Daphne and Oliver didn’t go to the same school; she was in public school and he went to a private prep school. And they didn’t meet because they took part in the same activities; she was into drama club and he was the football team’s mascot. But they were bound together, nevertheless, because of their older siblings. Daphne’s sister, Emily, had dated Oliver’s older brother, Jason — until they died in a double suicide. That all happened seven years prior, and they hadn’t really talked to one another yet, so they might have gone on with their separate lives if Daphne didn’t find the list. It was a “bucket list” Emily and Jason had constructed of the top ten places they wanted to visit before they died. Since they had never gotten to any of those places, Daphne felt compelled to complete the list for them. And, since Oliver was the only person in the whole world who she felt might understand what she had been through and what she felt she must do, she tracked him down so he could help.
I thought this bittersweet story would be perfect to review on Valentine’s Day because it has #AllTheFeels. Not only does this story explore the raw grief and guilt felt by the people left behind when someone dies by suicide, but it also examines how people express their love. There is no one correct way to experience and process grief. There is no one way to show family, friends, and romantic partners that you love them. And the sooner people realize they need to be true to their own hearts and minds, the better off they will all be. Here’s to hoping this book finds itself in the hands of the readers who need it in this season of love, which can often exacerbate depression and grief.
April May was working for a startup in New York City when she discovered something “absolutely remarkable”… It didn’t really have anything to do with her job, though, except for the fact that she was on her way home from work when she found it. She was trying to get home via the subway when her Metro card wouldn’t work. Since it was 3am, there was no one to help her and April decided to just try another station. It was on her way to a new subway station that she discovered Carl — a gigantic statue that resembled a Transformer wearing Samurai armor. April had no idea where the statue had come from, since there was nothing to identify the statue or its creator. But, surely someone had created it. Right?!?
I loved so many things about this story. First of all, I appreciated the fact that April came very close to brushing off and walking right by this amazing thing because she had already become so jaded and generally unimpressed by all the impressive things all around her. How often do people ignore the beauty of nature or the hard work of an artist simply because they are in a hurry to get somewhere? Far too often, in my humble opinion. Second, I loved the fact that Green explored the ways that fame and our world’s obsession with social media can fundamentally change a person. April went from a person who didn’t even really have a social media presence to a world-wide celebrity who was addicted to the fame this viral video spawned. Most of all, though, I loved the fact that April continued to assume the best about humanity (and The Carls) as she strove to both solve this mystery and fight the hatred that resulted from the fear of the unknown.
Imagine, if you will, that you have been taken away to another country and forced to live in an isolated cabin in a small beach town where you don’t know anyone. You’ve essentially been kidnapped, but the person who took you swears that they are isolating you to protect you. To make matters even worse, you can’t recall enough about what happened before you left the country to know for sure. All you truly know is that your ex-boyfriend was attacked, later died, and the person who whisked you away says that many people believe you are to blame. This is Evie’s life. Though Evie isn’t even her real name. Nor is her “Uncle Jim” really her uncle — or named Jim, for that matter. Her real name is Kate Bennett and she is doing her best to piece together her memories of what actually happened.
Perhaps other readers will figure things out more quickly than me, but I was shocked when I finally realized that my assumption of Jim’s identity and his motives had been so wrong for so long. Aside from the twists and turns of the story itself, this book also included some fascinating information about post traumatic stress, how memories are made, and how the mind can be manipulated.
Clay Coolidge was the “bad boy” of country music. He was probably just as well-known for his drunken misconduct as he was for his sweet tenor, his guitar playing, and how well he filled out his jeans. Though Clay routinely sold out giant stadiums for his concerts and had even won a Country Music Association award for the best new artist the previous year, his label was starting to worry that he wasn’t worth the risk. That was where Annie Mathers came in. She was a fresh, new talent with a legendary past, and his label was desperate to sign her. Annie’s parents had been country superstars before the downward spiral that ended with their double-suicide. And though Annie avoided the limelight by moving out to a farm in Michigan with her grandparents, her YouTube channel was suddenly garnering lots of attention. Clay could only salvage his summer tour if he got Annie [and her band, Under the Willows] to come along for the ride, but how could he convince her to take this chance when she was so clearly afraid to follow too closely in her mama’s footsteps?
It was very clear, right from the beginning, that Annie and Clay would fall for one another — but their story wasn’t totally predictable either. And though Clay, Annie, and her parents were fictional characters, country music fans will surely appreciate references to actual country music legends like Johnny Cash, June Carter-Cash, and Dolly Parton, whose songs played a large part in the story. This book is due out April 2nd, and I think it will make a fantastic beach read, so be sure to add it to your #TBRlist for #SpringBreak2019 or #SummerReading2019!
I am fairly certain Simone Biles was the person who most inspired my daughter to start taking gymnastics classes a couple of years ago. That tiny but mighty gymnast — with super muscular arms and legs and a smile that could outshine any camera flash — had a body type and a perky attitude that matched my daughter to a T. My daughter has always had more energy than she knew what to do with, and I’ve long called her a little monkey because of her propensity to climb anything she could, but I think watching Simone Biles compete made something in her brain click into place. When I was looking for an audiobook recently, I saw that this book was available and just had to find out more about the gymnast who kindled my daughter’s spirit!
Simply stated, Simone Biles is one of the most inspiring young people I’ve ever read about. I especially appreciated how she gave readers a peek into her childhood, including information about her journey through foster care and eventually being adopted by her grandparents. Not only does it give us a more complete picture of her life, but it shows readers that overcoming huge obstacles is possible with enough faith, support, and determination. I also appreciated her candor about the need to make sacrifices in order to get where she is today. Sharing how she struggled to choose between competing at an elite level and having a “normal” high school experience will surely prepare up-and-coming gymnasts who didn’t realize the extent to which training can take over an elite athlete’s life. If you want a book that will lift your spirits and challenge you to be your best self, look no further.
If you are anything like me, it sometimes adds a little perspective about your own life and/or problems when you read a book about people with completely different circumstances. Take the main characters in this story, Luli and Yun, for example. After growing up in a Chinese orphanage and never having been adopted, these young women must find their own way in the world. Rather than staying on at the orphanage, where they would continue to care for the younger children, they both left and found factory work. Luli seemed to think the meager wages, long work hours, and a bed in a dormitory would be good enough as long as she could be with her life-long friend Yun. But, she didn’t realize Yun, who has established herself a bit before Luli showed up, would be so single-mindedly focused on her boyfriend. Matters got even worse when Yun discovered that she was pregnant and a mutual friend tried to warn Luli that Yun’s boyfriend might actually be a “bride trafficker”…
It has been established that reading is an excellent way to develop empathy and to work on emotional intelligence. And reading works of fiction is a fairly easy way for young people to “meet” people from different places and cultures. So, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home to see how different your life could have been if, for example, you were suddenly expected to graduate from an orphanage and find your way into adulthood without any family to fall back on. This story did a great job highlighting the struggles stemming from China’s one child policy — from high abortion rates, to abandoned baby girls, to an increased risk for human trafficking. And while it’s terrifying to realize that this is not a dystopian fantasy but rather the actual reality faced by many young girls and women in China today, perhaps a greater awareness of what is going on around the world can lead to advances in diplomacy and work toward policy change.
Poor Jenny was in a terrible accident when she was only 7 years old. While she was at a sleepover, the house caught fire… and she was the only one to survive. Ever since then, her mom and step-father have done everything they could to keep her away from anything having to do with flames so that they could avoid exposing her to any further trauma. It’s just too bad they couldn’t do anything to change Jenny’s mental fixation on fire. Every once in a while, when the scar on her arm began to itch, it was like fire itself was calling out to her. And though she knew the terrible things fire could do, it made Jenny feel powerful whenever she started a fire — because she was in control of what would burn. But was she really?
Jenny’s mom and her step-father thought it might do her some good if she went to live with her father for a while, but Jenny didn’t really want to go. The only reason she agreed, basically, was because the police in her hometown were coming too close to uncovering the truth about who might be responsible for the arson of an abandoned building. If she could get away for a while and keep herself out of trouble, maybe things would blow over. But, unsurprisingly, the itch came back. The main question in my mind wasn’t whether Jenny would get found out, since it seemed far too easy to follow the clues back to her. It was more whether she would get her urges under control before it was too late, because we all know the old adage: “If you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned.”