While there are a lot of young adult books that cover cheating, I was mostly intrigued by this one b...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
While there are a lot of young adult books that cover cheating, I was mostly intrigued by this one because it was hard for me to imagine how two people could maintain a secret relationship for a year without anyone finding out. I could understand a few months, but an entire year? That involves a lot of lying, a lot of pretending, and the growth of feelings between the two — I would think, right? How could you engage in an affair like this for so long and not feel something? Not want something more?
To add a whole new layer, Julia dies after a big fight with Cole — one we don’t find out the details about until quite a bit into the book. Cole gets this journal from Julia’s brother and discovers she had been writing to him about everything. Not just how connected she feels to him but about her fears for school and her relationship with her boyfriend, who is kind of the big man on campus/a total tool. She wants to break up with him, she doesn’t think she can break up with him — you know the drill. What’s most fascinating is how non-chalant Cole is about their whole relationship. He plays the whole thing very cool and it’s only when he gets the journal and starts reading, he begins to realize just how into Julia he was.
Beware, The Secret Year is extremely fast-paced and you will have a tough time putting it down. (I finished it in a night.) Just when you think Cole has steered clear of the consequences regarding sleeping with another guy’s girlfriend for a year… he hasn’t. I don’t want to give anything away but his association with Julia is deepened by the ongoing rivarly between the upper and lower classes in this small town. There’s bullying, pranking, and general bullshit behavior going on all over the place and Colt finds himself at a crossroad many times when it comes to this situation.
I’ve read that this book is Romeo & Juliet + The Outsiders, and while I can see some similarities to those two literary works, I don’t think it’s an entirely accurate description. This is not about two people who fall lustfully and selfishly in love with each other, nor does it entirely focus on the social class conflict. Instead, this book is about a boy, who doesn’t come from the happiest of families, as he comes to grips with his own actions and what could have been. It’s this strange yet well-done glimpse into grief and what it takes to move on from several types of situations.
This is a difficult book to read… not for any other reason because the small flashbacks we get of Colt and Julia made me want their ending to turn out differently. The tension, the attraction, the frustration… it was all so vivid. People make mistakes sometimes because they go with their gut. That might sound like an excuse but I appreciated that Hubbard presented that perspective in The Secret Year, and her seamless ability to take what could have turned into a drama fest and give us a realistic and multi-layered story.
It definitely made a Hubbard fan out of me. (less)
A powerful departure from a world of love triangles, high school drama, and gossip, Endangered is an...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
A powerful departure from a world of love triangles, high school drama, and gossip, Endangered is an addictive and emotional read about a girl named Sophie, who is visiting her mother in the Congo during her summer break. Her mother has dedicated her life to the bonobo – a chimp-like animal who is actually the human’s closest relative (we share 98.7% of the same DNA). Ironically, her mother’s dedication to keeping the bonobos safe in an enclosure she maintains has severed her own connection with Sophie.
Rightfully, Sophie doesn’t want much to do with the bonobos but when she sees one in danger, she pays to take him, and they are instantly bond. She’s not supposed to pay for the bonobos – ones taken from the Congo have been ripped from their environment because more than likely their mother has been killed – and the promise of money only inspires unscrupulous people to repeat this practice. But Otto isn’t well, and Sophie can’t bear the thought of letting him live that way.
The bond between Sophie and Otto is evident from the very beginning. At times, he feels like her child and her sibling, and as I got deeper into the story, I sometimes forgot that he was a wild animal at all. When an attack breaks out and the bonobo sanctuary is threatened, Sophie and Otto support and help each other. Schrefer has created such an environment that Endangered almost feels dystopian in ways. It’s a world that we don’t often hear about, and the book takes an intense turn when Sophie must rely on nature for survival and trust in Otto.
Lush and breathtaking, but dangerous and ominous, this novel becomes its own living and breathing entity, so much so that I had to close and reopen just to catch my breath.
Expertly, Schrefer weaves together Sophie’s own memories of her parents with the political unrest in the Congo. The parallels drawn between these animals and Sophie’s own relationship with her mother are subtly and effectively done. (“Being someone’s child was always tough, always in its own way.”) In fact, I never once thought I would have such a strong reaction to this book. But it was so incredibly relatable: the will we have to survive, the complex relationships we have with our parents, and how we might have more in common with the animal kingdom than we think.
This book is a triumph in so many ways. The first 100 pages are jam-packed with so much detail and content, I felt like I had read 200 and in a good way. I never felt overwhelmed, just thrust into this world and its characters. It’s beautiful, quotable writing and challenging too — most of the time Sophie is an observer and hanging out with bonobos so there is very little dialogue. But I never missed it. There is so much said with action and movement and small behaviors that Schrefer created his own language. In general, the author does a tremendous job of burying the cultural divide Sophie feels in the beginning (she grew up in the Congo but moved back to the U.S. with her dad) as the story moves deeper and deeper into the Congo; it makes you extremely aware of how distinctly different life can be.
As a whole, Endangered has the feel of those naturalistic but intense novels from my childhood (Lord of the Flies, Bridge to Terabithia, Julie & the Wolves) because it can be enjoyed by both sexes equally and forces great discussions, while beaming with this timeless quality. Sure, Endangered might not be the typical contemporary young adult novel that everyone flocks to, but it is certainly one that is worth stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing; it’s the perfect balance of environment and emotion, family and connection — familiar themes in literature that are made refreshing and new. (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)
In a multitude of books I’ve read so far this year, the death of a parent is a major plot point....more[ Review originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog.]
In a multitude of books I’ve read so far this year, the death of a parent is a major plot point. A lot of the times the book is about the death of a mother (like The Survival Kit and You Have Seven Messages). It’s understandable. A daughter and her mother share an unparalleled connection — whether it’s good or bad. A mother is instrumental in the growth of her daughter, especially when she’s in her teenage years trying to figure out who she is and sort of rebelling against all she’s known. Mothers are supposed to be a constant and when they aren’t… there’s a tremendous amount of clashing emotions.
In Betsy’s case, her dad takes a backseat in the lives of his kids when his wife dies. They don’t talk about her, they feast on fast food; everyone is living in their own bubble, barely co-existing. Betsy is angry about that. She’s upset about it and yet she lacks the solution to this problem. How can she bridge this gap between her and her father? Her and her younger brother? Betsy also thinks she is “damaged goods”. Who could love her? Her boyfriend betrays her, so does her best friend (not in the way you think) and she has no mother. It’s the perfect summer to get a new job with new people and new responsibilities. She needs a fresh start in the worst way.
POH is meant to be taken very slowly. Altebrando’s writing is full of realistic, quotable quips and so much depth and emotion. I can’t pinpoint exactly why but the entire book had an old-school YA vibe while at the same time, felt rather adult. You could feel how Betsy was directionless, and I loved the inclusion of this colonial village she was working in. Every day she could escape to this simplier time, play someone who wasn’t herself (even though she wasn’t so good at it in the beginning), and discover things about herself without even realizing it.
Unlike a bunch of YA characters, Betsy wasn’t great at just one thing. In fact, her mother was always asking her about her passions. What was she passionate about? And Betsy just didn’t have a clue. But she wasn’t obsessively searching for it either. I liked Betsy’s cautiousness. I even liked when she messed up sometimes. She had flaws. She had secrets. She had judgements about people and learned to look past them. It was all about baby steps.
Don’t worry. There is a little romance. But what I love, absolutely love, is that it doesn’t appear because it has to, and it’s not an instant love or anything even close to it. Betsy’s affection for James is eased into, and has a bit of mystery to it. I can honestly say I didn’t know how to feel about him and I really liked that. It felt like I was experiencing the frustration and the sweetness along with her. (Plus this led to a Seaside Heights scene, setting of Jersey Shore — yuck — but where I spent many family vacations as a kid.)
Overall, I loved the characters in this novel. I loved the feel of the story, and the relationship dynamics (great sibling!). There are many layers to POH and it felt like each story received the attention it deserved. It always felt down-to-earth even when life turned into a bit of a drama fest for our main character. I so enjoyed her growth and getting to know her. I hope you do too.
P.S. I’m not normally a fan of Kristen Stewart but for some reason, I could not stop picturing Betsy as KS. (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)
Rachel's world is shaken to its core when she overhears her rabbi getting down in the synagouge. I...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
Rachel's world is shaken to its core when she overhears her rabbi getting down in the synagouge. I mean, who can blame her? A man she has known forever, seen her through bad times, listened carefully when she had questions about her religion, and has been a person of superior authority in her life has just shocked the crap out of her. So not only are her parents constantly fighting and her favorite relative in the world a shell of her former self, but now she holds the heavy burden of keeping this secret.
It's not even so much about who the rabbi was with... but the aftermath of Rachel's discovery.
Basically, Rachel -- a perfect student, devout to her religion, a goodie-two shoes of sorts -- is a complete and utter mess. And I couldn't have loved that more about her. She's just clumsy with life in general and I could relate. The way she talks to boys, the way she tries to balance her school work or keep her room clean... it's just never perfect, a tiny tiny thing always goes wrong. And sadly, she has no one to turn to. Her best friend is MIA (for reasons she doesn't know) and she still hasn't found the perfect avenue when it comes to talking to Jake, the boy she loves. Heiligman has really succeeded in creating a flawed character who despite her experiences with a traumatic situation is still spunky, funny, and sensitive without being a drama queen. Watching her rabbi teach about goodness and God after finding out his secret is confusing and causes her to have a healthy internal deliberation about her role within her religion and also who she wants to be on an everyday basis.
I loved the idea of adults who preach and then act in the opposite fashion. How exactly do you deal with this when adults RULE THE WORLD and you are supposed to follow their example? It's a frustrating paradox but one that is a part of our reality, unfortunately. The other one being the need to be comforted by the very person who may be making your life a stressful wreck. How many of us can relate to those feelings?
One intriguing supporting character was Adam, the rabbi's son, who has a tempting bad boy streak but also these quiet moments of understanding and sweetness. Even though we know Rachel has her sights set on Jake, I was very curious about what would happen with Adam, and if he was in the know about his father's side activities. Was this why he was always acting out? I really enjoyed the arc of his character and the temptation he brought into the story. Jake, on the other hand, had his own secrets and was strangely distant with Rachel. Though, for once, it was nice to see a shyer relationship that wasn't based on some wild chemistry. It was quiet and private, and Rachel expressed many relatable fears when it came to coming to terms with how she felt about him.
I love the technique of framing in a novel and Heiligman uses it here, beginning the books with an older Rachel, recounting the events of this particular year, and ending it the way it started -- back to adult Rachel, who has returned to town for the first time since everything with the rabbi went down. I thought it was a great touch, but my only complaint is that Rachel's younger years wrapped up a bit too quickly and we didn't get a better glimpse at the supporting characters. The ending, however, is extremely extremely surprising, folks, in a way that made me really think about Rachel far long after I finished the book.
Intentions is a great representation of the time in your teenage years when everything just comes at you from all angles, and you are forced to see and learn things you never wanted to. For such a jaw-dropping premise, Heiligman has created a well-written world of people in various degrees of imperfection, while still weaving in the lighter moments in life. I was hooked from the very first page. (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)
I’m sure you can recall that moment in a scary movie when you know something bad is going to happe...moreReview originally posted on: Rather Be Reading Blog.
I’m sure you can recall that moment in a scary movie when you know something bad is going to happen and you just want to yell at the character to save themselves. Well, Want to Go Private? is chock full of those kind of moments. At times I wanted to plug my ears and shut my eyes because I just KNEW something bad was going to happen to main character Abby. From the very beginning, you can just feel it.
Let’s talk about Abby. She’s just started high school – we all remember how terrifying that was. Especially when you didn’t end up in any classes with your best friend and your best friend is a little more outgoing than you are and starts making new friends and joining clubs. It’s tough. This is Abby’s situation. In addition, she feels ignored at home because her dad is always working and she doesn’t get along with her younger sister at all. So meeting Luke online, a boy who shares her music tastes and really listens to her, just seems like perfect timing. And slowly she begins to close herself off from the real world.
We all know about child predators, men or women posing on the internet as teenagers to lure kids into their cars or bedrooms or a hotel room. Abby knew about them too. She talks repeatedly about the internet safety classes she attended in school. She acknowledged it didn’t hurt to tell Luke her address or bra size because SHE WAS NEVER GOING TO MEET HIM. Amongst everything this book touches upon, this is the biggest: it knocks down stereotypes of the type of “gullible” youngsters who fall for this kind of crap. Abby was a honor student. She had a nice (although somewhat absent) family. She didn’t get along with her kid sister just like plenty of people I know. She had boys crushing on her. But even after all of that, she fell into this horrendous trap.
When I saw Littman speak on a panel in the NYC Teen Author Festival, she talked about how she conquered her own demons from being sexually abused by writing some of the more difficult parts of this novel. While extremely powerful, what eventually becomes uncovered is nothing short of upsetting, life-altering, and horrifying. At one point (I don’t want to give too much away), Littman relies on the other people in Abby’s life to keep her story going and that built the tension to new, excruciating heights.
I forgot to breathe during those chapters.
There’s a definite before, during, and after presented in this book. Littman was incredibly realistic with the questions the characters asked and the thoughts that they had. The third half of the book is just as thorny to read as the rest of the book. I was not expecting this kind of emotional rollercoaster that took me to a place where I was openly crying over several revelations. Most importantly, the ones presented as a family attempts to heal.
I remember reading on a blog a few months ago that this book should be one that is read in schools. While I’m not sure how an administration would handle a decision like that, I have to agree with that blogger. Internet safety is so important and it is so easy to be swayed, no matter how book smart you are and how “normal” your family is. Littman doesn’t tell Abby’s story like some sugar-coated after school special. It is dark. It is raw. And it is so real that you wish that it wasn’t. You wish so hard. Until you have to stop wishing because you realize situations like this are happening every single day. It’s important to take notice. And I can only thank Littman for writing about such a tricky series of events, one that manages to feel so personal and intense at the same time. (less)