Tag Archives: Grief

Brigid Kemmerer’s Letters to the Lost

Standard
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.

Life In A Fishbowl

Standard
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.

Life After Juliet 

Standard
Life After Juliet 

What a great read!  I devoured it in a couple of hours, and I dare you not to do the same.  If you are looking for a contemporary YA romance to read this summer, I think you would be hard pressed to do better than Life After Juliet.  Bookworms will find a special kinship in Becca, the narrator, but even you extroverts will enjoy this story about putting yourself out there.  I gave this book five stars.

image

Goodreads Summary

Becca Hanson was never able to make sense of the real world. When her best friend Charlotte died, she gave up on it altogether. Fortunately, Becca can count on her books to escape—to other times, other places, other people…

Until she meets Max Herrera. He’s experienced loss, too, and his gorgeous, dark eyes see Becca the way no one else in school can.
As it turns out, kissing is a lot better in real life than on a page. But love and life are a lot more complicated in the real world…and happy endings aren’t always guaranteed.

The companion novel to Love and Other Unknown Variables is an exploration of loss and regret, of kissing and love, and most importantly, a celebration of hope and discovering a life worth living again.

My Thoughts

Becca’s voice is so real and easy to connect with, especially for those of us with introverted, nose-in-book tendencies.  I haven’t suffered a loss like Becca’s, but I certainly fight every day to make myself put the book down and do some living of my own, and that is really what this story is about.  She conquers fears, but in a way that is still true to herself in the end, and I adored her for it.  The romantic relationship is also pretty awesome.  It is given the time it needs to develop into something that will squeeze your heart. And the the romantic interest? So, so, so swoon-worthy, ladies.  And every fairy-tale love story needs a witch, right?  I particularly liked the villainess in this story – she is a delightful surprise.   I’ll admit I didn’t enjoy the companion book, so I wasn’t prepared for this one to grab me so completely. I think it can be read as a stand-alone because there is enough background info there to fill you in, and it has been ages since I read the first one and it was no deal to pick this one up and sink in.  It’s definitely going on my classroom library wish list because I just know my high school readers are going to be as wild about it as I am.  I’m also recommending it to our drama teacher because I see a definite peak in interest in school plays in conjunction with the reading of this book!  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+, but adult readers will find it has the depth to engage them as well.

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

The Square Root of Summer – YA contemporary about a summer of love, grief and wormholes in the fabric of time.

Standard
The Square Root of Summer – YA contemporary about a summer of love, grief and wormholes in the fabric of time.

I wanted to love The Square Root of Summer.  It had math and science and a type of time travel and a cover to die for.  Unfortunately, it felt like a chore to read.  My opinion is certainly not that of many other reviewers.  While I gave it two stars, it got almost four stars on average on Goodreads.  To each his own.

image

Goodreads Summary

This is what it means to love someone. This is what it means to grieve someone. It’s a little bit like a black hole. It’s a little bit like infinity.

Gottie H. Oppenheimer is losing time. Literally. When the fabric of the universe around her seaside town begins to fray, she’s hurtled through wormholes to her past:
To last summer, when her grandfather Grey died. To the afternoon she fell in love with Jason, who wouldn’t even hold her hand at the funeral. To the day her best friend Thomas moved away and left her behind with a scar on her hand and a black hole in her memory.
Although Grey is still gone, Jason and Thomas are back, and Gottie’s past, present, and future are about to collide—and someone’s heart is about to be broken.

My Thoughts

This is a book I definitely recommend you sample before you buy.  The fragmented narrative is hard to follow even before the author introduces the timeline.  There are no real cultural norms to help you gain stability.  The family structure, the mix of languages, and the unfamiliar setting all make it difficult to find a starting point to forge connections with the story or the characters.  Honestly, after tackling the first twenty percent, the only thing I understood was the math and science, and I’m certainly not advanced or even proficient in those areas.  The unrelenting rainy day that is the narrator is not very compelling, either.  I wanted to give up on this book almost immediately, and I suspect that I’m not going to be alone.  I can’t see this being a hit in my high school classroom library, even among my deeper thinkers, because it is just not very fun to read.  I found the ending moderately satisfying, but, I’m not sure it was worth the work it took to get there, and I was a little disgruntled that all the science and math amounted to not much in the face of a somewhat woo-woo (that is my mystical sound effect) explanation in the end.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+, but I’m not sure if it would hold an average high school reader’s attention.

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

The Art of Not Breathing

Standard
The Art of Not Breathing

Unlikeable and unreliable narrators are all the rage right now (Thanks, Gillian Flynn), but The Art of Not Breathing really pushes those concepts to my limit.  It took a lot of work to get myself past the point of no return, but I was ultimately glad I stuck it out.  Elsie is a hot mess, and her support system sucks, so I’m glad I got to see her character get a little bit back by the end.  I gave it three stars.

image

Goodreads Summary

Since her twin brother, Eddie, drowned five years ago, sixteen-year-old Elsie Main has tried to remember what really happened that fateful day on the beach. One minute Eddie was there, and the next he was gone. Seventeen-year-old Tay McKenzie is a cute and mysterious boy that Elsie meets in her favorite boathouse hangout. When Tay introduces Elsie to the world of freediving, she vows to find the answers she seeks at the bottom of the sea.

My Thoughts

This book takes a little time to draw in the reader.  While the mystery that drives the story is introduced almost immediately, the messenger, Elsie, is hard to embrace.  She is strange and it takes a while to really get past the part of her that drives everyone away.  That changes once she meets the boy who will ultimately force her out of the stasis that tragedy placed her in years earlier.  He’ll change her life in more ways than she could have ever expected.  I enjoyed watching Elsie’s transformation, and I think other readers will as well.  That is really the strength of this book because the mystery fell a little flat, perhaps because it is a believable solution.  There is quite a bit of teen drama, but it didn’t feel excessive.  Each character is reacting to a tragic event that has been repressed, and those reactions felt like reasonable reactions to that stress.  Overall, I enjoyed the book, and though it was a little depressing to watch these characters lance the infection that was killing them all, I was invested in the outcome and I was satisfied by the resolution.  Language and some sensuality make this more appropriate for grades 9+.

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

Young Widow’s Club has a surprising premise for a YA book, but it got a lot of things right

Standard
Young Widow’s Club has a surprising premise for a YA book, but it got a lot of things right

This title caught my eye, and I couldn’t help but think this had to be mislabeled as YA.  It actually isn’t. This book is about facing the future when your plans go up in flames, and YA’s are really the ideal audience for this message.  I hesitate to say it, but if you like Nicholas Sparks and would like a break from cancer, this book offers the a strong and emotional story that you will probably enjoy.  If you hate Nicholas Sparks, as I do, you can still enjoy this emotional story without rolling your eyes and laughing inappropriately.  Four stars.

image

Goodreads Review

First came love, then came marriage, and then…

For seventeen-year-old Tam, running off to marry her musician boyfriend is the ideal escape from her claustrophobic high-school life on the island, and the ultimate rebellion against her father and stepmother. But when Tam becomes a widow just weeks later, the shell-shocked teen is forced to find her way forward by going back to the life she thought she’d moved beyond—even as her struggle to deal with her grief is forcing her to reinvent herself and reach out to others in ways she never imagined.

My Thoughts

This was a unique premise, and though I’m not sure how many readers can relate to the exact experience, it brings up the more universal question of what to do with yourself when your entire plan for your future is irrevocably changed.  Seventeen year old Tamsin had her entire life planned out until her young husband died unexpectedly.  It changed everything, and like any crushing blow to a young life, it left her feeling lost.  Tamsin was sort of an alien character for me because a lot of the things I value she didn’t care about even before her husband died.  I was still pretty engaged by her character, though, and this really was a Buildungsroman in the sense that her journey was about finding her place in the world.  This is a character driven book, so the pacing was designed (very well) to develop her character and the relationships she forged in the aftermath of her disaster.  I found the setting almost as interesting as Tamsin, an island populated by aging hippies and their children, where values and lifestyles created an intriguingly different experience from the one I grew up with.  Overall, this was a well written and hopeful book that I think many of my students will enjoy. Language and situations are appropriate for high school.

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

How To Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras isn’t the light hearted YA contemporary that it appears to be

Standard
How To Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras isn’t the light hearted YA contemporary that it appears to be

Readers who appreciate honesty and realism in their contemporary YA fiction will probably appreciate How To Be Brave more than readers who take one look at the cover and expect some light-hearted shenanigans.  While I found this book to be a bit of a downer because I was picking this book based on the cover, I really did appreciate the sincerity of the story.

image

Goodreads Summary

An emotional contemporary YA novel about love, loss, and having the courage to chase the life you truly want.

Reeling from her mother’s death, Georgia has a choice: become lost in her own pain, or enjoy life right now, while she still can. She decides to start really living for the first time and makes a list of fifteen ways to be brave – all the things she’s wanted to do but never had the courage to try. As she begins doing the things she’s always been afraid to do – including pursuing her secret crush, she discovers that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But once in a while, the right person shows up just when you need them most – and you learn that you’re stronger and braver than you ever imagined.

My Thoughts

This is a Bildungsroman that I think gives a very accurate portrayal of what it is like to search for your place in the world when the rug has been ripped out from under you.  Georgia is trying to get back to relishing life when the story begins, and like many of us, her journey begins with a list.  The problem with lists is that things often don’t turn out as expected, and as she tries to push herself to rejoin those who are really “living,” she finds she might just have destroyed all the things she thought she had left.  I think that is the part that is most real about this book – you can’t really just dive back into life and find that everything is golden.  It is this reality, though, that kind of made this a sad and lonely journey for me as a reader.  Georgia needs the isolation to really get in touch with who she is, but it honestly felt like she was given an extended stay in misery.  I didn’t really mind this, but I think the blurb made me expect something more light-hearted, and this was more honest than that.  I liked the characters in this book, and I liked the lessons that each of them taught Georgia.  She was a better person for having to see people through a different perspective.  I also liked the fact that, in the end, being brave meant more than just doing daring things – it really meant putting herself out there emotionally.  I did feel like the narrative kind of glossed over a pretty big issue – when Georgia does something inexplicable at a party, there aren’t really enough details to make readers understand how she could have possibly made such a colossal mistake.  I felt like Georgia didn’t really have to do any soul searching about that incident, and I think she should have had to own up to her actions more – she pays for it and regrets it, but she doesn’t really think about how she was the person at fault.  Overall, I enjoyed the truth this book told about the work we all have to do when our plans crumble around us.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

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

Stacie Ramey’s The Sister Pact is hard hitting and eye opening YA

Standard
Stacie Ramey’s The Sister Pact is hard hitting and eye opening YA

The Sister Pact wasn’t a book I was falling all over myself to read, and I honestly just meant to give it a few chapters before going to bed.  Uh, no.  I read this book straight through because I had to get a resolution.  I found it very compelling, but also really hard to read because it was so emotionally distressing.  I think fans of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why will find it particularly engaging, and I anticipate It will be well received by YA readers of many ages.

image

Goodreads Summary

A suicide pact was supposed to keep them together, but a broken promise tore them apart

Allie is devastated when her older sister commits suicide – and not just because she misses her. Allie feels betrayed. The two made a pact that they’d always be together, in life, and in death, but Leah broke her promise and Allie needs to know why.

Her parents hover. Her friends try to support her. And Nick, sweet Nick, keeps calling and flirting. Their sympathy only intensifies her grief.

But the more she clings to Leah, the more secrets surface. Allie’s not sure which is more distressing: discovering the truth behind her sister’s death or facing her new reality without her.

My Thoughts

Both the character of Allie and the conflict created by her sister’s death were really compelling.  I related to the bond the sisters forged in the battlefield of their parent’s marriage, and I was as puzzled by Leah’s decision to commit suicide and leave her sister alone as Allie was.  There were a lot of secrets and lies revealed in this story, and though many of them turned out to be typical and even mundane, it was easy to see how they added up to an unforeseen disaster in the end.  I think that is important for people to read about because creating empathy can be key to preventing tragedies like this, and I thought it was quite smart for the author to subtly press readers with the idea that truth and saying what you mean is important in life.  I’m still a little torn about some things in this book.  Leah’s death and Allie’s perceptions about her familiy’s unhappiness do boil down to a blame game, and it isn’t always that way in real life.  I think I would have been happier if the book had been clearer about how personal choices lead to consequences, and everyone has to take responsibility for their own fallout.  I am also a little overwhelmed by the sheer flow of drugs in this book.  I’m not stupid, and I teach high school, so I know that prescription drug abuse is real and it is big.  The attitude and love/hate relationship Allie and her family has with them was still pretty shocking.  There are clear consequences for taking the pills, and none of the experiences are anything I would feel drawn to replicate, but it reminded me of the infamous “Go Ask Alice” at points, so I expect there will be a few ruffled parental/authority figure feathers when this hits library shelves.  Overall, this is a book that I found I couldn’t turn away from, even when the reading got emotional and truths got tough.  Language and situations are most appropriate for mature high school readers.

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