I don’t remember the last time I stayed up past my bedtime to finish a book. It was probably five years a...moreReview first posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
I don’t remember the last time I stayed up past my bedtime to finish a book. It was probably five years ago when I was still in college. At least. So the fact that I stayed up way past midnight on a weeknight to finish Breaking Beautiful (on the same day I started it) should mean something. It should mean a lot. (Because as if that wasn’t enough, it kept me up for another half hour thinking about it.)
A book with this kind of premise could easily turn into a Lifetime movie, soaking in cliché. In fact, after reading other reviews, this was my fear. Getting hooked on a book was one thing but I wanted it to be because the story was actually good, not because it was like a train wreck I couldn’t peel my eyes away from.
I’m happy to say it did not cross into the realm of Lifetime television but did a solid job of exploring some tough themes without much sugar coating or fairy tale endings.
Who knows? Maybe I’ve had the pleasure of knowing people who are repeatedly dealt blows by life but I had no problem believing Allie could have experienced all of these hardships in real life: an abusive relationship, bullying, a car accident that killed her boyfriend (a night she has totally blocked out of her memory), and a disabled twin brother – sure, it’s a lot. But Allie’s reactions to all of these situations were reasonable and realistic. She had good things in her life too – an old friend named Blake and a super close relationship with her brother, Andrew. It’s no surprise that her “hidden life” has clouded those good things. She is constantly questioning her own worth and who wouldn’t after the boyfriend you loved (and you believed loved you back) treated you with such cruelty?
As a reader, it is so frustrating to watch as Allie lies, covers up, avoids, and hides when she could be telling the truth. That frustration we feel means that the author is doing a killer job at making us feeling exactly what Allie is going through, and most importantly, those around her who care just want her to get better and be happy again.
One of the book’s main themes is control. Tripp’s parents are rich and have a lot of clout (too much) on the small town. So there’s that and Allie’s desperation to take control of her life, the lack of physical control her brother may have, and the power Tripp’s ghost and their memories have on Allie as she attempts to move on. Control is a funny thing. Everyone wants it and when they get it, there is no telling what might happen. Some may even surprise you.
In a way, this book is part mystery. We discover the events of the accident along with Allie as she is able to remember and confront more of her demons. Until the end, I did not find the revealed events to be predictable at all. The author did a commendable job of weaving memories with the present day and also keeping the suspense and tension high. (And this is why I needed a caffeine drip the morning after I finished it.)
I’m not going to lie. Many of the events in this book are terrifying. The helplessness that Allie feels, her mom’s allegiance to Tripp’s family and her legacy to the town, the utter desperation so many of these characters feel. Even once I hit the last page, that desperation and fear felt like it was haunting me. Breaking Beautiful reveals the bleakest depths of the human spirit and the not so pretty process it takes to get back to feeling like you. And we can’t go around ignoring that the bad exists.
I hope Shaw is busy at work on her next book, because after reading Breaking Beautiful, it will certainly make its way on my list.(less)
Summary: Peter’s dreams of being a big-time pitcher on the high school baseball team are cut short...moreReview originally posted on Ratherbereadingblog.com:
Summary: Peter’s dreams of being a big-time pitcher on the high school baseball team are cut short when an elbow injury stops him from playing baseball ever again. Even though he has photography to fall back on, he is still unable to come to grips with his new reality (and be honest with his best friend and teammate about it). Not to mention Gramps, his favorite relative (and the person who taught him to love photography), seems not to be himself lately and there’s that girl in class he can’t seem to stop thinking about…
Before I even say anything, I’m going to tell you to buy Curveball. Remember I said that.
Confession: I have a huge crush on Peter. He’s an athlete, he’s creative, he cares about his family, he says silly things, and he’s hilarious. It might be because I’ve been reading some dark books recently but Peter is like a breath of fresh air in a stale, stale environment. And I thought that would be hard to maintain as the author because of the serious themes that weave themselves in and out of the chapters, but no. Curveball manages to be funny, smart, adorable, heartbreaking, and real all at the same time. Remember what I said in the first sentence? (Reminder: Buy this book.)
This book is about the struggle to be honest with yourself about what’s happening in your life. This is the truth of many of these characters. Peter, of course, with his unusable pitching arm. But then there is best friend, A.J. (who is a real trip) and even Gramps (who I keep picturing as Carl in Up). The book may sound male heavy but it’s not drowning in testosterone either. It was easily relatable and I liked I was able to see into a male’s psyche as he went through such a rough identity crisis. I think Peter took the whole thing in stride though. His arm, that is. When Gramps starts to show signs of his age and declining memory, their bond is so apparent; it reminded me a lot of my grandmother and I.
Then there’s Angelika. She is not like any girl I’ve read about lately. She’s sarcastic and sassy but sweet and flirty. Their first encounter in the earlier chapters had me laughing out loud in the bookstore. (Yes I was the loudest one around.) I also liked how the book didn’t make their romance centerstage. It was gradual and given room to breathe. Much more realistic when Peter is going through so many other things at the same time.
Honestly, the whole time I read this… I was thinking how much I wanted Magan to read it too. There’s a lot of photography jargon thrown around and it made me feel really excited about pictures and I’m curious what a professional like Magan would think. (Gramps was also a wedding photographer.) Photography is such an important outlet for Peter. It gives him something to fall back on when baseball doesn’t exactly work out, it serves as a connection between him and his grandfather, and also helps him find his way to Angelika and a few other realizations along the way.
The writing is clean and concise but is still able to garner a ton of emotion. Curveball is the perfect blend of seriousness and humor, as well as able to balance the family, friendship, and romance storylines very well. For such a fast paced novel, readers are able to get a great gauge on these relationships and really connect with the characters. This is the first book I’ve read by Sonnenblick and I am anxious to give him another try.(less)
I love when authors take creative chances. When they do it right, the book morphs into more of an e...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
I love when authors take creative chances. When they do it right, the book morphs into more of an experience than just some paper bound together in your purse.
Between You & Me is just that. Written in screenplay style, author Marisa Calin introduces us to Phyre, a 16-year old girl, who loves theater and her best friend – a best friend that garners no name, simply known as ‘You’, with no description whatsoever, just movements and words and perhaps a clothing description every now and then.
It may be disconcerting to be kept in the dark about a character who is very much the heart of this novel, but we do get to see You in Phyre’s eyes and get equally frustrated when You’s actions constitute more than friendship and her friend is utterly blind to it.
So this is the thing. We have no idea if You is a girl or a guy. To be completely honest, during my first read through, I thought You was a girl. Once I (begrudgingly) finished the book, I read the Publishers Weekly review where it was mentioned that it was not divulged if You was a girl or a guy. Did I get amped up or what. It was almost midnight and I literally could not sleep because I found that hard to believe.
It’s funny the tricks your mind plays on you when you are reading. Somehow you are filling in the blanks with words that weren’t even on the page. I could swear I read that You was wearing a dress at one point and instead, You was all dressed up. So I went back, two days later, and reread the entire book again. This time, I pictured You as a boy.
And my conclusion? The book certainly works from both angles. But it made me hyper aware of these categories that I place people in. Yellow shirt, crossed ankles, light enough to lift into a treehouse – oh that must definitely mean You is a girl. But does it? Unconsciously we form all of these stereotypes in our head and cleverly and intricately Calin reminds us to forget them, check them at the door. That is not what matters here.
It is the love. It is the playful, intimate friendship between these two characters. It is how You will come over in the middle of the night to paint Phyre’s room because the color is bothering her. You (as in us) don’t meet people like that every day. And despite You’s silent and sweet attempts to show her these blossoming feelings, Phyre is totally crushing on her new theater teacher – the passionate, smart, cute, and encouraging Mia. The way Phyre bumbles around Mia and chastises herself for saying moronic things in front of her is so spot-on. Don’t misunderstand, Mia is clearly the teacher here; she never eggs Phyre on but still she is absolutely enchanting. Calin brings to the forefront various descriptions of light when it comes to Mia and it is breathtakingly clear why Mia is so worth living in this bubble of fantasy, even when it means Phyre taking You for granted.
The script style is, as it should be, very bare bones but Calin weaves in Phyre’s (uncensored) thoughts within the stage direction but manages to keep them simple, succinct and straightforward. The pacing is quick but the moments remain, bleeding into scene after scene. The format is a challenging experiment, but Calin’s writing is genuine and impactful nevertheless. I probably could have highlighted the entire book.
As a theater fan, I love how Calin incorporated parts of a school play that, in ways, paralleled the moments between Phyre and You. I admired Phyre’s passion and dedication to her craft, and so many of the creative elements incorporated into the production. It might be hard to believe that so much emotion could be alive and kicking in a book that isn’t overflowing with monologues or description but it is so there. So many times I had to close the book because the feelings were overwhelming and oh-so familiar.
Between You & Me has easily become one of my top reads of 2012, whether we are talking strictly about 2012 releases or of all the books I’ve read so far. It’s challenging, it’s thought provoking, and an innovative way of looking at relationships and preconceived notions of love and happiness. It just is.(less)
A little lighter than I thought, Take a Bow is super fast-paced and full of some fun characters. As high school seniors at a performing...moreCloser to 3.5.
A little lighter than I thought, Take a Bow is super fast-paced and full of some fun characters. As high school seniors at a performing arts school, they each have their own set of challenges they are facing. I liked Emme and Ethan's characters best, and felt the other two featured were a bit superficial. In general, I don't think the book had the same depth that I found The Lonely Hearts Club to have but I could certainly identify with many of the emotions swirling through the book.
I also would have loved more of an inclusion of lyrics being that two of the characters wrote songs, as well as a male realistic male voice for both Ethan and Carter.
Highlights were definitely the friendship between the band, the bravery a majority of them must muster up, and finding out who your true friends are.
Various Positions is a tough book to classify. The main character is 14 but has some very adult tho...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
Various Positions is a tough book to classify. The main character is 14 but has some very adult thoughts when it comes to sex. She’s fantasizing about her dance teacher, watching porn on the internet, and buying lingerie in hopes of someone seeing it. It’s an interesting juxtaposition from the character we meet initially. Georgia is skittish when it comes to her friends talking about sex and kissing and then she secretly begins to obsess with this world.
You don’t need me to tell you sex is a private thing. In my circle of friends, it wasn’t something we were very open about. At least with the girls. But I do remember those 14-year old boys, bringing it up anytime they could, teasing us, and being very open about the porn they were watching. While reading Various Positions, I stopped several times wondering if the uneasiness surrounding this particular book would exist if we were reading about a guy. And then I think Schabas has done something remarkable – given us an intimate look into the way Georgia’s mind works, stripping her of all boundaries. There are no limits when it comes to uncovering her actions and thoughts. Thoughts that are dark and honest and real.
This book is incredibly well-written and does a brilliant job of presenting a series of different women, full of their own beliefs and their own insecurities. Georgia is brought up in a household where her mother stresses about good looks and has a shaky relationship with Georgia’s dad, who for the most part is MIA. Then there is her independent, feminist half-sister who provides her with support and the constant reminder to not let her dad’s indifference get the best of her. You can see how this dynamic in her family life (and the secrets she soon discovers) cause her to be so unbalanced and confused.
While I was never hoping to be a professional dancer, I did dance for many years and the scrutiny I felt from the company owner and then on my own is something that still affects me to this day. The perfection of movement and appearance – you never know how that will affect someone and we see many levels of it here. Schabas seems to remember with great clarity both the challenges (both mental and physical) and pride and passion that come along with this profession.
Various Positions is not for every reader. Maybe when I was 14, it wouldn’t have been deemed super appropriate but in 2012 with Teen Mom, Jersey Shore, and the ability to find whatever term or video on the internet with just a click or two, I imagine many would relate or at least not shy away from the context. To take it one step further, I would love to see a book like this on a college syllabus – my college in particular would have loved to dissect this one to death. It’s an intimate and multi-layered look into the feelings of actions of different women. And how they just might surprise you.(less)
For reasons I can’t completely grasp (even after I finished it a week ago), I felt strongly conne...moreReview first posted live on Rather Be Reading Blog --
For reasons I can’t completely grasp (even after I finished it a week ago), I felt strongly connected to Jesse and Emily’s relationship. At times, I wanted to just throw the book across the room because the dread, the ache, the excitement between the two was so real to me. It felt like I was experiencing it myself. That would be thanks to author Madeleine George, who I was delighted to find out is a playwright living right in my backyard (NYC). It’s really no surprise. She writes with a stark simplicity that I quite liked and her character development was very strong. The plot moved at a reasonable pace, and every word seemed very deliberate. I’m not normally a fan of books that don’t offer a ton of dialogue but I found myself very intrigued with the inner thoughts of these characters. If I walked into any crowded room, I felt I could easily uncover Jesse and Emily, even if I hardly “heard” them speak.
Jesse is the kind of character I love. She is brave. And while she has a strong sense of who she is, she is also incredibly flawed. This is important to me as a reader and a human being. Her secret hook-ups with Emily definitely start to take a toll. She worries about what this means about the kind of person she is. She’s falling for a person that her family may not approve of, someone who may not ever want to hold her hand in public. But she allows herself to dream that impossible dream, as so many of us do. No matter how painful the truth is, and how much deep down, we know what we might be doing is wrong. All of these emotions surrounding their relationship were so incredibly vivid, especially when we learn what Emily is feeling… or not.
Emily is so proper, and so much about appearances and doing the right thing, I almost felt like she was campaigning to be the next President of the United States. She was not a person who let her guard down. She worried about moving forward and getting ahead, and taking charge and keeping things in order. So she must have felt really messed up that she was feeling such affection for Jesse and enjoyed making out with her. At times she even allowed herself to dream about making this relationship something more. I enjoyed those times because, otherwise, Emily came off as a cold person. And I could relate to Jesse feeling so crazed about the whole thing because the two didn’t communicate about their feelings, their fears, or what everything meant. (That would have made me crazy. I like to talk everything out and know what every move means.)
So here we have these two characters narrating alternate chapters, and then Esther turns up. She and Jesse end up becoming friends, bonding over their mothers and accepting their differences and their interests in meaningful work. I liked her character, but I’m not sure of the conscious decision to give her 2 chapters out of the entire book. I felt we could have easily found out these tidbits about her from Jesse’s point of view for sure. Structurally, it didn’t work for me, and emotionally, I was more invested in Jesse and Emily especially once the Starmart conflict comes into play. Similarly to TESSA MASTERSON WILL GO TO PROM, we have another situation where a big business is attempting to take over local businesses. The catch? This is the same business Emily recruited to sponsor their latest school dance. Much comes into question for Emily and Jesse when this situation blows up at school. So much so that this conflict becomes the driving force behind the movement of the plot, and not so much their relationship – which I liked a lot.
In the end though, and quite surprising to me, only one of these characters comes full circle in their journey. One character changes. I don’t necessarily agree with that decision. The ending certainly snuck up on me; I could have used more resolution in several aspects of the book. All in all, I love how this book was written, and I was more than happy to read an LGBT that chronicles the lives of 3 such different people. It teaches us that you can’t always choose who you love, and perhaps, it teaches us even more about acceptance. (less)
These days it is uncanny how easy it is to keep track of people. With Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, we...moreReview first posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
These days it is uncanny how easy it is to keep track of people. With Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, we are constantly keeping tabs on people we know (or knew). (Don’t lie. You know you do it.) But in the case of the internet, the success of your stalking depends on the person — how much they update, what they choose to share, etc. The old fashioned way though… that’s different story. It takes a little more effort, some thought.
And Cammie, the main character of The Stalker Chronicles, is pretty talented and relentless when it comes to that old-fashioned way of doing things. It’s not because she wants to hurt anyone or publicize someone’s private life or anything. Deep down, she really wants people to like her. She really wants to know things about people. So she takes a leap and in the past, landed on her face. So many times that she is sweetly known as the “stalker” in school. She can’t seem to get people to forget all she has done (photos, notes, phone calls, trash cans, etc.) and at the same time, can’t stop doing it. It’s like an addiction.
Then new boy Toby shows up. Finally! Someone who may not know the total truth about her. And she makes him a challenge for herself. Can she get him to like her without overdoing it like she’s done in the past? But when he starts missing school and ya know she walks in the boy’s restroom to find him (ha), she discovers Toby may have his own secret past and Cammie sort of reverts back into her stalking ways.
I liked Cammie as a character a lot. In ways, the books reminded me of Various Positions (review to come) and not in the overly sexualized way. But in the way that author Carley Moore gave us a glimpse into the inner workings of a young girl, the crevices no one cares to admit because it’s too shameful. With Cammie, there is nothing left unspoken. She is blatantly honest. Matter of fact. You are able to establish a relationship with her, experience her mistakes, and root for her along the way.
Family also plays a HUGE part in this story. While Cammie is dealing with her own demons, her parents’ marriage is beginning to deteriorate and we see how Cammie’s stalking plays a part in how she deals with this shift in her household. In a lot of the young adult books I’ve read, parents are already divorced and the process of separation rarely takes centerstage. I thought this element of TSC was very strong and true to life. I also enjoyed Cammie’s relationship with her brother. I like siblings who are different but nice. (Cammie and her brother are only a year apart but their age difference seems much larger… you’ll see.)
There are many funny and cringe-worthy moments in The Stalker Chronicles. In the end, it’s the portrait of a girl who wears her self-consciousness on her sleeve. While she displays a certain awareness of all that goes on with kids her age, she does act younger than a typical sophomore in high school. Her immaturity is due to lack of experience and the lack of experience is due to her tendency to blurt out whatever pops into her head and her desire for people to like her and accept her. Who can’t relate to those feelings? I know that I certainly can.(less)
It’s going to be difficult to explain just how utterly amazing Thumped is without giving too much aw...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
It’s going to be difficult to explain just how utterly amazing Thumped is without giving too much away. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect a) to like this book more than the first (I DID!) and b) it to be one of my favorite reads of the year so far. (I’m about 40 books in.) But you have heard it here folks: Thumped was worth the wait (and follows in the footsteps of several other awesome April 2012 book releases — how lucky are we!)
One suggestion before I get into the actual story: read or reread Bumped before diving into this one. Because of the intricate world that McCafferty has created, I think it’s best for there to be little to no breathing room before books. It won’t take you quite as long to get reacquainted with these quirky characters and most importantly, the clever language. I also guarantee there are a bunch of small details you’ve forgotten over time. I know I had.
There are a lot of twists and turns throughout Thumped and rightfully so. McCafferty left the characters in quite a predicament at the end of Book 1 and what I like about this sequel is that it fast-forwards a few months, and even though we immediately jump back into the lives of Harmony and Melody, I was seriously kept guessing through a lot of it. Did she? Didn’t she? Is she? Is he? What? Truth: My fingers couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.
This book forces Melody and Harmony to comes to terms with their beliefs and to take a stand in order for there to be change. It’s very girl power when you think about it and not in a rah-rah way but in a “I didn’t know I was a strong woman but I AM a strong woman and I need to do this” sort of way. Of course, this strength doesn’t appear out of nowhere. Instead it was just a seed planted in the first book and one that continued to take control in the second. In fact, even many of the supporting characters (who we get to know more intimately in Thumped) have to make choices that are equally difficult and unpopular in this world. Can 5 people elicit the change needed in a world where babies are sold to the highest bidder? It’s the big question overarching the entire plotline.
I believe it was purposeful for McCafferty to make her characters feel so detached the first time around. I actually was surprised by how much more invested I was in them in Book 2, even emotionally choked up at some points. (We all know I’m a sap. Sue me.) But it makes sense. These characters deepen and open up more. There are very adult truths they have to face at a young age, while at the same time wrestling with the challenges of the teenagers we know today.
In a book world where we are drowning in trilogies, I have to point out that McCafferty does a great job of developing these characters and this plotline, and then tying up loose ends in the second without need for another book. I was a little worried at first, knowing how involved the story was. But the pacing worked and I felt quite satisfied when I reached the last page.
Okay, I’m going to quit being so vague and just tell you this: this series proves just how thought provoking the YA genre can be. It is about sisterhood. It is a commentary on the celebrity-obsessed world we live in and how the media can blow it all out of proportion. It is about parenting and enjoying the simple things. It is about doing the right thing even when it’s the most complicated and it seems like everyone is against you. Most of all it is about FEELING something in an age where we are connected through disconnect.
P.S. Brainstorm: wouldn’t a companion book from the perspective of one of the male characters be super intriguing? Especially a few more years in the future? (less)
It’s been a long time since I dived into a Middle Grade book. The last time was probably seven year...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
It’s been a long time since I dived into a Middle Grade book. The last time was probably seven years ago when I was in my backyard starting the Harry Potter series. Years and years after it had first been released because I didn’t think I could get into it. Was I ever wrong. As most of us know, Harry Potter is the quintessential good vs. evil, love vs. hate type series. With friendships and magical powers even I could appreciate. Everything about it is so diligently detail oriented, and that was part of the reason I adored the series so much and felt so attached to the characters. All the elements of a well-planned out, well-cared for story were there.
While The Storm Makers was reminiscent of the Harry Potter series for me (basically because Simon was almost like “the chosen one”, the good vs. evil theme, and for its more fantastical elements), the writing style and the basic plot line brought me back to some classics of my own middle grade reading experiences. Specifically, A Wrinkle and Time and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, where two siblings embark on some sort of adventure and are forced to come together and overcome odds in some way. The big difference in The Storm Makers is Jennifer E. Smith’s simple yet gorgeous way of writing. I have to admit that was one of my biggest fears. Would her style remain intact even though she was writing for a younger audience? And it does. It really does. She has such a quiet, down-to-earth way of explaining the thoughts of her characters… it’s so exclusively her. (Seriously, Jennifer can do no wrong in my eyes.)
The idea of a group individuals having the power to control the weather is fascinating, and I really liked the way it was presented here especially since Simon isn’t particularly talented at any one thing and Ruby is more book smart of the two. There’s a certain shift in jealously that would provide for some interesting discussions in a class, or even with parents who are reading this book with their children. I loved there were so many elements of the story that could be used to teach children something but not in a way that was banging them over the head with lessons about the world. When the villain of the story comes into play and his own actions are fully known, there is just an overflow of subjects that can be brought up and fully discussed. As a person who absolutely loved the literature portion of any of my grades, I could just imagine the amazing projects that could come out of a book like this one.
A word of warning: The Storm Makers starts a little slow. It probably took about a hundred pages or so before I was fully invested in it. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not used to reading this type of grade level or just because it’s typical in a book that needs to introduce so much, especially if it is to become a series. (I’m not sure if this is going to happen but it definitely could.) There’s a lot to set up when it comes to creating an involved world like this one, but I think patience pays off in the end. Readers will grow to relate to (or care for) either Ruby or Simon (or both) and the supporting characters carry their own depth in many entertaining (and heartbreaking) ways. I’m interested to see if and when the story continues…(less)
You know what’s exhausting? Reading so many books back-to-back with female protagonists! I’m a girl...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
You know what’s exhausting? Reading so many books back-to-back with female protagonists! I’m a girl; I totally get it. We’re complicated. We’re emotional! This is why reading a book like Curveball or Paper Towns and now, Lexapros and Cons, is like splashing cold water on my face ala a Neutrogena commercial. The boys can be just as insecure and misguided as the gals but their voices are so fresh.
Take Chuck Taylor for example. (Named neither for the basketball player or the shoe. A fan of the shoe, and not the sport.) Senior in high school. Total genius. Brother of popular (younger) sister who still won’t accept his friend request on Facebook. Pretty much invisible to everyone except his best friend Steve. And slave to his OCD. He can’t sleep because he can’t stop feeling like he has to pee and he’s always getting up to quadruple check the stove to make sure it’s off. He can’t walk away from his locker without making sure it’s locked at least 18 times. For a kid who is all set to go away to college in a few months, these are definitely behaviors he needs to be able to control. Even the senior trip – the NO CHAPERONES senior trip he has been looking forward to since freshman year – is an issue. It’s camping. How can a kid with OCD go camping? With bugs and dirt? Chuck’s answer: he can’t.
So you can see how this premise has the potential to equal heavy, serious story (i.e. It’s Kind of a Funny Story) but Lexapros and Cons is aware of life. It doesn’t stop because one serious thing is weighing us down. There are still surprises and hilarious moments and friends with their own shit going on. And that’s why this book is just as awesome as its title. Chuck may have real struggles to work through but he’s hilarious. I dare you not to like him. As a reader, I enjoy a book so much more when a character is open and honest about who they really are. With Chuck, nothing is held back. You know how many times he masturbates but at the same time, how swoony he gets over the new girl, Amy. (He also has a shoe collection some of us might die for.)
Amy! She sounds like the coolest girl on the planet (thanks to Chuck). I mean who could wear a camouflage jacket with ballet flats and always say “right on” and get away with it? (Not me.) She’s just a part of the great team of supporting characters, including best friend Steve who is equally funny in his own geeky way. I will admit to liking Chuck’s “courting” of Amy just as much as his friendship with Steve. It’s also interesting how both of these characters each play a role in being a catalyst in Chuck’s attempts to deal with his OCD.
The book also deals with bullying, friendship, and being honest about who you are. It’s about making your own choices. Choices you need to make for yourself and not for others. I’m glad Karo depicted OCD as a disease that cannot be fixed by pills and doctor visits alone. It takes time, patience, support, and sometimes falling on your face.
You know what? I think it’s time to hang out with the boys. Because they say silly and sweet things, have active sex drives, and have just as much trouble working through their own shit as the next girl in your book pile.(less)
During one of my non-fiction writing classes in college, we were required to read Truman Capote’s In Col...moreReview first posted at Rather Be Reading Blog:
During one of my non-fiction writing classes in college, we were required to read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Have you read it? It’s the account of the 1959 murders of a family — Dad, Mom, sister, brother — in a small farm town in Kansas. The book includes the gory details of the murder, several interviews with the convicted murderers, and the aftermath experienced by the town residents. Published in 1966, In Cold Blood is known as the premiere book in the true crime genre, the “original” non-fiction novel.
And I was obsessed with it.
I watched all the movies and did plenty of extra research, even though the whole story scared the shit out of me. Two men coming into your house and shooting you all in the head. It’s not something that happened every day but to me, the point was: it could happen. Capote was able to spin a news story into some kind of magic trick, a play where cold-blooded murderers were depicted as human beings. You felt like you were reading fiction until you remembered that it was all true.
Calling In Cold Blood one of my favorite books of all time may seem out of character for the girl who is surrounded by YA novels on a daily basis, sure. That’s probably why I didn’t think Mister Death would do much for me. It was a complete surprise when it woke the stirrings I had once felt reading In Cold Blood. Although, instead of a book chronicling a real crime, this one, while inspired by a similar situation the author experienced, was completely fictionalized. But it didn’t matter that it was fiction. The emotions were raw, and the story was gripping (without being over-dramatized). It was as good as real.
Here we have a group of teenagers planning to have the summer of their lives when disaster strikes: two of their friends are found murdered in the woods and nothing will be the same again. Most of the story is told through the eyes of Nora, a self-admitted good girl, lover of God, and ever so self-conscious and and over-analytical. While she was friends with the victims (Bobby Jo and Cheryl), she lives on the other side of town and knows them mostly through her best friend, Ellie. (There are many supporting characters in this story.) Maybe this is shocking but she is most affected by these events because a) if they had not been running late, she and Ellie would have been in the woods too and b) how is it that they were just dancing all night a few hours ago and now these girls are dead? (ala John Lennon’s “Life’s what happens when you are making other plans.” and Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking: “You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”)
Clearly, Nora is going through some heavy stuff. Her group of friends all disperse for the summer, leaving her very alone. She’s filled with dread, “insane thoughts” about God’s existence, her own commitment to religion, and most importantly, her own unpopular belief about who did not commit the crime. She is basically spinning out of control and I was hanging on to every word, feeling her heaviness, her fright, and uncertainty.
“Which is worse, I wonder, atheism or insanity?”
Dispersed between Nora’s chapters are snippets from her best friend, a boy she likes, the boy wrongly accused of a crime, and even chapters told by the killer himself, only known as Mister Death. I loved this. Hearing what the other characters were going through, the haunting words from the one who pulled the trigger, and even words from the victims themselves. Tensions build, secrets are spilled, and more comes out in the open. These chapters could have certainly been jarring, but their placement made sense and never disconnected me from Nora. She was never too far away.
You should know… this is less of a whodunit and more of a psychological analysis of the affects of a traumatic event and how it affects others for years to come. If all true crime dramas dug this deep and pulled out such authentic actions and emotions, I would certainly be inclined to read more of them.
I passionately believe this book, while targeted to the YA audience, has the meat, the themes, and the human insight to be received by a wider audience with open arms. While reading it and now that I have finished, I am more than positive Mister Death could find its way to many kinds of readers. These unexpected events and the reactions these characters have to them are relatable on so many levels. While no one wants to imagine a similar tragedy occurring in their life, it is difficult not to think “what if” while reading Hahn’s engrossing words.(less)
“Because it’s New York fucking City and it’s the coolest city in the whole world.”
When I was younger, my best friend (at the time) and I would make mixed tapes for each other by recording songs from music videos on VH1 or MTV. I distinctly remember setting my mini boom box on my TV stand and pressing record. In Supergirl Mixtapes, Maria receives tapes from her best friend, Dory, who is in college. The tapes are full of strong female performers as well as whatever she is listening to at the moment. To Maria, these tapes provide a comfort and a connection to a person she can’t be with all the time; they were made to cover every kind of mood.
In general, music is a connector and comfort to most of the characters in this book. Why they need that connection and that comfort is a whole other story.
From the title Supergirl Mixtapes might be mistaken for a light, coming-of-age story and even though the back summary talks of a “darker side” and her mom’s “shadowy past”, I was not prepared for the events that ended up taking place. Maria was a different kind of main character for me. She was more of a risk taker, sort of a loner yet self-sufficient and full of passion for all things music. It’s an interesting thing to grow up without a mom (and without zero contact with her) and all of sudden be your mother’s daughter while sort of being your mother’s mother too. Vic is a hip mom with her 20-year old boyfriend and desire to stay up listening to records on a school night, mastering dance moves from various decades.
Truth: Mother and daughter relationships are tricky and complex as it is. But Maria and Vic bring this knowledge to a whole new level.
Brothers does a great job of building on this conflict between Maria and her mom, then Maria and herself, and even involving Maria and her life in the South (mostly revelations about her own father). While reading, about a hundred different scenarios were buzzing in my head… I had no idea what Maria would discover about her mom, why she had left the South in the first place, and what would come out of this bizarre life she was living in New York – pretending to be one thing and being another entirely. (For the record, my theories were all wrong.)
Growing up around New York and spending most of my 9-5 here for the past couple of years, I loved reading about a book set in 1997 NYC. The only other YA book I’ve read recently that’s set in time other than present day is Other Words for Love which placed characters in 80s NYC. I find it a fascinating (and creative) decision to set a fictionalized book in a time so close to the present but still so wildly different. It really worked here. It’s always intriguing to hear about how a place grows and changes, and only in about 15 years? Crazy.
The author also presents some great secondary characters: Travis, mom’s boyfriend and a stomach-flipping guitar player; Gram, a college boy from the South that Maria meets in a record shop; Nina, an older friend of Maria’s mom who reminded me of Julie Andrews when she took Maria under her wing. Not only are these supporting characters well developed but it’s amazing just how much of an impact each has on Maria as well.
Looking back, one thing I would have liked to see in the book was more of a presence by the mixed tapes. Actual lists beginning every few chapters, maybe? Sure, the book itself was obviously written by someone with great rock music knowledge and provided a soundtrack all on its own but the actual tapes from Maria’s best friend may have tied up a few loose corners and made it live up to its name just a bit more.
And the ending. I’m not going to lie. After reading in the street as I walked to work (something I hate when other people do it), I would have liked a bit more resolution, sure. But in ways, the growth in Maria and her ability to maybe move forward and understand something about herself was apparent. Brothers has written a strong novel about a girl during one time in her life. A dark time. But a time full of discovery, too. Where she goes next… we don’t know but we certainly have an idea. And, for once, I wasn’t entirely bothered by unknown.
Just one more note. I couldn’t help but think of two of my (absolute) favorite books as I read this: God Shaped Hole and How to Kill a Rock Star by Tiffanie DeBartolo. Another writer who just oozes with her passion of music.(less)
I read Jo Knowles’ Jumping Off Swings a few months ago, and while I found it an engrossing read, I was u...moreReview first posted on: Rather Be Reading Blog
I read Jo Knowles’ Jumping Off Swings a few months ago, and while I found it an engrossing read, I was unhappy with the lack of character development and therefore, the lack of connection I had with the characters.
I’m happy to say I had the exact opposite reaction to See You at Harry’s. In fact, based on the bright cover with the empty glass of ice cream, I was expecting to read something a little bit lighter than my usual (internet predators, abuse, death) and instead was completely turned around by the events of the book.
Warning: you will cry.
Knowles presents us with a hardworking family. Dad owns a restaurant, Mom helps out but tends to get stressed easily, and older sis Sarah – on her “gap year” — works at the restaurant. That leaves three more kids: Fern, our main character, and her two brothers, Holden (older) and Charlie (three). All the kids are named after literary characters (a detail I loved) and Fern feels a lot of pressure to live up to hers. Fern was one of the main human characters in Charlotte’s Web and this Fern believes it’s her mission in life to be a good, dependable friend to everyone.
She’s starting to realize just how difficult this role is. Especially in her family. She feels a bit ignored, jealous of her cute younger brother that everyone loves, and upset with her dad for spending more time at his restaurant than seeing what is going on at home. Then there is her brother Holden, with whom she has a special connection. This isn’t a spoiler: he is gay, has always known that he is gay, and finally is ready to say that much to his family. In fact, he also starts dating for the first time.
For a book that is written for 5th grade and up, I thought this was an unbelievably brave move by Knowles and I completely appreciated her focusing on a character going through this kind of change, where he is bullied and feels unsupported. And also how a family comes to terms with the announcement.
As for the major turning point, I was not expecting for things to go down the way they did. At all. I had a few guesses along the way but I was wrong. Utterly and completely. What occurs is actually quite similar to something that happened during my freshman year of college, and one that continues to frighten me to no end. I don’t want to go any further but it forces this family to evaluate their roles in their own unit and work to be there for one another when life turns upside down.
It was extremely painful to read, but I think Knowles handled this storyline particularly well and I was reminded of some of the more serious reads from my elementary/middle school years (i.e. Bridge to Terabithia by Katharine Paterson). There are a lot of characters, and many different emotions being depicted and even though Fern at times feels more self-aware for someone at age 12, it felt carefully authentic. (I’m sure the topics could have been explored with more depth if for an older age bracket.)
Whether See You at Harry’s is read at home or in a classroom, it is sure to bring up important and relevant discussion. At any age, we can relate to huge changes in the family, finding a balance when it comes to work and home, and struggling through our own personal roles in a family. Knowles has written a fast-paced yet heartbreaking and refreshing novel that covers all the bases.(less)
You know how they say you shouldn’t go to the grocery store on an empty stomach?
The same belief could be applied to reading this book. With all the talk of grand food preparation and the recipes included after each “reality show” challenge, my stomach was constantly grumbling. (Williams included two of my absolute favorite foods too — pizza and eggs benedict!)
Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff… is a very cute novel featuring Sophie, a 16-year old who comes across as very sheltered due to her work at her family’s restaurant. She doesn’t have much experience with boys and it seems like her boy best friend, Alex, is pretty much the only solid friend in her life. (Not including the employees at her dad’s restaurant.) Instead of following in her father’s footsteps, she dreams of being a well-known chef and though she is self-conscious about her talents, she tries out for the reality show and makes it!
In ways, once Sophie makes it to California, this book reminded me of Lauren Conrad’s L.A. Candy trilogy especially when it uncovered just how “unrealistic” reality TV was. Instead of booze and boys, there’s a burn book and a few competitive moments orchestrated by the producers. Sophie is aware of what the producers of the show are trying to do — make TV worth watching and she manages to steer clear and watch what she says. (Although that doesn’t mean these people don’t twist her words when the show finally airs or she doesn’t question the loyalty of her friends at points.) I was happy to see she made two friends right off the bat — the adorable and funny Stan and the focused Shelby. She even reconnects with her mother’s sister, Mary, who owns an organic restaurant on the west coast. There is even the mysterious and European Luc, who sweeps Sophie away and causes her to question her feelings for her bestie, Alex.
Even though the book is description heavy, the pacing is still quick and I got a good handle on who Sophie was as a character. She had a great passion for cooking and she also loved her family. My one qualm were some moments that I felt were glossed over and I would have liked to have either a) more interaction or b) time not to jump so quickly. There’s some sweet innocent romance going on, for sure, (in fact it feels like these kids are 14 and not 16 much of the time) but it never overpowers the true focus of the book: Sophie venturing out on her own and figuring out how she can make the world a better place with her food.
For a feathery, fun read, perfect for the foodie or a person who enjoys spending time in the kitchen — a subject not spotlighted in many the world of YA. Let’s hear it for the pizza! (less)