Caden Bosch was a really nice, really smart guy, but mental illness took quite a toll on his life and his relationships. To readers, it was immediately evident that Caden had split from reality because he alternated between life in the “real world” and a journey on a pirate ship. To his family and friends, though, it simply appeared that Caden was becoming more distant and acting strangely. How so? One perfect example is the fact that his family thought Caden was on the track team. While he did, in fact, intend to go out for the track team, he ended up quitting after only a few practices. So, why did they think he was still on the team? Because he would be gone for hours at a time and returned with worn shoes and sore feet. Instead of attending track practices, though, he was walking around town for hours on end, utterly absorbed by his own thoughts. Aside from the walking, Caden’s mental break was also evident in his art work. As a gifted artist, he began to struggle with the fact that he could no longer create artwork simply because he felt like it but, rather, because he felt that he HAD to get the images out of his head. How awful that must have been!
This book was amazingly well-written. Though confusing at times, the pacing and structure were very clearly intentional. And by the end, it was also clear that the “real world” had inspired the delusions Caden experienced. As someone who has had plenty of personal experiences with depression, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts, I still had no concept of what life might be like for someone living through the delusions and hallucinations associated with schizophrenia until I listened to this story. One important clarification, by the way, is that although this story was inspired by the mental health challenges and experiences of Shusterman’s own son, Brendan, it was by no means intended to be a memoir. Fans of Shusterman’s Unwind dystology (dystopian series) will be pleased to see that this departure from his standard writing style still contained plenty of humor and adventure.
Eli and his family have been living in the compound for 6 years now. Even though his father had enough money to build and furnish a compound that is practically a luxury mansion, Eli is far from happy. First of all, there is the fact that his twin brother, Eddy, and his grandmother never made it into the compound — and that he feels at least partly responsible for Eddy’s death. Second, there are the problems with their food supply that make him wonder whether they will have enough food to get them through until the end of the 15 year containment. Third, and most importantly, there is the fact that Eli isn’t sure if anyone else has even survived the nuclear war that prompted his father to lock them all inside the compound in the first place. When Eli’s father suddenly starts to behave more erratically than normal, the rest of the family wonders how many secrets he has been keeping from them and exactly what it means about their future…
Mystery and adventure? Check. Dark family secrets? Check. If you are looking for a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat, you will definitely want to check this one out!
Although Jenny Lawson is technically writes for “adults,” I think there are probably a great many teens who would benefit from reading this memoir. Although some adults might cringe to think of teens reading or listening to Lawson’s cursing, I know that most teens probably wouldn’t be the least bit bothered. I mean — I know, from experience, that many teens’ speech is peppered with “f-bombs” to the extent that they don’t even realize they are swearing… But, I digress.
As someone who personally struggles with OCD and depression, I think this book is very important for at least three reasons:
- People who live with depression and anxiety might find some solace in knowing they are not alone (and will likely experience a feeling of hope that their own lives can improve if they are feeling low);
- People who do not know what it is like to live with depression and anxiety can get a no-holds-barred look at the realities of living with mental illness… you know, #EndTheStigma and all that; and
- Jenny Lawson is freaking hilarious and will help all readers recognize that even the most dire of situations can be improved with a little perspective and a lot of levity.
I often find myself wanting to share quotes and little snippets with my husband, but I find myself compelled to play so many parts of this audiobook aloud that he really just needs to listen to it himself. Aside from the fact that I am sure he will find it absolutely hilarious, I think he will find solace in knowing that the author’s husband, Victor, has been dealing with someone just as crazy as me and seems to be doing just fine. 😉
Micah and Janie have been best friends since elementary school… Not that anyone would ever suspect, though, because their friendship has been one of their best-kept secrets. After all, Janie is one of the popular girls and Micah is a bit of a social outcast. They seem to be opposites in every way, but it “works” for them. I found it strange to see how confident Micah was that Janie would always be there for him even though he knew better than to even try to talk to her at school. Ack! Talk about a terrible friendship. I will say, though, that there are probably plenty of so-called friendships like this, since adolescents are often willing to compromise their own feelings and integrity for the sake of fitting in and/or feeling wanted. The biggest problem with this arrangement, nevertheless, was when Micah woke up in the hospital with no recollection of how or why Janie went missing. All he seemed to remember was a big party and a bonfire… But where did Janie go, and why won’t she even answer his texts?
I recommend this story to readers who enjoyed the Jennifer Hubbard’s The Secret Year, John Green’s Paper Towns, and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. Though these stories are all unique, there is just a little something about Zhang’s characters, plot, and/or storytelling methodology that reminded me of these books.
Natasha is extremely practical. She believes in science and cold, hard facts. She knows that is it unlikely that she will be able to keep her family from being deported back to Jamaica now that her father’s DUI has alerted the authorities to their illegal status, but she also knows that she’s willing to hope and dream a little if it means that she might find a way for her family to stay in the US. Even though she has only about 12 hours left, she’s on her way to a meeting about a possible “fix”…
Daniel has always wanted to be more of a dreamer and a poet, but he has instead done his best to live up to the standards of a “good son” as laid out by his Korean-American [legal] immigrant parents. They expect him to go to Yale, to study to become a doctor, and to marry a good Korean girl so that he will never have to struggle as they once did. Even though he is not sure he really wants to go to Yale, he’s on his way to an interview with a Yale alum…
When Natasha and Daniel randomly meet in New York City, neither of them is out looking for love. A serious of seemingly random events — is it coincidence or fate? — brings them together, though. Daniel falls for Natasha pretty quickly, but her practicality has her thinking he’s just crazy. Although she doesn’t want to admit it at first, there *IS* something about Daniel that really speaks to her. So, does that mean Natasha will fall for Daniel too? Or will he end up heartbroken? Can Natasha find a way to stay in the US? Or will her family really have to leave in less than a day? Will Daniel get into Yale? And if he does, will he even go? This audiobook had me so anxious that I found it nearly impossible to shut off even when I had real-life responsibilities to tend to! I especially loved the fact that it was narrated by Natasha, Daniel, and the Universe — interspersed with narrations by some of the people they encounter throughout the day. Not only is it a great story for the hopeless romantic in us all, but it’s an amazing look at how people’s interactions with one another might seem insignificant at the time even though they make a big difference in the long run.
Stewart was a socially awkward prodigy who attended a school called Little Genius Academy and Ashley was a popular girl who excelled at fashion but wasn’t so great at school. You might think this is a perfect set-up for a story in which Stewart becomes Ashley’s tutor, but that definitely wasn’t how they met. They actually got to know one another because their parents decided to move in together. Ever since Stewart’s mom died of ovarian cancer, he and his father have been struggling with ways to manage their grief and honor her memory while also, somehow, moving on with their own lives. This move seemed to be the ultimate test. Ashley’s situation was very different, but still very traumatic for her — her parents decided to divorce because her father came out as gay. Though upset by her family breaking up, it seemed Ashley was even more concerned about what people would think if they found out the truth about why her parents divorced. After all, being the “it” girl of her crowd was pretty much all she thought she had going for her.
When Stewart and his father moved in with Ashley and her mom, Stewart also transferred into Ashley’s school. She was relieved to think that she would be “safe” from dealing with Stewart at school, even after finding out that he would be transferring from Little Genius Academy, because he was younger… But then he was placed in some ninth grade classes because he was so advanced. Trying to fit in at a new school was tough in and of itself, but it was made even more difficult by Ashley’s insistence that he hide the fact that they were now sort of related. I really enjoyed the emotional journey Nielsen provided. There were moments where I was so sad I nearly cried, times when I got angry with characters, moments where I found myself rolling my eyes, and others where I full-on chuckled. The geek in me also really appreciated the fact that Stewart’s cat was named Schrödinger and that Nielsen included a part in which Stewart explained the joke to Ashley, just in case readers didn’t get it.
P.S. Just in case there are any people considering this book for a younger teen/tween, I feel compelled to mention the fact that there are situations in which both underage drinking and sexual assault come up. I think it was very well written and offers a fantastic conversation starter, but I didn’t feel right not saying anything.
Abilene Tucker’s father, Gideon, sent her to live with an old friend for the summer, while he worked on the railroad. While she understood that life on the railroad was not suitable for a “young lady,” she knew she would miss her father terribly. Upon arrival, she was further disappointed to find that the town of Manifest was so dull. After growing up hearing so many stories about her father’s time in Manifest, she had expected it to be a grander and more exciting place. When Abilene found a hidden cigar box full of mementos, though, she found some of the adventure she had been hoping for. After all, there were even a few letters in the box that referenced a spy called “the Rattler.” When Abilene shared the letters with her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, they decided to work together to figure out who had been the Rattler… and then they received an anonymous note telling them to “Leave Well Enough Alone.” Yeah. Whoever wrote that note certainly didn’t understand that the surest way to get tween girls to work hard at solving a mystery was to basically forbid them to do so!
I liked the way Vanderpool wove together the stories of Abilene and her friends with the boys, Ned and Jinx, to whom the mementos in the box had belonged. It was very clever to reveal the past through both newspaper articles and “readings” of the mementos by the diviner, Miss Sadie. Not only did Miss Sadie’s storytelling help to provide details about Ned and Jinx that the girls could never have pieced together on their own, but it added a further layer of mystique as Abilene tried to figure out if Miss Sadie was truly “reading” the items or simply making up a story. I found it a bit painful to watch Abilene struggling to find any hint of Gideon’s existence in both Manifest and the stories Miss Sadie told, I liked the fact that readers are able to look back at the end of the story to see how the various story threads all truly came together. People who enjoy learning about the early 20th century will love the rich, historically accurate details. (Abilene came to Manifest in the 1930s and the stories of Ned and Jinx were from 1917-1918.)