Category Archives: contemporary

Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

RoomiesI think this would have been an excellent book to have read the summer before I went away to college.  Although I am not an overly shy person, I was kinda freaked out about the concept of rooming with someone I had never met before. I find it odd that it never crossed my mind to try to get in touch — and that my college didn’t really try to foster early communications either.  Things may have been strained that first semester, but I still lived to tell the tale.

Aside from the obvious worries about classes and living with a stranger, Elizabeth and Lauren also have family relationships and friendships that are about to change.  Lauren is only moving about an hour away [from San Francisco to Berkeley] so staying in touch with family and friends should, theoretically, be easy enough.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, is going to be moving across the country [from New Jersey to California], so she won’t be able to take any quick visits home to see her mom or her friends.  Still, distance is not the only factor that determines how hard a move will be.  Lauren is leaving her tight-knit family full of younger siblings whom she typically helps to care for and worries that she will miss them too much or that they won’t be able to manage without her.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, is all too used to being alone in her house and is excited to get away from home.  She is also hoping to spending some quality time with her father [who owns an art gallery in San Francisco], but doesn’t really know how to start up a relationship with the father who’s never really been there for her.  Readers get to peek into the minds, and emails, of each of the girls as she prepares for moving in with her new “roomie.”  I’m certain that fans of Sara Zarr (Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, How to Save a Life, Lucy Variations) will love this, and I’m desperately hoping for more YA from Tara Altebrando.

Happy Reading!

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

NogginWith all of the attention The Fault in Our Stars has been receiving lately, many people are looking for read alike books.  I wouldn’t necessarily put this in the same category, since it is magical realism as opposed to contemporary realistic fiction.  (If you’re looking for another realistic contemporary read alike, you should check out Somebody Up There Hates You.)  Despite the magical realism, though, I think many TFiOS fans will find that Noggin is “close enough” in that it’s a smart and funny book that challenges your preconceived notions of the world around you.  Also, Travis Coates is a teenager who had cancer.

Because Travis Coates’ body was riddled with cancer and the treatments weren’t proving to be effective, he didn’t really have many options left.  He could continue trying every experimental treatment possible, which often left him weak and ill; he could give up fighting and try to enjoy the time he had left; or he could go rogue and let some scientists cut his head off, cryogenically freeze it, and hope they could develop the technology to successfully reanimate his head on a donor body.  Although they didn’t think they would have the technology to reanimate him before all of his friends and family were very old or gone altogether, Travis liked the idea of dying on his own terms.  Potentially living again would just be a bonus.  Imagine his surprise, then, when we wakes up and finds out that it has only been 5 years since he “died.”  He’s still 16, but everyone he knows and loves has aged 5 years, and nothing is at all as he left it.

Happy Reading!

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

We Are the GoldensNell and Layla were extremely close when they were little.  So close, in fact, that Nell got confused and started calling her sister and herself by the collective name Nellaya.  Now that they’re both in high school, things have started to shift.  Though they attend the same school and play on the same soccer team, Layla has become more closed off and secretive.  Nell is doing her best to be her own person instead of living in her sister’s shadow, but she misses the closeness they once had.  Though Layla used to tell her everything, she feels like Layla isn’t telling her *anything* anymore.  Nell wonders what could be causing this change in her sister and fears it has something to do with the rumors that Layla is dating the cute, young art teacher whose supposed conquests of students are frequent fodder for gossip.  She wants to know the truth, but she is also afraid of what she might learn.  After all, what will/should Nell do if she finds out the rumors are true?

Though I don’t think this book was written as well as The Things a Brother Knows or Harmless, I thought Reinhardt did a good job writing about the struggle between loyalty and honesty.

Happy Reading!

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Ketchup CloudsAfter her boyfriend’s death, Zoe is so overcome with guilt that she finds it hard to function.  People assume that her reclusive behavior is owed to the fact that she’s grieving for Max, and she finds that their sympathy actually makes her feel even more guilty.  In an attempt to unburden herself, Zoe decides to confess to Stuart Harris — a Death Row inmate in Texas who was listed on a website of prisoners seeking pen-pals.  She thought writing to Stuart would be a good idea for a few reasons — 1. he killed his wife and would likely understand what she’s going through, 2. he is in the United States while she is in England, and 3. she could use a false name and address to avoid being turned in to the police.  (Yeah.  Her name’s not really Zoe.)  Through her letters to Stuart, which she writes while hiding out in the shed in her backyard, readers learn about the events that led up to Max’s death and why she feels responsible.  I’ll admit that I found myself getting a little frustrated at times, but I don’t think it was poorly done or anything.  I was just too impatient and wanted to know what happened!  I recommend this one to people who enjoy a little romantic drama with their mystery.

Happy Reading!

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle

Infinite Moment of UsIs it getting hot in here, or is it just this book?!?  For my final I Read YA Week post – What should characters read? — I decided to go with a book that I think teens, real or fictional, should read before they become sexually active.  While plenty of YA books talk about sex and have scenes in which characters lose their virginity, they aren’t often as sexy as this story.  Sex is so often treated as a taboo topic in this country, and it’s good to know that there are authors out there who don’t shy away from how great sex can be when it’s part of a respectful, loving relationship.  Last night, I was contemplating how I would handle this book review, and then I saw an article a friend posted to Facebook – What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure?  One part in particular struck a cord with me:

Our son asked why they didn’t tell him this stuff at school. The mate explained that adults stupidly think that if you tell children the truth about sex, they’ll have sex earlier than they really should. He added that the evidence indicates otherwise.”

Since so many parents are squeamish about talking to their kids, and schools focus on the doom and gloom — unintended pregnancy!  diseases! — I think books like this are a great way for teens to learn about how wonderful sex can be.  And, let’s be honest.  I would much rather my children learn vicariously about sex via books instead of watching R rated movies with their friends – because their brains will only fill in the details they are ready to process, and it’s easier for kids to walk away from a book they aren’t comfortable reading than to explain to their friends that they don’t feel ready to watch that movie yet.  When they’re ready to start having sex, nevertheless, I hope they will do it for all the right reasons, with the right person, safely, and enjoy every moment of it like Charlie and Wren.

Happy Reading!

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsI’m thinking I Read YA Week is a perfect opportunity for me to catch up on some blogging…  and I may even actually use my Twitter account to tag my posts!  ;-)  Day 1 is supposed to be something I recommend, and this book definitely fits the bill.  I have read several of E. Lockhart’s other books — my favorite of which was probably The Boyfriend List — and I was over the moon when my friend Molly got me the ARC of this book.  Although I slacked when it came to posting a review, I handed it off to a friend immediately upon finishing and was happy to hear that she passed it along as well.  This book has legs!

Cadence has spent every summer of her life on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts with her entire extended family.  Hired help does all the work while the family enjoys a life of luxury and leisure.  She missed last summer, which she spent in Europe with her father, but she is back and trying to piece together what happened two summers before.  All she knows is that she sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and now suffers memory loss and crippling headaches.  No one in the family is supposed to talk to her about it because it upsets her and then she ends up forgetting anyway — the doctors have decided it’s best if they let her recover those memories on her own.  I almost couldn’t get over the shock of what had happened when her memories finally sorted themselves out, and I was in awe of how well everything that seemed so strange finally fell into place.  This is a great summer read for people who like mysteries and don’t mind shedding a few tears.

Happy Reading!

The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel [ARC]

break up artistBecca Williamson has a rather unique job.  Instead of working after school in a fast food restaurant or at a clothing store in the mall, she breaks up couples for money.  Of course, she can’t just tell everyone what she does.  That would be pretty dangerous — at least socially, if not literally.  So, she advertises anonymously (on the school bathroom wall), wears a disguise when she meets with clients (via webcam), and collects payments via PayPal.  You may wonder, “Why Becca is so anti-love?”  Well, it has an awful lot to do with the fact she’s had to deal with the fallout from her sister’s fiance calling off their wedding only hours ahead of time [about a year before the beginning of the book].

The premise of this book was pretty interesting, but I thought the delivery fell a bit flat.  I don’t usually give spoilers, but I can’t explain what I didn’t like about this book without saying that Becca didn’t seem to learn anything from her experiences as The Break-Up Artist.  At the end of the book, I would have expected Becca to have a little remorse over what she had done and a better understanding of how relationships require work and honesty.  Instead, she seemed to still feel justified for what she had done.  REALLY?!?  Some people might enjoy this story for all the drama, but I can’t see myself specifically recommending it to anyone.

Happy Reading!

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I Hunt KillersI have always been intrigued by serial killers.  I am so utterly fascinated, in fact, that I managed to scare a student worker at my college library during my freshman year.  You see, I used to go during my [6-hour-long] breaks between Tuesday classes to watch A&E Biography videos about serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz in the media lab.  One week, he asked what class I was studying for.  When I replied that it was “just for fun,”  he practically threw the video at me before running and hiding in the back office!  Luckily, I happened to meet him at a later time through some mutual friends and I was able to set his mind at ease.  Up until I had the chance to explain myself, he called me “the creepy serial killer girl” and worried that I was studying up so I wouldn’t get caught!  Though I no longer frequent the library to watch A&E Biography videos about serial killers, I have watched enough of them (and reality-based shows like Crossing Jordan, Law & Order, Castle, and Criminal Minds) that I have a frighteningly thorough knowledge of serial killer pathology and the methods of the law enforcement officials who try to catch them.  When one of my teens told me about this book, therefore, I knew I had to read it.

Though he is pretty average and a fairly nice guy, most people in town wouldn’t be surprised if Jasper Dent was secretly a serial killer.  Why?  Because his dad, Billy Dent, killed into the triple digits by the time he was caught.  Everyone seems to be afraid that Jasper is a killing spree just waiting to happen; well, everyone except his best friend, Howie, and girlfriend, Connie.  So, after a dead body shows up in Lobo’s Nod, Jasper is determined to help the police.  Even though Sheriff G. William Tanner does his best to dissuade his involvement, Jasper keeps insisting that he needs to help — because he’s sure it’s a serial killer [even though the police don't think so], because he knows how serial killers think, and because he wants to clear his own name.

I was enjoying this audiobook so much that I jokingly told my husband I was going to make him listen to it when I was done.  He agreed that it sounded good, so we decided to actually start it over (even though I was at 96%!) and listen to it together on our weekend roadtrip without the kids.  We finished all but half an hour by the time we got home and we couldn’t imagine leaving it for later… So, we listened while we unpacked our bags and sorted laundry!  Since then, I have read the prequel (an e-novella) and downloaded the second audiobook from OverDrive.com.  The third book comes out in September on the day after my birthday.  Coincidence?  I think not!  ;-)

Happy Reading!

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican [ARC]

brutal youthThis was one of the most messed up books I have ever read.  (I don’t mean that as an insult, by the way.  I am referring to the content, not the writing.)  It was like driving by a terrible car accident — you know you shouldn’t look, but you just *have* to see for yourself what’s going on.  And although I did think it was a bit hyperbolic, it wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibility either.  I mean, the Catholic Church is pretty well known for brushing things under the rug and covering things up to save their reputation, so why wouldn’t it be possible for a Catholic school to have insane hazing issues and major problems with student discipline in general?  Let alone the fact that there have been so many darn hazing stories in recent years — many of which involved high school students and adults who looked the other way.  Part of me wanted to reach into the story to slap the snot out of the so-called adults who let the insanity continue, and part of my wanted to stop reading in case something truly horrific happened because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle it.  I think this story is like a more modern version of Lord of the Flies – only with adults who just stood by and watched everything unfold.

Happy Reading!

Being Henry David by Cal Armistead

being henry davidImagine being 17 years old and randomly waking up on the floor at Penn Station with no memory — not even your own name.  “Hank” awoke with only the clothes on his back, $10 in his pocket, and a paperback book.  I put Hank in quotes because it wasn’t his real name; it was just a name he assumed because he needed to think of a name quickly and the book he carried was Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  When the police came over to settle a scuffle between Hank and a mentally ill man who was trying to eat his book, he told them his name was Henry David…  I mean, it would probably have been a little awkward to try and explain to the police that he didn’t know who he was — and Hank wasn’t sure whether it would be good or bad to be figured out and sent back home.  I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of amnesia, and I needed to know who Hank really was and why he lost his memory, so I was hooked from the start.  Although it was frustrating to experience things from Hank’s side, not knowing what had happened, it helped me to get into Hank’s head and to better appreciate his heartbreak as his memories began to return.  I thought this was a brilliant story about personal discovery and self-forgiveness.

Happy Reading!