Around its publication date, I read a lot of middle of the road reviews for Zac and Mia. Many felt their exOriginally posted at Rather Be Reading Blog
Around its publication date, I read a lot of middle of the road reviews for Zac and Mia. Many felt their expectations weren’t met, and so, this might be one of those situations where putting a distance between reviews and your chosen reading time leads to a positive outcome because I found Zac and Mia to be very refreshing, even if it wasn’t perfect.
I find myself thinking a lot about the choice to compare a book to two other popular ones. In this case, the book was marketed as a combo of The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park. But how long before this overused comparison means nothing anymore? Maybe it is helpful to the average book buyer or maybe it’s really not because I wasn’t reminded of either of them when reading Zac and Mia. Sure, there was cancer (Fault) and a boy and girl as main characters (E&P) but that was basically it. For the record, I found Fault overly pretentious, so much that any emotion I was supposed to feel was lost in a lot of big words. On the other hand, I thought E&P was charming even if it’s not my favorite of the author’s work. I realize I’m going off on a major tangent and this is a way to sell books but is it really helpful when the final product is nothing like the newsworthy titles they are relating it to? For this reader, not so much.
Anyway. I digress.
The main thing that stood out to me about A.J. Bett’s book was how she didn’t over-dramatize the cancer. We all know cancer just sucks. I’m sure we all know at least 5 people who have died from cancer. It has sadly become a word that is a normal part of our reality these days, and I appreciated how Betts explained each of Zac and Mia’s diagnoses so well, and also had them dealing with it in very real ways. Zac’s loss of friendships, Mia’s hot and cold relationship with her boyfriend, Zac knowing so much about this disease but still being surprised by its unwieldy nature, the utter devotion from family members when one of their own is diagnosed. It was a true delight to spend time with Zac’s family, especially getting to know his mother and his sister.
I was surprised the structure of the book didn’t immediately start with flip-flopping between Zac and Mia, and spent a lot of time on Zac at first. I do think that had a hand in me not getting Mia as quickly as I wanted to, but as I delved deeper into the book and got to know her better, there was an apparent change in her. (Maggie at Just a Couple More compares her to Alice in Side Effects May Vary and I can totally see that. She’s not the flat, nice character everyone wants to be friends with. She’s complicated; what a revelation!) Because we get to know Zac right off the bat and were provided with such a fuller look at his life, I felt closer to him than to Mia.
Another highlight? There wasn’t romance for sake of romance. There was attraction, yes. But this wasn’t a full-fledged love story. It was more about finding support and understanding in unexpected places, and a lot about trusting people when you are at your worst and welcoming them into your family. Zac and Mia’s friendship could have remained this momentary thing that happened in the hospital, but I think it was critical to their survival (throughout the book) that they lean on each other (despite distance).
All in all, I really enjoyed reading Zac and Mia. I loved the Australian setting, the time on Zac’s farm, and how unpredictably the story unfolded. The writing was fantastic, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Betts’ work in the future....more
I didn’t realize how timely it would be to read Rain Reign, with the two-year anniversary of HurricReview originally posted on: Rather Be Reading Blog
I didn’t realize how timely it would be to read Rain Reign, with the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy coming up. Like Rose’s father said more than one time, the storms never catch them! It was so similar to what we were all saying until the storm came and conquered. I may not have lost my dog, but the storm forever changed one of my favorite spots from my childhood so I understood this feeling of disarray and loss in the book.
Ann M. Martin is no stranger to my bookshelf. I’ve been a huge fan of The Baby-Sitters Club series since I was young, I’ve read a ton of her other books so, of course, I jumped at the chance to read her latest. I haven’t read a ton of books about children with Aspergers syndrome (in fact, I can only compare this to the TV portrayal of Max on Parenthood) but she handles it with sensitivity and authenticity. Rose’s dad cannot grasp his daughter’s tendency to discover new homonyms or recite prime numbers. Most importantly, he doesn’t understand that she cannot control her outbursts and it was heartbreaking how frequently he left her to her own devices.
Thankfully, Rose isn’t totally alone. She has her Uncle Weldon, who drives her back and forth to school and has such a soft and patient way of communicating with her. The total opposite of Rose’s father, unfortunately. (Definitely a point of contention between the brothers too but less of a focus in the story because hey it’s written for middle graders.) And then there is Reign, the dog that Rose’s dad found on a rainy night (get it?) and never leaves his friend’s side. Weldon and Reign provide the most stability for Rose, and for someone who needs routine to get through the day, they were as necessary in her life as food or water or shelter. They kept her going.
The hurricane touching down wreaks havoc on more than their town as Reign goes missing and the routine and life Rose has known changes completely. And it’s not over yet. Martin does such an effective job of showing how isolating Rose’s disorder is through her relationship with her dad and the students in her class, but there is the flip side of it too. Rose is smart, thoughtful, and believes in doing the right thing. She is capable of handling a lot even if she does have some difficulties day to day. Furthermore, there are dependable people in her life who help her work through her behaviors. (Kudos to Martin for including Rose’s teacher aide; they rock!)
At any age, we are always scared of the things we don’t know and so much of Rain Reign is about being accepting and understanding we all have hurdles to jump through....more
One of those times I want to yell at myself for waiting too long to read a book. I'm a Laurie Halse Anderson virgin despite owning a few of4.5 stars.
One of those times I want to yell at myself for waiting too long to read a book. I'm a Laurie Halse Anderson virgin despite owning a few of her other books and I read so many positive things about this title. Well, everyone was totally right.
Hayley is one of those frustrating situations where she is the one taking care of the adult in her life. Her dad is suffering from PTSD and instead of asking for help, Hayley believes she can keep their life running even if this means not applying herself in school and caring about her own future as much as she should.
It's sad and painful to watch because as a reader you know that she needs a hand, support, and someone to depend on. Their situation made the book reach a level of suspense I was not expecting because time has basically running out. How long could Hayley and her dad live this way?
A total highlight to the book was Finn, who pursues Hayley in a very unassuming yet adorable way. I loved watching them grow closer and also have to deal with this secret life Hayley had going. He was one of my fav parts of the book. (Probably because he did bring a sense of happiness to Hayley when she didn't have much at all.)
While Hayley's dad is "working" through demons, she has a few of her own and they keep popping up. Man, I needed her to catch a break. I wanted her dad to take over, even though I knew he couldn't. I cared for her and her well-being in the way you want to care about all the characters you read about.
I honestly can't give this book enough praise. The reason I didn't give it a perfect 5 (something I don't do a ton) is that there were a few places I could have used more detail and more development. But very, very few.
My official Rather Be Reading rating? Buy (in paperback).
Initial thoughts: Wow. Close to perfect and just -- wow -- I was worried about the LGBT AND race issues but Talley handles them both so beau4.5 stars.
Initial thoughts: Wow. Close to perfect and just -- wow -- I was worried about the LGBT AND race issues but Talley handles them both so beautifully. Plus Sarah and Ruth, the sisters in this book, wow. Why don't I read more books with great sisters? At times very difficult to read, I was so engrossed by the story and I love this time period.
Imagine starting a brand new school with no welcome committee. Instead people are calling you names, telling you that you smell bad, not wanting to sit next to you, automatically thinking you are dumb because of what you look like, and even going a step farther than verbal abuse. They want to hurt you and they want to hurt you bad.
This is exactly the situation that Sarah and her friends are walking into as they step in Jefferson High School for the first time in 1959 Virginia. There is very little support from the administration a.k.a. the adults of the school, and even keeping your head down doesn’t stop them from singling you out. Sarah is miserable. She loved her old school, enjoyed her classes, got to sing in the choir, and now she’s stuck in remedial classes, doesn’t have any friends, and can’t participate in extracurricular anything. It’s hard to think she is “making a difference” like her parents remind her when she is dealing with this crap every single day. Scared for herself, her sister, and her friends. Instead, she feels lost and she’s not sure she will survive the few months until graduation.
Linda, a white girl in a few of Sarah’s classes and the daughter of someone who isn’t quiet about how these changes make him feel, feels like Sarah and the other African Americans have ruined her senior year. No prom, so much distraction. She can’t stand it. But so many of her opinions are formed from her father’s. A very busy man who has no time for his daughter and her opinions. Despite Linda not wanting Sarah and her friends in the school, she finds herself standing up for them a few times. When she is assigned a French project with her best friend (Judy) and Sarah, Linda acts like she has all the answers when it comes to Sarah returning to her old school and even why that school couldn’t afford enough books or equipment for all students. Calmly though passionately (most of the time), Sarah tries to explain why things are the way they are, and you can practically see the little cracks starting to affect Linda’s beliefs.
It was fascinating to watch Linda process what was happening around her and what was right vs. what she has always been told. So many times, I could see how close she was to realizing that her school’s treatment of Sarah and her friends was completely wrong. Then another wall would appear and we would move a few steps backward again. As much as people in this town and at Jefferson High did not want integration, it’s interesting to think how much of that was because they truly felt that way or because they were just listening to the arguments of others, believing that people with different skin type were actually lesser beings. Lies We Tell Ourselves does not shy away from how truly ugly people can get in the face of change and the unknown, and I had to close the book so much as I was reading because I was utterly disgusted. But by Linda’s character raising questions and asking why, we are able to gain more insight into this treatment without excusing it.
There is absolutely so much to discuss in this novel (book clubs and schools, take note!) but I wanted to say how nervous I was when I saw this book would also include a lesbian storyline. Conflicts because of integration is a lot to take on in the first place but to add in a plotline where Sarah and Linda fall for each other? Would it be too much? I shouldn’t have doubted Robin Talley and I won’t ever again; the feelings growing between the two never overpower the book and I thought that was a good move. It’s hard enough for the two to be seen in the same classroom, much less pursue a relationship but it was authentic and great to see each of their thought processes (was something wrong with them? were they going to hell?) and how the time period reflected their hopes for the future.
For all the pain and all the judgement in this book, there are also beautiful moments which shocked me with how much they affected me. (I would be crying and not even notice.) From the wonderful first moment Sarah shares her voice with two strangers, the bond between Sarah and her lil sister, Ruth, how Linda found strength in her own words, and the bravery that both girls had to tap into to move forward in ways I never would have predicted. Lies We Tell Ourselves is an important book and not only for the treatment of this sensitive and confusing time in our history but for how well it manages to fold in the conflicts and changes between family, friends, and how we see ourselves. ...more
When we first meet Lauren and Ryan, they are fighting over something silly: where they parked their car at a baseball game. For some, this is an annoyance that is easy to shake off but for these two, it was only part of something bigger. I think it’s impossible to be married to someone so long, friends with someone so long, RELATED to someone so long that the little things don’t get to you and you find yourself arguing over the mundane or taking something a little too personally. It’s too easy to take the people we know will always be there for granted. Sure, we can treat them like a mini-punching bag sometimes because they are never going to leave us. But what happens when that behavior is circling all the time and you are only happy when you are sleeping or find a moment to yourself?
I thought it was brave when Lauren and Ryan decided to take a sabbatical from one another. An unconventional way to “fix” things for sure but a decision they were able to come to together. Live apart for a year, cut off contact completely and see where they are after it’s all finished. For some reason I thought Lauren would do something drastic like go on a wild trip and take time off from her job but she surprised me because she stayed put. She went to work at the alumni department of a college, had lunch with her best friend (Mila), hung out with her sister (Rachel), and enjoyed time alone with her dog. After going through the motions of a life void of Ryan for awhile, she did start living… but in a very normal kind of way.
This is what I’ve come to expect from Reid and I love it. The actions of her characters (even when they are shitty) are as realistic as they come. Lauren seesaws with her feelings about Ryan, about marriage, and what love really means. For this one year, she goes back to her roots and finds the Lauren she might have lost along the way. She spends time with her amazingly hilarious and diverse family — dramatic but well-meaning grandma, a single mom, her sister who doesn’t feel the need to get married, and a younger brother who is always surprising her. It also goes to show how much one person’s marriage affects a group of people. Everyone in Lauren’s family was mourning the loss of Ryan in their own way, but it never affected their support of her. Reid was so great at sharing the funny, quirky side of this family (+ her friends); their involvement added the perfect balance to what could have been a super depressing book.
As much as I love TV spoilers, I never feel that urge to skip to the end of a book. It’s all about the journey, right? But Reid tempted me. I needed to know that Lauren and Ryan’s year apart would bring them closer together in the end. I needed that happily ever after (or whatever)! But I didn’t succumb to the temptation. (I’m actually pretty proud of myself.) Again, Reid has a way of writing about regular folk that makes me never want to let her characters go. I laughed, I cried, and, since I’ve finished, felt the need to recommend it to just about everyone I know. Reid creates characters who are relatable, complicated, and oh-so memorable.
Happiness doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, and I think Reid conquers the messy, thoughtful path that gets us to that realization so genuinely.
I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next....more
I have a few friends that run a lot, and I’m always intrigued by their “how I started” stories. I couldn’t help but think of them as I began to get to know Annie. I know firsthand that even though my friends are very accomplished runners, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the act of running is easy or completely seamless. It’s work, sure, but there’s also the sweet feeling of success mixed in with some crazy adrenaline.
Reading as Annie continued to get up early and train, despite getting sick, despite feeling like crap, even made me want to pick up my sneakers and get out there and run. The level of accomplishment she met week after week was contagious.
This brings me to grief. It might be a little morbid but I think about how people choose to deal with grief a lot. Upon the death of her long-time boyfriend, Kyle, Annie decides she must complete this marathon — the marathon he was training for when he died. That’s the healthy side. But then there’s the other side — not talking to her mom about how she feels, continuing to think she is the one to blame, and generally not speaking his name outloud to anyone.
As Kenneally gradually unveils the details of Kyle’s death and the events that led to that tragic moment, we learn how strong and independent Annie is — how much she loved Kyle but how much she wanted to push herself in life. There are a ton of “what ifs”, for sure, but as she runs, as she lets more people in, she’s given the time and the opportunity to realize that no amount of “what ifs” can bring him back. She gradually has to find her peace and realizes no matter how much she hides, real life is always going to come knocking on her door.
Like Jeremiah, her running coach’s brother. Or her friends from high school who are more accessible than she thought.
Let me get this out of the way: the chemistry between Annie and Jeremiah is HOT and intense from the very first scene but I loved how Kenneally scaled it back and made their relationship so much about this strong friendship. Jeremiah is going through his own stuff, and might not be exactly the kind of guy Annie necessarily needs right now, but he’s entirely patient with her as she deals with all of her emotions and if I felt incredible grateful for him, I could only imagine how she felt. He was solid. She needed solid, even if solid also meant super good looking and um, a great kisser. Spoiler: the off-trail scene was omg-amazing.
Not only is Annie forced to rebuild this future she initially imagined with Kyle, but she’s also granted the opportunity to fix things with her ex-best friend and get closer with girls from high school even when it seems like it could be too late. I loved that Kenneally focused on gal friendships; it’s so crucial to the move from high school to college and it brought Breathe, Annie, Breathe to a whole new level for me.
This is the thing. Even though Breathe, Annie, Breathe is part of the Hundred Oaks series (and includes some awesome cameos, of course), it felt more like a standalone than any of Kenneally’s other books. (Can we get a round of applause for her first hardcover, please?) I loved his unexpected glimpse into college life, and felt the ratio of self-discovery: romance: friendship was incredibly well-done. As Annie inched closer and closer to her marathon, all of the emotions were also growing in me, making the last pages so cathartic and gorgeous. (Yes, I cried.)
It’s true Kenneally’s newest book always becomes my new favorite. (Though my soft spot for Stealing Parker has never wavered.) But I thought she brought a whole new A-game to the young adult genre with Breathe, Annie, Breathe. It was heartbreaking, sexy, funny, and inspiring in so many ways....more
Whoa. Very glad I Kept this out pass due date from the library. It was so worth it.
BURIAL RITES is a story of heartbreak, betrayal, lies, AND love. AgWhoa. Very glad I Kept this out pass due date from the library. It was so worth it.
BURIAL RITES is a story of heartbreak, betrayal, lies, AND love. Agnes is a woman who has been sentenced to execution, and, while she waits, is sent to live with a family on a farm. The family wants nothing to do with a murderer living in their home, especially with young daughters, but Agnes is more than she seems.
I had heard from friends this is a book you needed to settle in with, you couldn't speed read through, and it was totally through. The story flip flops between Agnes present day and the past that led her to where she is now. She has had a hard life, left by her mother and her other living sibling. She has loved but (in her eyes) not enough to keep anyone for herself.
Agnes subtly changed the opinions of those around her, and I feel like that's a common device in books like these. A murderer is more than a murderer or an evil person. There are two sides to every story. It's hard to go into details without spoiling anything so I won't... but what happens to a lonely person who continues to attach herself to harmful individuals?
I'm always apprehensive about picking up a historical fiction book, and I wish I could get over that already. I found this one to be incredibly emotional and almost thriller like, as the reader learned more and more of the backstory.
Perhaps my only issue is my poor pronunciation of locales and names. (At some point, I was just making them up in my head.) ...more
Have you ever read a book that was completely addicting, really moving (enough to make you cry), and in the end, still had no idea how to rate it?
That’s exactly my relationship with Maybe One Day. On one hand, I was so thrilled to have a strong female friendship portrayed in my young adult literature. And on the other, some rough transitions, offhand comments from the main character (football players learning to rape?), and overlooked characters and situations continued to nag me and therefore, affected how I felt about the entire book.
Zoe and Olivia’s friendship reminded me of a few of my high school friendships: knowing each other since childhood, spending time together after school pursuing other passions, practically sharing family, and making plans for that future far and beyond high school and college. They were lifers. So I can only imagine how heartbreaking it was for both of them with Olivia got sick. First you guys are both cut from the New York Ballet Company, and now your partner-in-crime is laying in a hospital somewhere — hoping that treatment can zap this villainous disease out of her system.
Nothing prepares you for moments like this, that’s for sure.
I admired Zoe’s devotion to Olivia, big time. She visited the hospital, she called, she even took over her dance class on the weekends and Skyped her in when she could. But most of the time, she feels helpless. Her grades slipped because when she’s not spending time with Olivia, she’s thinking about her. Truth is, Zoe was kind of lost before this happened with Olivia. She missed dancing, soccer didn’t cut it, and maybe she just wasn’t ready to trust herself dancing again. She didn’t have something to fill her time like she used to. I can imagine how out of control everything felt for her.
We do have a potential romance with Calvin, which is kind of complicated because Olivia has a crush on him and Zoe doesn’t like him much at first. But I really liked him. Even when Zoe was difficult, he never stopped trying to be her friend. (Plus he was always there for Olivia’s brother. Nice guy.) I could have used more of him to lighten up the book and make his story arc a bit more complete. He felt glossed over, and his chemistry with Zoe was just too good to be ignored. (Even if it was a messy pairing; in the beginning, I thought she would hit it off with Olivia’s brother.)
While I loved Zoe and Olivia’s bond, the heartfelt efforts of their classmates, how Kantor’s words made me feel so much, there was something that didn’t click for me. Was it the deep detail that was given to some scenes and not to the ones where Zoe’s character growth could have been realized? Or maybe how the first section of the book was substantially longer than the others making it feel a little uneven? It’s true the emotions were heavy in Maybe One Day and the friendships were meaningful but sharper focus on who the story was actually about would have made it entirely more effective....more
I didn't write a formal review on RBR but here are the reasons why you should pick this up:
-- Sorta Like a Rock Star centers around Amber and her mothI didn't write a formal review on RBR but here are the reasons why you should pick this up:
-- Sorta Like a Rock Star centers around Amber and her mother, both currently homeless and living in a bus after her mom’s latest boyfriend kicked them out of his place. While Amber manages to keep this under wraps for awhile (showering at her best friend’s house, putting on a brave face all the time), she’s about to reach her breaking point. What will happen to her and her mom when she does? -- Amber is probably one of the most memorable female narrators I’ve ever met — her tone is so vivid, so full of this tough chick personality she has going for her and she’s funny! But most of all, she’s a loyal friend, she’s determined to bring joy into the lives of so many, and it’s a beautiful thing. There aren’t many people who would be quite as selfless as Amber when their life is in the shitter. -- The religious angle. Now hear me out. I know this is personal but I’ll say to you that I am not the most religious person but I really appreciated Amber’s belief in God. Jesus Christ is literally a rock star to her, and she doesn’t have to be an avid churchgoer to feel that way. Certain circumstances causes her faith to waver (I don’t blame her) and this journey, while subtle, was so crucial to Amber moving forward with her life. -- Supporting characters that were not only as fully developed as the main one, but also just as diverse. I loved that Amber hung out with an eclectic group of guys at school, cared about the cranky old woman at the senior center, and never gave up on the haiku-writing vet. Everyone has their own story. (Reminiscent of the parable feeling of Holly Goldberg Sloane books.) -- I cried because this novel was happy, it was heartbreaking, but also because it was hopeful. I don’t know if any reader could read these pages and not reflect a little bit about their life and how they handle themselves in their darkest moments; how supporting people and bringing joy into the lives of others means something. It makes a difference. -- And finally: Amber has a rescue puppy named Bobby Big Boy.
Sarah Ockler is always going to have a special place in my book lovin’ heart because her novel, Twenty BoReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading
Sarah Ockler is always going to have a special place in my book lovin’ heart because her novel, Twenty Boy Summer, was the first review Magan and I ever put up on RBR — our launching post! Then (almost a year later) in December, I fell in love with Ockler all over again after devouring Bittersweet (kind of a pun) and passed it on to Magan immediately. It had family, cupcakes, cute boys, and was just a good feeling read all the way around.
Well, ladies, gents, crickets, nothing in the world could have prepared me for the overwhelming amount of love I feel for The Book of Broken Hearts, a gem that has solidified Ockler’s spot on my most treasured author’s list. You have to believe me — despite a clumsy start, I read the book all the way through — twice.
The summer before college is supposed to be a time for reminiscing and having as much fun as possible, but instead of trying out for the community theatre musical or hanging out with her girlfriends every possible moment, Jude and her dad are restoring his old motorcycle. Unfortunately, Papi is in the early stages of Alzheimers and while he can’t remember where he lives or what kind of ice cream he likes, he does remember the good old days when he was cycling around Argentina with his crew. His memories make Jude hopeful: fix the bike, restore Papi’s memory.
The key to this project is Emilio, the cute guy at the motorcyle shop, a few years older than Jude, who is pumped to work on a vintage bike for the summer. There’s only one teenie tiny issue. He’s a Vargas, which means he is brothers with two of the boys who have broken the hearts of Jude’s sisters. So much so that in a fit of passion, the girls took an oath several years ago, promising to never get involved with a Vargas again. But that’s old news? Silly kid stuff, right? Well, Jude still takes the whole thing pretty seriously, a product of being the youngest sister and the pressure of the Holy Trinity, as she calls them.
But Papi likes him, and Jude is like, “This is strictly a professional thing.”
Yes, Emilio is professionally adorable and flirty. But as much as Jude paints him as this bad boy with no heart, he is patient and thoughtful and sweet too. As you can see, Jude is losing this inner battle. And the chemistry between the two was seriously felt all the way to my toes, and Ockler does the perfect job of stretching it out. Because at the same time Jude is fighting her feelings for Emilio, her dad’s condition is getting worse, her friends are MIA (wtf?), and her mom and sisters are banding together to figure out the next step for their family.
There’s nothing that makes my heart hurt as much as a sick parent, especially such a young one. I easily imagined myself in this position and felt for Jude so much. Helpless. Scared. Not only for Jude but for her mother who worked hard and left Argentina to marry her husband, and all the sisters who weren’t living at home anymore. Family is the core of this book. The absolute core, and Ockler hits upon so many relatable situations: how hard it is for family to get together, how they bond during tragedy, and also the pressure to be the person they want you to be.
Emilio says something to Jude that really struck a chord with me. He said she’s the kind of person who wishes for a time machine, to go back to the days when everything was fine and dandy and her friendships were the same and she was the little sister who never stood up for herself. The emphasis we put on the past — it’s so real and so hard to move on from. Because how can things change so quickly? But Jude has to face that, and despite the ever-changing nucleus of her family, she has to make decisions for herself. Because she has a life to lead too.
The Book of Broken Hearts made me swoon, it made me cry, and it made me feel so many things relative to my own life right now. I loved the mix of Argentinian and Puerto Rican culture, too. It’s one of those books that I was sad to finish; I noticed myself feeling more and more attached to the story as time passed. This is truly a testament to Ockler’s writing and how much her craft has grown since her earlier books; she’s not relying on a love triangle to create tension but instead has found a natural balance between family, romance, and friendships. I can’t wait to read it again and again....more
Take any kumbaya notions of summer camp and forget them because Amy Becker’s experience is anythingReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
Take any kumbaya notions of summer camp and forget them because Amy Becker’s experience is anything but.
Instead of a summer making friends and playing tennis, she is the butt of the biggest bully’s jokes. And sometimes more than jokes, incidents that could qualify as sexual harassment. Rory is probably one of the bitchiest characters I have ever met in the literary world. She has no respect for her equals, for her elders, and never thinks before she speaks. Her actions and her attitide were absolutely disgusting and I was beyond revolted by her treatment of Amy and the other campers.
The kicker is that Amy didn’t want to go to camp in the first place. Her dad’s brother, Ed, just bought the camp and was allowing Amy to attend when all she wanted to do was stay home with her mentally disabled brother, Charlie. Her mom is pretty detached and judgmental and Amy feels like she is the only one that Charlie can count on. But her dad wins this battle and Amy is off to camp for the summer of her life.
In the words of Cher from Clueless: As if.
Various events at camp (not just Rory’s behavior) cause Amy to remember many events of her childhood that she has kept buried and the mysteries of her mom’s behavior start to make sense. For so long Amy has heard about the “hard life” her mother has had to endure but she can only focus on the way her mom always has to look perfect, her hurtful scrutinizing, and her lack of love for both her and her brother. It’s heartbreaking to see how her mother’s history has created this wedge between them, and the events of the summer only cause that wedge to grow bigger and deeper.
Set in 1963, Wolf plants a few early seeds in the novel that give way to the secrets in Amy’s family but I never guessed what would have had happened or what would unfold to the Beckers. Uncle Ed, his wife, and snobby daughter are no help either. The amount of anger and how hurtful these people can be is beyond anything I have ever experienced. No wonder everyone felt so alone. (Acting like Amy’s mom and dad brought up their son to be mentally disabled just broke my heart in a million pieces.)
By the time Camp wraps up I was left to wonder if the author had inserted too much pain and drama into the lives of these four people. In any other book I would have said a definite yes but Wolf weaves the stories together in such a way that it just works. She’s brave not to sugarcoat the bullying and summer camp, which for more reasons than one, becomes a turning point in Amy’s life – for good and bad. I was also left to wonder if those who are treated badly and go through traumatic events are almost justified in their ugly treatment of others. It creates quite a dichotomy when the victim feels both compassion and hate for the antagonist.
The sheer cruelty and truth exposed in Camp make it a difficult read. Anyone with half a heart would not want anyone to go through anything like this, but Wolf brings important issues to the forefront and has created a coming-of-age story that, at times, reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with survival instincts that brought to mind Lord of the Flies. Impressive character development make Amy a character to root for, and Camp impossible to put down until you reached the final word. ...more
“Maybe heartache was more normal than the absence of it.”
We are all too familiar with the feeling of experiencing the highest of highs when, out of nowhere, the lowest of lows comes sweeping in and knocks you completely off-balance.
In Daughters for a Time, Jennifer Handford handles that crushing heartbreak with sensitivity and raw emotion. Though I know the book is a work of fiction, Handford’s own experience with adoption elevated the book to a whole new level of realism. There were moments I was so lost in the story I forgot I wasn’t reading a memoir.
Helen had a tumultuous childhood. Her mother dies of ovarian cancer when she is a freshman in high school, and around the same time, her father picks up and leaves. Her sister, Claire, is her support system, her mother, her everything for many years. But Helen remains curious about her father (who, as an adult, she “stalks”) and wants to be able to bring up stories about her mother without Claire brushing them off. At 35, as a successful baker and restaurant owner, even after experiencing her own love story with her husband (Tim), Helen still carries this baggage. Or the complete opposite of baggage, as she puts it. A hole in her heart. Throw in her and her husband’s repeated attempts conceive a child and it’s understandable why Helen is feeling withdrawn and lost.
The true rays of light in her life are Tim (he’s a ROCK), Claire, her niece, and when she can find quiet time in the kitchen. And after much soul-searching, the decision to go forth with an adoption of a baby girl from China. Helen is just counting the many days until their new daughter will be curling up in bed between her and her husband.
You see, this novel ranges from the happy sad to the sad sad. Helen is forced to come to terms with her past, even making moves to fix things with her dad, as well as accept her sister’s cancer diagnosis. Helen questions many times why things in life can’t go right all at the time same. Why can’t she have both her child and her sister? Why does it always have to be something? Handford writes with such honesty and has crafted an engrossing tale from every angle — the adoption, the insecurities she faces as both a mother and a mother of a child who was abandoned, the sisterly bond, even Helen reliving her angsty 14-year old self when her mother was very sick. While the book covers a good span of time, I wondered if there could have been more moments of showing and less telling. In 300 pages, I was connected enough to these characters that I probably could have read a hundred pages more if it meant some of the key moments were given more meat.
Though Daughters for a Time focuses on the bond between women as sisters, as mothers and daughters, and as friends, it lacked a bit of male perspective in some areas. For a long time, I wondered if Claire was even married. And Helen’s husband was such a great character too but he felt absent from scenes when I knew he was standing there, sharing the moment… except he was silenced. A little more testosterone would have balanced out many emotions in the story and made it even more relatable. I wanted Handford to dig deeper.
Despite minor qualms, this novel genuinely tugged at my heart strings. There’s never a perfect time to pick up a book that screams “disease” and “infertility” but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t experience them. Handford takes every day, powerful issues and skillfully, weaves in bits and pieces of hope even at the darkest moments. It’s surprisingly fast paced for such heavy content too; I found myself thinking about it a lot during my reading breaks. At the core,Daughters of a Timeis about the families we have and the families we create, the ebb and flow of the healing process, and the challenges life throws us and how we react to them....more
Every now and then I come across a book that reminds me of young adult books I read in grade school — notOriginally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
Every now and then I come across a book that reminds me of young adult books I read in grade school — not a ton of dialogue, filled with a bit of adventure, maybe a small love story. Even the writing style, full of clear, succinct sentences that move at a steady pace and mean a whole lot. With I’ll Be There I was reminded (once again) of Louis Sachar’s Holes and another all-time favorite, Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. Both books deal with families, various trials, and almost come together with a fairy tale like quality.
Emily and Sam come from completely different worlds. Emily has a mom, dad, brother, and a dog. Sam has his brother, Riddle (who doesn’t talk much), a father (Clarence) who abducted them and steals to help himself survive. (Keyword: himself.) For as long as he can remember, Sam has been the one to take care of his brother, while both steer as clear from their father as possible. Sam and Riddle don’t go to school. Riddle draws in phone books and Sam tries to make some pocket change on the side so they can eat. It is absolutely heartbreaking how Clarence neglects his children. In fact, I’m shocked he didn’t leave them on the side of the road long ago.
You can see why Sam keeps his life a secret from Emily. He does a pretty good job of it too. He doesn’t answer a lot of questions, he meets her places, but her parents are concerned when they meet him and Riddle. They believe something isn’t right and when Clarence discovers the cell phone that the Bells give him… he knows they won’t be sticking around much longer.
The story certainly takes a turn from here. A slow and sweet romance between Sam and Emily, the affection the Bells have for Sam and Riddle, and the connection these boys finally have with someone come to a screeching halt and for the rest of the book, the reader is thrust into a suspenseful and frightening story. (I was so nervous I had to eat a snack on the way home to calm my nerves while reading.)
Sloan certainly nailed the feelings of a girl who has had her heart broken and hopes against all hope that Sam will come back to her. Even when she attempts to keep busy with Bobby — a self-righteous fella from her high school who is majorly crushing on her and will do just about anything to get her attention — and going about her life before Sam came into it. The change in her is so apparent. She feels entirely helpless and directionless, and loses her belief in love.
And as for the brothers… I have never read a pair quite like this. Sam has always been the caretaker and Riddle has a developmental disorder (that’s never been treated) yet they understand each other. They have each other’s backs in a way that all siblings should and it chokes me up just thinking about all they’ve been through and all the challenges they face for the remainder of the book. I was rooting for them the entire time.
One thing I loved about Sloan is how she presented a good amount of characters throughout the 400-page book and came back to every single one of them. There is not one storyline left unanswered. (One complaint though… all the descriptions talk about Emily’s awesome best friend when she is practically MIA for the whole book. She didn’t seem to fit into the super friend category at all.) It definitely showed how one moment can change a person, and affect a bunch of others without even meaning to. From the start to the very end, I felt incredibly invested in Emily, Riddle, and Sam and wanted them to find their own happiness, wanted good to triumph over evil.
I hope you’ll take the time to dive into this moving novel and find out....more
I read Jo Knowles’ Jumping Off Swings a few months ago, and while I found it an engrossing read, I was uReview 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....more
In some families, being born into a sport and a team is like a legacy. I could totally relate toReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog --
In some families, being born into a sport and a team is like a legacy. I could totally relate to Ryan and her dad’s affection for the Cubs. Sure, I was brought up a Yankees fan which is totally different because yes, we have won a lot of championships but I also remember sitting through many, many boring games in the 90s where they hardly won. But we stayed the whole game and still listened to the post-game on the way home. My dad taught me how to keep score. We were friends with all the people who sat in our section. Instead of going to church on Sundays, we went to home games at Yankee Stadium.
So I could understand how Ryan’s love of the Cubs and of her father were so closely intertwined. Jennifer E. Smith is a master of delving us into the depths of this 14-year old’s innermost thoughts. Her language is poetic and as relaxed, deliberate, and exciting as any great Friday night baseball game. Smith writes about the Cub’s history with such enthusiasm and fluidity throughout the novel and just an absolute love the game. One that brings people together like Ryan and her dad, and later, Ryan and Nick.
Ah, Ryan and Nick’s relationship. It’s quiet and different than other YA relationships I’ve read about. It’s not full of these huge epic gestures or plans or even that much expectation. For both Ryan and Nick, it’s about trusting the other person (for different reasons) and finding hope in dreadful situations. As the Cubs embark on the 100th year since winning their last World Series title, they are pretty much the perfect metaphor for many of the emotions running through the entire story. Why do the fans hang on like they do? How do the players continue to run out on that field day after day when they are never the chosen team? It’s all about getting up in the morning and moving forward. Any way you can.
My emotional reaction to The Comeback Season can only be a testament to Smith’s writing. I was completely invested in Ryan’s life as soon as the story began and even though it took me longer to read than other YAs, I had the pleasure of spending a substantial amount of time with this story. There is such passion behind the words, and so many gorgeous phrases I just wanted to never stop reading. It’s funny to go backwards when reading the work of one author, and I was absolutely blown away by this debut. It is a book that must find a home on my bookshelf and one that will be challenging to top… ...more
It’s difficult to read a book about 9/11 without thinking about where I was when it happened. I feelReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
It’s difficult to read a book about 9/11 without thinking about where I was when it happened. I feel kind of shameful about it now, to be honest. I don’t think I ever really took the time to understand what all of it meant. I was a junior in high school, sitting in my English class when someone walked in to tell us a plane hit the Twin Towers. School was pretty much over as we knew it. No one was doing much in class. Everyone was on their cell phones. Rules had zero effect. I remember going home all day and being unable to get in touch with the boy I had been talking to because signals were down. I lived 10 minutes away from New York City, and many of my friends had parents who commuted. One of them waited all day and all night until her dad finally made it home. From one of the main roads in my hometown, you could see the skyline – suddenly filled with smoke that didn’t lift for a long, long time.
I originally thought I would include a snippet from my journal during that time but there was nothing that really stood out to me to share. A few days later, I did include this quote from The Green Mile (I loved that book!):
I’m rightly tired of the pain I hear and feel, boss. I’m tired of being on the road, lonely as a robin in the rain. Not never having no buddy to go on with or tell me where we’s comin from or goin to or why. I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. It feels like pieces of glass in my head. I’m tired of all these times I wanted to help and couldn’t.. I’m tired of being in the dark. Mostly it’s the pain. There’s too much. If I could end it, I would. But I can’t.
They are not my own words but I could see how I felt they were so relevant at the time.
Sometimes I feel so outside of the events of 9/11. I didn’t personally know anyone that died. But it did make my mother reconsider my dream of going to school in the city. It did make me realize how something can happen on any given day and even though you realize that, you can’t let it stop you from living your life. I think this is why I really liked the premise of Love is the Higher Law. Most of the books/movies, etc. were focused on people who had loved ones die during the attacks, and this was a story about three people who lived in New York and were affected by it in other ways.
Now I’ve only read David Levithan’s work in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which I loved. One of my favorite reads of 2011. But I was so enamored by his poetic writing. He was able to evoke such emotion without unnecessarily over-hyping everyone’s feelings. It felt rightfully organic and there were so many times I felt so touched by the pain Claire felt or the detachment that Jasper was experiencing. One of the most beautiful scenes I have probably ever read was during one of Claire’s sleepless nights when she wanders into Union Square, where people had started a makeshift memorial for all the missing. It’s raining out, and all the candles are burnt out. But Claire and another woman work together to light every single candle standing out there. They didn’t speak more than a few words to one another, and Claire worked so diligently to feel like she was doing something.
Then you have Peter and Jasper. Two people who are flirty and free at a party before 9/11 and – two days after the world completely changes – are anything but, resulting in a disaster of a date (although Liza Minnelli is involved). I think it’s interesting to read their perceptions of one another as the chapters switch from person to person, just because these two people are experiencing the same moment so differently, and with Claire, we basically just see Claire. One of my favorite details about Peter is how much he relates music to how he is feeling. There’s a huge emotional moment towards the end of the book at a concert that had tears rolling down my face too. I didn’t even need to know the band or the song they were singing. It’s just amazing the things in life that make us connect and feel other people’s feelings.
That’s what this book is all about. Connection, disconnection, hope, fears, and the unknown. I was reading a review of Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud a few weeks ago and the critic started by saying that 9/11 isn’t something he is over or something he is ever going to be over. And it’s true… 11 years later, I feel the same way. Even if I was only 16 years old when it happened and the only World Trade Center I knew was from when Kevin visited them in Home Alone 2.
There’s a constant struggle to make sense out of these enormously horrid things that happen during our everyday lives. (Even the smaller atrocities too.) I think Love of the Higher Law is a true representation of our generation, one that has seen the effects of an event like 9/11 and how it has changed our perception of the world around us. It pinpoints hard-to-swallow and hard-to-work-through problems without being preachy or over-dramatic or pretentious or pompous. We can be strong even when we lack the understanding of certain events and the reasons behind them. ...more