In Simone Elkeles' LEAVING PARADISE, a circle of friends and their families have been ripped apart by a devastating car...moreMoving and realistic YA romance
In Simone Elkeles' LEAVING PARADISE, a circle of friends and their families have been ripped apart by a devastating car accident. After a year in juvenile detention, Caleb is able to return home to the lives that his actions altered forever. His victim, Maggie, is slowly recovering from her injuries and thinking of ways to get out of town as quickly as possible. Chance encounters force Caleb and Maggie to confront their memories of the night of the accident, what really happened, and how each of them has changed since then. In doing so, Maggie and Caleb must learn to navigate their complicated relationship, especially after discovering that no one understands what they're experiencing better than each other.
LEAVING PARADISE aptly depicts the gritty and painful aftermath that can happen when one person hurts another, even if unintentionally. Told in alternating first-person point of view, Elkeles' style allows the reader to know both Maggie and Caleb intimately and the grief and struggles that each experiences. Caleb was an immensely likeable character and voice, despite his perceived past flaws, and the portrayal of Maggie's grief, frustration, and anger felt real. The interactions between Caleb and Maggie were touching and raw, and the romantic scenes were well-done and aching, without being too sexual. Secondary characters like Mrs. Reynolds and Kendra added to the complexity of the story. Compared to Elkeles' other books, this story arc felt less contrived and the characters less self-absorbed. The author also finishes with a conclusion that makes sense for the characters, as opposed to creating an ending that would simply please readers.
Despite the emotional impact of the novel, pacing was slow in the first half, and the story arc was very predictable regarding Caleb and Maggie's relationship. At times, the writing felt forced. Caleb's character, while likeable, seemed too articulate and well-adjusted given what he'd endured. The romantic connection was also realized without apparent reason on Caleb's behalf, and Maggie let down her emotional defenses much more quickly than one would expect. Though the ending felt right, unresolved issues remain regarding betrayals, truths, and the unexpected change of heart and resolution of one character.
Taken overall, LEAVING PARADISE was the most aching and realistic book by Elkeles I have read. If I had reviewed the book objectively on writing quality and pacing, I would have given it three stars. However, the book's emotional depth and my reaction to it easily bumped it to four stars. Though it could be a standalone, I'm looking forward to the upcoming sequel, RETURN TO PARADISE, to see where Caleb and Maggie's lives lead next. (less)
After discovering Simone Elkeles as a favorite author earlier this year, I was eagerly awaiting the release of RE...moreDisappointed and saddened with sequel
After discovering Simone Elkeles as a favorite author earlier this year, I was eagerly awaiting the release of RETURN TO PARADISE, the sequel to my favorite novel of hers, LEAVING PARADISE. However, after reading it, I'm disappointed to say I wish I hadn't.
In RETURN TO PARADISE, eight months have passed since Caleb left Maggie standing beside a road as he left for an uncertain future. Since then, Maggie has tried to move on and has planned her first year at college as a study-abroad student. Caleb, on the other hand, has been slumming it at odd jobs and living in a drug house. When circumstances throw them together for a month-long road trip to do outreach education to other teens, Caleb and Maggie must determine whether they can have an honest and lasting relationship, especially with the secret about the accident still looming between them.
Sadly, the plot and characterization in RETURN TO PARADISE destroyed the warm feelings I had for the characters in the previous book. The novel opens with a very contrived set-up that forces Maggie and Caleb back together. Following this, horribly slow pacing plagued the novel, as did a lack of definitive action or plot movement. While I fell in love with Caleb's character in the first book, where he was kind, loyal, and upright behind a tough mask, he became cruel, manipulative, and intentionally hurtful to others in this book, including Maggie. The sweet and aching romantic spark between the two is gone and is replaced with an overly sexual Caleb who's no longer gentle or consistent and who is physically unkind at times. In the plot, the constant flip-flop of their hot and cold relationship seemed to occur without reason or purpose. Even in the good parts, their relationship no longer felt genuine or considerate. While Maggie has grown into a stronger person, her character changes and those in Caleb were never explained. The internal dialogue of Maggie and Caleb consisted of manufactured realizations and declarations about each other that seemed to come from nowhere. Also, secondary characters came across as unimportant or underdeveloped. Though most of Elkeles' novels provide a satisfying ending, even if somewhat artificial, the conclusion of this book felt unsatisfying because it didn't ring true for the characters or the preceding plot.
On the positive side, I did enjoy the alternating first-person viewpoints of Maggie and Caleb again. The book also provided resolution to certain plot points left hanging from the first book, and the novel did try to examine some real issues, like trust, family division, and the continued effects of one's actions and the lies that can sprout from that.
These points, however, were not enough to make me enjoy this read. While I finished LEAVING PARADISE with a bittersweet pull in my chest regarding Maggie and Caleb, I'm now left feeling only bitter because I can't enjoy them and their relationship any more after reading this book.(less)
In Paul Volponi’s CROSSING LINES, Adonis is a normal teenage guy: one who plays on the football team, wants to da...moreRealistic portrayal of GLBTQ bullying
In Paul Volponi’s CROSSING LINES, Adonis is a normal teenage guy: one who plays on the football team, wants to date the hot girl, and just wants to fit in. When new student Alan enrolls at his school and becomes the butt of everyone’s homophobic jokes, Adonis has to decide where he stands. Does he side with his sister and his potential girlfriend, both of whom support Alan’s lipstick-wearing ways? Or does he does go along with the team and humiliate Alan at every opportunity, even when it becomes a threat to Alan’s safety?
CROSSING LINES excels most in its realistic portrayal of bullying, prejudice, and what it means for someone to go with the crowd or against it. Readers are given an honest depiction of the slurs and threats thrown at GLBTQ students through Adonis’ first-person perspective, and Adonis’ internal dialogue and insecurities about himself also felt authentic. As a character, Adonis shows believable growth as he changes throughout the book. Family also plays an important role in the novel, and the competing viewpoints of Adonis’ parents provide another realistic representation of how people are or are not supportive of those who are different.
Even though the book excelled in its honest depiction of bullying and intolerance, the novel itself didn’t have the emotional impact I had hoped. The climax occurred too quickly and too near the end, and the closing scene felt trite and a bit hollow. The almost singular focus of the storyline was also very limited. While this may make the book useful as a teaching tool, it felt basic for a novel. Finally, while the writing worked style worked well as internal dialogue for Adonis, it didn’t stand out.
Due to the book’s candid approach and easy plot, CROSSING LINES will be a great read for students struggling with acceptance of GLBTQ students, especially boys who should be able to identify with Adonis and the challenges he faces. However, for GLBTQ students looking for a story that resonates with them, I would recommend books by David Levithan or Nick Burd’s THE VAST FIELDS OF ORDINARY instead.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.(less)
Lauren Myracle’s SHINE uses atmosphere and suspense to examine small-town life and the intolerance and complexities that can underlie it. When Cat was...moreLauren Myracle’s SHINE uses atmosphere and suspense to examine small-town life and the intolerance and complexities that can underlie it. When Cat was thirteen, she was best friends with Patrick, but then something happened and she stopped speaking to most people. Now, three years later, Patrick is the victim of a horrible hate crime. When the investigation stalls, Cat decides to unravel the mystery for herself and bring Patrick’s attacker to justice. In the process, Cat uncovers startling information about small-town politics, hidden secrets, drug culture, and what it means to stand up for someone.
From the outset of SHINE, Myracle impressed me with her clear, descriptive writing and its ability to create a stifling atmosphere for the town and its inhabitants. This style worked well for a story that provides an unflinching examination of homophobia, poverty, drugs, and the long-term impacts of intolerance and assault. The author also managed to do what most writers do not: she portrayed the people of a small, rural town as real and complicated, not stupid or backwards. Instead of falling into easy stereotypes, the main characters are depicted as people with complex desires but limited opportunities. Each character, even the protagonist, is not wholly good or wholly bad. The mystery plot also plays out in a mostly believable way, without any need for Cat to put herself into unlikely, supernatural, or unbelievable situations in order to solve the crime.
Even with this mix of suspense and compelling issues, SHINE never grabbed me as much as I had hoped. Though there were many emotional and poignant details in the story, I never became really invested in the characters. Parts of the mystery were predictable, and some clues were discovered too easily with characters too willing to talk. Slow pacing pulled things down a bit in the middle, and the outcomes at the end of the novel felt too convenient and somewhat unsettling in their possible messages. Despite the uplifting connotation of the title, which is referenced in the book, the story also ended without much uplift or hope.
SHINE has much to offer with its realistic and gritty depiction of the often harsh realities of living in small town America. In future books, however, I hope that Myracle’s ability to create mood and setting pull me into the characters’ lives and struggles more.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.(less)
In Williams' MILES FROM ORDINARY, thirteen-year-old Lacey just wants a normal day. Since her aunt left a year ago, L...moreGreat concept but uneven execution
In Williams' MILES FROM ORDINARY, thirteen-year-old Lacey just wants a normal day. Since her aunt left a year ago, Lacey has been forced to take care of her mentally ill mother by herself. In an attempt to gain some freedom and some income for both of them, Lacey gets her mother a job as a cashier while she plans to volunteer at the local library. Hoping against hope that she will have one ordinary day and maybe make a friend in the process, Lacey drops off her mother at the grocery store. When Lacey later discovers that her mother is missing, her world begins to quickly spiral out of control.
Despite the affecting subject matter, MILES FROM ORDINARY didn't grab me as I had hoped. The topic squarely put the novel in the young adult category, but the writing and the young voice seemed more appropriate for middle grades. Because of this, I'm unsure of whether the book will find the right fit with its intended audience. Pacing was slow throughout much of the novel, but the final 30 pages became fast-paced and downright terror-filled. Though engaging, this quick shift in tone and style didn't mesh with the rest of the book. Events became unexplainable during these final pages too, in a way that made the events unbelievable. When the story does wrap up, it does so too quickly and too easily. Further, while the book accurately portrays that mental illness can lead to horrible ends, it does so in a way that I fear may unfairly stigmatize mental illness as being a condition that frequently leads to hurting others.
On the positive side, I appreciated that Williams was willing to tackle an important issue like mental illness and how it affects children. Written in first-person, present tense, the novel movingly depicted the constant worries and stresses that Lacey endured as a child trying to take care of an unstable parent. Also, while the book was slow to start, the tension really ratcheted up at the end, and I found myself truly frightened and unsettled while reading the final pages.
Though mental illness remains a neglected and overlooked topic in literature and in society, I'm disappointed to report that I felt this book didn't add a great deal to its understanding. Even with these qualms, I plan to read Williams' THE CHOSEN ONE to see how she handles another explosive and frightening topic, that of forced polygamy.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy. (less)
In Laura McNeal's DARK WATER, fifteen-year-old Pearl and her mother find themselves living in a rund...moreBlown away by beautiful writing & aching story
In Laura McNeal's DARK WATER, fifteen-year-old Pearl and her mother find themselves living in a rundown cottage on her uncle's avocado ranch after her father leaves. With her mother withering under stress and her cousin Robby hatching vengeful plans against his father, Pearl notices Amiel, one of the new migrant workers. Pearl's tentative relationship with Amiel pushes boundaries, and for the first time in her life, she's making up lies about where's she been and with whom. When wildfires strike the California hills, Pearl's wish to secretly protect Amiel may have tragic consequences.
When starting DARK WATER, I expected good things because I knew it had been a 2010 National Book Award nominee. I was not prepared, however, to be blown away as much as I was. McNeal's writing was effortless and smooth, and her descriptions were striking and evocative without feeling overwrought. While the first chapter heavily foreshadowed much of the events to come, this was one of the few times I've felt this technique added to the story. Instead of making me disappointed in being able to predict the ending, this foreknowledge added another aching layer of melancholy to the story as it unfolded. The ending of the story, while bittersweet and sad, leaves readers with a glimmer of hope about what can happen after unforgiveable mistakes have been made.
Though marketed as a forbidden romance, DARK WATER is much more about family, class, and the irreversible consequences of one's actions. The highlights of this story were the lovingly depicted and convoluted family relationships. Pearl, her mother, Uncle Hoyt, and Robby are all fully realized characters. The details of their interactions rang true, both in their daily conversations and patterns and also in their larger, grander gestures of connection. Pearl came across as achingly real, and while she made decisions that made her less likable at times, her choices were soundly authentic as those of a teen girl. Even though Amiel was less well-drawn, his quiet role in the story also remained important. Others have found flaws with this book, including the more limited development of Amiel and the sometimes slow pacing. Even though these things did exist, they didn't pull me out of the story; rather, I thought the pacing and the choices regarding Amiel's character served the story well.
When combined, the beautiful and descriptive language, the wonderful character development, and an engaging plot made DARK WATER the best book I've read so far this year. I look forward to reading future books by McNeal as well as picking up those that she has already co-authored with her husband, including CROOKED, CRUSHED, and ZIPPED.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy. (less)
Semi-realistic portrayal of young addiction, 3.5 stars
In Blake Nelson's RECOVERY ROAD, Maddie finds herself in rehab after one too many drug and alcoh...moreSemi-realistic portrayal of young addiction, 3.5 stars
In Blake Nelson's RECOVERY ROAD, Maddie finds herself in rehab after one too many drug and alcohol-fueled binges. Even though she feels like a teenage outcast, she befriends Trish, another recovering young addict, and Stewart, a beautiful boy with problems of his own. After her romance with Stewart blossoms, Maddie leaves rehab and returns to her old life, her old school, and old temptations. Maddie and Stewart must learn to navigate their relationship in the real world and see how smooth or rocky the road to true recovery will be for them as a couple and as individuals.
RECOVERY ROAD excelled in its quick and easily readable style that pulled me into the story more than I expected. Readers will be able to sympathize with the characters' struggles to reinvent themselves, to define their relationships, and to deal with popularity and peer pressure. The relationships between Maddie and Trish and Maddie and Stewart were also sometimes touching and poignant. The story was realistic in its depiction of the potential dangers of alcohol and drugs, and it didn't sugarcoat addiction or how people act when high or drunk. Though the ending was bittersweet, it finished on a note of hope about how some people can change for the better and be helped by others.
Even with these strengths, the novel didn't succeed on all counts. The too-easy recovery of one of the characters and his/her singular lapse didn't seem representative of the struggles addicts face, and I was left unsure of why things worked out so well for this person. Character development was also limited enough that I never understood why Maddie got so heavily involved in drugs, alcohol, and fighting in the first place. While the first part of the book was engaging and consistently paced, later sections made quick jumps in time that may throw off some readers. Some events and their plausibility to all happen in one character's life also felt like heavy-handed attempts to illustrate how dangerous drug and alcohol abuse can be.
Despite these bumps in plausibility and character development, I enjoyed this book and appreciated how it ended with its message about growth and the impact that people and events can have on our lives. For those looking for a semi-realistic portrayal of the difficulties of young addiction, Nelson's RECOVERY ROAD may be a good bet.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy. (less)
Breezy but touching read about family & forgiveness
As a debut novel, Jessi Kirby's Moonglass delivers a breezy but touching read about dealing wit...more Breezy but touching read about family & forgiveness
As a debut novel, Jessi Kirby's Moonglass delivers a breezy but touching read about dealing with the past and moving forward. After years living along the beach where her mother died, Anna is uprooted when her father takes a new job. Despite being angry about the move, Anna soon learns that her new beach home is closer to her mother's memory than she expected. She also finds that new friends and a new perspective might bring her closer to understanding her father and the tragic past that has distanced them.
This short, succinct book has so many things to like about it. Kirby's writing is clean and clear, and the story doesn't dwell too long on anything, resulting in excellent pacing. Great dialogue that always felt real also moves the story forward. Anna is a confident, capable, and self-assured character that I believed could be a real teen. The romance, while present, wasn't the focus and didn't overwhelm the main story about Anna and her father. The author also creates an excellent sense of place and beach culture. Whether the characters were walking on the beach or exploring deserted cottages, I could imagine being there too.
The greatest strength of the novel, however, lies in Anna's relationship with her father and how it's depicted. Their relationship is touching, even with their reservations around each other, and felt very honest. Anna's father is portrayed as a real person, complete with his own emotions, friends, and issues. Despite Anna's frustration with him and their growing silence about her mother, he is there for her. I really enjoyed reading about this type of parent-teen relationship instead of the absent or neglectful parents so often seen in young adult literature.
Though all of these things were great, the story had a few places where improvements could be made. Some plot points were too convenient or predictable, and the characters' problems were often resolved a little too easily. Some descriptions in the first part of the story also made Anna seem a bit shallow and too boy-focused. Tyler, the love interest, came across as too cocky to be really swoon-worthy. Ashley, while a great secondary character, also seemed a bit unrealistic in her immediate connection and friendship with Anna, especially since Ashley could have been friends with many other people due to her combination of beauty, wealth, and personality.
Even with these quibbles, MOONGLASS was just the summer beach read with a bit of substance that I needed now as winter sets in. I look forward to reading what Kirby writes in the future, and I hope that fans of similar authors (Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti) will snap up her work too. (less)
Though I adore the person who recommended this book to me, I didn't adore anything about this story, its writing, or its characters. Review to come......more Though I adore the person who recommended this book to me, I didn't adore anything about this story, its writing, or its characters. Review to come....(less)
Though this is an award-winner with many accolades, the story didn't really move me. I can see this working well for the right population (teens in ur...moreThough this is an award-winner with many accolades, the story didn't really move me. I can see this working well for the right population (teens in urban settings with lower reader fluency), though. The author does a good job of portraying each character's personality and motivations (three alternating viewpoints), even when each person's actions are far less than likeable and there's no easy answer re: how each person should have acted. (less)
A leveled reading selection for urban teens. While the plot points were obvious and the language often clunky, this title and its companions in this s...moreA leveled reading selection for urban teens. While the plot points were obvious and the language often clunky, this title and its companions in this series could be great choices for librarians and educators working with reluctant teen readers who are far below grade-level. (less)
Though I had heard many positive things about Hopkins’ gritty verse novels for teens, Collateral was my first experience with her work and it left me...more Though I had heard many positive things about Hopkins’ gritty verse novels for teens, Collateral was my first experience with her work and it left me extremely disappointed. The author’s use of verse never felt poetic; it simply seemed like prose broken awkwardly across a page.
Additionally, while it was clear what message the author was trying to impart about the effects of a military life on both the solider and those around him/her, it came off as heavy-handed and unbelievable; because the reader only meets the characters at the time of enlistment, it’s a big jump to believe that the personality changes described are attributable solely to the stresses of military life, as opposed to some inherent part of their dispositions.
Only recommended to those who enjoy Hopkins’ work and who are willing to read a very depressing tale about military life, abuse, and drug/alcohol use. (less)
Quick and easy to read but ultimately unsatisfying. Though fun hijinks ensue, the outcome of the plot is too easily deduced via the synopsis, the char...moreQuick and easy to read but ultimately unsatisfying. Though fun hijinks ensue, the outcome of the plot is too easily deduced via the synopsis, the characters aren't consistent, and the romantic connection doesn't make sense. (less)
Poor writing & implausible story made this a non-finisher for me
In an attempt to try out another New Adult title, I downloaded The Coincidence of...more Poor writing & implausible story made this a non-finisher for me
In an attempt to try out another New Adult title, I downloaded The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden. It is currently sitting in the #4 spot on the NYT Best Sellers list for e-books, and it seemed like a deal at only 99 cents. I even picked up the author's second similar title (The Secret of Ella and Micha) on a whim at the same time. Though I should have been more wary due to the low price and the author's self-pubbed status, I was feeling adventurous.
Oh, how wary I should have been! I have never before given up on a title so quickly as I did with this book (at the 7% completion mark). The two chapters that I read were littered with typos, incorrect pronoun usage, and simply pedestrian and awkward writing. As per usual with YA or NA titles, the characters have trials or past abuses to overcome, but this story laid them out entirely too obviously within the first three pages with clunky statements about "hiding the scars on the inside" and the young woman's obvious fear of men. Then, soon after we're told that the main character hasn't touched anyone outside her family in six years and has never told a soul about what trauma has befallen her, the next chapter finds her at college with a new best friend -- the token gay guy -- whom she touches, laughs with, and has shared her darkest secrets with. The quick character changes, and the obviously forthcoming romance with the also-traumatized football jock from her hometown, just seemed too unbelievable. I simply had to stop reading due to the absolute implausibility of the story and the poor writing.
Though I don't hope to diminish anyone else's interest or enthusiasm for this book, I can't understand any of the hype, high sales, or great ratings for this book and the author's other titles, if they are at all similar. Not only did I declare this a DNF title, but it is also the first thing I have ever digitally returned. Read at your own risk. (less)
I read this on a whim while home sick from work; Harlequin has been bombarding my GR and Facebook feeds for weeks with their advertisement of a free e...moreI read this on a whim while home sick from work; Harlequin has been bombarding my GR and Facebook feeds for weeks with their advertisement of a free e-book so I decided to take them up on the offer. This title is mindless and unrealistic with very limited character development, but it wasn't the worst writing I've encountered in a romance novel and it was free.