Radiance is a middle grade story that deals with a topic that is hard to broach with this age group: death. It can be difficult to talk about death wi...moreRadiance is a middle grade story that deals with a topic that is hard to broach with this age group: death. It can be difficult to talk about death with children, particularly in cases where the person who dies is very close to a child or where the person who dies is very young.
The main character of this story, Riley (only twelve years old), has just died along with her parents and dog. She references her life on the "Earth Plane" briefly, but does not appear to dwell on his previous life too much. Instead, her days are filled with Here and Now. She has the ability to manifest whatever she desires--clothes, money, food, excitement and entertainment. But, the novelty of this ability does not last long. Quickly, she looks for something to do. And it's not long before the The Council comes looking for her to give her a job.
She's paired with Bodhie, a teen whom she describes as "dorky," but who seems to have been cool at one time. Bodhie takes everything a little too seriously for Riley's taste, and she spares no time in telling him just how lame he is. Their conflict feels more like a sibling rivalry than a thinly disguised flirtation, which is nice in a middle grade story.
On their first mission together as "Soul Catchers,"where they try to convince souls who have remained on the Earth Plane to cross over to the other side. Riley's first assignment is one no other Soul Catcher has been able to crack, despite hundreds of attempts. Lucky for her, it involves spirits of the annoying ten year-old boy variety, a demographic she's dealt with extensively on the Earth Plane. I won't tell you what happens, but it is one of my favorite scenes!
I don't always love to read middle grade novels, but this audio book appealed to me because of the subject matter and its relevance to my life right now. My mother-in-law just passed away on Wednesday after a long battle with a variety of cancers. I listened to this book thinking that it might be of some comfort to the pre-teen nieces in my family. I think that, once they've had time to deal with their grandmother's passing, they will find solace in a vision of heaven where the elderly get to pursue all of their interests and dreams.
The reader for this novel is Kathleen McInerney and she does a wonderful job. It must be hard to find a reader who can capture the spirit and energy of a twelve year-old, but McInerney does it well. Also, this book is a quick listen at less than four hours. I can see this book being a staple of middle school libraries. I bet middle grade readers will identify with Riley and maybe even relate to some of what she goes through in the book.(less)
In alternating narratives, Sara Bennett Wealer tells the story of two talented teens--Kathryn and Brooke. Both girls are exceptional singers and, thou...moreIn alternating narratives, Sara Bennett Wealer tells the story of two talented teens--Kathryn and Brooke. Both girls are exceptional singers and, though they used to be very close, they have a rivalry that has spiraled out of control.
Brooke seems to have it all. She is the most popular girl in her class, she has talent, money, and people generally look to her to decide who's cool and who's not. Of course, life is not as perfect as it seems. Brooke is lonely and desperately wants her absent father's love and attention. She is surrounded by people who want to be near her so that they can be popular. None of her friends care about her passion for singing; they only care about parties and dances. Brooke finds a true friend in Kathryn during her junior year, but by their senior year their bitter enmity has completely clouded over any friendship they might have had.
Kathryn is more content in the shadows than in the limelight when it comes to being popular. That is, until she gets a taste for the spotlight when Brooke invites her to a sleepover their junior year. After that fateful night, Kathryn is kept busy with parties and activities and shows with all of her new friends. In particular, Brooke seems to want to hang out with Kathryn and talk about music. But, when Kathryn unwittingly betrays Brooke, their friendship crumbles and so does Kathryn's new popularity.
In the end, the only thing these two unlikely friends have in common is their desire to win at the Blackmore--a prestigious singing competition. And, it seems that both girls are willing to crush the other in order to win.
* * *
Rival is an excellent debut for Sara Bennett Wealer. It is always a risky venture to write a book where the main characters are complex and not always sympathetic. There were points in this book where I didn't like either of the main characters, but this dislike was because the girls are presented as real people who make real mistakes and use poor judgment. It would've been much easier for Ms. Bennett Wealer to present one of the girls as "right" and the other as "wrong." It's much more difficult to make each girl complex in their own way.
In addition to the characters, I loved the format of this book. It alternated between main characters and from their junior to senior years. In all of this, I was not confused in the least by which character was speaking and when the scene was taking place. It was interesting to flip between the girls' senior year, when they hated each other, and their junior year, when they were inseparable. Through the shifting time periods, the relationship and the motives behind the girls' actions becomes much more complex and interesting.
I loved that this rivalry was based, for the most part, on singing. There were some jealous moments based on boys and beauty, but that was not the crux of the girls' conflict. That story has been played out, in my opinion. In this book, the girls are vying for something real and based on hard work and merit. This focus on singing took away from some of the catty, stereotypical competition over looks that is often portrayed in YA lit. This story was far more serious and interesting than a typical girl-hates-girl story.
This is an awesome debut novel and I cannot wait to read more from this author. I can imagine that there are several students in my classes, particularly those girls involved in chorus and one of our school's music programs that will understand the richness of this book. (less)
Is it possible that I like Gayle Forman's Where She Went even more than If I Stay? I didn't know that this was possible. I am a little taken aback. Bu...moreIs it possible that I like Gayle Forman's Where She Went even more than If I Stay? I didn't know that this was possible. I am a little taken aback. But, from the very first chapter, I was captivated by this second book and could not put it down. Now, I did have a difficult time putting down If I Stay, but there was something so compelling about this book, even without the lure of tragedy and melodrama.
**Please don't read this post if you haven't read If I Stay and want to. I'm going to have to SPOIL it for you if you do! There's just no way to talk about Where She Went without revealing what happened in If I Stay.**
Okay. Phew. I don't want to spoil anything about this series for anyone!
This second book is narrated completely from Adam's point of view. I have to admit that I was intrigued by this from the very start. I loved Adam in book one, but I completely fell for him in book two. He just seemed even more real to me in this second installment. Even though he's now famous and touring the world, his feelings and character just ring true to me.
And Mia. Love Mia. In some ways, she's even more complex in this second book than in the first. She, too, has become an accomplished musician, but there's something about her struggle to both move past and remember that fateful night on which If I Stay is based that feels very real to me. If you've ever had any sort of trauma in your life, I think you'll understand what she's going through.
I love that Adam and Mia are not perfect. I love that they are not fixed and that, though they've experienced success, they don't always feel deserving or good about it. All of this rings very true to me. And, Foreman made some great choices with this book. I loved that she start most chapters with lyrics from Adam's hit record, which is actually written about Mia. I found most of the lyrics to be interesting and to add to the narrative. I want to hear his music!
I know that many of you are waiting for this book to come out and that you cannot wait to read it. In my opinion, this is a great second book to a story that could have ended with the first. But, after reading Where She Went, I am happy to know more about Adam and Mia and understand where they'll go from here. I loved it. (less)
Zoey Commander's life is a mess. Her father is running off with is twenty-something girlfriend to marry in Hawaii, her normally "together" mother just...moreZoey Commander's life is a mess. Her father is running off with is twenty-something girlfriend to marry in Hawaii, her normally "together" mother just attempted suicide, and Zoey just slept with her best friend, Brandon. But, the biggest of frustrations is that she had a horrible car accident that could have killed her and a couple of her friends. But, she doesn't remember it or any of the events leading up to it.
Now, Zoey is kinda dating Brandon, her best friend. Brandon has had many conquests, and loves to tell Zoey all about them. And, it appears that he's not really all that concerned about Zoey's accident. Or anything really. Zoey wants for him to want to be her boyfriend, but just never there.
Worst of all for controlling and (slightly) obsessive Zoey is that the only person who seems to know all of the answers to what happened the night of her car crash is badboy Doug. He went away to juvie when they were younger and his reputation has been forever changed. Sure he's handsome and smart, but he's been to juvie. So he must be crazy.
Honestly, this book was a fun read. I love Jennifer Echols for romantic-ish, light-ish books. I know when I read her work that it's going to be a bit of the top and filled with heat-of-the-moment scenes. I just know this. If she were to write a serious "issue" book for teens, I wouldn't know what to do with it. (It would probably be good, because she's an awesome writer. It would just be like drinking soda when you're expecting water. Weird at first, but then good.)
So, when I read criticism of her work that her that knocks her down a little for writing steamy scenes and not being all that serious, I don't take them seriously. I know what Echols is all about. And, my teen girls LOVE her books. In fact, this book was loaned to me by one of my juniors girls who told me that I HAD to read it. How could I resist?
Again, if you're looking for seriousness and a hefty plot that will change your life, this probably isn't it. But, it's a quick, fun read and Echols is a talented writer. I cannot wait to read her next book, Love Story, which is due out in July. (less)
Corrinne lives a charmed life. Her parents own a posh apartment in NYC and a house on Nantucket. She has credit cards galore and goes out for sushi an...moreCorrinne lives a charmed life. Her parents own a posh apartment in NYC and a house on Nantucket. She has credit cards galore and goes out for sushi and (illegal) drinks with her best buds almost nightly. She plans to attend an exclusive boarding school in the fall and life is generally wonderful for cynical, whiny Corrinne.
Really, she is a little hard to like at first. But, when her life's station falls dramatically after the collapse of the economy and once her parents find that they've fallen victim to a Ponzi scheme, Corrinne joins the real world and becomes a much more human. But, it doesn't happen quickly. First, her whole life as she knows it has to disintegrate and crumble before her very eyes. This includes: the sale of the apartment, her father moving to Dubai, and Corrinne and her brother moving to Texas in order to live with her very Texan grandparents. Even worse, no more private school, no more sushi, no more credit, no more friends.
What she does find in Texas is lots of hot weather, twangy accents, public schools filled with (gasp!) public school students, and food with lots and lots of carbs. Basically, she's on an alien planet.
With the help of some of the locals, though, Corrinne adjusts. It takes time, but she is nothing if not a survivor. And, the fact that the town is home to a couple of extremely hot guys (see book cover) does not hurt matters.
Corrinne is truly a round character. I love her for this. Even as she's complaining and melting down, she has an endearing quality to her story. We can al identify, I'm sure, with having to change our habits after the recession hit. I know I have. I haven't had to move to Texas, but I have had to give up some of the extras. And I know how hard but ultimately rewarding this has been for me. By the end of the book, I was super proud of Corrinne and respected her as a person.
This is not a heavy book or one that's full of mystery and intrigue. You basically know what's going to happen throughout. But, it doesn't really matter. Because debut author Gwendolyn Heasley isn't really trying to develop an entirely new character, but improving on the existing character archetype. I think it's pretty successful in it's attempt at romance and realistic characters.(less)