5 Young Adult Book Reviews
For Your High Schooler 

Young Adult Book Reviews updated by Faustina Bowen on November 17, 2021.

Provided here are five young adult book reviews of interesting books for the summer: The Merchant of Venice, The Cross and the Guillotine, David Copperfield, Christopher Columbus, and The Scarlet Letter. 

#1 Young Adult Book Reviews: The Merchant Of Venice

Crack into the mind filled with humor and poetry of William Shakespeare by reading his work, The Merchant of Venice. This play follows Bassanio as he seeks to win the heart and hand of his love, Portia. Along the way, the reader also meets the merchant Antonio, who has made a horrible bargain with the miserly and blood-thirsty Jew, Shylock, to fit out his friend Bassanio.

Through these three characters, Shakespeare shows that human nature can take on a vast range from the heroic, to the wicked; between the reckless and the calculated.

This amusing fiction takes the reader primarily between the two cities of Venice and Belmont. In Venice, the play stays mostly in Shylock's house. While in Belmont, it resides in the palace of Portia. Although no particular date is spoken, the story appears to take place over three months early in the 17th century.

It is a story with complex characters and an even more complex plot. A good read for anyone who likes to think.

Loyal And Noble Bassanio

Although the title may serve to dissuade, the true central figure of The Merchant of Venice is the merchant's best friend. Bassanio is in love with the Princess Portia. However, in order for him to win his love, he must complete a certain challenge. 

The challenge consists of choosing out of three chests, the right one containing Portia's picture. There is just one problem: Bassanio does not have the means to fit himself out to impress a princess. Antonio, although he has no money himself, offers to get a loan for him.

When Bassanio realizes the stake may cost Antonio his life, Bassanio shows his nobility of spirit by begging Antonio not to do so much for him, although it may cost Bassanio a bride to persist in this persuasion. This act shows loyalty to an old friend because hanging on that stake was all Bassanio needed to win Portia.

Thus, Bassanio is not only noble in character but also loyal to his true friend. 

Reckless And Slightly Envious Antonio

The "merchant of Venice" Antonio possesses a very interesting character. He has a staunch brotherly love for Bassanio; a love which drives him to strike a reckless bargain with the man who will only be happy when Antonio is dead at his feet: Shylock the Jew.

Antonio despises Shylock. When he loses his bargain to Shylock and his friend to Portia, Antonio submits to his death, thinking that it would be better for him to die than to live knowing Bassanio loves Portia more than he loves Antonio. He even tells Bassanio, "I am a tainted wether of the flock, Meetest for death." (Act 4 Scene 1)

Although a much better person than Shylock, Antonio does not seem to possess many virtues. He is reckless in striking a bargain that could easily cost him his life. In the end, although he has been given back life, liberty, and livelihood, he still has an air of disappointment, disappointment that his own scheme has worked: Bassanio is married to Portia and cannot give him the same former attention as before.

The Catholic Girl's Guide

The Catholic Girl's Guide

Cold and Avenging Shylock

Shylock is the worst character met in The Merchant of Venice. This man is a cold-hearted and miserly Jew living in Venice. He finds Antonio very annoying and will do anything to avenge himself on the Venetian.

Shylock himself owes money, so it is not the money that he hungers after, but Antonio's life itself. Shylock is conquered at the end, but does not suffer the punishment he intended for Antonio.

Instead he is made to suffer a punishment which in his eyes is much more painful: complete confiscation of all his gold and property.

The Merchant Of Venice Bottom Line:

The Merchant of Venice is excellent as it has a very well thought out plot. Although Shylock may seem a little extreme, all the characters are very true-to-life. 

As it is a play, it is very short and captivates the reader's attention all the way. One thing which may be a little confusing, especially for younger readers, is a constant referral to mythical characters. The version I read was the 237-page work, edited and published by Washington Square Press, copyright 1992 which contained small descriptions of these characters.

The Divine Comedy

The Portable Dante

I had just read Dante's The Divine Comedy which also talks a lot about these characters, but has a more in-depth explanation of their significance. This helped in understanding the reference in The Merchant of Venice as William Shakespeare intended. 

Another plus to reading this book is that Shakespeare is a Classical writer in our language. Although Father Lasance was speaking to women when he wrote that she "should acquire a fair knowledge of its (her language's) literature and of its classical writers", it applies to all people who wish to be truly educated. Reading The Merchant of Venice is a great way to acquire this knowledge.

#2 Of Young Adult Book Reviews: The Guillotine and the Cross

As this book was written by our family-favorite historian, Warren Carroll, The Guillotine and the Cross is a very vivid portrayal of the hardships brought on the people of France during the French Revolution. 

It gives the reader the well known as well as the unknown facts about this era. And all is told in a way that, far from feeling combersomely instructive, is interesting and makes you want to finish the book in one sitting. (Which I just about did, since I was waiting at the airport.)

#3 Of Young Adult Book Reviews: David Copperfield

Enter the fascinating mind of Charles Dickens in David Copperfield, a delightful, although a little long, novel.

This novel is told in an exciting and realistic way. Charles Dickens himself writes in the preface, 

It would concern the reader little, perhaps, to know how sorrowfully the pen is laid down at the close of a two years’ imaginative task; or how an author feels as if he were dismissing some portion of himself into the shadowy world, when a crowd of the creatures of his brain are going from him forever. Yet I have nothing else to tell; unless, indeed, I were to confess (which might be of less moment still), that no one can ever believe this narrative, in the reading, more than I have believed it in the writing.

David Copperfeild

David Copperfield

Every summer, my mom has us read and review six books selected according to our grade level. For my last year, David Copperfield was on the list. This book was really fantastic! The greats have a way of taking feelings and putting them in words.

When my sister, brother and I were flying home from Mexico, on the movie option list was The Personal History of David Copperfield. We all three watched it. They loved it so much I am now reading the book aloud to my entire family. We are all really enjoying it and are quite disappointed if we are forced to skip reading for one night.

Now, what is this wonderfully humorous and interesting story about? Well, it may not surprise you, but it is about a young boy named David Copperfield who, although he suffers much in his childhood, grows into a respectable gentleman with a happy life.

The book also reveals the opposite characters of sweet and charitable Agnes Wickfield and the slimy and base Uriah Heep. With a story so imaginative and full of real-life scenarios, this book will keep you riveted to the pages, even though there may be 826 of them. 

The "Good Angel": Agnes Wickfield

Agnes Wickfield is David’s rock of refuge in all times of his life. When, at a certain time of trouble for David, Agnes pays him a visit, he says of her, “She filled my heart with such good resolutions, strengthened my weaknesses so, by her example, so directed—I know not how, she was too modest and gentle to advise me in many words—the wandering ardor and unsettled purpose within me, that all the little good I have done, and all the harm I have forborne, I solemnly believe I may refer to her. (Page 486).”

And, indeed, she is all that is good: even-tempered, innocent, and affectionate. It is she who David turns to in all his troubles. David calls her his “good angel”, because her upright guidance shines on every decision he makes.

When David finds himself in a world of confusion after he runs away from his step-father, Agnes is the largest influence who helps him reparent himself to be a righteous man. Without Agnes, there would not be a David Copperfield as we know him.

The Nemesis: Uriah Heep

Uriah Heep is the arch-nemesis of David. He is unlike David in all aspects. This man is grasping and mean, always hiding behind a mask of false humility and pretending to be submissive to his superiors. Uriah is not a gentleman, but a clerk who is able to lie, cheat and manipulate his way into his employer’s business and, eventually, home and life.

Through him, David learns to ward away from false humility as well as the baseness that man can stoop to, thus making David always ready to guard against these habits and thoughts. In the end, Uriah does receive what he deserves—not without bringing his own character to the place he is put but becoming a favorite even among those he is placed among. 

The Main Character: David Copperfield

Finally, David Copperfield is the main character and, whether he is the hero of his own story, reading the book itself can only tell (paraphrase from The Personal History of David Copperfield). Although surrounded by mainly static characters, David himself is changed much throughout the novel.

As a young boy, David has only a very sweet and rather silly mother, who is very indulgent and makes David the center of her life. After she marries, David is abused by his step-father, resulting in his running away to a new life in which he has only a past of being highly indulged and then abused. As such, he has little or no upbringing worth mentioning, save what he was given by his nurse, Peggotty.

David enters his new life naive, weak charactered and still very childish. Throughout the novel, and with the help of Agnes, he must reparent himself learning and acquiring true humility, true innocence, and true compassion. Seeing the simpering “ ’umbleness” of Uriah Heep, David is able to improve his own real humility.

When he finds immorality in a person where he sought to find only goodness, David has occasion to preserve and guard against dangers to his own innocence. David later finds hurt at the hands of this same person and is compassionate and does all in his power to bring comfort to the afflicted family.

The virtues of humility, innocence, and compassion not only exist in David’s heart, but grow throughout the novel.

David Copperfield Bottom Line: 

The novel David Copperfield, is a book filled not only with rich characters that reflect people everyone is able to identify in his own life, but also contains literary richness that is always to be found in classical works of literature. Charles Dickens captures ideas, situations, and people in a very masterful way.

In Agnes Wickfield, he embodies all that is good and virtuous in a person. Uriah Heep, on the other hand, is a complete illustration of vice and undesirable traits. David himself is the best showcase of the author’s ability in the novel. With this character, Charles Dickens is able to show us a situation where a young person is left to rely on himself and is yet able to train himself to become, not only a man, but a humble, innocent, and compassionate young man.

This novel is truly not only a good read for its literary interest, but it is also good for the mind because it presents ideas that give culture and training.

#4 Of Young Adult Book Reviews: Christopher Columbus

Coming Soon...

#5 Of Young Adult Book Reviews: The Scarlet Letter

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