She hears the voice of Skinny who tells her she’s not beautiful, she takes up too much space, no one could love her. After the death of her mother, Ever began eating to recall her favorite memories they had together, most of which involved delicious treats. Ever is afraid to lose that part of herself so she sneaks Snickers bars into the bathroom stall at lunch or bags of M&Ms to her bedroom after dinner.
After a conversation with her step-sister, Briella, and an embarrassing moment in front of the entire school, she revisits a website she randomly stalked where gastric bypass patients or soon-to-be patients shared their struggles. With the support of her family, Ever decides to undergo the surgery in hopes of losing the weight, which could mean Skinny’s voice inside her head would finally go away, she might attract the attention of her long-lost best friend (Jackson) again, and she would maybe find the courage to try out for the school musical.
Ever’s voice was authentic and so honest. Skinny whispers lies to Ever that feed her insecurities. I, even at 27, struggle with the little voice inside my head that tells me I’m not beautiful and I don’t look good in my clothes. Skinny’s voice was a real eye-opener for me because I saw how hard it was for Ever to distinguish the lies from the truth. Her insecurities led her to believe things about her peers that weren’t true at all; it made her feel distanced, secluded, and so alone. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times my own self-doubts have gotten in the way of meeting amazing people or doing something because I was afraid of embarrassing myself.
Ever’s support system was pretty fantastic. Her best friend, Rat (yes, a so-very-unfortunate nickname), was a geeky boy who poured over the details of her surgery and did his best to make sure she was healing and progressing properly. He was by her side when she went under and when she got home with a chart to document her evolution. He creatively incorporated a way to tap into Ever’s emotional state by having her select a Broadway song to match her mood each week.
Rat was one of my favorite people, but I also felt a pull toward Briella from the very first pages and hoped she was more than the judgmental girl Ever labeled her to be. Ever’s dad was a tough cop, but I enjoyed his vulnerability and that the loss of his wife wasn’t glossed over or made better by his remarriage. From Gigi (the crazy-haired girl in her drama class) to Jackson (her childhood crush) to Charlotte (the stepmother who didn’t try to replace Ever’s mom) – every character had their place.
I’ve been through the battle of seeing the scale go both up and down. Each time I’m working to lose weight, I have to get over the voice inside my head that says my work has all been for nothing, that there’s been no physical change. Ever’s weight loss is quite significant and despite her achievement, she has a hard time facing herself in the mirror. She’s afraid to hope for the positive change (always afraid of failure). She struggles with the attention she gets from her peers (Does popular girl Whitney really care about her or does she just want to show off her charity case?) and she has a hard time letting go in drama class because for so long, she wanted to be invisible.
Ever’s story is a beautiful demonstration about how weight loss (or body image issues, in general) aren’t just about the external. The exterior is just a facade; it’s the internal barriers and emotions that must be broken down to accept the change and move forward. It’s not just about a number decreasing on the scale but also the belief that we are good enough, that we’re worth it… that we’re beautiful. Whether you’re 15 or 45 years old, I believe Skinny will speak volumes to you.(less)
You guys know I love contemporary YA books. I big puffy heart love them. One genre I haven’t reviewed...more[Review originally posted on Rather Be Reading!]
You guys know I love contemporary YA books. I big puffy heart love them. One genre I haven’t reviewed since RBR began is thrillers. A little known fact is I used to thrive on thrillers (mostly adult fiction). I went through a phase where I was reading lots of ‘em, but since I dove head-first into YA books, I haven’t read a single one. I’ve told you guys before, but I’m reiterating it now, I like the thrill of the chase — I like to be caught off guard by the author. Boy, oh boy, did Paul Griffin deliver with Burning Blue.
Told from the point of view of Jay, a boy who suffers from seizures and the aftermath of an incident where he peed his pants in front of his high school, we learn about Nicole. She is the girl who has it all: popularity, beauty, smarts, money. She’s not a snobby popular girl, though. She’s nice and kind to everyone. (She’s one of those girls many people would be envious of.) One day as she’s rounding the corner to make it to class on time (after a mini-make-out session with her boyfriend Dave), she is squirted in the face by a bottle of acid.
Half of her face is damaged.
Jay and Nicole bump into one another before their scheduled therapy sessions at school six weeks after the incident. They begin talking and hit it off. Jay leaves that day wanting answers. A little known fact about Jay: he’s a genius computer hacker. He begins breaking all kinds of laws by hacking into the police department’s files and tries to solve the mystery of who did this to Nicole.
Burning Blue is filled with so much mystery, intrigue, and tons of suspense. It’s a story of whodunit — I needed to know who hurt Nicole, but I was fueled to devour the book because I wanted to know the motive. I never knew when a valuable clue was being given or when I was on the right track to guessing who the guilty person was. Griffin comprehensively developed a full cast of characters that constantly had me wondering:
- Who would want to hurt Nicole? - Why? - Did no one see what happened? - Her boyfriend, Dave, was in the hall when it happened. Is he lying about not seeing the incident? - Was Dave involved?
While Jay is our main storyteller, we get glimpses of Nicole through minimal journal entries and a few notes written by one of her therapists. I began to speculate whether or not Nicole could have harmed herself. Did she do this to herself? What would cause a person to inflict this kind of self-harm? (I should mention I also questioned Jay’s fixation on Nicole and finding the villain. Was I reading from the criminal’s point of view?!)
Burning Blue is a complex story, weaving the drama of Jay’s life together with the pressure of Nicole’s. Jay lives with a dad who isn’t around much and his mother passed away. His social life is laughable since his aforementioned seizure incident, which led him to be homeschooled for a year. Nicole’s burn wasn’t the only complication in her life. Her parents recently split and her relationship with Dave is full of friction since the accident. Oh, and photographers are stalking her so they can make bank on her story.
While I very much enjoyed Griffin’s Stay With Me, I felt he tapped into something completely unique, dark, and suspenseful with Burning Blue. I welcome more of this type of story from him. I highly recommend you pick up a copy as soon as you can so you can experience Griffin’s incredible writing and the insanity of the mystery.
(Also: Don’t forget to read the acknowledgments after you finish Burning Blue. Griffin offers incredible insight about his inspiration for the story.)(less)
Sid is a girl who has two good best friends but remains boyfriendless. On her junior class ski trip, sh...more[Review originally posted on Rather Be Reading]
Sid is a girl who has two good best friends but remains boyfriendless. On her junior class ski trip, she’s suffering from a case of beginner woes and hangs back at the bunny slopes while her friends move onto more dangerous adventures. She’s paired with a flirty, cute guy named Dax on a ski lift who makes her feel attractive. Though it’s against the rules, when he invites her to a party, she sneaks out to meet up with him. She goes alone because her friends don’t want to risk getting caught.
When she arrives to the “party,” she finds Dax, alone. This is the point where my stomach bottomed out and I knew bad things were about to happen. Time fast forwards and we don’t have a clear picture of what happened, but two things are sure: a) Sid is missing a lock of hair, and b) she’s been raped. When she returns to the ski resort, she’s in major trouble and her friends are infuriated with her.
Back at school, Sid is socially rejected (adios cheerleading squad) and her best friends block her out of their lives. Sid feels conflicted; she’s unsure of what to tell her friends so she disconnects from them by swapping out of classes they’re in. She meets a stoner boy, Corey, when she’s assigned to work on the Audio Visual (AV) team with him. Everyone has this idea of who Corey is and thinks he’s just a slacker, but while Sid is in isolation, she gets to know the truth about this mysterious boy.
Their relationship is very subtle and quiet. It begins with a lot of back and forth banter that proves what a strong and witty character Sid is. Corey reveals there is a lot more to him than what people think. Sid finds out that he works at a bakery. They begin having secret meet-ups there in the wee hours of the morning, where they talk while he works. Corey fills this role, this void, that’s left in Sid’s life because she has no other friends, no one else to talk to. Even though she distanced herself from everyone else, she realizes she needs this kind and respectful boy in her life.
Not all of What Happens Next is easy to digest or quite as enjoyable as Sid’s blossoming relationship. Clayton does an impeccable job of developing a very real depiction of what happens when a girl is victimized. Everything in Sid’s life has spiraled out of control: she has something ripped away from her without her consent, loses her best friends and her place on the squad, and finds herself very alone. She realizes the one thing she can control is what she eats and how she looks. She begins eating less and running more, with occasional binges thrown into the mix. Even though Sid is a smart girl who should have known to tell someone what happened to her, she didn’t know how. She feels like an idiot who fell for a big joke, like what happened was all her fault. Sid loses faith in herself and her anger manifests itself as an eating disorder. She used this to gain control back, but her decision-making skills were sometimes maddening (very true to form for a high schooler).
I had knots in my stomach while I waited for everyone to find out the truth. I waited patiently for the explosion. The anticipation was high, as was the emotional connection to the characters. Sometimes a smart girl doesn’t always make the best decisions, and we need a support group of people to put the pieces of our lives back together again. Sometimes that support group consists of the last boy you would have ever expected.
It’s not often that I compare books, but if you’re a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak or Tammara Webber’s Easy, you should consider picking up What Happens Next. Clayton’s depiction of rape and victimization is difficult, but very well written and very much worth the read.(less)
Parker’s mom had a secret, one she kept for many years. She finally decided to be honest and the truth...more[Review originally posted on Rather Be Reading!]
Parker’s mom had a secret, one she kept for many years. She finally decided to be honest and the truth has rocked Parker’s world. Parker used to be an all-star athlete, extremely involved in her church, and had tons of friends. She’s since quit the softball team, questions her faith, and finds herself lonely as her ex-best friends circulate rumors about her.
Parker’s church has completely turned on her since her mother’s secret was announced. Her ex-best friend (the pastor’s daughter) was forced to end their friendship. (Why she felt the need to be so atrocious, I’ll never understand.) Church ladies gossip when she walks by and she doesn’t understand how her family could be ripped apart like this. She’s just not sure where she stands anymore. A part of Parker still believes there is a God, as evidenced by the prayers she writes (and subsequently burns). She seeks normalcy — for her drug-using-former-perfect-student-brother to go back to his old self and for her dad to acknowledge that things are messed up. Her prayers are her true self – the things she feels she cannot tell anyone. She fears getting close to many people again because they always screw her over.
To receive a different kind of attention, Parker loses herself to kissing boys and remaking herself into a skinnier new girl. She wants to prove she’s different from her mom. She kisses anyone she wants, but never pursues relationships with the boys, giving her a not-so-great reputation. She’s never felt the need to date someone she doesn’t see herself with in the future. Besides, kissing is just fun.
When she meets the new assistant baseball coach, twenty-three year old Brian Huffman, she’s smitten with him. He’s cute and doesn’t know all her secrets (therefore doesn’t judge her). As the team manager, she gets to spend an abundance of time with the new coach. Their relationship slowly progresses into more than a friendship between student and teacher. Maybe kissing isn’t enough with Coach Huff.
On the flip side, she starts getting to know Corndog (Will) better. He’s always been her biggest competition for valedictorian, but now that she’s been officially deemed number one, their rivalry has subsided. Parker begins hanging out with Will and her best friend Drew outside of practices. It seems that Drew’s withdrawing a bit, and has his own secrets. Things get incredibly complicated as Parker’s secrets and friendships collide with Drew’s secrets and everyone learns the truth. Despite the multiple plot lines that were chaotically interwoven, Kenneally handled each one perfectly and never let anything take away from the story and Parker’s journey.
Stealing Parker definitely felt more intense and somber than Catching Jordan. It’s about a girl’s exploration to find herself and understand her relationship with God amidst a huge small-town scandal that rocks her world. It’s about her endeavor to understand (and explore) her sexuality. Parker is faced with a lot of responsibility being the bearer of her own secrets and eventually Drew’s. The weight of her mom’s decisions and her own, mixed with an obligation to stay true to her best friend, puts her under a considerable amount of pressure.
Kenneally gripped me from the first page with Parker’s story. I couldn’t tear myself away from the pages of Stealing Parker. While Kenneally won me over with Jordan and Henry’s incredible story in Catching Jordan, she has earned my readership for life with Stealing Parker.
(Oh, and…! I’m happy to announce you’ll get to connect with Jordan and Henry from Catching Jordan again via a few awesome cameos!)(less)