Five books to read over spring break

WSS reporter Edward Keen ‘20 recommends five of his favorite novels to check out during the approaching week-long break.

Spring break is on the horizon, and soon students will be dismissed from their mountains of schoolwork and exams to take a week off and relax. While many may prefer to use this time to gain some extra sleep or binge watch a new show on Netflix, this allotted time gives the perfect opportunity for those who have stopped reading due to the stress of high school to take a nosedive into a good book. WSS recommends five novels to try out during this vacation.

“Jumper” by Steven Gould

“Jumper” is a prominent example of why to never judge a book by its cover. At a glance, it looks exactly like every other young adult science-fiction superpower novel: a teenager suddenly feels a discrepancy within himself and discovers that he has attained a remarkable ability for his using. In this case, it is the ability to teleport and go from one place to another in the blink of an eye. From here, one may expect it to turn into a page-turner, high-octane adventure story, with action sequences at every turn and a whole lot of fun sci-fi giddiness. This doesn’t even come close to describing “Jumper.” Rather, it is a grounded story of a boy trying to run away from his old life and start a new one. David Rice, the protagonist, is constantly abused by his alcoholic father, and already plans on ditching him when this teleportation power emerges. But that’s all his power is: a device to push David’s story along and add more complications to his life. For that reason, I admired “Jumper,” because the author took an overused genre trope and spun up a personalized, unique tale with it that doesn’t hesitate to address real life issues.

“I Hunt Killers” by Barry Lyga

One recurring element that has popped up in cinema and novels alike is the subject of serial killers. More specifically, exploring the lives of the infamous wrongdoers and trying to dig into their subconscious to uncover why they did what they did. In “I Hunt Killers,” readers are not taken into the mind of a serial killer, but into the mind of someone else entirely: the serial killer’s son. Jazz Dent, the 17-year-old estranged son of the notorious mass-murderer Billy Dent, lives a challenged life. Although he wants to fit in with his peers and throw his family reputation away, memories of his father training him in his childhood flit in his memory, which makes Jazz believe that one day a subconscious part of him will take over and lead to him following his father’s footsteps. As you can tell, it is the quite the dilemma, and Lyga makes it work splendidly by combining the lively, teenage psyche with the troubling aspects of his parenthood. It’s written in a third-person point of view, yet functions as well as it would’ve from a first person perspective. There was quite a bit more detailed gore than I was expecting from a novel officially categorized as young adult, so keep that in mind if you are considering reading “I Hunt Killers.” If you are a squeamish person, perhaps it would be best to give it a pass, but if you are interested in the concept and are fine with some necessary bloodshed, “I Hunt Killers” is definitely worth a read.

“The Knife of Never Letting Go” by Patrick Ness

Out of the 70 or so books I have read in the past year, “The Knife of Never Letting Go” is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive. The story takes place in the city of New World, a planet that was inhabited by humans decades prior to the start of the novel. The entirety of the population have long since been inflicted with the Noise, which allows every person to read another person’s thoughts. Todd Hewitt, a 12-year-old boy, discovers a long-held secret that forces him to go on the run from his home and discover the inexplicable nature of his world. Frankly, it isn’t even the plot that makes “Knife” unique, nor is it the worldbuilding. An ingredient that allows it to stand out is the writing. Hewitt, who narrates the novel, is illiterate, so the story is interwoven with purposeful grammatical and spelling errors. It genuinely reads like it is from his own mind. Furthermore, author Patrick Ness experiments with different text fonts and sizes to formulate the novel. In scenes where the Noise is being exhibited, we see layers of words clumped together abstractly. This siphons the effectiveness of the plot upward. Finally, Ness seamlessly incorporates powerful themes – war, terrorism and privacy, among others – without explicitly forcing them. They synthesize naturally with the events of the story. Altogether, I highly recommend giving “The Knife of Never Letting Go” a shot no matter what your preferred genres are. It’s undoubtedly a novel for anyone interested in seeing an author take a variety of risks in his writing.

“Railhead” by Philip Reeve

“Railhead” is a brilliant sci-fi cyberpunk blend from the mind of Philip Reeve, who previously authored “Mortal Engines.” Set in an intergalactic empire centuries in the future, the main form of transportation is otherworldly trains that pass from one planet to another in the blink of an eye. Zen Starling is a self-proclaimed ‘railhead’, meaning he is obsessively fascinated with the railroad system. One day, he is cornered by an enigmatic outlaw who pushes him to partake in a heist aboard the most widespread train in the galaxy. The mission leads to an action-packed, mysterious journey throughout the solar system. With worldbuilding that rivals the likes of the “Star Wars” saga, a fascinating political system sprinkled in and an endless sense of imagination that runs amok, Reeve further proves to be an adept writer of anything fantasy. So many ideas in “Railhead” feel implausible or even childish; for example, several of the “characters” in the story are the trains, of which can talk and interact with their inhabitants, yet Reeve actually lets you feel emotionally invested in them — seriously. You would have to be a very talented writer to allow a reader to feel emotion for a talking train of all things, yet Reeve pulls it off considerably well. The same applies for many other concepts scattered throughout the tale as well. So even if you weren’t thoroughly impressed with “Mortal Engines,” “Railhead” is unequivocally worth reading.

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews

First and foremost, I will say that “Me and Earl and the Dying GIrl” is a very subjective novel, meaning not everybody will get a kick out of it. The humor is crude at times, and the amount of emotional beats in the story isn’t vast. The story follows Greg Gaines, a hotheaded teen who aspires to be a screenwriter in the future, but knows this will never happen. At the end of his senior year, his mother tells him that Rachel, a former companion of his, has been diagnosed with leukemia and thereby forces Greg to interact with her. That’s about as deep as the plot gets. The story is told from Greg’s perspective, switching between his time with Rachel, scenes set in his high school (if you’ve ever seen a typical high school film, then you know what to expect here) and flashes to his faltering film career with his friend Earl. Like I said, it’s not a very heart-wrenching story, and some readers will be ticked off from the lack of emotional complexity given the subject matter. But taken as a whole, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is a genuinely humorous story with a painfully relatable narrator, a unique storytelling approach and an abundance of clever happenings with the characters. If you go in expecting something along the lines of “The Fault in our Stars,” then you will certainly be dissapointed, so know what you are going in for prior to reading.