Moonglass is an example of an excellent stand-alone contemporary young adult novel. On the surface, it seems like another budding romance story about...moreMoonglass is an example of an excellent stand-alone contemporary young adult novel. On the surface, it seems like another budding romance story about a teenager trying to find herself. What makes Moonglass special is the subtle and unexpected turns the story takes.
Anna's mother passed away when she was 7, and she and her dad have a comfortable but not very intimate relationship. I immediately envisoned her father as a lifeguard version of Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights. The two move further south on the California coast when her father accepts a position managing a beach and a bunch of lifeguards. Their cottage sits directly on the beach, which sounds fabulous. Anna befriends the lifeguards, who her father pre-warned to stay away from his daughter. There's a little rebellious side to Anna, and it's nice to see this balanced with her rather responsible life. Anna learns this beach was where her father and mother first met, and more of the story of what happened to her mother unfolds as she questions the life her mother led there.
The story progresses over the last few days of summer into Anna's first sememster at her new high school. She makes an unlikely friend who could have been a one-note L.A. socialite, but turns out to demonstrate great friendship and dedication to Anna as she sorts through another stage of grief at losing her mother.
I loved how this story felt immediately engaging. I could easily envision the beach, the cottages and all the characters. It felt like a familiar story, but not at all cliche. Anna's reflection on losing her mother is moving without feeling overly heavy for the rest of the story. This is the author's debut novel - what an amazing job!(less)
Each chapter in How to Save a Life alternates between two first person accounts: Jill, who grieves the loss of her father by withdrawing from friends...moreEach chapter in How to Save a Life alternates between two first person accounts: Jill, who grieves the loss of her father by withdrawing from friends and her boyfriend, and Mandy, a pregnant teen who connects with Jill's mom on an adoption website - Jill's mother wants to move on from her loss by adopting Mandy's baby.
What Jill and her mother don't know about Mandy is although she's technically an adult at 18, Mandy dropped out of school and ran away from an abusive home situation. The website she and Jill's mom communicate through is for people wanting to handle their own adoptions outside usual channels. Jill warns her mother not to trust an adoption with no real paperwork and social worker, but her mother is convinced and invites Mandy to live with them for her last few weeks of pregnancy.
This might seem like a forced premise, but to the author's credit, each character's intentions are detailed so succinctly, I never doubted it. Jill's mother isn't a shrill, irrational woman; she's flawed, but her intentions are to honor her late husband by moving forward with adoption plans they'd already considered before he died. She's aware she could be "filling the void" and embraces this, thinking that helping a struggling teen like Mandy will force her to move on. Jill is rightly confused and angry at her mother. Isn't she enough? Why does her mother need another child? Jill continues to push away the people closest to her, and every day she loses more of the girl she used to be.
When Mandy moves in, there's tension between the girls from the start. Mandy is beautiful but simple-minded with no clear goals for after the baby is born. Jill is harsh and judgemental. Jill starts poking into Mandy's past to find out what she's really up to. Jill's mother is aware of how Mandy's presence affects Jill, and she wonders if she's doing the right thing by helping Mandy. It's clear she's feeling the pressure of navigating life without her pragmatic husband.
The characters' progressions are expertly written, and I appreciate that elements that could have turned cliche were fleshed out and explored in realistic ways. This is a definite recommended read if you like Young Adult Contemporary. I'm quite a fan of Sara Zarr after reading How to Save a Life, and have since then read her novel Sweethearts from a few years back.
Sidenote: Every time I picked up this book, the song by The Fray of the same name popped into my head. Every time! (less)
This one is so hard to sum up. The writing captures the essence of loneliness and hurt, all the aspects of growing up that suck but in a beautiful and...moreThis one is so hard to sum up. The writing captures the essence of loneliness and hurt, all the aspects of growing up that suck but in a beautiful and hopeful way. I'd heard lots of great recommendations for Like Mandarin, but this book really surprised me. It's got a dark, haunting edge to it that gives voice to hurt girls struggling to through those early teen years. I highly recommend it for anyone into contemporary YA; or if you don't think you like contemporaries, try this one out. (less)
Credit to the author for showing a partying "bad" girl who is ultimately sympathetic and believable without going the preachy route. Definitely a need...moreCredit to the author for showing a partying "bad" girl who is ultimately sympathetic and believable without going the preachy route. Definitely a needed book in YA given how many girls are shamed for being a slut and dismissed entirely because of speculated reputations. The story shows the person behind the partying persona and readers can get the sense why Whitley acts the way she does, making her someone to root for so she can get her life together.
I'm sure this book ends up on banned lists as a knee-jerk reaction to strong language, drug and alcohol use, and sexual situations. However, all those factors are told within a responsible narrative, meaning that consequences are shown, and nothing is so outlandish that it steps beyond what many teenagers experience. I like that Whitley made choices for herself that reflected her own self-worth. The lesson here is not that "partying is bad" but the character's understanding of what triggered her destructive behavior and why it was hurting her. Plus, this is packaged in a YA voice that reads very authentic and not strained or like a morality play. (less)
Solid, contemporary Young Adult. This is the type of story I see working very well for teens, though it has appeal as an older reader with some mature...moreSolid, contemporary Young Adult. This is the type of story I see working very well for teens, though it has appeal as an older reader with some mature family themes that never run schlocky given the illness angle. It's quite beautiful and speaks to slowing down in our busy culture. Lots of books get compared to Sarah Dessen's work, I do think this book rightly compares based on balanced themes of family and heartache. Other similar authors: Jessi Kirby, Melissa Walker(less)
Heartbreaking and emotional, this story involves 15-year-old Gordie who five years prior survived the intentional drowning of his siblings by his moth...moreHeartbreaking and emotional, this story involves 15-year-old Gordie who five years prior survived the intentional drowning of his siblings by his mother, and her subsequent suicide. All who remain in his family are his half-brother Kevin, Kevin's father who provides guardianship, and Gordie's real father, who was MIA ... until now.
Gordie experiences severe PTSD which is shown in such a relatable, visceral way. He struggles in friendships and a potential relationship, and even more so now that his father is back in the picture petitioning the court for visitation.
A very strong debut written with sensitivity and heart. (less)
The Goodreads description kind of oversells this as a romance--even the cover does. Family dynamics are the primary driver of the story with the roman...moreThe Goodreads description kind of oversells this as a romance--even the cover does. Family dynamics are the primary driver of the story with the romance more as a subplot. This one is a little less swoon and a little more introspection, but in the best way possible. Also, bonus stars for cultural diversity. (less)