Tag Archives: sisters

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.

If you liked The Night Circus, try Stephanie Garber’s Caraval

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If you liked The Night Circus, try Stephanie Garber’s Caraval

I love my tattered copy of The Night Circus, but I’m desperately tired of waiting for the author’s next stroke of genius.  I am always delighted when I find a book that evokes some of that magical enchantment, and Caraval did that for me.  I gave it four stars – it has its weaknesses, but the feels outweighed them.


Goodreads Summary

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . . 

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever. 

My Thoughts

Caraval is magical and engaging, and a little brutal at times.  There is definitely some danger and horror mixed into the enchanting world of of this tale.  It is this contrast – feverbright setting and a lingering, light dread – that really feels spot on.  Think Wonderland, with its topsy-turvy setting and characters, meets THAT nightmare, the one built on your deepest desires and darkest fears.  I wasn’t scared, but I certainly feared something terrible was around every corner.  I do have to say some of the backstory and the ultimate “why” are threadbare and patchy, but I enjoyed it anyway.  While I couldn’t help thinking of The Night Circus while I read, I also couldn’t help thinking it was so much more YA friendly.  I know many of my students will enjoy this dark and sumptuous tale, so it’s going on my high school classroom library wish list.  Language and situations appropriate for grades 9+. 

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

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney – a light but engaging YA paranormal

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The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney – a light but engaging YA paranormal

When I read the premise for this book, I thought it sounded a bit like The Raven Boys, one of my favorite books ever.  It promised a house full of generational psychics and a narrator desperate to live any other life.  It sounded promising, but the thing was that it only took a few minutes to forget what I wanted the book to be.  I just embraced what I was given – quirky characters, persistent ghosts, and a girl facing a crossroads.

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Goodreads Summary

In high school, the last thing you want is for people to think you talk to ghosts.

When Sparrow begins tenth grade at a huge new school full of strangers, she thinks her dreams of anonymity and a fresh start are finally coming true. No more following in her six older sisters’ footsteps. No more going to class with kids who’ve seen her grandma doing jujitsu in the front yard next to the headstones of her four dead husbands. And no more worrying about keeping her deep, dark secret hidden.

Sparrow makes a new best friend and has her eye on an irritatingly appealing guy in her history class. She feels like she’s well on her way to a normal life. But it’s another boy–a dead one–who wants Sparrow’s attention, and he won’t let her be till she’s helped him Move On.

You see, Sparrow Delaney’s secret is that she’s a psychic. And there’s one very persistent ghost who won’t let her forget it.

My Thoughts

The biggest strength of this book is the narrator, Sparrow, who manages to make her unique concerns feel universally understandable.  She is bent on resisting the path laid out for her by her grandmother, her spirit guides, and even the (mis)fortune of her birth – she is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. She just wants to be normal, something most YA’s will understand.  I liked her voice, I loved her delightfully strange and interesting family, and I even understood her reluctance to let go of the lie she has used to shield herself for a decade.  The message, be true to yourself, might be an old one, but it is one that is paired well with Sparrow’s experience.

There isn’t really a mystery here – when folks show up as ghosts, it is clear they are dead.  We are even given a pretty clear picture of how.  The true question in this book is if Sparrow will cling to her story for the sake of being “normal” or if she will embrace the possibilities and purpose inherent in her gifts.

I genuinely enjoyed this book, enough to see if it had any companion books (not that I can find).  It isn’t the most complex story, and it definitely had a lighter tone than I expected, but it left me feeling satisfied and like the time I spent reading it was worth it.  I found this book on the Overdrive library that my high school maintains, so it was free (always a bonus), but if I had paid the $3.99 for the ebook, I still would have felt it was money well spent.  This is a clean read with no language and a chaste romance.  It is gentle enough for middle school readers, easy to connect with for older YA readers, and just funny enough that I found it engaging as an adult.

This book is available through Overdrive in the MHS library.

This Raging Light 

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This Raging Light 

This is a surprisingly hopeful look at a teen dealing with a profoundly upsetting situation.  Lucille’s dad lost his mind and her mother took off, leaving Lucille to deal with her younger sister, a quickly amassing pile of bills, and questions of the heart that could destroy the fragile support system that she depends on to keep going.

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Amazon Summary

For fans of Jandy Nelson and Rainbow Rowell comes a gorgeous debut novel about family, friends, and first love. 

Lucille Bennett is pushed into adulthood after her mom decides to “take a break”…from parenting, from responsibility, from Lucille and her little sister, Wren. Left to cover for her absentee parents, Lucille thinks, “Wren and Lucille. Lucille and Wren. I will do whatever I have to. No one will pull us apart.”

Now is not the time for level-headed Lucille to fall in love. But love—messy, inconvenient love—is what she’s about to experience when she falls for Digby Jones, her best friend’s brother. With blazing longing that builds to a fever pitch, Estelle Laure’s soulful debut will keep readers hooked and hoping until the very last page.

 “A funny, poetic, big-hearted reminder that life can—and will—take us all by surprise.”

—Jennifer E. Smith, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

“Lucille may not take down a beast or assassinate any super bads, but she’s what heroines look like and love like in real life.”

—Justine Magazine

My Thoughts

I haven’t cried while reading a book for years, but this one got me.  Lucille is a great character, and anyone who has been asked to take on burdens too big for young shoulders will find her voice true to the situation.  She is willing to sacrifice so much of what it means to be a carefree teen if it means she and her sister can stay together, but she just wants one thing of her own, and that was spot on. Some of the other characters were a little less developed than Lucille, but I felt like that was part of the alienation her situation demanded of her, so it was really a virtue more than a fault.  The prose is smart and drifts to dreamy at times, and it is well paced to develop both the situation and the romantic relationship.  I can’t say I was completely satisfied by the ending, which left readers to make a few inferences of their own, but it was very compelling.  Themes about friendship and support add a nice depth to the story. I think this will be a book that many of my high school readers will enjoy, so I’m adding it to my classroom library.  I would probably recommend it to readers who enjoy realistic contemporary YA, especially YA that explores the hard hitting situations.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+.

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.


 

The Sound of Us – YA Contemporary about being true to yourself

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The Sound of Us – YA Contemporary about being true to yourself

If you like music or romance, or genuine and believable characters, I think you will enjoy this read.  It isn’t your average YA music book – it takes place at an opera camp – but  don’t let that deter you.  There is plenty of catty girl stare downs, some awkward shirtless guy encounters, and a little bit of geek-girl-letting-go in the depths of this coming of age tale.

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Goodreads Summary

Kiki Nichols might not survive music camp.

She’s put her TV-loving, nerdy self aside for one summer to prove she’s got what it takes: she can be cool enough to make friends, she can earn that music scholarship, and she can get into Krause University’s music program.

Except camp has rigid conduct rules—which means her thrilling late-night jam session with the hot drummer can’t happen again, even though they love all the same TV shows, and fifteen minutes making music with him meant more than every aria she’s ever sung.

But when someone starts snitching on rule breakers and getting them kicked out, music camp turns into survival of the fittest. If Kiki’s going to get that scholarship, her chance to make true friends—and her chance with the drummer guy—might cost her the future she wants more than anything.

My Thoughts

I particularly enjoyed the narrator, Kiki.  She is smart, medium quirky, and a character who feels things deeply.  I related to her anxious attempts to become more social, and her obsessive drive to prove herself.  She won’t be everyone’s cup of tea initially because she comes across as pretty meek and insecure, but readers who stick it out will realize exactly how strong she can be.  This journey is one that a lot of YA readers will find engaging, especially since the message is about being true to yourself.  Kiki struggles with that quest, as many of us do, and that feels genuine.  The cast of secondary characters are varied and I love the fact that they surprised me, often as much as Kiki did.  Overall, this read is one I’m happy to put in my high school classroom library.  It has a clean and compelling romance – these characters aren’t squeaky clean, but they aren’t going to horrify your mother with their antics — a nice coming of age story, and Kiki is a character I would be proud to point to as a role model.  It is definitely going on my wish list.  Language  and situations are appropriate for grades 14+.

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

The Star-Touched Queen – a fever dream of Indian folklore and mythology

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The Star-Touched Queen – a fever dream of Indian folklore and mythology

In The Star-Touched Queen,  lush descriptions and exotic details are paired with an epic and mythical feel to create a beautiful book with a really cool story nestled inside.  This book has both content and style, and yet I would hesitate to hand it to just anyone because the style will overwhelm some readers.

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Goodreads Summary

Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets — thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself.

A lush and vivid story that is steeped in Indian folklore and mythology. The Star-Touched Queen is a novel that no reader will soon forget.

My Thoughts

It felt like a fever dream.  Things would inexplicably shift and I wasn’t always sure what had happened or why.  Neither was the narrator, and yet she kept forging ahead while I was left a beat behind, still trying to explain what she just accepted.  It reads like a lot of the world literature works I teach, and if you are not willing to just accept some strange elements popping up and go with the flow, it may leave you frustrated.  I think the biggest hurdle appears shortly before the main character faces a monumental decision, and as the story got murkier and more mystical, I felt that a lot of my high school students would close the book and move on.   That would be a shame because the resolution is satisfying, but I know my students well enough to say it would be the breaking point.  There is an audience for this book, and I certainly see it garnering awards.  I think it would be a great book to push readers to a new level.  However, I can’t see it being a book that gets more attention from YA readers than from adult readers of YA.  It is appropriate for high school readers.

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

Daughters of Ruin – Don’t judge this one by its cover, or its summary. Really, you should just read my review.

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Daughters of Ruin – Don’t judge this one by its cover, or its summary.  Really, you should just read my review.

This was a pretty fierce read.  Ignore the cover and the summary because they both fail to really impart how vicious and bloodthirsty this book is.  I admit it sounds sweet – four future queens raised to be sisters and guardians of peace.  However, something went seriously wrong with this plan because each new scene pits these girls against each other in everything from hand-to-hand combat to the subtle art of mean girling.

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Goodreads Summary

Rhea, Cadis, Suki, and Iren have lived together since they were children. They are called sisters. They are not. They are called equals. They are not. They are princesses…and they are enemies.

Not long ago, a brutal war ravaged their kingdoms, and Rhea’s father was the victor. As a gesture of peace, King Declan brought the daughters of his rivals to live under his protection—and his ever-watchful eye. For ten years the girls have trained together as diplomats and warriors, raised to accept their thrones and unite their kingdoms in peace.

But there is rarely peace among sisters. Sheltered Rhea was raised to rule everyone—including her “sisters”—but she’s cracking under pressure. The charismatic Cadis is desperately trying to redeem her people from their actions during the war. Suki guards deep family secrets that isolate her, and quiet Iren’s meekness is not what it seems.

All plans for peace are shattered when the palace is attacked. As their intended futures lie in ashes, Rhea, Cadis, Suki, and Iren must decide where their loyalties lie: to their nations, or to each other.

My Thoughts

I think my high school readers are going to be wildly engaged by this book.  It isn’t just the fact that the plot is full of action packed fight scenes.  This book also manages to concisely convey the universal emotions and doubts inherent in coming of age.  Add in the surprising twists of plot and unexpected reversal of characters, and you have a story that is guaranteed to captivate a wide range of readers.  I’ll admit that I wasn’t sold on a book that involved four narrative voices, and I did have a preference for Rhea, the initial narrative voice.  However, I am now convinced that this was a pretty smart move on the part of the author because it acts as a device that rotates the story so readers get a 360′ view of the plot, which maximizes the depth of the twists and betrayals.  I know I’m gushing here, and I’m not sure that this book is gush-worthy for a few simple reasons.  The narrative sometimes felt disjointed.  There are clearly chapters that are styled with purpose and intent to be disjointed, but several times outside of those chapters, I found myself having to retread passages that just weren’t smooth enough to be clear.  I also didn’t really connect emotionally with these characters. Two characters were, I believe, distant by design.  However, I still struggled to embrace the two characters I felt I was suppose to connect with, which I think is the fallout of having four narrative voices.  I don’t think these issues interfered with my overall enjoyment of this book, and I would recommend it to my high school students, particularly those who have enjoyed books like Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen or Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass.  The characters are distinct, crafty, and battle hardened lady warriors, and I found them quite intriguing.  I can’t wait to get a copy or three in my classroom library. Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers, but I think a lot of adult readers of YA will enjoy this just as much.

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

Dreaming of Antigone 

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Dreaming of Antigone 

You can’t have a book that references Antigone without some dark family drama, and this book does rise to the challenge.  Dead sisters, men abusing power, and questions about fate and guilt surface in a contemporary take on the way we protect and destroy our families.

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Goodreads Summary

Every star has its own path…

“I can’t ever be the blazing star that Iris was. I’m still just a cold, dark satellite orbiting a star that went super nova.”
Andria’s twin sister, Iris, had adoring friends, a cool boyfriend, a wicked car, and a shelf full of soccer trophies. She had everything, in fact—including a drug problem. Six months after Iris’s death, Andria is trying to keep her grades, her friends, and her family from falling apart. But stargazing and books aren’t enough to ward off her guilt that she—the freak with the scary illness and all-black wardrobe—is still here when Iris isn’t. And then there’s Alex Hammond. The boy Andria blames for Iris’s death. The boy she’s unwittingly started swapping lines of poetry and secrets with, even as she tries to keep hating him.

Heartwrenching, smart, and bold, Dreaming of Antigone is a story about the jagged pieces that lie beneath the surface of the most seemingly perfect life…and how they can fit together to make something wholly unexpected.

My Thoughts

Readers will appreciate the honest depiction of the emotions and internal battles that are part of the aftermath of tragedy.  Andria, the narrator, is compelling both for her normalcy and for the events in her life that make her anything but normal.  Her conflicted attraction to the reformed bad boy she feels is responsible for her sister’s terrible spiral makes for an engaging set of complications as well.  I have to say, too, that the author took a set of dramatic circumstances and managed to keep them from taking over the story.  The focus here is really on the relationships, and I think that is why it worked so well.  Feelings and reactions didn’t feel exaggerated or overblown, and I think YA readers will respond to this tone because it feels believable.  Finally, you don’t gave to have any background knowledge to enjoy this book, but if you do, it adds another layer to the story.  I particularly enjoyed the way Andria’s perceptions of herself shift how she relates to the Greek tragedy she is studying in high school.  Overall, I think this book will be popular with my high school readers and I’m adding it to my high school classroom library wish list.  While the themes are mature, the approach makes this book appropriate for grades 9+.

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

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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.

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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.