Tag Archives: Family dynamics

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.

Geoff Herbach’s Anything You Want – as thoughtful as it is hilarious

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Geoff Herbach’s Anything You Want – as thoughtful as it is hilarious

If you can tolerate the lovable idiot who narrates this book, you will find a pretty amazing story inside.  I do not tolerate lovable idiots easily, so trust me when I say this – Anything You Want is definitely worth the read.  It is so funny and so full of heart, and I can’t imagine a smarter way to entertain and still engage readers in thoughtful commentary on big life lessons.  I do have to say that this is one time I really scored a book a lot higher than other critics.  I gave it five stars, but it only has a three star average on Goodreads – again, you have to commit to the lovable idiot and actually finish the book to see what I saw.

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Goodreads Summary

Expect a bundle of joy—er, trouble—in this hilarious, heartwarming story from the award-winning author of Stupid Fast Geoff Herbach

Taco’s mom always said, “Today is the best day of your life, and tomorrow will be even better.” That was hard to believe the day she died of cancer and when Taco’s dad had to move up north for work, but he sure did believe it when Maggie Corrigan agreed to go with him to junior prom. Taco loves Maggie- even more than the tacos that earned him his nickname. And she loves him right back.

Except all that love? It gets Maggie pregnant. Everyone else may be freaking out, but Taco can’t wait to have a real family again. He just has to figure out what it means to be a dad and how to pass calculus. And then there’s getting Maggie’s parents to like him. Because it would be so much easier for them to be together if he didn’t have to climb the side of the Corrigans’ house to see her…

My Thoughts

Taco’s relentless enthusiasm and optimism keep the story from getting too heavy without minimizing the issues.  This book really tackles universal themes and truths about growing up and being a family, and Taco’s clueless perspective is sometimes exhausting, but it makes these themes a lot more palatable to the YA reader.  I see this being a big hit in my high school classroom library, and a book that both guys and gals can embrace.  It is exactly the kind of book I want to hand my readers because they will come for the party that is Taco, but they will stay for the business that is real life.  It is definitely going on my classroom library wish list.  Language and situations make this most appropriate for high school readers, but I bet there are many adults who will still get a real kick out of this read.

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

Rebecca Phillips’ Faking Perfect is an honest and compelling YA contemporary read

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Rebecca Phillips’ Faking Perfect is an honest and compelling YA contemporary read

The premise for this book sounded like The DUFF, which I thought was one of the most reprehensible books ever written for a YA female audience. But Huntley Fitzpatrick plugged Faking Perfect, and I adored My Life Next Door, so the worst that could happen was I would end up writing a rant about it. There were some similarities, but Faking Perfect is by far the superior book. It manages to be edgy and honest without sending the wrong message to teens about sexuality.  I thought it was really quite good, and if you enjoy contemporary YA fiction, I think you will, too.

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 Goodreads Summary

“Edgy and honest, Faking Perfect is the real thing.” –Huntley Fitzpatrick

When Lexi Shaw seduced Oakfield High’s resident bad boy Tyler Flynn at the beginning of senior year, he seemed perfectly okay with her rules:

1. Avoid her at school.

2. Keep his mouth shut about what they do together.

3. Never tease her about her friend (and unrequited crush) Ben.

Because with his integrity and values and golden boy looks, Ben can never find out about what she’s been doing behind closed doors with Tyler. Or that her mom’s too busy drinking and chasing losers to pay the bills. Or that Lexi’s dad hasn’t been a part of her life for the last thirteen years. But with Tyler suddenly breaking the rules, Ben asking her out, and her dad back in the picture, how long will she be able to go on faking perfect?
My Thoughts

I really liked how this book portrayed the internal and external conflicts that Lexi faces.  She felt like an honest-to-goodness teenager with real grey areas in her thoughts and behaviors.  Themes focused on love in all forms and had real things to say about expectations and fears that are attached to those relationships.  It had positive messages about the ability to change but also presented the truth that sometimes people don’t change, even when you really need them to.  Lexi works through a tangle of relationships, both with the boys she is attracted to and the parents who seem to fail her.  I think a lot of YA readers will find her authentic voice, the realistic outlook on life, and the imperfect romance very compelling.  As far as YA contemporary goes, this is one of the stronger offerings I’ve read in a long time.  While I don’t particularly care for the choices the characters make about sex, drugs, and alcohol, I think the book portrays them in a thoughtful, tasteful and honest light that allows readers to draw their own conclusions without feeling like they are sitting through a sermon.  Adult readers will appreciate the writing and complexity of this book more than the average YA contemporary.

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

The Star Side of Bird Hill By Naomi Jackson transcends time and place to tell a story about family, love, loss, and contentment that you just might recognize from your own life

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Usually when I blog about adult fiction it is science fiction, but the teacher in me couldn’t resist giving you a chance to consider this book because it might just appeal to you. I opened this book and I was a kid again, listening as my grandmother’s lovingly judgemental church friends tisked and gossiped sotto voce about my parent’s divorce after they sweetly piled more food on my plate and reprimanded me for tearing my new church dress.  I was a teenager again, embarrassed because my Meme called my bluff and dragged my sassy tail end out of that lake in front of everyone.  Maybe you will recognize yourself, too, hopeful that the daddy who hasn’t seen you in years is really going to follow through on a promise just once, or angry that some adult left your young hands to pick up the pieces.  I understand that the cover is scaring you in ways you never imagined a book cover could.  Ignore it. Laugh at it.  Tweet it as a cover fail, but read the summary and my thoughts before you dismiss it entirely.  

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Goodreads Summary

This lyrical novel of community, betrayal, and love centers on an unforgettable matriarchal family in Barbados. Two sisters, ages ten and sixteen, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. The young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, live for the summer of 1989 with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.

Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing her grandmother’s limits, and wanting to go home. Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations, accompanies her grandmother in her role as a midwife, and investigates their mother’s mysterious life.

This tautly paced coming-of-age story builds to a crisis when the father they barely know comes to Bird Hill to reclaim his daughters, and both Phaedra and Dionne must choose between the Brooklyn they once knew and loved or the Barbados of their family.

Jackson’s Barbados and her characters are singular, especially the wise Hyacinth and the heartbreaking young Phaedra, who is coming into her own as a young woman amid the tumult of her family.

 My Thoughts, and there are many of them

I requested this book because it sounded in part like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a book I have a love/hate relationship with.  I wasn’t surprised to see that this book does have a similar feel, especially in terms of narrative structure.  Rather than a tightly plotted and fast paced novel, this is more of a collection of carefully selected moments that reveal who these characters are and the events that shape who they become.  The focus is on Dionne and Phaedra, the two girls sent to live with their grandmother in Barbados, but as the summer waxes and wanes, readers discover a lot about the essence and shape of their grandmother and mother as well. For some readers, this will come across as a disjointed storyline, but for others who see what the author is doing, it is a rather natural and beautiful development.

Like IKWCBS, There is also that sense of a foreign but tightly knitted community that slowly wraps it arms around the newcomers as Dionne and Phadre at first reject it for its differences before growing into its embrace.  Readers will enjoy seeing how unique Bird Hill is in its beliefs and customs, but there is also a sense of universal humanity there as well.  I was surprised at how much the experiences I had as a child were similar to the ones experienced by children in Brooklyn and Barbados.  I saw a lot of parallels between the generation gaps and the workings of a small community that learns to condemn and ignore certain behaviors simultaneously in order to forge a fairly peaceful existence.  It really reminded me of how literature truly is the universal language, and when it is fiction that throws in a little suffering, it can transcend almost any differences.  

Unlike Maya Angelou’s work, these girls are not in a setting that has an extreme prejudice towards them, and they, luckily, escape abuse from those they trust.  There is still a threat to them because there is always a chance at exploitation when you are female.  There is still prejudice within their community, and it is explored.  There are absolutely moments of truth about sexuality and race, but the road to coming of age is a lot less fraught with dangers for these siblings.  I think that was my biggest fear about this book because it takes a lot of emotional fortitude to sit by Angelou as she traverses her world of tragedy and triumph.  If you are shying away from this book for that same reason, let me assure you that this book is full of tragedy and triumph, but not on the same taxing scale.

I really liked this book for its style and setting.  I enjoyed reading about these characters and the way one summer shaped them all in important but different ways.  I think this book offers something to women of all generations who will see themselves in the girls they were, the women they are, or the women they will be.  

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