked up with a major club promoter, and Phoebe gets an art show at a prestigious gallery.  But are the privileges worth the price?  When one Society member is found dead and another does missing, the three friends start their own investigation.

Meanwhile, Patch sets forth to infiltrate the Society, hoping to land his reality show pilot with any footage he shoots.  But will he survive his attempts?

Again, there were times when I felt this was slow-moving and almost like a copycat Gossip Girl. But I finished the book and really enjoyed it.  Secret Society is one of those like-it-but-don’t-like-it books.  Fans of Gossip Girl and The Luxe series will enjoy Secret Society, though I would recommend The Luxe series as better guilty pleasure books.

Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi

 Hurricane Song is a story about a father and son in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.  I picked this up off the new books display at the local library and wow.  This is a difficult book to read, but one that I imagine will become more popular as we move on from Hurricane Katrina.

Miles is living with his dad, a jazz musician, in New Orleans when Katrina hits.  They evacuate to the Superdome when their car breaks down on the freeway out of town.  Their experiences in the Superdome are absolutely horrific.  I found myself having to put the book down sometimes because it was so difficult to read.  Powerful and important, I can see this becoming a part of high school or college reading in the future, when the pain from Katrina isn’t so fresh.  

Be aware, this is not a middle grades book.  It is definitely YA, due to language and the things that Miles and his family experience.  I would even recommend this to adults, due to the power of Volponi’s descriptions of this national, natural disaster.

Hero Type by Barry Lyga

I have to admit that Barry Lyga’s previous books (The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and Boy Toy) never made it to the top of my TBR pile. However, the buzz had been steadily building around his latest offering, Hero-Type, and I was excited to receive a review copy from the publisher. It immediately went to the top of my TBR pile strictly based on the cover, which I loved. In a departure from my usual reading habits, I dove into the book before reading the blurbs on the back or the inside flap. And boy am I glad I did!

Kevin is a hero. Bonified, through and through, saving a girl’s life hero. When he attacked the Surgeon, a notorious rapist, he saved fellow classmate Leah from certain death. He receives a key to the city, a large reward, and a lot of fame. What he can’t do is get rid of the guilt he feels. “If they only knew….” he thinks. Why was he in the right place at the right time that day? Is he really a hero?  Or is he just a Hero-Type?

Rewards and gifts seem par for the course when you become a local and national hero. One of the best gifts is a majorly discounted car from the town mayor, who also owns the car lot. When Kevin brings his new ride him, his father notices two “Support the Troops” magnetic ribbons on the back bumper. He demands that Kevin remove them and throw them out. Kevin’s dad is an Army hero, even though he never discusses his experience. So when he demands that the useless ribbons be removed, Kevin does it without a second thought. Unfortunately, a reporter is hanging around trying to catch an interview with Kevin and snaps some pictures of his “unpatriotic” behavior. Soon enough, the pictures are picked up by the local and national media and Kevin is once again thrown into the limelight. But this time, he is reviled as a villain. From nobody, to hero, to villain in a matter of days.

It’s a furiously fast turnaround from “Local Teen Saves Life” to “Why Does Local Hero Hate America?”. Even faster is the turnaround at school. Kevin is worshipped one day and despised the next. But the worst part is that he starts to understand why his dad hates the magnetic ribbons. And Kevin agrees with him. Suddenly, he is spending his free time researching freedom of speech and flag-burning laws across the globe. And he is speaking out at school, which only leads to more threats and violence aimed at him.

But at least it keeps his mind off of what he did, the reason he was there to save Leah from the Surgeon.  The real reason…

Kevin isn’t a likeable character all the time. In fact, some of his actions are downright creepy. But he is real. Lyga accurately captures the insecure voice of a nobody, a high school loner. He struggles with his looks, his friends, his dark secrets, and fitting in at school. Lyga also draws the secondary characters very well, particularly Kevin’s friends Fam and Flip.

It’s hard to sum this book up in a short review. There are a lot of issues here- the true meaning of patriotism (which reminded me a bit of Avi’s Nothing But The Truth: A Documentary Novel), dealing with divorce, growing up, guilt, and more. But this isn’t a preachy book. Lyga never tells his readers what they should feel or believe. They struggle alongside Kevin to form their own views. There are no neat answers and Lyga makes that perfectly clear.


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