There are a few things I’ve come to expect from a Jennifer E. Smith novel: gorgeous prose, intimate friendships, family conflicts, and probably my favorite: lovely details to relish and collect along the way.
I’m so happy to say that The Geography of You and Me delivers in each and every way with the added bonus of a setting that starts off in my favorite place of all-time, New York City, and manages to move along to the West Coast and overseas in a way that made me want to book a plane ticket and explore the world immediately.
Do you remember the blackout in 2003? It was right before I left for college and one of my close friends and I were planning to go into the city after I got out of work. We wanted to see a show in an attempt to make as many memories as possible before we were apart for the first time in years. Well, it never happened. The lights went out in the store I was working in and I went home to no electricity — my plans for the evening totally changed.
My night was definitely not as memorable as Lucy and Owen’s. They spent the night wandering the city, getting to know each other, and looking up at the stars on the roof of their building. (It was their coolest refuge in the crazy heat of the summer.) What I loved most was that their time together wasn’t memorable because something physical happened, but because they shared something — it was a night where they both would have been alone if they hadn’t been caught in the elevator together. (Owen’s dad was stuck in Coney Island, and Lucy’s parents were on vacation in London.) It was one night of so many inconveniences that seemed better than so many others strung together. I didn’t blame each of them for placing so much importance on it, for wondering if it meant as much to the other as it did to them.
I would have been in the same boat.
One magical night doesn’t erase the grieving process that Owen and his dad are going through since his mother died a few months ago. Nor does Lucy’s confusion about feeling excluded from her parents’ lives (and their lavish trips) and wanting so much to see more of the world. Something that really stood out to me were the relationships between each of the characters and their parents. When Owen and his dad decide to leave New York and road trip to their next destination, the two get this unheard of time together to make life work without a mom and a wife. I felt almost jealous of these memories they were making together, even when it was difficult and they didn’t know if each destination was their last.
On the other hand, Lucy had a lot of independence as a teenager. But her parents don’t consider her thoughts when they move her overseas to Edinburgh and her growth as a character has a lot to do with being open with her parents. It’s a difficult thing to do and while she settles as best she can in a new place, she’s sort of at war with this independent life she has been conditioned to have but also trying to figure out how to share her life with her parents and be close to them too.
Through all of this, Owen and Lucy don’t forget each other. There are postcards and emails. Infrequent, but they happen! Most importantly, they don’t let their affection for each other and curiosity about what the blackout night meant for them stop them from moving forward. New locations, new jobs, new schools, and new boyfriends and girlfriends. Life keeps happening, even if you can’t stop thinking about a certain person. The way they miss each other is never angsty or dramatic either… it feels incredibly natural — all due to Smith’s gorgeous and thoughtful writing.
Other standout parts: the realism and awkwardness of the San Francisco trip, an effectively written section where Smith gives us one sentence per chapter (I loved what this did to the pacing), and the depth of character development folded into the story. At one point, I stayed up way past my bedtime because I was in such a trance over Owen and Lucy’s story and I needed to know how it was all going to end.
The Geography of You and Me packed in everything I love so much about the young adult contemporary genre — a fully fleshed out story with two characters who are learning so much about themselves through their relationships with their parents and those special people who make an everlasting imprint in our lives.(less)
I’ve been eagerly anticipating When I Was The Greatest since May, and it did not disappoint. Not a bit. But I will say this… even after I read the summary and heard the author speak (so well, I might add) the story snuck up on me and affected me in ways I was not expecting.
Let’s start with Ali. I loved this kid. There was something so earnest about him, and I loved his observations about all sorts of factors in his life: his neighborhood (the dichotomy of the crowd that lived there), the status of his parents’ relationship (they didn’t live together), his 11-going-on-50 sister (adorable), and most importantly, his friendship with two brothers, Noodles and Needles, and their relationship with one another.
You see Needles has Tourette syndrome and even though Noodles won’t let anyone mess with his brother, he has no problem messing with him on his own. Ali has a strong sense of right and wrong, and knows that Noodles does not treat his brother the way he should. But he’s not exactly sure how to handle it. Instead, he minds his own business and subtly watches Needles’ back when Noodles is rough on him.
Much of When I Was the Greatest is an introduction to Ali’s Brooklyn block, how his relationship with his friends began, the story of his parents, and snapshots of moments that transpire through the summer. Until. The Party. You know… The Party. Ali, Noodles, and Needles kind of sort of get themselves invited to an off-limits infamous gathering where they plan to wear the best clothes, have the best hair, and fit in just for a few minutes so they can say they experienced one of MoMo’s exclusive events. Can you see their puffed up chests now?
Absolutely nothing good can come out of this, right? Especially since the plan is totally, utterly built on lies. But nothing prepared me for what happened. I think part of it was because it wasn’t so much the event that shocked me but what happened afterwards and the total breakdown of brotherhood and friendship, and ultimately, loyalty. (And how about the surprising sacrifices people make for one another?)
I cried. There I said it. I cried. And again, it came totally out of nowhere and it wasn’t even after a moment I anticipated.
That right there is some stand-out writing. Reynolds makes this urban setting come alive with its niches and diverse characters, and gives us the opportunity to get to know a teenager who cares deeply for his family and his friends and believes people should treat each other fairly and with respect. Ali may act older than he is, and even more with it than he is, but he does have a certain vulnerability and a great amount of strength. That parallel, that dimension made him so incredibly real to me.
Reynolds’ writing is smooth and incredibly effective (in a little over 200 pages, too). Plus it was refreshing to have a book that illustrated the big wide world we have out there — this grand melting pot of people — which, unfortunately, is such a rarity in young adult fiction these days. But back to When I Was The Greatest. It’s exactly what I love so much about reading: great characters, actions and themes that make me want to discuss every detail with someone immediately, and most importantly, feelings that linger.(less)
What 24-year-old does not dream of a secure job and an all-expense...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog along with author interview! Yay!
What 24-year-old does not dream of a secure job and an all-expenses paid living situation in NYC? With a very generous allowance? Savannah’s step up from life in South Carolina (struggling to make ends meet with her mom, not finding her dream job) sounds like a Cinderella story, until you factor in that the source of all this glitz and glamour is the deceased father she never knew about. Plus the family he had in New York — a sister, brother, and wife — are anything less than welcoming. In fact, they are downright villainous.
Rosenthal’s New Money provides one of those experiences where you hope the main character does not change because of her newfound journey on the wealthy side. But inevitably, she does. For better and for worse. She may be employed but she has to dodge many unpleasant bullets from her jealous “siblings”; she may finally understand what it’s like to have the opportunities her best friend, Tina, has but it doesn’t necessarily make them closer. Then there’s the cute bartender who makes her feel amazing (in more ways than one) and could also be the key to keeping her grounded. But preconceived notion of “two classes” mixing and other good-looking distractions cause some more trife.
Savannah is definitely a spitfire; there were so many times I admired her chutzpah but there were others where I desperately wanted to shake her and tell her to remember where she came from. (Oh, and keep your apartment clean, please.) I appreciated Rosenthal creating a character who makes so many mistakes; it definitely sped up the pace of the novel because I kept wondering if she could clean up her messes, would she stay in New York, and will she just get over herself already.
New Money is so much about that in-between time in your life when so much is undecided and having the guts to make a move even if it’s totally crazy and unprecedented. The author threw in so many “oh-man” curveballs that I was definitely talking to myself when I was reading it. (The drama is insane.) I loved seeing New York City through the eyes of a newbie, and Rosenthal truly succeeds with bringing depth to her supporting cast. Every single one of them was so well-developed; I felt like I knew them as well as I did Savannah.
I cannot wait to see the mayhem that unfolds in book 2.(less)
It’s not every day you are hanging out with one of your closest friends, they mention a situation, and you are dying to interject about a book you are reading with a teenage spy in a similar situation. It sounds kind of silly, right? But with Going Rogue, even though the premise is a little out there, the themes are so relative. And that makes Robin Benway a total genius and me, a total fan.
First things first: I’m not normally a stickler about this but you should definitely check out Also Known As before reading Going Rogue. There is a quick recap early in the second book, and experiencing the first book is so much better than reading the cliffnotes version. Believe me. Plus you risk the chance of not getting the entire impact of reuniting with these characters and that would just be a total shame.
Back to the book: Without much action in the spy portion of her life, Maggie has spent a substantial amount of time being a normal high school student. (Not that Maggie is ever just normal. She’s quirky as hell and I adore her.) Her relationship with her boyfriend, Jesse, is super solid. (They are so cute in love.) And being able to let loose with her best friend, Roux (pronounced Roo), has been awesome as well. But the grass is always greener and Maggie is missing the spy life a bit. Before she knows it, the Collective (the organization her and her family have always worked for) has turned on her parents, accusing them of stealing irreplaceable gold coins. In order to keep Jesse, Roux, and her parents safe, Maggie (under the leadership of close friend/sort-of uncle: the charming Angelo) keeps the details of this investigation under wraps and hopes to get her parents out of this giant mess.
Seems stressful, isn’t it?
Maggie is clearly torn. She loves and trusts her friends, and of course, would do anything for her supportive parents but she can’t imagine putting them at risk. But the secrets cause hurt feelings, missed dinner dates, and a lot of tension between Maggie and those she holds dear. Can she ever be a normal girl and a spy? Will she always have to choose? And when will her parents accept her ability to make sensible (yet dangerous) decisions? Benway is able to take a super secret mission and make everyone’s feelings and reactions so true to feelings and reactions in our own lives.
While the adventures of Going Rogue are filled with intrigue (and danger!), the book truly shines when it comes to the characters and their relationships with one another. Even without the Collective being compromised, it’s obvious that these people from two different worlds have formed their own eclectic family. And what’s even better is that Benway has supplied each supporting character with an individual backstory and stand out personality. This kind of intimate connection between reader and supporting character is so rare in the young adult genre, and I applaud Benway’s attention to detail and talent for creating fictional characters that feel like close friends.
She’s also inspired me with a brand new theory about Angelo. In my review of AKA, I mentioned how his character of reminiscent of Michael Caine in Miss Congeniality but I’ve changed my mind. After seeing his in action in book 2, from his sacrifice to his advice to the great care he takes of Maggie, her family, and her friends, I was feeling real Dumbledore vibes. Angelo’s a little mysterious and very wise like Dumbledore was; everyone looks to him as a guide in the story. Though he certainly uses the word “love” more than Dumbledore ever did and leaves more notes, knowing Angelo was around always gave me comfort and hope that the trials would turn out okay. Most importantly, he always put others before himself.
I know sequels don’t always live up to their predecessors but that was not the case with Going Rogue. It was just as fun and bursting with personality and a great balance of suspenseful and LOL-worthy moments — a perfect way to kick off a new year of reading!(less)
Piece of My Heart reminded me of that Jay-Z song “Empire State of Mind”:
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of There’s nothing you can’t do These streets will make you feel brand new Big lights will inspire you Let’s hear it for New York
Marisol is a sassy and ambitious young lady living in Harlem and hoping her killer voice will make her a music phenomenon. She sacrifices time with her best friends and her on-and-off again boyfriend, Julian, to work with her friends, doing karaoke for parties from Manhattan to the Hamptons. Hoping, just hoping that one evening her dreams will come true and someone important will notice her.
She doesn’t have to wait long. In the opening chapter, she is already set to record a track with one of her biggest musical influences (and crushes) and so begins a fast-paced story where the music industry seems so accessible to these characters, it’s almost like a fairy tale.
But Marisol’s journey to get what she wants is not easy. There are definite setbacks and people she comes in contact who may want more from her than just her talent. She may be a little naive but our girl seems to have her head screwed on straight. She wants to make it the right way.
For a girl on the verge of 18 though, Menna writes Piece of My Heart in a very young tone even though there are a lot of mature situations unfolding. I wish she had dived more into Marisol’s dad’s unexpected death, or really fleshed out her relationships with her best friends. And then there is Julian. Julian, who gets mad that Marisol spends a majority of her time doing something music related. For a guy that Marisol is so in love with, he doesn’t seem to support her dreams so much. His character is totally selfish, and I was wishing for Marisol to live up to her fiesty personality and let him go. He didn’t deserve her.
Piece of My Heart reminded me a bit of Audrey Wait and Awkward (the sudden fame), it fell more on the serious side of things and felt a little rushed. I think I would have enjoyed this one more if the actions and thoughts of the main character were more age appropriate and some of the plotlines were more streamlined.
A bonus? Menna wrote some original songs and showcased them in the story. Definitely a nice addition. (less)
There’s a certain amount of trepidation when a celebrity writes a book. Especially a celebrity you r...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
There’s a certain amount of trepidation when a celebrity writes a book. Especially a celebrity you really like: one you’ve seen in both her hit television shows and singing and dancing on Broadway. As an extension of your fandom, you want to like everything else they do. Right? But the fear! The fear!
Friends, I tell you: fear not and get your hands on a copy of Someday, Someday, Maybe as soon as you can.
It’s hard to hack it in New York City. And no one knows that better than Franny. Sometimes the city can feel oh-so magical, and other times it can chew you up and spit you out. With six months left to go in her self-created goal to become an actress, her “big break” comes unexpectedly when she messes up her scene in a showcase for her acting class. Soon she has an agent (although maybe he’s not the perfect fit), and a spot on a TV show (even though there’s no air date), and James Franklin, an actor who has had actual roles in movies (!!), is looking her way.
This is SO happening, right?
Well, kind of. Graham shapes a really great story around a 27-year old who doesn’t have it all figured out. One minute her phone is ringing with opportunities and other times it’s like they forgot her number. She thinks about going home and being an English teacher (like her dad) or finally settling down in the suburbs with Clark (her sort of boyfriend). She bumps into other friends who are her age and successful while she’s working some crummy part-time job to pay her rent. There aren’t enough books written about people in their late 20s who may not be on a straight and narrow path, and I really appreciated how Franny could strike gold one day and be flailing the next. (So relatable!)
Set in 1990, every few chapters begin with a glimpse into Franny’s datebook (cheese puffs, call backs, rent checks, a tally of margaritas drank in a night) and messages left on her answering machine (some of the best are from her adorable dad). There are also a few tongue-in-cheek NYC jokes that made me giggle. Best of all, though, were her roommates: best friend from college, Jane, who was the kind of friend who nicknamed all of Franny’s boyfriends and could tell her she’s watching too much Leeza (do you remember that show?) and Dan, an engaged guy and budding writer, quietly working on some science fiction while sipping a beer. We never get to spend an unbelievable amount of time with either (it was so well-balanced) but I loved how close you could see Jane and Franny were, and ya know, for some reason, I kept on rooting for the endearing Dan who had much more in common with Franny than she realized.
When I first started the book, I did struggle with the fact that it was so heavy into the acting. How am I going to relate to this? I thought. But pretty soon after that, Someday, Someday, Maybe, came to be about so much more. When we are little kids we are taught we can be anything, but I don’t think the reality hits that maybe that won’t come true or it’s harder than we think until we are knee deep in it. Not to mention the discovery that not everyone takes the same path. There really is no right one, no matter how many naysayers you encounter. It’s really nice to have a book that explores that other side.
Someday, Someday, Maybe is so charming, so authentic, and so special.
Also I dare you to read this without picturing Franny as Lauren Graham. Go ahead. I, indeed, failed this challenge.
Note: I found out after I finished that Jennifer E. Smith (This is What Happy Looks Like) was the editor of this book. Really. Can this book get any better? (less)
Back in college, I was part of a theatre troupe called “Better Choices / Better Chances” and for a f...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
Back in college, I was part of a theatre troupe called “Better Choices / Better Chances” and for a few weeks in the spring, we toured middle schools and high schools in our area to teach them facts about HIV/AIDS through a series of serious, funny, and pop culture-y skits (that we wrote ourselves). This is why I was so interested in My Life After Now. There is only one other book (Positively by Courtney Sheinmel) that conquers HIV in the young adult genre, and this is a subject that needs to be discussed more frequently.
Let’s start that the beginning: after Lucy loses her prized role in the school play (an awesome adaptation of Romeo and Juliet) and her main squeeze, she decides to do something very un-Lucy like and totally let loose. It’s like this: dress hot, get into a club, meet someone in the band, get drunk, and then wake up and not know what the hell happened. That foggy part is when things get bad. Lucy realizes she had unprotected sex, and when she gets tested, finds out she has HIV.
This is, indeed, devastating. Lucy goes through a roller coaster of emotions, and doesn’t know where to turn or who to turn to. Her life is set on an entirely different course than it was a little awhile ago. What should she do next? While Verdi does a good job of telling us about Lucy’s actions, the lack of showing them caused me to connect very little with her character. Even the brighter moments didn’t have the right emphasis because the small details (like getting to know a new boy) seemed glazed over.
There were moments when Lucy surprised me in great ways, and others where I couldn’t believe she continued to be so naive. I would have expected her diagnosis to wake her up a little, but she continued to make decisions that left me shaking my head. Verdi also depended a ton on her main character as she was forced to wade through many other issues on top of HIV (including a very unstable biological mother). With a little finesse these could have worked in the story, but the multitude of heavy storylines made My Life After Now feel top-heavy to me.
I did have a soft spot for chapters named after songs from musicals (try to guess which is which!), Lucy’s uber-supportive dads, and the vivaciousness of Roxie, a gal Lucy meets at her support group. Though I am glad I found such a rare subject in my reading, I do wish My Life After Now would have branched out beyond its subject (less Rent references?), educating readers a bit more organically and, therefore, truly connecting us to Lucy. (less)
One thing that I absolutely love about reading is discovering books set in places you know. Right away, I felt bonded to Rules of Summer because of buzzwords like Montauk Highway, Hamptons, and even Stony Brook. I spent my freshman and sophomore year of college out in Southampton, and even though my school was in debt and closed (true story), the Hamptons are such a special place to me. (Like where I went on a first date with my husband.)
Summer is all about that escape. Rory has an opportunity to hang out in the Hamptons; sure she is working but the “away from her mother and all her drama” makes the free board and no pay worth it. For Isobel Rule, she’s back in the fray, returning to a family she never felt a part of, and friends she suddenly finds totally superficial. Her solace is all about the surf. These two girls come from totally different worlds but are forced together when Rory is recruited to give Isobel driving lessons.
I have to applaud Philbin here because she doesn’t prolong the whole “these girls have it out for each other” thing we see in a lot of books. While they really have no reason to be friends, there’s no reason for them not to be either. I’m glad we got the positive side of the coin here because Isobel needs a voice of reason and someone on her side and Rory really needs to let loose and enjoy herself for once. The girls are able to give each other those things, and, just in time, because…
BOYS. There are two of them. And they are very cute. (In fact, I like to call this book Nantucket Blue x 2 because we get to see two girls fall in love for the first time in Rules of Summer.) Isobel meets Mike when she gets caught in the surf, and oh did it remind me of the anxiety and excitement of falling so hard, you are practically sinking. She is so used to playing a game with guys that when she finally feels serious about someone, she’s not too sure how to act. (Especially since he’s older and a lot more experienced.) Their chemistry is so gosh-darn pulsating that I think it took away from Rory’s own forbidden romance a bit. While still sweet and fun, hers felt a bit rushed and not as thoroughly explored. (Notice how I didn’t tell you who Rory’s mystery guy is.)
So what’s at stake in Rules of Summer? A ton. Family secrets come rushing out, Rory is not exactly truthful with Isobel about her love life, and is Isobel’s relationship forever? Let’s not forget Mrs. Rule either — this lady may look sweet and kind but she “rules” a.k.a. dominates with an iron fist. What does this mean for both Isobel and Rory?
Even though the end shows up a little too abruptly and some big moments aren’t given the attention they deserve, Rules of Summer had me practically hearing the roar of the ocean in my backyard and truly invested in the lives of these two girls. And the good news? There’s a sequel in the works! I’m so looking forward to that! (less)
I’m not usually into sweeping generalizations so early in the year, but here’s one for ya: so far, 2013 has totally knocked my socks off with surprise hits.
Also Known As easily slides in this category. It’s not like I didn’t have a hunch this would happen since Audrey Wait! was so much fun and I loved Robin’s letter in the Dear Teen Me anthology… but I had no idea I would love love it.
In a book about a family of spies, I didn’t know what to expect. Mayhem? Fluff? Sure, those are all there. In fact, Maggie’s family sort of reminded me of The Incredibles, a super supportive family where every person had their own specific skill. In this case, Maggie was a safecracker, her dad was adept at stats/languages, and her mom was the ultimate hacker.
But Benway brought more comedy to this story than I expected.
Because imagine being savvy to all these major cases and living all over the world and then being forced to go to high school. It’s hilarious because Maggie seems pretty mature due to the responsibilities of her occupation but when it comes to the everyday kid things… cell phones, best friends, dating, fashion? She is totally clueless, and this parallel between her double lives just really made the book for me.
Then there’s setting. New York City? Awesome. Supporting characters. SO good. Roux, the social outcast who befriends Maggie. Her parents aren’t around a lot, she’s lost all of her friends, and she has this sort of outrageous personality that was so addicting. Then there is Angelo, a family friend and Maggie’s mentor, who is so warm, adorable, and reminds me of Michael Caine in Miss Congeniality for some reason. (Okay, this book was so cinematic to me because I think Rebel Wilson would make a kick-ass Roux.) Both of these characters had such a supreme effect on Maggie because she’s supposed to go into the whole assignment as a professional and not make friends. But despite her responsibility to the Collection, she IS 16 and she desperately wants a normal life.
And what can I say about Jesse Oliver? It’s no great twist in literature that Maggie falls for ” the enemy” but I did really like him, and I liked seeing this character fall for someone for the first time, and all the awesome firsts (and doubts) that come along with that. Again, there’s this added layer that she is indeed lying to both Roux and Jesse, probably the first friends she’s ever made in her life, and I kept wondering how she would eventually handle that. (Also kudos to Benway to giving Jesse some real dimension; liked his sub storyline a lot.)
One thing that surprised me about the book was the pacing, which I found a little slow for a book of this nature. But Maggie’s winning personality kept me going and I found myself having a blast, reading about the many adventures (and mis-adventures) supplied in Also Known As (the cherry on top was an uncovered Dirty Dancing reference) and I’m certainly looking forward to the sequel! (less)
Oh man. Oh man. Or should I say: oh boy. Oh boy. Because I have been spoiled with some great titles...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
Oh man. Oh man. Or should I say: oh boy. Oh boy. Because I have been spoiled with some great titles with refreshing male voices this year. (See: Lexapros and Cons, Curveball, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children.)
Not Exactly a Love Story joins this awesome list.
Main character Vinnie is just your normal guy wearing leather pants on his first day of school, in the late 70s. (For the record: not the best fashion choice.) He’s kind of the guy that girls realize they want after they date the bad ones that trample all over their hearts. You know the one I mean. He’s funny, he’s sweet, and he likes to take care of fish in aquariums.
Don’t you love him already?
Couloumbis does a great job of shaping a story around a typical family. Parents who decide to separate. No big blow out fight, just a decision they come to. Each of them off and starting their own separate lives and Vinnie is just sort of in the middle, watching all of this happen. Vinnie’s observations during this time are the most interesting. He’s very perceptive, and he knows exactly where his boundaries are too.
Then in sort of this whirlwind You’ve Got Mail-like situation, Vinnie starts calling his gorgeous and popular next door neighbor, Patsy, every night at midnight. She has no idea who he is, and he keeps his identity a secret because he’s pretty sure she would never go for him. It sounds pretty creeptastic, doesn’t it? I mean, the reader knows that Vinnie means well (even if he comically messes this up time after time) but for some reason Patsy is hooked and keeps picking up the phone. She does, though, know when it’s time to hang up.
The great thing about this phone relationship is that I’m pretty sure Vinnie and Patsy wouldn’t have gotten to know each other quite as well if they just met in gym class or something. There’s something about that mysteriousness and, in Vinnie’s case, the darkness, that gives both of them courage.
It was giddily romantic, even when the two would bicker and shoot straight with one another. I couldn’t wait to know how they would eventually collide in real life. If the possibility of their friendship surviving the real world even existed.
(While the 70s backdrop is delightfully subtle with a few references to music and fashion, I wondered if it also served a purpose. I don’t believe there would have been the same charge with an online relationship.)
The author does tackle some heavy subjects, but manages to maintain a certain lightness. There’s such a calculated balance between Vinnie’s situation at home (new stepfather; embracing his inner athlete; juggling his time with both parents) and the version of himself that talks to Patsy late into the night. And the author does a great job of highlighting each of those intertwining plotlines as they come to a fulfilling end.
In a world full of books about revenge, car accidents, and post-apocalyptic challenges, it feels so right (and so refreshing!) to settle down with a genuine book about real people dealing with every day problems, bumbling around to find their own happiness.
Some of my favorite times in college were taking out-of-towners to NYC for the first time and seein...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
Some of my favorite times in college were taking out-of-towners to NYC for the first time and seeing their eyes just bulge out of their head because 1) they had always dreamed of this moment and 2) it’s always bigger, crazier, louder than it seems on TV and in the movies. NYC is fabulous and even after spending years in close proximity to the Big Apple, I still get a huge kick out of reading books set in my city. It’s like discovering it all over again with new eyes.
Kitsy is probably the cutest Texan I’ve met since Magan. She’s friendly, enthusiastic, and considerate; she’s passionate about art and people, especially her little brother, Kiki, her boyfriend, Hands, and her best friend, Corrinne. Corrinne is actually the reason she lands the opportunity to spend a few weeks in NYC. Her parents offer to sponsor Kitsy in an art program at Parsons. (Kitsy and Corrine met in Heasley’s first book, Where I Belong, which I haven’t read yet but is sitting in my Nook library.)
Despite what the cover art leads you to believe, A Long Way From You focuses more on a girl falling in love with the city and discovering great things about herself, than finding a boy. (Even though, there is a cute musician boy…) Heasley is spot-on with Kitsy bumbling through the streets of NYC, catching the wrong PATH train, manuevering around with a huge umbrella (a big no-no), and getting too distracted by the city to go to class. Those pretty much all happened to me when I started going to school here too. (At least I can laugh about those moments now!) Kitsy has a genuine love for the city, and it’s contagious. I was desperately ready to visit the MOMA, take a boat ride in Central Park, or go to a big fancy event.
While things might fall together a bit too perfectly in Kitsy’s world (with some drama thrown in for good measure), A Long Way From You feels like the quintessential New York fairy tale. Kitsy meets new people, visits the landmarks, and tries to find her corner of this big world. I did like how Heasley had her juggle a long distance relationship with Hands back in Texas. I could relate to her struggles to balance everything sparkley and new in NYC with her commitments and feelings of things that she left at home. With Kitsy’s upbeat personality and how deeply she cares and connects with others, you want nothing but the best for her.
A Long Way From You is a delightful, light-hearted read that does show its serious side at times, even if it never dwells on it. By the end of the book, you’ll be ready to hang out with Kitsy during her next trip to New York and buy her a cupcake while seeing the sights.(less)
While I’m open-minded when it comes to the religious beliefs of others, I don’t like to be overwhelmed by them — especially when I’m reading a book. There has to be some kind of balance in the story so the reader doesn’t feel alienated and I’m sorry to say at times I felt uncomfortable reading Starring Me for this very reason.
Kara is a sweet, focused, and enthusiastic girl who hails from Long Island (loved reading a book set so close to home!) and is determined to become a famous actress. Her uber supportive family (another aspect of the novel that I liked a lot) is totally okay with her pursuing this career and even heading to Florida for a variety show opportunity. At the same time, Chad is a pop star (who got famous by winning a reality show) and is ready to take a step back from the spotlight and host that variety show. He wants to act and write and while his parents are impressively focused on making sure their son always appreciates his good fortune. They are very firm about him having a Christian co-star and get the network to agree to pre-show auditions where this particular girl can be found.
Does this sound like discrimination to you? I understand the parents want Chad to spend his time with a girl who shares his beliefs but it doesn’t mean he couldn’t spend the same amount of time with a person who may adhere to another religion but be just as hardworking, sweet, and family-oriented, right?
So Kara doesn’t know she is actually auditioning for Chad’s new show… and the two meet through mutual friends and instantly click. But Chad is worried because Kara is not a Christian and Kara doesn’t have religion in her life so she’s not sure if they would ever work either.
The two supporting characters, Jonathan (who is the President of the U.S.’s son) and Addy (Kara’s co-star on another reality show and her best friend), are both full-fledged Christians too. Kara is never judgmental about their beliefs and instead is always asking questions and sort of searching for her own beliefs as well. There’s a lot of Bible talk and most of the characters are absolutely sure Kara will soon join their team and be a follower of God.
Beneath the religious aspects, McGee has a cute story here. I loved Kara’s excitement, her blended family, Flora (the house mom with a love of literature and Jane Austen), the included skits, and the few mentions of Orlando theme parks. Just because the story deals with circumstances I can’t relate to personally doesn’t mean that someone won’t be affected by this book or connect to it. I’m just not sure if this reality show scenario is entirely believable. I guess if none of the actresses found out that the search was for a Christian girl… all would be well? I don’t know.
Mostly, McGee succeeds in the creation of an independent and motivated female character who takes her time making decisions. I have a grasp on who Kara is and I only wish the other characters had that kind of depth. Starring Me has a lighthearted premise but is heavy hitting when it comes to religion and as a reader you have to decide if that’s the kind of book you want on your bookshelf. (less)
During my junior year in college, I took a New York City history class. I don’t remember covering C...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
During my junior year in college, I took a New York City history class. I don’t remember covering Coney Island, but I did do my end-of-semester report on young adult novels set in NYC, focusing on how the city was depicted through the eyes of a child. (Needless to say, I had no idea that 7 years later, I would be reading and reviewing these same kind of books regularly.)
I wish that Dreamland Social Club could have been part of that assignment.
Jane is new to the challenges Coney’s community faces as big business is trying to buy up all the retail space from locals (who have been there forever) and strip the place of its history. While she sees the effects of this firsthand, she is also on her own scavenger hunt to find out more about her mother. Altebrando does the work of a magician as she weaves in these (fascinating) social issues with an extremely personal story.
It’s really amazing how memory works — how it could just be buried at the back of your head and reappear at the strangest of times. I loved how Altebrando played with this and how we were able to learn more about Jane’s (short) relationship with her mother and how her mother made Coney very much a part of her childhood without her realizing it until much later. This was such a lovely and unique device for young adult fiction and I was enthralled and touched when these moments popped up. Structure in a book is always very important to me and you can tell that Altebrando worked diligently to connect these memories to Jane’s present life without making them seem too coincidental or too perfect. Everything meshed together to form this glorious picture of Jane’s life as her family history and her future beautifully collided.
And the supporting characters: beautiful, complicated tattoo infested Leo – a leading man who makes my mouth water. While romance does play a part in this book, it is a careful sidebar and never overpowers the plot. I liked that so much. In too many novels, the love story becomes the main focus and we lose the lush details of the background and maybe even the depth of the main character. It does not happen here. The chemistry between Jane and Leo is out-of-this-world wonderful. Altebrando also introduces a team of characters who are quite different… most fabulous was Babette, a goth dwarf, who is confident and sassy. There was also a legless boy who can work a skateboard, and a 7-foot boy named Legs. Jane is just average. She’s not uber talented at one thing, and she doesn’t have much style. But when confronted with her peers who have their own challenges to face but remain true to themselves, Jane begins to dig a little deeper to figure out just who she is and how she fits into this school, this town, and the world. (This growth was paced so naturally.)
Once I started reading Dreamland Social Club, I did not want to put it down for one minute or ever finish it. The characters and their stories were so intriguing and I loved going on this adventure with Jane. I yearned for her to have stability and to have a real handle on who her mother was. I wanted her to connect. While the novel dealt with serious issues, there was still a mystical and magical quality to it. I’ve read many novels this year (almost 60) and I read over 100 last year, but I have yet to find one that made me feel quite so passionate for style of writing, character development, and setting as this one. If I could buy everyone who reads this a copy, I certainly would.
Lastly, I need to take my first visit to Coney Island… yesterday. (less)
A character like Sethie is one we all know — a straight A student who wants to go to a good college...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
A character like Sethie is one we all know — a straight A student who wants to go to a good college (like Columbia), wants to be able to go up to her boyfriend and kiss him, a girl who looks in the mirror and doesn’t like what she sees.
At 17, Sethie can get in her college applications early but isn’t sure what her relationship with Shaw (her boyfriend?) is all about. It’s simply easier to let him take the lead and make the first move so she doesn’t destroy the delicate balance that is their relationship. She’s just sort of there.
That’s Sethie’s general MO in this novel. She’s not passionate about much more than maintaining her 110 pounds or less. (In fact, she quits yearbook because she doesn’t want to worry about the snacking that goes on.) There are flickers of another girl in there especially when she befriends Janey and they do everyday girl things like buy tight clothing and get all dolled up for frat parties.
From third person, Sethie’s behavior is still worrisome and alarming. There isn’t the same character connection and I felt like I was looking into windows and watching what these people were doing. I could not reach out and help — I was only an observer.
I didn’t know when and if Sethie would reach a breaking point. I feared what that would bring and while most stories regarding eating disorders build to a Broadway style complex, this one did not. It was gradual and calm and ordinary in a good way. The author, who reveals she suffered from an eating disorder in her teens, does present a different perspective which I appreciated. It felt believable and not weighed down by drama.
In fact, Sethie was not about drama at all. She did not like to make ripples and preferred standing in the shadows. One thing I couldn’t grasp was her relationship with her mother. Was I imagining her mom ignoring her daughter? Or was she simply an observer like the reader? Waiting and waiting until the right time to butt in? It wasn’t like her lack of a relationship with her mother or Shaw forced her to seek attention by losing weight. It didn’t seem Sethie had interior motives. She was addicted to this ideal and couldn’t let go.
While this novel focuses on serious subject matter, I did love the chemistry between Sethie and Janey – even though at first I didn’t trust their budding friendship. (Call me a cynic.) And later, I adored a character named Ben who brought a ‘giant’ amount of life into a very gray and stormy story.
Sheinmel’s writing is crisp and edgy and down-to-earth. She taps into a familiar subject matter, not by creating something cataclysmicly new but focusing on the everyday realities of those living with the disease, those who just find themselves in it and can’t figure out if they want a way out or not. Despite the distance I felt from Sethie, I still liked her and my fondness for her paired with Sheinmel’s fast paced story made this a seamless read for me. (I only put it down twice.) Plus I loved how clearly it was written — every paragraph, every word seemed deliberate and served a purpose and that is something I don’t see nearly enough in young adult books. (less)
Sometimes I hear a song and love it so much that I wish I could lay on my dining room floor for an e...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
Sometimes I hear a song and love it so much that I wish I could lay on my dining room floor for an entire day listening to it, letting it just wash over me. (In this fantasy, there’s sunshine coming through a window. Lots of it.) This is how I can best describe my experience of reading You Have Seven Messages. I wanted to soak in its beautiful and lyrical writing for as long as I could, never breaking my connection with these characters or this state of grief and discovery that was so eloquently described.
My heart was aching for all the good reasons and all the bad ones. Maybe I’m just a person who enjoys the melancholic situations. Probably. Luna, the 14-year old going on 30 main character, is serious, sarcastic, creative, and honest in a way that I wish more people would be. In a way that I strive to be. In fact, I think I’m a lot like Luna which is why I connected to her so much. I enjoyed her sassy humor, her love for the boy next door, and how much she loved her mother.
She’s also incredibly brave. She doesn’t hesitate much when she finds her mom’s old cell phone, and starts exploring this secret life — knowing full well her uncoverings could change her perception of this woman she loved so deeply. I also loved how protective she is of her younger brother, Tile, before and after she starts her sleuthing. (Tile is a highlight throughout the book, especially when he speaks in “script talk” – their dad is a well-known film director.) Here’s one beautiful quote that sums it all up: “He’s still a small flower and I feel like I’m becoming a strong tree. There will be storms, and he will need shelter.” Like his sister, Tile has matured since his mother’s death but I get the impression he was always a kid who acted a bit older. I really couldn’t get enough of him.
While Luna’s slight obsession with her neighbor, a talented cello player and older boy, Oliver is more of a supporting plotline. I loved to see Luna stumble and deal with her feelings for him and sort of grasp on to the same bravery she portrays when dealing with this mystery surrounding her mother. Oliver is also unlike many of the other YA boys I’ve read about… he has a certain confidence and maturity but he’s also held back by the mistakes and beliefs of his parents. Luna and Oliver’s relationship is so organic and sweet and special. They seem to have this silent support for one another, and an innocent intensity that I enjoyed so much.
There’s something about taking an intriguing idea and weaving it into this beautiful masterpiece. Lewis writes with such a precise and gorgeous rhythm. I was constantly jotting down lines or closing the book because I was overwhelmed by the art. The art and the skill of writing so beautifully and with such ease. It was inspiring and certainly gave me a tangible example of what I would love to aspire to someday.
You Have Seven Messages is about realizations in love and relationships and family, and also the pursuit of perfection, the idealism of a perfect relationship or family. And coming to terms with that idealism. It is about moving forward and dealing with the messy stuff. Forgiveness. The discoveries made are powerful, painful, and raw and I can just about guarantee you will have the hardest time putting this book down for even a few seconds. It is that engrossing. (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)