Seven-year-old Alexandra Ridgemont loves chocolate Yoo-Hoo drinks and the lobster tank at the supermarket in the small Indiana town where she lives wiSeven-year-old Alexandra Ridgemont loves chocolate Yoo-Hoo drinks and the lobster tank at the supermarket in the small Indiana town where she lives with her archaeologist parents. The lobsters are the same bright red as her hair. But the lobsters are sad. They always beg her to let them out of the tank. Alex ignores them. At least until the day she meets Blue Eyes - a boy her age with sandy blond hair and stunning blue eyes who tells her she smells like lemons and becomes her first and only friend. Alex shares her Yoo-Hoo with Blue Eyes and enlists his help to set the lobsters free.
Except live lobsters aren’t red. And her mother says she never let any lobsters out of a tank. And Blue Eyes vanishes, never to be seen again.
Fast forward ten years.
Seventeen-year-old Alex is used to the delusions and hallucinations caused by her early-onset paranoid schizophrenia. Those suspicious looking squirrels holding a conference on the lawn are probably Communist spies. But, since Alex isn’t sure whether they’re real or a product of her imagination, she’ll take a picture of them. If they’re hallucinations, they’ll eventually fade from the photo. If they don’t, then she’ll know they were real. It’s vital for Alex to teach herself to distinguish between her hallucinations and reality. She desperately wants to go to college. She can’t afford to have another episode like the one that got her kicked out of her last school. She also can’t afford for anyone at her new school to find out about her illness.
Alex is doing fairly well at appearing normal. She has a part-time job and one of her new coworkers, Tucker, attends her new school. At least she’ll have someone to talk to when she arrives. So far, so good. Until Miles walks into the restaurant where Alex works. Miles, who has sandy blond hair and eyes the same riveting shade as Blue Eyes. They couldn’t be the same person. Could they? She just imagined Blue Eyes. Didn’t she?
I discovered Francesca Zappia’s debut novel, Made You Up, on a recent trip to my local library. I hold a degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing so I’ve had to read, write, and critique a lot of stories. One semester, after workshopping a mediocre story told in first-person POV about a protagonist with a mental illness, my professor remarked that one of the most difficult things to do as a writer is to tell a story in “first-person crazy” (her words) without overwhelming the reader.
So, upon reading the cover blurb for Made You Up, I was immediately intrigued. Here was an author who had written a novel in “first person crazy” well enough to land a contract with a traditional publisher. I had to read it. I have to admit, I was impressed. Ms. Zappia manages avoid the pitfalls of info dumping or bogging down her reader with the details of Alex's inner world. Alex’s hallucinations are woven into the fabric of the story until they seem almost commonplace.
Unfortunately, this is also the biggest drawback of the story. Alex has grown so accustomed to her hallucinations and paranoid delusions that they seem to be nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Even when Alex is in the throes of a full-fledged psychotic break, her inner monologue seems calm and rational. Other characters are only slightly fazed by Alex’s screaming and raving. Alex’s new friends take their first experience with her illness in stride with the sort of attitude one might expect of a group of college students caring for a drunk friend who just needs to sleep it off. They don’t seem afraid, repulsed, or to feel much of anything beyond mild curiosity.
While I can understand Alex’s family being less perturbed by the symptoms of her illness, since they’ve had years to acclimate, I had a hard time suspending my disbelief where her friends were concerned. While I will be the first to admit I have no idea what it’s like to live with schizophrenia or with a loved one who suffers from it, the lack of emotional turmoil for Alex and her friends just didn’t ring true for me. As much as I enjoyed this book, Alex’s parents seemed to be the only ones who had any genuine feelings about her illness.
Despite its few flaws, Made You Up is successful at portraying a smart, funny young woman who is, like every other teenager, just trying to figure out her place in the world. Ms. Zappia manages to tell her story without reducing Alex to a walking cliche, which is a bonus. I recommend getting your hands on a copy of Made You Up. It’s worth reading and I look forward to Francesca Zappia’s future novels....more
I received a copy of this ebook for free from Netgalley in exchange for an impartial review. Normally, I have a strict "no self-published books" ruleI received a copy of this ebook for free from Netgalley in exchange for an impartial review. Normally, I have a strict "no self-published books" rule for my reviews. However, I decided to make an exception for Trust because it offers something I believe is sorely needed in today’s market, especially in YA fiction: Diversity. Both the author and the protagonist are women of color and that was enough to persuade me to take a chance on this book.
I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision. In her debut novel, Jodi Baker introduces the audience to a protagonist who is smart, funny, and relatable. Although I did notice a few issues that can be attributed to lack of writing experience, overall Ms. Baker manages to weave history and mythology together to create an intriguing story told with an engaging voice.
Trust opens with a prologue that thrusts readers into the final moments of Hypatia of Alexandria. In Jodi Baker’s fictionalized account, Hypatia is the last living descendant of Ptolelmy, founder of the Great Library of Alexandria, and is heir to the position of Head Librarian. Desperate to save the precious scrolls from being burned, Hypatia attempts to escape through a magical portal hidden in a wall. But there is a price. Humans are only allowed to use the portal in the presence of a Guardian for safety. To attempt entry without a Guardian is certain death.
The next several chapters recount the strange childhood of the novel’s main protagonist, Anna. Raised in New York City by her single mother, Kali, Anna knows her life isn’t typical, but she doesn’t understand why. She only knows that she must "stay in the middle of the pack" lest a mysterious They discover her existence and take her away from her mother.
Kali takes pains to isolate Anna from the outside world. Anna is homeschooled and the only time she sets foot in public school is to participate in annual testing. Despite Anna’s high intelligence and the advanced curriculum in which she has been instructed, ranging from learning to read ancient Greek to zoology lessons, Kali coaches her daughter to ensure Anna’s test scores are never above average. Anna has no friends her own age, nor is she allowed to speak to strangers. In her whole life, Anna has broken her mother’s rule only once – when, as a young child, she dared to speak to a boy in the antique bookstore she and Kali visited twice a year. After that incident, Anna and her mother never return to the store.
If anyone thinks Kali’s behavior borders on psychological abuse, you’re not alone. The only other reason to be that obsessive about maintaining secrecy is if Anna and her mother were in a witness protection program. Which is why I had a hard time suspending my disbelief when Kali meets a boisterous man named Patrick while she and Anna are visiting Central Park, immediately begins dating and then marries him a few months later, culminating in Patrick and his teenage son, Clayton, moving in with Anna and Kali.
Without giving too many spoilers, Patrick turns out to be a throwaway character who gets stuffed into the Fridge to fuel the rest of the plot. With both her mother and step-brother incapacitated by grief, fifteen-year-old Anna is forced to take on the role of "pack alpha" and manage the household, beginning her journey into adult independence. Eight weeks later, Kali drags herself out of mourning and leaves on a mysterious errand. She tells Anna to "stay in the middle" until she returns. Anna goes to bed and wakes up on the steps of the Metropolitan museum with no memory of how she got there.
At this point, Trust takes a sharp turn into urban fantasy. Anna discovers it’s exactly one year later and that Clayton has reported both Anna and Kali missing. A grandmother Anna never knew she had now owns Anna’s house and has been named her legal guardian should Anna ever be found. Even more unbelievable is the new voice in Anna’s head, which possesses knowledge Anna does not, including how to read and speak ancient Sumerian. The voice, referred to only as "Inanna", insists that Anna must trust it and those it deems appropriate allies.
From that point on, Anna is on a mission to discover where she’s been for the past year, learn why she has no memory of that time, and ascertain her mother’s whereabouts. Along the way, Anna learns she is a distant relative of Hypatia of Alexandria, that shapeshifters such as were-jaguars and were-jackals exist, and that her entire life has been a lie her mother fabricated to hide Anna from her grandmother’s political schemes.
Trust is the first installment in Jodi Baker’s Between Lions series and it is definitely not a stand-alone novel. There are numerous plot points that are not resolved by the end of the book and a few I felt were glossed over or rushed. I’m hoping those threads will be more fully developed in later books. Despite a few drawbacks, Trust is one of the most captivating books I’ve read in quite a while. I look forward to future books in this series. ...more
I received a free copy of Method 15/33 from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This is author Shannon Kirk’s debut novel, so one of the factoI received a free copy of Method 15/33 from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This is author Shannon Kirk’s debut novel, so one of the factors in my decision to request the ARC were the glowing reviews already available on Goodreads. I began this novel with high expectations. Unfortunately, Method 15/33 did not deliver.
Lisa Yyland is a neurological anomaly – her frontal lobe, the area of the brain that controls reason and planning, is enlarged. As a result, Lisa is not only a genius, she’s also able to turn her emotional responses on and off like a light switch. Even in times of extreme crisis, she is able to remain as calm and rational as a battle-hardened veteran.
Ms. Kirk illustrates this character trait by briefly recounting an incident when Lisa saves her first grade class from a gun-toting drug addict by yelling “air raid” and pulling the fire alarm, which causes the shooter to drop his weapon and dive for cover. If you can suspend your disbelief long enough to buy the idea of a six-year-old, even one who is a prodigy, possessing enough wisdom to recognize a junkie experiencing a psychotic break, you might enjoy Method 15/33. I couldn’t and the book went downhill from there.
Despite Ms. Kirk’s writing honors from the Faulkner Society and the praise heaped on her novel from several award-winning authors, I found multiple rookie mistakes, including “as you know, Bob” info dumps, allowing the author’s voice to intrude by having the narrators directly address the audience, and using twenty-five cent words when nickel words would do, as early as the first chapter. Part of the problem appears to stem from the stylistic choices Ms. Kirk makes for her story.
Method 15/33 is told from the alternating viewpoints of Lisa and FBI Special Agent Roger Lui. However, both Lisa and Agent Lui are recounting the incident in flashback from seventeen years after the abduction, which leads to a lot of passive voice in the narration on top of all the other issues. One of the least necessary of Ms. Kirk’s blunders is her decision to withhold the name of one of the main characters until halfway through the book. For the first 11 chapters I thought Lisa’s name was Dorothy because Agent Lui kept referring to the pregnant, kidnapped girl he was searching for by that name. I might have been able to accept one unreliable narrator as a plot device. Two is overkill.
Six chapters into Method 15/33, I’d failed to find a reason to care about any of the characters. By the end of the book, indifference turned to active dislike. Lisa, in particular, struck me as overly arrogant and condescending even for an adolescent. At one point, she waxes poetic about her “homicidal intent” toward the incompetent captors who are obviously beneath her. Really? Really?! I have a teenager of my own who isn’t nearly as obnoxious as this character.
In one of Ms. Kirk’s bungled attempts to create a more likable protagonist, Lisa tells her reader she has turned on her emotional switch where her unborn child is concerned. It is her love for her baby (as opposed to her own sociopathic tendencies) that fuels Lisa’s rage and impels her to plot the death of her captors in excruciating detail and with obvious relish. Unfortunately, Ms. Kirk fails to show maternal love or any other emotion through her writing. Rather, I felt I was being told when Lisa experienced emotion rather than genuinely connecting with her.
The other major character, Roger Lui – a drama club geek turned special agent, struck me as vapid and whiny. If only he hadn’t been gifted with vision better than a fighter pilot or with hyperthymesia – AKA a really good memory that allows him to recall every day of his life in perfect detail. Maybe then he could have been happy as an actor instead of getting snapped up after applying to the FBI. Cry me a river. Oh, wait…psych! He actually has a compelling reason for choosing a career in law enforcement, but that pesky little detail is also withheld until near the end of the book. Have I mentioned Ms. Kirk is fond of the unreliable narrator trope? His partner, Lola, is a stereotypical butch, complete with chewing tobacco and Old Spice cologne, desperately overcompensating for the crime of having breasts in a male-dominated career field. This walking cliche doesn’t just have a chip on her shoulder, she’s carrying the whole potato. Both characters are as flat as their descriptions suggest.
Although Method 15/33 is billed as a gripping thriller, I was hard pressed to find anything thrilling about it. In fact, the unbelievable fish yarn that is Method 15/33 grows less realistic with each chapter until it finally jumps the shark when Lisa stages her escape. This novel could have been remarkable, but it fell far short of that promise. A concept this ambitious requires a master storyteller to pull it off. Sadly, Shannon Kirk does not yet have the experience to do it justice. If your tastes run to revenge fantasy, Method 15/33 might be your cup of tea. To me, the bottom of the Boston Harbor seemed like a more fitting place for this novel....more
"Girl, Stolen" is the third YA novel from New York Times best-selling author April Henry. Inspired by the 2005 carjacking of 18-year-old Heather Wilso"Girl, Stolen" is the third YA novel from New York Times best-selling author April Henry. Inspired by the 2005 carjacking of 18-year-old Heather Wilson, "Girl, Stolen" relates the story of the uneasy alliance that grows between Cheyenne and her accidental kidnapper, Griffin.
On the surface, 16-year-old Cheyenne seems like a typical adolescent girl: She loves dogs, books and chatting on the phone. She gets along with her stepmother most of the time and occasionally chafes under her father's over-protectiveness. But Cheyenne isn't average. Three years ago, Cheyenne lost her mother to a hit-and-run driver. She also lost her sight. Since then, Cheyenne has fought to regain her independence. Now she's fighting again - this time, for her life.
On a snowy day in December, Cheyenne is waiting for her stepmother, Danielle, to come back from the pharmacy. Cheyenne has pneumonia, so she elects to wait in the car while Danielle picks up a prescription for antibiotics. Cheyenne persuades Danielle to leave the keys in the ignition so she can turn on the heat if she gets cold.
Griffin is a 16-year-old high school dropout and petty criminal following in the footsteps of his father, Roy. Griffin has been stealing shopping bags from cars in the mall parking lot all morning. When he sees the keys in the ignition of Danielle's SUV, he thinks he's hit the jackpot. It should be easy to drive the car back to his house where Roy and his cronies will strip it for parts. In his haste, Griffin doesn't notice Cheyenne laying down in the back seat until he's already on the road.
Confused, and scared of his abusive father's reaction, Griffin dumps Cheyenne's cell phone and takes the most indirect route he can think of back to his house. Roy is predictably angry with his son's blunder until he learns Cheyenne is the daughter of a wealthy businessman. At that point, he decides to demand a ransom.
However, Roy could easily star in an episode of "America's Dumbest Criminals." In a drunken stupor, he manages to lose the phone numbers Cheyenne gives him to contact her father and doesn't bother to disguise his voice when he finally does make the ransom demand from his living room. To top it off, he puts his buddies TJ and Jimbo - who would more aptly be named Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber - in charge of keeping an eye on Griffin and Cheyenne.
Although April Henry is a New York Times best-selling author and her work has won several awards, I was underwhelmed by "Girl, Stolen." While the premise of the novel had the potential to be a fast-paced thriller, the plot drags in several places while Henry gives lengthy explanations of Cheyenne's particular type of blindness, her struggle to regain her independence by learning to use a cane and then a service dog, and what a vehicle identification number (VIN) is and how it works. Maybe Henry thought a young adult audience would need these details to understand the story. However, if the sections dealing with these minutiae are slow enough to bore me, I can't image a teenager being remotely interested.
I also found April Henry's depiction of Griffin to be inconsistent and implausible. This is a boy who has been abused by his father most of his life and has the scars to prove it. I had a hard time believing he would risk provoking Roy by defying him in even the most trivial way, let alone risk his life to help Cheyenne escape. In addition, I consider "Girl, Stolen" inappropriate for children under the age of 16 because of the liberal amount of obscenities, a murder and an attempted rape scene. Although I liked the idea of "Girl, Stolen" and had high hopes for the story, the execution left much to be desired....more