From looking at the cover of this book, I assumed it would have been a historical romance novel. I honestly thought it would have read like The Luxe or Manor of Secrets, and I was hoping for a Downton Abbey fix. And though there was a touch of romance, my assumption was pretty far off. Gemma Doyle’s experiences in a London finishing school [in 1895] were historically accurate, and she did experience some romantic entanglements, but the plot was primarily focused on the supernatural forces at play in Gemma’s life. While part of me wishes I knew about this book when it first came out, part of me is happy that all three books were already published and available as audiobooks so I could listen to them in rapid succession!
Gemma had a fairly uncomplicated life until the day a strange creature attacked her mother in an Indian marketplace. Rather than be captured by the creature, her mother committed suicide. Gemma’s father insisted on telling everyone that his wife died of an illness, but Gemma knew the truth and was racked with guilt over the fact that her mother was only in that area of the marketplace because she (Gemma) had run off in a snit. After witnessing the attack/suicide, Gemma started having visions — and the visions only got worse after she was sent off to Spence Academy. Trying to make new friends and to succeed in finishing school while also figuring out what was behind the visions proved extremely challenging, but these challenges were no match for Gemma’s pluck and determination.
I 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.
With 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.
After 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.
Is 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.
Today’s installment of I Read YA Week is RelationSHIP Day — and I am supposed to “play matchmaker to the YA universe.” While I am guessing most people will be matching up couples, I think I am going to be different and match up some BFFs. I recently listened to the audiobook of Grave Mercy, and I kept thinking of Katsa, from Graceling. After all, she was also an assassin with mystical powers who was being used as a pawn in someone else’s plans. I think these young women would find great comfort in each other’s company, and I can almost imagine them meeting up for tea or a glass of wine and to kvetch about the people they had to kill that week! (To learn more about Katsa’s story, check out my Graceling review.)
The really cool thing about Ismae is that she was fathered by Death — aka Saint Mortain. This was first discovered when she resisted the herbs her mother bought in an attempt to expel her from the womb. The turnip farmer who raised her as his child despised her and treated her terribly, then he sold her off as a bride to a brutish man when she was seventeen. On her wedding night, when her husband discovered the marks that had been left behind by the poison, he flew into a rage. Ismae managed to escape and was taken away to live in a convent with the Sisters of Mortain, who trained her to be handmaiden of Death. Ismae was trained to mix and administer a variety of poisons, to conceal and use all manner of weapons, and to use “womanly arts” to search potential targets for the mark of Mortain [which both confirmed that a person should be assassinated and also indicated how they would die]. Add in some double-agents, hidden plots, and a dash of romance, and you get an audiobook that made me sad to run into only light traffic on the way home!
I’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.