Haunting, slow-burning book about a kid trying his best to be a man in the face of circumstances he cannot control, and a family who sees him for whatHaunting, slow-burning book about a kid trying his best to be a man in the face of circumstances he cannot control, and a family who sees him for what he is and does their best to keep him upright. Schmidt writes this story with simple, repetitive language that seems aimed towards a middle grade audience, but there is a stoic power and distinct narrative voice hiding in that simple presentation. The straightforward, no-nonsense approach of both Jack and his father dovetails with Joseph's aloofness, and both feed a heartbreaking undercurrent that drives the book's abrupt, bittersweet ending. I think there are some things about this book that won't land if you take it at face value, but it's surprisingly powerful, and stays with you....more
This unique book begins with a fascinating premise: during the month of October, Cara and her family are uncannily prone to injury. For years, her motThis unique book begins with a fascinating premise: during the month of October, Cara and her family are uncannily prone to injury. For years, her mother hides all of the sharp objects, pads every corner of the house, and wraps Cara, her sister Alice, and her ex-stepbrother Sam in multiple layers of clothing to protect them from the inevitable cuts, bruises, and sprains they will accrue. During the worst Accident Seasons, people die; that is how Cara lost her father and her uncle. But the Accident Season isn't what it seems. When Cara's friend Elsie goes missing, she discovers that nobody else seems to know anything about Elsie. And in uncovering who or what Elsie really is, Cara starts to see all of the yearly accidents for what they really are, too.
Between this and the The Carnival at Bray, I'm starting to develop a thing for YA fiction set in Ireland. This book has the same slow, moody pace, but includes a definitively more paranormal note. The ghost-story elements are important, but remain vague and dreamlike, lending more weight to the setting of the book rather than the plot, and that works for me, as it lends a very fresh take on a core story of broken families and jagged adolescence.
The only reason I'm knocking a star off is that I kept putting the book down in the first half, for some reason. The first act is slow, though well-written, and I didn't really get drawn in to the book until the end. That being said, I tore through the last fifty pages. All told, it's a great, atmospheric read....more
I think my love for this book is directly related to the fact that we are currently reading Beverly Cleary's chapter books to my young son. I had forgI think my love for this book is directly related to the fact that we are currently reading Beverly Cleary's chapter books to my young son. I had forgotten how bland and rote they could seem at first glance- these are just random things happening! There's no story! And yet, that's why they are brilliant. Yes, they are random things happening, and the characters are living them, and there is no moralizing or tidy story arc outside of the importance of the events themselves. That's what makes them resonate with the target audience. My son, you will note, is particularly fond of Ramona, who is starting kindergarten at the same time he is. Her problems seem very real to him.
This book has done the improbable: it has made me use the terms "literary" and "slice of life" unironically while praising it to a colleague. Gross, but accurate. Stead's simple, beautiful prose revolves around a group of middle-school girls trying to figure out how to negotiate friendships, relationships, and the burgeoning process of becoming a new person. The romance aspect is sweetly ordinary, and while the main plot concerning the fallout of taking and sending PG13-rated pictures does have some tension, it resolves itself in a fairly tame fashion. This is a book about simply living, and it's authentic and wonderful.
The perspective shifts sometimes get a little awkward; the only criticism I have of the book is that a particular point-of-view thread could have probably been rolled up into somewhere else for clarity's sake while not affecting the overall quality of the book. But otherwise, this is a singular book that is perfect for school-age kids reading up and middle-grade/teen readers looking for a nostalgia hit. It's certainly not the most exciting book in the world, but I'm very glad I read it....more
Detailed, readable story featuring a character dealing with a relatively late diagnosis of being intersex, something that many people know next to notDetailed, readable story featuring a character dealing with a relatively late diagnosis of being intersex, something that many people know next to nothing about. Kristin is a layered, achingly sympathetic character, and the story thoughtfully charts her course through learning how to navigate the altered way in which others see her and in which she sees herself. My only complaint with this book is that once the reader gets into the meat of the story, things unfold in almost textbook-like fashion, often placing more emphasis on what androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is than on the plot. But that doesn't take away from how readable the book is, and considering how rare characters like Kristin are in YA, the book is worth the occasional infodump....more
Very powerful bit of YA fiction. Minnow Bly's story goes from being indoctrinated into a cult as a young child to losing both of her hands and being hVery powerful bit of YA fiction. Minnow Bly's story goes from being indoctrinated into a cult as a young child to losing both of her hands and being held in juvie for almost beating a boy to death, and revolves around the secrets she keeps about what exactly happened in between. The plot winds through a series of flashbacks that detail Minnow's early childhood, as well as the fraught days right before The Community disappeared in flame and she was arrested for attempted murder. Oakes expertly crafts a narrative that could easily get lost in all of this chronological chicanery, and tells a riveting, occasionally hard to read story. The only weakness of the book is the end; the answers to her mystery are not hard to predict, and the story ends on a somewhat flighty and mawkish note. Still, this is an engaging and affecting book, and is a great read for those who like stories of escaping slow-burning peril....more
Jason Reynolds is so good at teen boy characters, and seems to consistently turn simple, quiet stories into something more meaningful. This book staysJason Reynolds is so good at teen boy characters, and seems to consistently turn simple, quiet stories into something more meaningful. This book stays with a simple premise: Matthew loses his mother and watches his father fall apart, and finds solace in crashing funerals until he meets a girl who apparently has the strength he can't find. There is no hyperbole or action in this story, and the twist at the end serves to get readers thinking rather than turning pages. I should have rated this four stars due to my wish for it to be a bit longer and more developed, story-wise, but there is so much good stuff in this slim book that I'm making it one of my favorites. Just the imagery of his recurring dream— he and his mother sitting cheek-to-cheek in a pew at her funeral— is enough to make me love this book....more
Easily one of the best books I've read in the past few years. Of course, I'm operating under a heavy cloud of personal bias, since this book revolvesEasily one of the best books I've read in the past few years. Of course, I'm operating under a heavy cloud of personal bias, since this book revolves around 90s music and Ireland, and I'm bound to read and enjoy any book about either one, much less both at the same time. Still, even with it hitting my personal sweet spots, Foley does a phenomenal job at taking a series of YA tropes (first love, unexpected loss, mental illness, social alienation, coming of age) and turning them into something that feels both remarkably fresh and achingly familiar. She nails the teen voice, even with a few moments of eyebrow-raising precociousness, and the story never feels manipulative, maudlin, or gimmicky.
I'm sad that I didn't pick this up before it started getting Morris and Printz buzz, but I'm glad it's winning awards, because it's a hidden gem that deserves the hype....more
This book was hard for me to finish, for some reason. Maybe it's just because I've recently read a looming stack of YA books that feature suicide as aThis book was hard for me to finish, for some reason. Maybe it's just because I've recently read a looming stack of YA books that feature suicide as a theme or plot element, but I set this one down a few times before finally getting around to the end. The characters made me sad and angry, and the proceedings were so gloomy that I didn't have a lot of fun reading.
To be fair, though, this is due to the fact that Warga absolutely nails depression. Aysel may not be likeable, but she's very authentic, and her narration is the main strength of this book. Still, there are little issues with the writing that turned me off. Each chapter ended with a reaffirmation that, yes, Aysel planned to be dead in a few weeks, with more melodramatic references sprinkled in between. Realistic, yes, but still repetitive. Her epiphany near the end of the book seems somewhat sudden to me, as well. Despite Aysel being the stronger character, I understood Roman's arc better.
This is a strong, important book, but it feels more like a direct examination of depression than a complex, standalone story. It didn't really land with me, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to someone who is looking for or needs the subject matter....more
This book has a lot going on. Eating disorders, bullying, navigating queer politics, ballet culture, musical theater culture, and it's all cobbled togThis book has a lot going on. Eating disorders, bullying, navigating queer politics, ballet culture, musical theater culture, and it's all cobbled together beneath a funny, upbeat protagonist that somehow manages to navigate all of it (even her own substantial brokenness) while remaining optimistic and true to herself. The author has achieved something remarkable in tying all of these various themes together without the whole thing coming apart.
I was not a big fan of the writing style; while the stream-of-consciousness infodumping and conversational grammar makes for a truly authentic teen protagonist voice, I found it hard to focus on the proceedings after a while. Especially after Moskowitz indulged in the thing that irks me about George R. R. Martin's writing: repeating an idiom. Everybody in this book swallows over and over and over again (written just like that) when they get anxious. Maybe that's a Thing that I'm unaware of, but it irritated me.
Still, this was a quick and incredibly fun read with a truly diverse cast of characters, and I'm inclined to like it solely on the merit of how satisfying the ending is....more
I've read a lot of YA fiction that tackles mental illness through fractured narratives and unreliable narrators in the past year. This advance reader'I've read a lot of YA fiction that tackles mental illness through fractured narratives and unreliable narrators in the past year. This advance reader's copy immediately rose to the top. It's not an easy read, for a number of reasons; the story is split between main character Caden's defiantly lucid observations of his descent into mental illness and a dreamlike interpretation of his stay at a hospital, where a sinister captain and a scheming parrot preside over a journey to the deepest part of the ocean. Tenses shift from third to second person as Caden drifts from anxious normalcy to somber nightmare to manic delusion and back again, with no warning to either himself or the reader of when the shifts will occur. Every so often, a page is adorned with a chaotic, haunting illustration from the pen of the author's son, who drew them while making a similarly harrowing journey. Outside of the format, though, the book is difficult to read because of how heartbreaking it is. There is no moralizing or dramatizing here; Caden is almost clinical when describing his increased unmooring from reality because it's the only way he can cope with it, and that makes it all the more sympathetic, especially considering that Shusterman is writing from his own son's experience.
I'm still thinking about it. Easily one of the best YA books I've read so far this year....more
This book was a challenge. Downes has written a YA book so literary that it's almost an experiment, weaving two gauzy, dreamlike accounts of two mentaThis book was a challenge. Downes has written a YA book so literary that it's almost an experiment, weaving two gauzy, dreamlike accounts of two mentally ill teenagers into a fated collision. The book is slim, and does no hand-holding; everything is in the brief, tragic words of Erik and Thorn, and the reader is left to their own conclusions about what was real and what was imagined in the lives of these two boys.
Things were so unmoored in this book that I honestly didn't feel smart enough to read it, and kept the whole thing at an intellectual arm's length. Still, the prose and form is lyrical and beautiful and disturbing, and the ending is worth the fever-dream journey. A fascinating little challenge of a book that will reward the patient, introspective reader....more
Somber and steadily paced, but still an engaging piece of YA contemporary fiction that handles a familiar topic adeptly. The story's handling of Lex'sSomber and steadily paced, but still an engaging piece of YA contemporary fiction that handles a familiar topic adeptly. The story's handling of Lex's depression is realistic and unflinching, and describes a full, satisfying arc to the beginnings of recovery. Her brother's suicide is neither trivialized in the wake of her story nor romanticized by the notion of it being someone else's breakthrough. The hints of a ghost story add a riveting layer without being distracting.
This book didn't stay with me long after I finished it, for some reason, but it is a particularly shining example of its subgenre....more
Wow. This one was dark. The story is told through the diary of Linus, a teenage boy who is kidnapped by a mysterious assailant and wakes up in an undeWow. This one was dark. The story is told through the diary of Linus, a teenage boy who is kidnapped by a mysterious assailant and wakes up in an underground bunker, at the mercy of the kidnapper who keeps a camera and microphone on him and only communicates through items sent down in a motorized lift. As other victims appear in the bunker, Linus chronicles their struggle to survive and possibly escape, but as the days tick by in timeless spurts of fluorescent lights and pitch blackness, their situation becomes increasingly desperate.
Do not expect to get answers from this story. Brooks uses the diary format to excellent effect, and never abandons it; everything is filtered through Linus as he writes to himself, and then to his captor, and then to anyone at all who might read his words, and plot gives way to a study of the human condition and the things people will do to survive when abandoned and cornered. The ending is straight out of a Lovecraft story, and it's dark and disturbing and brilliant.
This book made me feel gross, but I can't stop thinking about it....more
"Hero" has no agency, simply doing everything the mentor character tells him to do. Female characters have even less agency, with the love interest at"Hero" has no agency, simply doing everything the mentor character tells him to do. Female characters have even less agency, with the love interest at one point being literally carried out of danger by the "hero." Incredibly frustrating read....more