Sofia Wolfe, age 14, lost her mother less than a year ago, and she’s not sure how to live without her. Her OB-GYN dad has been distant ever since, herSofia Wolfe, age 14, lost her mother less than a year ago, and she’s not sure how to live without her. Her OB-GYN dad has been distant ever since, her friends are either overly protective or insensitive by turn, and Sofia wishes she had someone to ask about having her first kiss.
She turns to Dear Kate, an advice columnist for Fifteen magazine, and soon Sofia is pouring out her soul in email after email: how she doesn’t know if she’ll ever get over losing her mom, how her first kiss didn’t turn out like she expected, and how her dad’s dating again and she doesn’t know how to react.
Come to find out, her dad’s new girlfriend is none other than Dear Kate. Pretty soon, Sofia spends more time in the suburbs with Kate and her daughter Alexa; and before she knows it, she and her dad are moving in, building a new family out of the ashes of their broken one.
This is a beautiful novel about learning to live after losing the most important person in your life, and about the awkwardness of growing up when you’re stuck between child and adult. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret meets The Princess Diaries in Sofia’s voice, her pre-teeny voice mixed with the serious issues. This is the book I wish I’d had when I was in middle school, but I think anyone can appreciate the coming-of-age story.
Speed of Life has some wonderfully subtle diversity that I really appreciated: Sofia is half-Spanish (as in, from Spain); her best friend, Kiki, is Vietnamese and Brazilian; and Dear Kate’s daughter, Alexa, has a gay dad with a boyfriend. While all of this is part of the story, it’s subtle and natural without feeling forced.
I love the way the book deals with the issues 11-to-13-year-olds really want (and need) to know about, like periods and boyfriends and when to have sex. Having Dear Kate as a big part of the plot means that there’s some well-placed advice for kids that doesn’t come off as corny. Girls who are uncomfortable talking to their moms (or, like Sofia, can’t) will relish the realistic answers Dear Kate provides.
The treatment of grief in this novel is heartfelt and raw. As the story progresses and Sofia grows, the way she deals with grief changes; it becomes less obvious, peaking through occasionally in certain moments without being the biggest part of her story. She learns that it’s not about “getting over” losing her mom, but about learning to move forward; her mom will always be a part of her. I think this book could really do some good for kids dealing with the loss of a loved one.
While I enjoyed reading this book, it’s not without flaws. I didn’t enjoy the short scenes that made for an episodic feel, although I recognize that this would probably work for a Middle Grade reader more than it did for me. Additionally, some of the young characters make problematic statements that aren’t really further addressed. Early on, Kiki refers to the “ABCs of adolescence” as anorexia, bulimia, and cutting—it’s clearly supposed to be a joke, but I don’t think there’s anything funny about any of those things. Later, Alexa refers to her dislike for the main character in The Catcher in the Rye, that he’s “whiny and depressed. He should’ve just taken meds!” While I recognize that these statements are part of the characters (and their immaturity), they perpetuate harmful stereotypes and aren’t ever addressed by adult figures in the story.
Overall, I think this is a great book for parents or for younger teens, particularly girls struggling with the loss of a parent, or girls with non-traditional families. The coming-of-age story shows Sofia’s character growth and will resonate with anyone who’s ever been fourteen....more
*I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way changes my opinion of the book.*
I was intrigued by th*I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way changes my opinion of the book.*
I was intrigued by this book for two reasons: the gorgeous cover and the on-the-page anxiety rep. From the very beginning of the story, Jessa openly struggles with nearly debilitating anxiety. Since her dad moved away in seventh grade, Jessa’s been having panic attacks, resulting in the loss of nearly all her friends. She has learned to manage her anxiety through methods of avoidance, but when she’s involved in a life-threatening car accident, avoidance stops working. The accident leaves her with facial scarring, and she begins hallucinating scars, bruises, and burns on random people’s faces.
From what I understand of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the anxiety rep is completely on point. One thing I loved about this was the way Jessa’s anxiety expresses itself in the writing. Her thoughts are constantly interrupting the narration without punctuation or capitalization, which reminds me of how I feel at points when I have intrusive thoughts. Jessa’s feelings and surroundings are described with intense imagery that reflects the chaos she goes through during and after the accident, and the language is absolutely beautiful.
This book intrigued me with the concept: invisible illness (anxiety) and emotional pain translate into the physical scars, burns, cuts, etc. that Jessa sees on people’s faces. I don’t know a whole lot about aphantasia (mind’s eye blindness) or hallucinations, but this seemed pretty realistic to me: Jessa’s spent years avoiding her anxiety, claiming that therapy and meds made it worse, and now she’s forced to face her fears. I appreciated the development of her friendship with Hannah and her romance with Marshall, which I felt went at a realistic pace (a rarity in YA romance).
When Jessa starts at Crossroads, an alternative school for artistic kids or those who’ve gotten kicked out of prior schools, she at first resists seeking help for her anxiety. Eventually, she begins speaking with Dr. I, the school’s psychiatrist. I had high hopes for this relationship, as he seemed like a good guy and encouraged her to attend a support group. However, I was disappointed in the way psychiatric medication got thrown around in this book. It strikes me as highly unlikely that a school would have a psychiatrist (medical doctor specializing in psychological disorders) vs. a psychologist (counselor or therapist who specializes in mental health issues). I was also disturbed that Dr. I could prescribe kids medications like Aderall without parental consent; this strikes me as unlikely and problematic, although it made for an interesting plot point in Hannah’s character.
While I was intrigued by Jessa’s hallucinations, believing them to have a unique psychological explanation, I was disappointed in where this book went at the end of the story, which is the main reason I’m giving this 3 stars.
SPOILERS AHEAD but I feel like they’re necessary to explain my issues with the book.
Near the end of the novel, Jessa discovers that the man she thought was Dr. I, the school counselor, turns out to be not real. She hallucinated the man in the white coat at the scene of her accident and then later when she encountered him in school. Rather than taking the word of the actual Dr. I, that Jessa is hallucinating, she decides that the man in the white coat is actually her guardian angel.
This is hard for me. I grew up Protestant, so I understand the idea behind angels who look out for us when we’re in trouble. In fact, in high school, my belief in God was one of the things that got me through my depression. I understand the desire to believe in a Higher Power, I really do. But to use this as a plot device strikes me as problematic. For one thing, hallucinating angels is pretty common for folks dealing with mental illnesses like schizophrenia, yet Jessa just gets to believe that she’s right because God.
On top of that, rather than following Jessa through her recovery process, her issues seemingly disappear once she realizes that it was God all along. She stops hallucinating bruises on other people when she recognizes that it was God showing her how other people were emotionally hurting. Which is cute, I guess, except it greatly misrepresents what it’s actually like to recover and forever deal with a real anxiety disorder. Mental illness doesn’t just disappear. I don’t care what God you believe in, but it just doesn’t go away if you pray hard enough. A book that ends like this one might give kids the idea that they just need to pray harder, that they will stop feeling depressed or anxious if they just want it bad enough. This is harmful—believe me, I was there at seventeen, trying to pray away my depression. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.
So while I wanted to give this book at least 4 stars throughout the first 75%, the ending ruined it for me. No amount of beautiful language and accurate anxiety rep in the beginning can make up for ‘praying it away’ as an ending. But that’s my opinion, I suppose. ...more
I found this book in a stack of my old things at my parents’ place and I can honestly say that I’m so glad I didn’t read this when I was in high schooI found this book in a stack of my old things at my parents’ place and I can honestly say that I’m so glad I didn’t read this when I was in high school.
For one of those most well-known memoirs of the 21st century, this book strikes me as highly problematic. I tried really hard to find the humor in it—and there are certainly moments that are genuinely funny—but I was too distracted by the issue I have, particularly in the portrayal of mental health.
The book follows a teenage Augusten as he deals with his mother’s psychotic behavior, ultimately resulting in him being legally adopted by her even more insane psychiatrist. Augusten moves in with the Finches, who believe that anyone 13 or older is responsible for themselves, resulting in ridiculous shenanigans with no real consequences. Augusten ends up in a sexual relationship with a man in his 30s—which, by the way, is never addressed as being wildly inappropriate—while Dr. Finch tries and fails to help his mother deal with what’s obviously a very serious mental illness.
Which is all hilarious, except that this book just perpetuates the worst ideologies about mental illness that already get enough action in society. Take Dr. Finch, the psychiatrist who refers to a secret room as his “masturbatorium,” who encourages a 13-year-old Augusten to fake a suicide attempt to avoid going to school, who at one point decides that God is speaking to him through his shit—no, literally. Bad enough that this psychiatrist seems unable or unwilling to properly diagnose and treat Augusten’s mother; on top of that, we have the worst stereotypes of mental health professionals as overly sexual and just as insane as their patients. Portrayals of shrinks like Dr. Finch are a huge part of the reason so many people mistrust the mental health system and its professionals—a big part of the reason a lot of people don’t get help, and why neurotypicals misunderstand mental illnesses.
And don’t even get me started on Augusten’s relationship with Neil, a man twice his age who lives out of a shed in the backyard. Early on in the book, Neil forces Augusten to perform oral sex in graphic detail in a way that is obviously not consensual, yet this is never addressed as rape. I suppose I should leave it to the survivor to define what happened to him, but the details make it abundantly clear to me that their “relationship” was borderline abusive and completely not ok.
Perhaps, as seems implied by the “memoir” genre, all of this is true. Perhaps writing this book was incredibly cathartic for Burroughs. Judging by the fact that the real-life Finch family waged a lawsuit about the book’s exaggeration of their family, I’m guessing this is at least partly fiction. In that sense, the treatment of mental health issues and the behavior of pedophile Neil strikes me as even more problematic.
There’s a fine line between accurate, openly honest portrayals of mental illness and sensationalizing mental illness for the sake of storytelling. It’s a fine line, but it’s a clear one to me. This book claims to be honest, but slips into sensationalizing in a way that’s incredibly painful to read for anyone who actually struggles with mental illness. The slight bits of humor aren’t enough to make up for the way this book makes me feel: which is incredibly angry, and then just sad. ...more
file this under: -books I wish I'd had as an actual teenager -MCs I want to just hug all the time -this is how to write things -new releases that 100%file this under: -books I wish I'd had as an actual teenager -MCs I want to just hug all the time -this is how to write things -new releases that 100% deserve the hype
full review to come, but suffice to say, this book deserves all the amazing, glowing reviews. ...more
In When Reason Breaks, we meet Emily Delgado and Elizabeth Davis: two teenaged Latinas dealing with depression in different ways. While Emily withdrawIn When Reason Breaks, we meet Emily Delgado and Elizabeth Davis: two teenaged Latinas dealing with depression in different ways. While Emily withdraws from her friends and activities, Elizabeth wears her anger on her sleeve and is a well-known troubled kid around school after her dad left last year. They enter Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they read the poetry of Emily Dickinson and grapple with boyfriends, non-boyfriends, and alleged-best-friends. As the year progresses, both girls struggle in different ways, and ultimately, one of them attempts suicide. But which one? You’ll have to read to find out.
I originally picked up this book for the diverse cast and the depression rep, and I wasn’t disappointed. I was so happy to see two Latina girls dealing with depression; we see so many white kids with mental health problems, but the reality is that things like depression are often more devastating in communities of color, in part because it’s not talked about.
The nuanced portrayal of depression was exactly what I’d been looking for. I think too often we think of depression as being obvious like Elizabeth’s, and it was nice to have her contrasted with Emily, who’s clearly very withdrawn, very isolated, despite seemingly having everything together. So often when it comes to teenage depression, it manifests in these ways: Elizabeth’s rage at the world as well as Emily’s quiet withdrawal from life—but it’s the withdrawal that’s less noticeable. There’s also somewhat of a mystery element, in that we don’t know which girl attempts suicide.
The English teacher, Ms. Diaz, is a fantastic character as well. She reminds me of some of my favorite high school English teachers, in that she really wants to engage with the kids and she cares about them just as much as she cares about literature. She tries so hard to do the right thing for these girls, particularly Elizabeth, but, like most people, she’s imperfect. I think it’s important to show positive adult role models who make themselves available to talk to their students, as well as showing the ways that sometimes it’s not enough.
I also really enjoyed the discussion of Emily Dickinson more than I thought I would; I think this would be really accessible to kids who maybe aren’t into classic literature (yet!) in that Ms. Diaz does a great job explaining poetry to her kids. Honestly, I’m just a sucker for YA that also shows a window into everyday life of teenagers—because life is never just drama and parties, am I right?
I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, but the way the book ends is exactly what I wanted. So often in books about teens with mental illness, the story follows the recovery arc and then magically the character is “cured” in some way. As I’ve said many times before, this is so often not the case in real life, and it’s harmful to portray depression in particular as something that just goes away. In When Reason Breaks, the book ends with both girls attempting to move forward with life, while recognizing that it’s not always going to be easy. They both make some necessary changes toward becoming better, whether it’s getting professional help and taking medication or reaching out to close friends and family.
The great thing about this book is that, while there are some really dark moments, it ultimately ends on, if not a positive note, than a hopeful one—but without being unrealistic. Will Elizabeth lash out again at someone in the future? Probably. Will Emily struggle with keeping secrets from her father? Absolutely. But they’ll work through it. And that’s…well, that’s life.
My only complain with this book is that I had a little bit of trouble connecting to the voice. Because it’s written in third person, the reader is distanced from what’s going on. While this can be useful in highly emotional material that might otherwise be overwhelming, I felt in this case it was a little underwhelming. Despite that drawback, it was still an enjoyable read and—even more important—one that I think could really do some good. ...more
Disclaimer: This is the second book in a series and I didn’t read the first one.
In Off the Page, Delilah is struggling to keep her boyfriend, Oliver,Disclaimer: This is the second book in a series and I didn’t read the first one.
In Off the Page, Delilah is struggling to keep her boyfriend, Oliver, from making any glaring mistakes that might reveal the truth: that up until three months ago, he was a character in a fairytale. By some miracle, Oliver was able to enter the real world by replacing his character with someone else. Now, Oliver gets to be with the love of his life and attend high school, while Edgar takes his place in the book. But things aren’t always so simple in life. Soon, the book rebels against Edgar’s plot changes; portals between the book and the real world are discovered by accident; and there doesn’t seem to be a way to make everyone happy.
This is a book that requires a lot of suspending disbelief. It’s a fantasy story, a love story, but also a story about the power of…well, stories. I enjoyed the “meta” aspects of this; I think all readers have wondered what characters would be like in real life, and what it would be like to live in the world of a book. The story is told from three perspectives, Delilah, Oliver, and Edgar, and I found a nice balance there. I liked the message of the book: that it’s okay to believe in magic, that love makes you do whatever it takes, and that no story is insignificant.
That being said, I spent most of the book finding problems, not just with the fantastical storytelling, but with the cheaper aspects of the writing. Perhaps because this is a sequel, I didn’t fell that I got to know Delilah very well. I didn’t understand her hatred of mean girl Allie (nor did I appreciate the use of the Mean Girl trope, which is just beyond old). I wasn’t invested in the relationships between characters either, because the book doesn’t focus on why Delilah and Oliver love each other—perhaps, again, because it’s established in the first book.
This is the kind of book I would’ve enjoyed as a teenager: light, fluffy, and full of hopefulness and magic. Unfortunately, I just didn’t really connect to it very much....more