It’s not very often that I have enough down time to finish a book in only a couple of sittings — and even more rare that I finish a book and post a review the very next day — but this book was just so awesome that I couldn’t help myself! It was thought-provoking without being too preachy/in your face, told a very unique story, and had characters so well developed that I kinda wished I could jump in the story and hang out with them for a while. What was it about, though, right?
Rafe was a generally good kid, good student, and soccer player. He also happened to be gay. Luckily, because he had super-accepting parents and grew up in a very liberal city (Boulder, CO), coming out was fairly easy. His parents actually threw him a coming out party — his dad referred to it as a “cotillion” — and his mom became active with the local chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Despite the fact that he agreed to speak to students at local schools, Rafe started to get upset that his being gay was all some people saw. He decided to go away to a boarding school in New England so he could have a chance to live life as a “normal” guy. It was kinda cool, at first, to see how different life could be… but Rafe soon found out that withholding the truth — even though it’s not technically lying — can cause a lot of collateral damage.
River was orphaned when his parents died in a car crash, and he’s also shorter than he should be because his legs’ growth plates were fractured in the crash. He now lives with his aunt and pretty much only has two friends — Freak and Fiona. Freak has plenty of problems of his own, thanks to his alcoholic father. And Fiona is popular enough that she pretends not to know River and Freak when other people are around. To make matters worse, they live next to a place the local newspaper calls “Hellsboro” — the area surrounding the old Rodmore Chemical plant where an underground coal-seam fire makes the land inhabitable.
After all of that, I can understand if you’re hesitant to believe that this is a great/often-funny middle grade book, but it really is! My son and I actually laughed out loud fairly often as we read this story. How is that possible? Because it doesn’t focus so much on the depressing stuff; that’s all more of a footnote, really. The story centers around all the craziness that happened after they found a rare crayon in a sofa by the curb in front of the Underhill Mansion. If you want a funny story about cell phones, genetically modified foods, flash mobs, and brain control (presented as a nice blend of realistic and science fiction), I suggest you check this one out.
I GOT TO MEET LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON, Y’ALL!
Because I’m the [2013-2014] President of the Youth Services Section of the New York Library Association, I got to sit at the head table during the 2013 YSS Empire State Award Luncheon. Since Laurie Halse Anderson was the 2013 ESA winner, I had the honor of meeting/lunching with her! It was amazing to have the opportunity to get to know [even briefly] an author whose work has so affected me and the teens I work with. In addition to discussing her research for her next book, our mutual love for the Sterling Renaissance Fair, my work at my library and with YSS, and her views on “reluctant readers” — she thinks we should switch to the phrase “readers with very high standards” — we also took the super-hilarious profile picture my Facebook link now sports. Yeah… That happened! The icing on the cake, though, was when I received a signed copy of this ARC.
Hayley Kincain’s father is a military veteran who is haunted by his past. Though he obviously suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he refuses to get professional help. Unfortunately, Hayley plays into the illusion that they can manage on their own and lies to everyone, including herself, about how well her father is doing. After returning from the Middle East, her dad has spent much of his time running from his past while self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. He has decided to try moving back to his hometown, though, so he can provide Hayley with more stability — like being enrolled in a traditional high school instead of being unschooled as they travel around the country in his big rig. Sometimes, it’ll seem like he’s getting his act together… But then something will trigger his PTSD and he’ll spiral out of control all over again. Fortunately, Haley manages to reconnect with a childhood friend, Gracie, and make a connection with a guy named Finn whose friendship [and love?] might just give her the strength she needs to face her harsh reality.
Jordan Klein loved living in New York City and was less than pleased when she found out that her family had to move to Texas for the entire summer. Why? Her Uncle Jacob got caught trying to smuggle “contraband” [bibles] into China and was advised not to leave the country until charges were officially dropped. Since Jordan’s father, Eli, was a professor of religious studies, he was asked to be the substitute pastor for his brother’s small-town church in Texas. Jordan and her mom were both upset about leaving NYC for three months but figured Eli would probably realize he made a mistake and head home after only a couple of weeks. Upon arrival, Jordan didn’t think she would ever get used to her temporary home… but she soon made some friends and found herself less anxious to leave town. As readers might expect, the summer was life-changing. Jordan learned a lot about herself that she may not have discovered if not for this move. What I didn’t expect, nevertheless, was the crazy twist at the end or just how funny most of this book would be. (I’m talking, laughing out loud so often that I had my coworkers staring at me during lunch funny!) If you’re looking for a story that asks big questions without weighing you down, you should definitely check this one out.
As soon as I read this book, I knew I would have to save the review for Banned Books Week. It wasn’t so much because I thought people would be attempting to ban this book but because I thought the message [self-censorship] would resonate really well at this time. Though, I suppose some people would definitely be offended by several of the topics covered in this story. Either way… It’s certainly a good book to review this week.
Gossiping is practically a sport in many high schools, and Chelsea Knot could be the captain of the varsity team. Everyone knows that she can’t keep a secret, and it’s her tendency to gossip that likely keeps her in the good graces of some of her so-called friends. When she walks in on something extremely gossip-worthy at a party — one of the guys she knows was making out with another guy — she immediately heads downstairs to spill. The instant the words leave her mouth, though, she regrets having said anything. She is pretty sure he is going to get beat up and it will be all her fault. Unfortunately, her instincts were right and he ends up in the hospital on life support. To prevent wreaking any further havoc, Chelsea decides she has to take a vow of silence. I can’t say anything else without spoilers — and what I already said practically is a spoiler — so I will simply say that this was a very interesting and well-written story.
Happy Banned Books Week!
P.S. I won’t likely post a review every day this week like I normally would for Banned Books Week because I will be spending the rest of the week in Niagara Falls for the New York Library Association Annual Conference. (Sorry!)
How appropriate that I should finish the latest Ellen Hopkins book at lunch today! She is one of my favorite “banned” authors, and I have read all of her books. They can be a bit depressing to read, but she doesn’t write depressing stories simply for shock value — she writes to educate people about the depressing realities in which far too many young people actually exist.
I was very excited to hear that this book was coming out because it was a sequel to my favorite of her books, Burned, and I was dying to know what happened.
At the end of Burned, readers were left wondering what Pattyn would do. It wasn’t clear whether she would kill herself or murder her father because she was equally full of despair and rage. And what girl wouldn’t be if her abusive father indirectly killed both her unborn baby and the baby’s father/love of her life? Initially, Ellen Hopkins had planned to leave it to readers to decide what happened, but I am grateful that reader’s changed her mind by begging and pleading for a sequel. I won’t write any spoilers about what exactly happened… but I might kinda give it away when I tell you that I was happy with the way it all played out.
Happy Banned Books Week!
Sarah Dessen is a fantastic writer. And, if you like one of her books, chances are good that you will like them all. I was especially pleased with the fact that this book features cameos of both people and places from other Dessen novels, like some of the characters (and even the beach town of Colby) from Along for the Ride and the website UMe.com [very much like Facebook] from Lock and Key. But, just in case simply knowing that Sarah Dessen wrote this novel is not enough for you, I supposed I can spend some time explaining what it’s about!
Luke and Emaline are high school sweethearts. Even though she doesn’t quite understand what Luke sees in her, she loves just about everything about him — he’s nice, fun to hang out with, and also quite good looking. Even though her life isn’t perfect, she is perfectly content. Then, Theo shows up. Other than the fact that he is also good looking, he is practically Luke’s polar opposite – he’s serious more often than not, prefers fine dining to hanging out with friend at a burger joint, and he’s extremely driven rather than laid back. Nearly everything Theo does is in an effort to be the BEST EVER. It doesn’t make sense, but Emaline finds herself drawn to Theo and soon begins questioning everything about her life. I recommend this book to people who enjoy their romance with a side order of deep thoughts.
Alex is an angry teenager, and for good reason. The only thing his mom ever seems to be interested in is advancing her political career, and his dad hasn’t been around [or even been in touch] since he was a toddler. More than anything, Alex wants to get away from his over-bearing mother and find his long-lost father. Enter Lester… Lester is an old man whose health is failing; he can no longer live on his own, but he doesn’t want to live in a nursing home either. In an attempt to find a happy medium, Lester has agreed to be the test patient for a new program that will pair an elderly person with a foster family of sorts. Alex is pretty certain his mom is only hosting Lester to look good, politically, and his suspicion is confirmed almost immediately. Rather than trying to work things out when she discovers that Lester has vastly different opinions from hers, she decides to back out of the deal.
Feeling guilty about Lester’s impending eviction, Alex comes up with a plan. He proposes that he and Lester take a roadtrip! If all goes as planned, Lester will get one last chance to visit his sister in Alabama and Alex can find and confront his father in Florida. While the two don’t have much in common, the roadtrip gives them plenty of time to get to know one another and to form a unique bond. Even though a relationship/situation like this isn’t exactly probable, it came off as very possible. Definitely one of the best coming of age stories I’ve read in a while, though I feel compelled to warn people this is NOT a “clean read” in case that matters when they’re selecting books to read/purchase.
Let me just start off by saying that I can’t imagine not loving anything written by Sara Zarr. All of her stories [see also Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, and How to Save a Life] are just so compelling, and her characters so realistic that I become very quickly attached. Finishing one of her books always makes me feel like a friend moved away; very bitter-sweet. One of the reasons I thought this particular book was so great is because it was still completely accessible even though I don’t know a ton about classical music or playing piano [so you shouldn't let that stand in your way if you're not well versed either].
In this story, we meet Lucy Beck-Moreau — musical prodigy and former concert pianist. She used to be a pretty big deal. I’m talking traveling the world, recording songs with symphonies, and hearing herself on the radio big… But then, she suddenly stopped performing. Everyone has their theories about what happened, but no one knows the real story. Now that Lucy’s younger brother has a new teacher — because the former teacher dropped dead in the middle of a lesson — Lucy is starting to deal with her feelings about the whole situation, partly in hopes that she can help her brother avoid the burnout she experienced.
Although he doesn’t want to admit it — even to himself — Casey’s father is an alcoholic. His parents recently divorced, and his mom and sister moved away, so Casey is the only one left to deal with/take care of his dad. Casey, like many children of alcoholics (or addicts of any kind, for that matter), had to grow up a lot faster than many of his peers. And, while his dad would never specifically mention it or thank him for it, Casey is accustomed to doing most of the cooking and cleaning, not to mention taking care of his dad when he passes out drunk in the livingvroom or gets sick all over the bathroom. When his Aunt Julie suggests that he meet her out for ice cream and to talk, Casey isn’t really ready to admit there is a problem. But, with the support of his friends, his aunt, and his aunt’s friend Joe, who specializes in interventions, Casey decides to finally confront his dad about his drinking and to suggest that his dad get the help he needs to recover.
I have read plenty of books about teenagers who have addiction issues, and a bunch more about teenagers whose parents have addiction issues… but I think this was the first in which the teenager tries to affect a change in that parent. Kudos, Doug Wilhelm! My hope is that this book will move beyond comforting teens with the idea that other people experience the same issue and actually inspire them to speak up about how this issue is impacting their lives/families so that they get themselves and/or their parents the help they so desperately need.