Sunnybrook High doesn’t have cheerleaders anymore. It wasn’t a hazing scandal or a lack of funding that ended the cheerleading program, though. It was the fact that Sunnybrook was trying to make it easier to move on from the tragic loss of five cheerleaders. The first two died in a car accident. The next two were brutally murdered. And then the final cheerleader died by suicide. Five years later, Monica is still struggling to come to terms with her sister’s death and to figure out what really happened. First of all, Monica is convinced that her sister never would have killed herself. She also finds it extremely troubling that the man who supposedly murdered two girls was killed as the police attempted to apprehend him. Her stepfather and his partner swore that they were acting in self-defense, but their story doesn’t quite add up when you consider the evidence at the scene.
When Monica discovers a stack of letters in her stepfather’s desk, it becomes very clear that whatever happaned isn’t actually over. The letters have been coming every year around the anniversary of the cheerleader tragedy, and they insinuate that all the deaths were somehow connected. There is also the fact that Monica found her sister’s old cellphone hidden in her stepfather’s desk. Why on earth would he have kept that?!? Monica decides that something must be up and she becomes determined to figure out what really happened. It’s pretty clear to her that *somebody* has to know something more, but she doesn’t know who they are or what they know. How far is she willing to go to find the truth? And why does she seem to be smack in the middle of whatever it is that happened?!?
Everyone thinks Jake is a hero. Everyone except Jake, that is. He doesn’t think he was heroic for his actions during combat — he was just following his instincts, using his training, and doing what he had to do to survive. He is expecting to receive a Silver Star, nevertheless, which is an even greater honor than the Bronze Star his famous grandfather, The General, received for his valor during the Vietnam War. Jake would rather get a medical discharge from the Army. It would be sacrilege to say as much, though, since both sides of his family [and his entire town, in fact] are very pro-military. How can Jake possibly go through physical therapy only to head back and finish his deployment? How can he put himself back in danger knowing full well that he might be killed next time? How can he bear the burden of killing more “enemy” soldiers now that he has seen them up close and recognized that they feel as justified to fight on their side of the war as he does on his? Though he already has difficulty coping with what he has been through and is even starting to question how truly “voluntary” the US military is, Jake isn’t sure how he could ever step away from this path he is expected to take.
By alternating between Jake’s homecoming and his time in training and combat, Strasser does an excellent job juxtaposing the varied conditions under which modern day soldiers must learn to cope. After living through the explosion of an IED on patrol, for instance, Jake finds it nearly impossible to keep his cool in a military parade during which people shoot off fireworks in complete ignorance of the fact that they are triggering his PTSD. Night terrors make it difficult to sleep, and depression and anxiety make it difficult to function while awake. Sadly, trends show that many military service members often avoid mental health care due to the stigma and the belief that seeking treatment could affect their military career advancement. This book did a great job illustrating the variety of factors that play into the military mental health crisis so that civilians might better understand the difficulties faced by those who serve and have served.
My decision to read this book on Memorial Day Weekend was very purposeful, by the way. First, I wanted another way to recognize and observe the great sacrifice many service members have made for our country. Secondly, I wanted to have time to review this book by the end of #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth. It is my hope that books like this will help to start and/or keep the conversation going so that we can #EndTheStigma. For another fantastic book about a young soldier coming back from the “forever war” in the Middle East, I highly recommend Ryan Smithson’s memoir Ghosts of War.
Although Sawyer’s family was both rich and well-known, and although they lived less than an hour away, Sawyer had no experience with high-society. Why? Because her mom was kicked out when she got pregnant during her “deb” season. All Sawyer knew of her family was what her mother told her — and that was only when her mom wasn’t busy running off with one man or another. During one of her mother’s sudden departures, Sawyer got a surprise visit from none other than her grandmother… Who came to give Sawyer the offer of a lifetime. In exchange for going to stay with her grandmother and participating in the debutante season, Sawyer would receive $500,000. The money sounded good, but the whole deb thing was less than appealing. And then Sawyer realized this would also afford her the opportunity to try and figure out who her father was.
Despite the appearances they put forth in public, she quickly found out that the debutantes were far from the meek and mild little ladies they pretended to be. They were vindictive, calculating, manipulative, and wild. And before she knew it, Sawyer found herself both making friends and discovering all sorts of secrets about their high-society families. This story goes back and forth in time, alternating between the debs’ landing in jail and how they got there. (Though the story is not the same, it had much the same feel as Paul Rudnick’s It’s All Your Fault.) High-paced action, lots of mystery, and humor that had me actually laughing out loud. I only wish it was coming out this summer because I think it would be a perfect beach read! (Sadly, it’s not due out until November 6th.)
Isla was only trying to say goodbye to Tam. She just wanted to see him one more time before he went off to join the army. But, while she was calling out to Tam on that crowded platform, she was kidnapped. After being trafficked out of the city from which she was stolen, she and the other girls who had been taken were stripped, cleaned, and given new clothing. Uncertain of if and when she would ever see Tam again, Isla made every effort to hide and protect the locket he had given her and stuffed it into her mouth. And it was a good thing she was able to keep it hidden, since that locket provided a modicum of comfort and the strength she needed to survive the harrowing ordeal.
Although Isla was held captive with a bunch of other girls, that did not bring her any comfort. They were all just as scared as she was, if not more. And aside from being trapped in the small cell of a dungeon with awful slop for food, they were also very aware of the fact that they had been kidnapped and sold in order to be “used” by a rich man and his guests. No one really knew what happened to the girls after they were taken away and “used,” but it was easy enough to see that their numbers were dwindling. Isla would have to come up with some sort of a plan if she ever planned to escape — and she would have to do it sooner rather than later if she wanted to save the other girls, too.
I would recommend this book to fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and the Chemical Garden Trilogy.
Scott’s parents, while very loving and supportive, were driving him crazy. They basically demanded that he give them the best possible return-on-investment for their efforts to emigrate from Iran to the United States. They expected nothing but the best grades and that he would choose a career path like doctor or engineer. To that end, his father even arranged for Scott to have a summer internship in a research lab. But, Scott had problems following through. After only one week at the internship, he knew he couldn’t make it all summer. And since his parents had traveled overseas to visit his ailing grandfather, Scott decided that he would do something daring. Scott took the money his parents had left him and headed to Washington, DC, to seek out an internship with Professor Cecily Mallard. Why? Because she specialized in grit, aka the psychology of success. Scott was desperate for Professor Mallard to teach him how to better see things through. And, as it happened, there was a whole summer of craziness awaiting Scott in DC that would most definitely test his dedication to becoming more “gritty.”
I am a big fan of “coming-of-age” YA fiction, and this story did not disappoint. In a crazy, whirlwind summer, Scott explored finding his own path, making new friends, and falling in love. While his decisions sometimes had me wishing I could step into the story and give him a little lecture or advice from my mom/adult perspective, I also couldn’t help but feel a little proud of Scott for stepping so far outside of his comfort zone to find a life he could be passionate about.
I will never forget the moment when the twist in E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars made everything fall into place. My brain lit up, my eyes flew wide open, and I practically had to drag my jaw back up off the floor. So, when I realized that E. Lockhart had written another book with crazy twists and dark secrets, I just had to check it out. Somehow, though, I managed to miss the fact that the story was going to be told backwards. When I started listening to the audiobook, I literally thought my OverDrive app had malfunctioned and forgotten to play the parts in order. After all, most books don’t start with Chapter 18! After looking into it and confirming that it was, in fact, playing the parts in the correct order, I sat back to enjoy the ride. And what a ride it was!
I’ve said before that it’s rare for me to finish a book in a single sitting, or even in a single day… but to finish a nearly 7-hour-long audiobook in just over a day is quite a feat for this working mama! I had my headphones on at every opportunity as I found myself looking for solitary chores to complete — washing dishes, folding laundry, etc. I just had to figure out what exactly it was that Jule (using the name Imogen) was running from and how she ended up in a tropical paradise with money to burn. Beginning at the end of the story not only worked well for this thriller, but it even allowed for a completely shocking twist. I kid you not, I literally started the audiobook right over again and listened to the first few chapters to see what clues I may have missed! If you’re looking for a quick-paced thriller with a surprisingly charming villain, you have GOT to check this book out.
Oh. Em. Gee! I didn’t even know this book was out until I saw something about the second book coming out this July. Even though I am not a huge graphic novel reader, I try to push myself to read at least a couple a year so that I can stay in touch with what it out there for my library patrons who do prefer graphic novels. Since I am also a huge fan of Scott Westerfeld’s work, especially the Uglies series, I figured it was a good bet that I would enjoy this one. I am happy to report that reading this was a lot more fun than work! 😉 In fact, I read this entire book in only three sittings because it was so hard to put down.
In Poughkeepsie, NY, there has been a Spill. No one really seems to know what exactly happened. They just know that it is no longer safe inside the Spill Zone. Military personnel guard the perimeter and people don’t tend to go inside except government scientists in hazmat suits. There are all sorts of weird things happening. Animals morphing into strange creatures. Inanimate objects moving around despite a lack of wind. And, in the words of Addison Merrick, the dead have become “meat puppets.” Though she was not in town when the Spill happened, he little sister was. Because they are allowed to stay in their home, which is inside the Spill Zone, Addison has taken to exploring and taking pictures she can sell to support her sister. But, how long will it be before her explorations take her too far?!?
Speaking of Westerfeld’s Uglies series… Check this out! (#squeeeeeeee)