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?!?
Julia is NOT her parents’ perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s title. Now that Olga is dead, though, Julia is all her parents have left. And it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to understand that Julia wants to focus on her education, especially going away to college, instead of focusing on her family. The thing is, though, that Julia is pretty sure the “perfection” of Olga was a myth. She definitely played the part of the dutiful daughter well enough, living at home and spending her free time hanging out with extended family. But after Olga’s sudden and tragic death — she was hit by a semi while crossing the street — Julia found a few clues that Olga might not have been exactly who she seemed to be. Because Olga’s friends don’t seem to know anything, or at least won’t talk to Julia about what she found, though, she isn’t sure she will ever learn the whole truth.
I really loved how Sánchez walked us through Julia’s revelations about people and interpersonal relationships she had taken for granted all her life. Julia’s awakening insight into the rationale and motives of people around her, particularly her parents, was often aided by her memories of Olga as she navigated her own grief and guilt surrounding Olga’s death. And although she wasn’t a particularly likable protagonist, with all her whining and complaining, I was intrigued by Julia’s desire to stay true to herself while still “giving in” to her parents’ desires and attempting to honor her family and her cultural traditions. (If you are not familiar with Mexican cultural traditions such as the quinceañera, by the way, this book is an excellent primer.)
I recently went through the list of the YALSA 2018 Teens’ Top 10 nominees and made a plan to read all of the books I hadn’t yet read. There are 25 books on the list and I had only read 7 of them. Gah! While I recognize that I may not get it done before they announce the winners, what with all the other books I keep on adding to my TBR list, I figured I had to at least try! I had just finished my audiobook and this one was readily available to me, so I went for it. I didn’t even read any of the summaries before getting started with requesting books and audiobooks. I decided I would read them “blind” because they are included on the list of nominees and that is all I need to know to trust that I will enjoy them. My verdict so far?!? Wow! At a time when real world racial tensions are high and the “religious right” are working to pass laws that justify and allow for bigotry in the US, this book sometimes felt a bit too real and less like an escape.
In Erthia, there are many different races — Elves, Fae, Gardnerians, Icarals, Kelts, Lupines, Selkies, Urisks, Vu Trin, etc. — and they have all been raised with certain beliefs and prejudices about each other. Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the famed Gardnerian Black Witch, though she has been raised in seclusion and without any magical training. Why bother when she has no magical abilities of her own, right? When her uncle allows her to attend the illustrious Verpax University to persue her life-long dream of becoming an apothecary, he asks that she focus on her studies and promise him NOT to be wandfasted (think arranged marriage) until after she has completed her studies. Unfortunately, though, Elloren’s Aunt Vyvian would like nothing more than to wandfast her to a powerful Gardnerian in order to compensate for the girl’s lack of magic and to protect their family’s socio-political standing.
I appreciated the fact that Forest so thoughtfully explored stereotypes and prejudices. Though it was tough in the beginning of the story to see how accepting Elloren was of the racist ideals and stereotypes with which she had been raised, I think it was very necessary to set the stage for her awakening. From xenophobia and racism to misogyny and homophobia, this story line pushed Elloren/readers to challenge her/their pre-conceived notions and to see how people in power often try to skew people’s perceptions to suit an agenda. One of my favorite quotes was from Professor Kristian, when he was talking to Elloren about how history books written by different groups of people had very conflicting depictions of what actually happened:
Real education doesn’t make your life easy. It complicates things and makes everything messy and disturbing. But the alternative, Elloren Gardner, is to live your life based on injustice and lies.
Emilia had a particularly tough childhood… After surviving a horrific attack behind her elementary school, she was so traumatized that she actually stopped speaking for some time. In the aftermath of the attack, her father also left because he couldn’t deal. Now that she is in high school, she is frustrated that she still can’t quite get past the attack. She sometimes finds herself mentally trapped in the time of the attack and reliving it. Winters are especially bad, since that was when the attack took place. And attempts to be intimate with her boyfriend seem to be particularly triggering. To make matters worse, she just found out that the person who attacked her was *not* actually the person she identified and who went to jail. With the knowledge that she sent an innocent person to jail and that she will likely see him around town once he is released, Emilia isn’t sure how she will make it through this winter.
Though this story doesn’t deal with straight-up amnesia, fans of With Malice will likely enjoy the way this story also unfolds bit by bit to reveal how everything happened. If you’re looking for a book that will keep you guessing, and on the edge of your seat, you should definitely add this to your summer reading pile.
Hannah desperately wished she could go back in time and say something to stand up for her [former?] best friend Emory. And Emory wished she could take back the hurtful things she *did* say to Hannah. But neither girl knew how to bridge the gap in their friendship after the damage was done. Though the girls were next door neighbors and best friends for their entire lives up to that point, the events of one terrible morning may have caused irreparable damage. And then, a strange twist of fate had the potential to bring them back together. One night, as she went into her kitchen to get a glass of water, Hannan noticed Emory’s boyfriend, Luke, outside of her house — slumped over behind the wheel of his car…
Chapters alternate between Hannah (a believer) and Emory (a skeptic), as they navigate their changing lives and beliefs. After Emory learns about her family’s financial struggles, and especially after Luke’s accident, she finds herself re-evaluating both her faith and her relationship with her family. And though Emory had a pretty solid plan to break things off with Luke before they headed their separate ways for college — including a journal with a countdown to the day they would say goodbye — she finds that she might not be ready to let go. Between Luke’s exploration of his own beliefs [after his near death experience] and the revelation of what caused the fight between Hannah and Emory, Tamara Ireland Stone provides her readers with plenty of food for thought.
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.)