Tag Archives: coming of age

Whitney Taylor’s Definitions of Indefinable Things – Snarky, Savage, Hopeful

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Whitney Taylor’s Definitions of Indefinable Things – Snarky, Savage, Hopeful

It’s hard to write a funny book about depression.  First, well . . . Duh – depression is depressing.  Second, humor can make depression look a lot less painful than it really is.  I felt like Whitney Taylor managed to walk the thin line between the two in Definitions of Indefinable Things.  It is hilarious, but it is also pretty honest about the realities of depression. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because of that balance, so this is a solid four star read.


Goodreads Summary

This heartbreaking, humorous novel is about three teens whose lives intersect in ways they never expected.

Reggie Mason is all too familiar with “the Three Stages of Depression.” She believes she’s unlocked the secret to keeping herself safe: Nobody can hurt you if you never let them in.

Reggie encounters an unexpected challenge to her misanthropy: a Twizzler-chomping, indie film-making narcissist named Snake. Snake’s presence, while reassuring, is not exactly stable—especially since his ex-girlfriend is seven months pregnant. As Reggie falls for Snake, she must decide whether it’s time to rewrite the rules that have defined her.

My Thoughts

I like my leading ladies savage and snarky, and I’m not sure any character is more savage and snarky than Reggie.  Watching her navigate the ridiculousness of her life is so worth your time.  The thing I liked most about her is that, while she lashes out, she really does have a heart.  She cannot overcome her innate goodness, even when spewing venom.  Now, this is an unflinching look at depression. If you have never had it, you will walk away understanding exactly how it feels.  If you have, I think you will recognize the black hole.  But what really makes this book amazing is that it is also a look at life getting better.  It isn’t a fairy tale. Things aren’t perfect or quick, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  So, don’t skip it just because you don’t want to read something depressing.  This book is so much more.  While the language and situations are frequently mature,  I think it will speak more to my high school students about the unbreakable human spirit and believing in the good things life has to offer.  I’m adding it to my classroom library wish list.  Grades 10+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Brigid Kemmerer’s Letters to the Lost

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Brigid Kemmerer’s Letters to the Lost

Brigid Kemmerer’s Letters to the Lost is a tale of two people finding each other when they need someone the most.  It will appeal to fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park and Julie Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things.  I found it engaging and satisfying, so I gave it four stars.

Letters to the Lost is publishing Tuesday, April 4, 2017.


Goodreads Summary

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed this book.  The main characters are believable, especially because they aren’t always perfect, and I found myself invested in their lives quickly.  I did think this was going to be more of a romance, but I wasn’t disappointed.  Juliet and Declan form a much needed friendship, and I was pleased when that seemed to be the bigger focus.  While the angry boy and sad girl are not new ideas; their journey to better is not the usual YA romance solution – readers can actually see the realistic actions that bring about their changes.  It hits home that the choices you make do impact the way you feel, the way you are perceived, and the way you are treated.  I really appreciate the fact that this book has all the drama my high school students want, but it also has messages that they can tie to their own lives.  I’m adding it to my classroom library wishlist and I know it will be a hit, especially with students who enjoy contemporary YA.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school, but adult readers of YA can enjoy it just as much.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

We Are Still Tornadoes 

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We Are Still Tornadoes 

What a fun read!  We Are Still Tornadoes is funny and smart and sweet in all the right places.  This is a five star read that will engage a broad audience.  Lived through the eighties?  You will appreciate the references.  Just lived your first year away from home?  You will be so connected.  It wasn’t what I expected, but it turned out to be exactly what I wanted.


Goodreads Summary

It’s the summer of 1982, and for Scott and Cath, everything is about to change.

Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends for most of their lives. Now they’ve graduated high school, and Cath is off to college while Scott stays at home trying to get his band off the ground. Neither of them realized that their first year after high school would be so hard.

Fortunately, Scott and Cath still have each other, and it’s through their letters that they survive heartache, annoying roommates, family dramas, and the pressure of figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they’ve ever wanted to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should think about being more than friends? One thing is clear: Change is an inescapable part of growing up, and we share unbreakable bonds with the friends who help us navigate it.

My Thoughts

I’m always cautious about novels that are in the format of letters – it is easy to loose character voices or skimp on the  imagery when forced to rely only on the words the characters actually commit to the page.  I can honestly say that nothing was lost in this book.  Cath and Scott are vivid and distinct voices, and their letters make it easy to picture exactly what is taking place both within and between the lines.  I was quickly drawn into their dramas and their daily lives alike.  Their comraderie shines through every exchange, and it is charming.  The story their exchanges tell is a universal one – it is the story of growing up and seeing things through a new, more adult perspective.  While I think my high school readers will enjoy this book, it will really hit the mark with the new adults and beyond crowd because this is the audience who will better understand what Cath and Scott are going through the first year out of high school.  I’m adding it to my high school classroom library wish list, but this is also one I would definitely recommend to my adult friends, especially those who enjoyed Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments. Language and situations are appropriate for mature high school readers.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Emma Wunsch’s The Movie Version proves that no one’s life is perfect

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Emma Wunsch’s The Movie Version proves that no one’s life is perfect

So, here’s the thing – when your life crashes down around you, you don’t always do, feel, or think the right things.  That is the honesty this book has to offer.   If you are looking for a perfect protagonist, don’t bother.  If you are looking for a book that is realistic and relatable, this might be your book.  I gave The Movie Version four stars.


Goodreads Summary

A whip-smart, heart-wrenching debut YA novel about first love, first loss, and filmmaking that will delight fans of Jandy Nelson and Jennifer Niven

In the movie version of Amelia’s life, the roles have always been clear. Her older brother, Toby: definitely the Star. As popular with the stoners as he is with the cheerleaders, Toby is someone you’d pay ten bucks to watch sweep Battle of the Bands and build a “beach party” in the bathroom. As for Amelia? She’s Toby Anderson’s Younger Sister. She’s perfectly happy to watch Toby’s hijinks from the sidelines, when she’s not engrossed in one of her elaborately themed Netflix movie marathons.

But recently Toby’s been acting in a very non-movie-version way. He’s stopped hanging out with his horde of friends and started obsessively journaling and disappearing for days at a time. Amelia doesn’t know what’s happened to her awesome older brother, or who this strange actor is that’s taken his place. And there’s someone else pulling at her attention: a smart, cute new boyfriend who wants to know the real Amelia—not Toby’s Sidekick. Amelia feels adrift without her star, but to best help Toby—and herself—it might be time to cast a new role: Amelia Anderson, leading lady.

My Thoughts

Amelia, the narrator, experiences a bunch of life altering events all at the same time, and she doesn’t always come across looking good.  She is sometimes selfish, sometimes angry, sometimes willfully ignorant.  She is also loving, resilient, and open minded.  That doesn’t always make it easy to like her, but I think it does make it easy to feel like average and good human beings sometimes flub things up and they can bounce back.  That is the message of the story for me, and I think it is a message that many YA readers will respond to.  The beef some readers will have with that honesty is that it doesn’t portray the perfect and socially progressive response to mental illness.  However, that is the point – people aren’t living a movie version of life, and we certainly aren’t always camera ready.  In a perfect world, we wouldn’t flinch in the face of adversity, but real YA’s need to know they aren’t alone when they find themselves in our imperfect reality with their own imperfect responses.  This book offers that perspective, and I think it is an important one.  That being said, I found Amelia frustratingly awkward at times, and her experience with first love isn’t going to be the romance you keep coming back for.  Again, it’s honest but not always pleasant.  I did like the way the author used flashbacks to reveal Amelia’s devotion to her brother, but sometimes I thought they were just distracting.  Overall, I liked the message, but I wasn’t as engaged by the presentation.  Language and some sexual situations make this most appropriate for more mature high school readers.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Life In A Fishbowl

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Life In A Fishbowl

Len Vlahos’ Life In A Fishbowl is an unexpected find. The reality show horror angle drew me in, but the message kept me reading.  If you are up for a contemporary YA with some real, smart, thought-provoking social commentary, you should give this book a go.


Goodreads Summary

Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone is a prisoner in her own house. Everything she says and does 24/7 is being taped and broadcast to every television in America. Why? Because her dad is dying of a brain tumor and he has auctioned his life on eBay to the highest bidder: a ruthless TV reality show executive at ATN.

Gone is her mom’s attention and cooking and parent-teacher conferences. Gone is her sister’s trust ever since she’s been dazzled by the cameras and new-found infamy. Gone is her privacy. Gone is the whole family’s dignity as ATN twists their words and makes a public mockery of their lives on Life and Death. But most of all, Jackie fears that one day very soon her father will just be . . . gone. Armed only with her ingenuity and the power of the internet, Jackie is determined to end the show and reclaim all of their lives, even in death.

My Thoughts

Ultimately, this is such a satisfying book about the little guys (and gals, in this case) versus The MAN.  I am so glad I stuck with it. While I initially found the huge list of narrative perspectives annoying, and I wasn’t sure if I was okay with the humor or the Debbie Downer of a main character, I eventually found myself engrossed in the epic battle this story follows.  I don’t want to ruin anything for you, so I’ll just say that you have to trust the author on this one.  He deftly weaves all these perspectives into a master story that will leave you satisfied.  There will be tears, but there will also be fist pumps.  The social issues are pretty heavy – cancer, privacy and media, euthanasia – but they are countered by strong themes about love, friendship, and good people doing the right thing.  It won’t be the book for everyone, but it is certainly one I think many of my high school readers will enjoy.  Some mature language, but it is appropriate for grades 9+.  Adults readers of YA will appreciate it as well.

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Cecilia Vinesse’s Seven Days of You

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Cecilia Vinesse’s Seven Days of You

This is a book about letting things go:  Old hurts, old friends, and old dreams.  It is also a book about seeing all the good things that are waiting to fill the void.  It gets ugly, as only teen drama and talk shows can, but I ultimately enjoyed how it turned out in the end.  I gave Seven Days of You four stars.


Goodreads Summary

Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harbored a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days…until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.

Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?

My Thoughts

The characters are fairly immature teenagers, and they all have their good sides and their bad sides. This book mostly revolves around an incident that broke up a friendship years ago, prompted by jealousy over middle school crushes.  If you are expecting more grown up issues, step away from this book.  If you are still holding a grudge from junior high and expressly avoid that person to this day, you will relate.  I loved the fact that the book did give a lot of the cultural aspects of the setting a role in the book, but don’t expect actual natives to be part of the cast.  I thought that was a missed opportunity, and I couldn’t decide if it represented the self absorption of teens or reiterated the the stereotype of self absorbed Americans.  I was horrified that the main character repeatedly pointed out her failure to learn the language despite living in the country for years.  Really?  I chose to enjoy the book despite those flaws, but I did notice them.   I will say that the book made me get a bit of wanderlust (which my husband promptly shut down – boo). Teens looking for a familiar story in an exotic setting will probably find this engaging, and there is definitely enough conflict to satisfy those who long for drama.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Enter Title Here – this is one crazy book about overachieving in ways that even Tracy Flick would find over the top. 

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Enter Title Here – this is one crazy book about overachieving in ways that even Tracy Flick would find over the top. 

Enter Title Here – a book with enough buzz that I actually heard about the buzz.  In truth, it is a buzz-worthy read.  The main character, Reshma, is a real deal antihero – driven, calculating, and selfish.  The tiny evil part of your soul is going to recognize her as your kindred or, if you really are that nice, you will be appalled by her.  Real people, though, will probably feel both by turns.  This is such a unique read – I’ve never really seen anything like it – and that means you might not love it at first sight.  I wasn’t sure I loved it by the end.  I do have to say, though, that it is a stunning testament to the author’s creativity.  I gave it four stars.

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Goodreads Summary

I’m your protagonist—Reshma Kapoor—and if you have the free time to read this book, then you’re probably nothing like me.

Reshma is a college counselor’s dream. She’s the top-ranked senior at her ultra-competitive Silicon Valley high school, with a spotless academic record and a long roster of extracurriculars. But there are plenty of perfect students in the country, and if Reshma wants to get into Stanford, and into med school after that, she needs the hook to beat them all.

What’s a habitual over-achiever to do? Land herself a literary agent, of course. Which is exactly what Reshma does after agent Linda Montrose spots an article she wrote for Huffington Post. Linda wants to represent Reshma, and, with her new agent’s help scoring a book deal, Reshma knows she’ll finally have the key to Stanford.

But she’s convinced no one would want to read a novel about a study machine like her. To make herself a more relatable protagonist, she must start doing all the regular American girl stuff she normally ignores. For starters, she has to make a friend, then get a boyfriend. And she’s already planned the perfect ending: after struggling for three hundred pages with her own perfectionism, Reshma will learn that meaningful relationships can be more important than success—a character arc librarians and critics alike will enjoy.

Of course, even with a mastermind like Reshma in charge, things can’t always go as planned. And when the valedictorian spot begins to slip from her grasp, she’ll have to decide just how far she’ll go for that satisfying ending. (Note: It’s pretty far.)

My Thoughts

However you feel about Reshma, her story is one you will keep reading because you can’t give up the hope that, eventually, she will have that epiphany that will turn her from a monster into a functioning human. Or for the moment when her conniving and manipulation finally pays off.  I’m not going to tell you whether you get those moments or not.  Half the fun is seeing exactly how far this crazy train will go, and I can assure you that Reshma is the most determined character I have ever encountered (so she gives the energizer bunny a run for its money).  I’m not going to tell you if she gets her just deserts or if hard work really does pay off in the end.  That, too, is one of the best knots to work through in this novel. I am going to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.  Funny, unexpected, and unbelievably and horrifyingly honest – this is a book that digs into the dark heart of a girl with a goal and the venom and cynicism that won’t let her fall short.  I would say this is a book that will appeal to fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl because Reshma is the younger, Indian equivalent of Amazing Amy.  It will also appeal to anyone brimming with potential that others can’t see, folks who have ever been taken down by that ridiculous overachiever in your high school, and people who like to laugh – that should cover just about everyone.   Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

If you enjoyed Virginia Boecker’s The Witch Hunter, definitely check out the sequel, The King Slayer 

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If you enjoyed Virginia Boecker’s The Witch Hunter, definitely check out the sequel, The King Slayer 

Virginia Boecker’s The King Slayer definitely improved my opinion of this series.  I enjoyed the first book, The Witch Hunter, well enough, but it was a bit of a lightweight entry in a genre that grows more impressive every day.  The second installment adds some much needed oomph.

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Goodreads Summary

An action-packed and suspenseful sequel to The Witch Hunter, perfect for fans of Graceling and the Grisha Trilogy.

“I think, in time, you’ll either be my greatest mistake or my greatest victory.”

Former witch hunter Elizabeth Grey is hiding within the magically protected village of Harrow, evading the price put on her head by Lord Blackwell, the usurper king of Anglia. Their last encounter left Blackwell ruined, but his thirst for power grows stronger every day. He’s readying for a war against those who would resist his rule–namely Elizabeth and the witches and wizards she now calls her allies.

Having lost her stigma, a magical source of protection and healing, Elizabeth’s strength is tested both physically and emotionally. War always means sacrifice, and as the lines between good and evil blur once more, Elizabeth must decide just how far she’ll go to save those she loves.

“[Filled] with everything a good fantasy book needs: swords, poison, black magic, and betrayal.”–April Tucholke, author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, on The Witch Hunter

My Thoughts

Picking up shortly where the first book left off, The King Slayer doesn’t waste much time before introducing new conflicts and revealing some surprising fallout from Elizabeth’s somewhat disastrous confrontation with Lord Blackwell.  Relationships old and new continue to evolve in this story, and, while they may not have been what I expected, I found myself very pleased by the conflicts and resolutions that The King Slayer offered.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that Elizabeth’s character was forced to struggle with limitations she never expected to face again, and that struggle made her a much more relatable character this go round.  I honestly believe this is the stronger book of the two because, though I enjoyed The Witch Hunter well enough, it felt a little lacking in complexity, and I remember thinking the climax came a little too quickly.  The King Slayer does not suffer from those issues.  Overall, fans of The Witch Hunter are going to be delighted, and those who were a little less impressed by it will certainly be glad they gave this series another chance.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

American Girls

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American Girls

Honestly, I’m so glad I gave this book a chance.  I love stories where a character experiences revelations that force them to recalibrate their picture of the world, and Anna’s strange summer of discontent does exactly that.  Better, I like the fact that this book has the possibility of reorienting the world for the reader.  I didn’t love the cover or the blurb, but I did enjoy the read.

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Goodreads Summary

She was looking for a place to land.

Anna is a fifteen-year-old girl slouching toward adulthood, and she’s had it with her life at home. So Anna “borrows” her stepmom’s credit card an runs away to Los Angeles, where her half-sister takes her in. But LA isn’t quite the glamorous escape Anna had imagined.

As Anna spends her days on TV and movie sets, she engrosses herself in a project researching the murderous Manson girls—and although the violence in her own life isn’t the kind that leaves physical scars, she begins to notice the parallels between herself and the lost girls of LA, and of America, past and present.

In Anna’s singular voice, we glimpse not only a picture of life on the B-list in LA, but also a clear-eyed reflection on being young, vulnerable, lost, and female in America—in short, on the B-list of life. Alison Umminger writes about girls, sex, violence, and which people society deems worthy of caring about, which ones it doesn’t, in a way not often seen in YA fiction.

My Thoughts

Anna is easy to connect with, and she feels genuine.  She is confused and a little angry at the people who are suppose to be her support system, and I think many YA readers will find that feels familiar.  She spends a lot of time thinking about what motivates people, and she comes to some big conclusions about how the choices we make have a bigger impact than the choices that are made for us.  (You are responsible for being more than just the things that happen to you).  I loved the fact that The Great Gatsby came up because there is a true sense of careless, superficial, and wasteland about the LA that Anna experiences.  Anna is a bit of a Nick, herself, though her judgements are a little less delighted voyer than his. The Manson girls, too, are part of the story, but not in the way I expected – much less sensationalized and an integral part of the story.  I did find some of the characters a bit awful (personality-wise), and I did think some of the plot points were a little strange, but I believed they were likely to be real in the land of celebrity.  If anything, it does play to the stereotypes of the ugly world behind the curtain that regular folks like me love to believe.  Overall, I think this is an engaging read with a strong message that doesn’t come on too strong.   The language and situations are going to be more appropriate for a mature high school reader.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.