This book has one heck of an opening line — “You’re surprised at all the blood.” — and it only gets better from there! Do you enjoy a story, like Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick, that starts at the end and then goes back to tell you how everything ended up where it did? Are you intrigued by sociopaths, like Rosa from My Sister Rosa, who are convincing enough actors that most people won’t catch on but who have no conscience and thrive on controlling other people? If so, I can practically guarantee that you will love this book! I read this whole book in less than a day — but I *did* take a break to have dinner with my family, even though I kinda wished I could have ignored real life and just finished this book in one sitting. 😉
I think the thing I liked the most about this story is that Kyle was such a “normal” guy. He wasn’t really a bad kid, but his life certainly played out so that other people tended to see him as a loser. Looking at things from his perspective made me wonder just how many of the “bad” kids in high schools around the country are simply misunderstood. But, I digress. It didn’t so much matter what other people thought of Kyle so much as how and when everything went so wrong for him. Was it actually his fault? Did someone else do this TO him? And is there any way for him to fix things or is it already too late and too far gone?
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!
Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from Genesis, a former colony of Earth that is now fighting for independence. She loves Genesis and is more than willing to lay her own life on the line to help in the fight for independence — especially since she doesn’t really have anything to lose. As an orphan, she is not even worried about leaving anyone behind if she should die. The biggest problem, nevertheless, is that she has a very high likelihood of dying because the “mech” (robotic) armies have been overpowering the human armies of Genesis for decades. She knows there must be *some* way for Genesis to prevail, but she isn’t all too sure she will be around to see whether it can be done.
Abel is a mech who *should* be her enemy, but he’s technically programmed to follow her command. You’re probably thinking, “What?!? I don’t get it.” Well… When Abel was programmed, it never occurred to his creator that he might fall into “enemy” hands, so he didn’t include anything in Abel’s programming to specify that a non-Earth human should not be allowed control. Add that little “glitch” to the his extraordinary talents, and you have a most unusual mech. You see, most mechs only had one purpose — some were soldiers, some were mechanics, others were medics, and so on. Abel was a prototype mech who was programmed to do all of those jobs and more. He was even given DNA from his creator, practically making him a child rather than just a creation. Topping it all off is the fact that, after being left all alone on a spaceship for thirty years, his programming evolved enough that he seemed to develop feelings and a personality. A personality that makes him *resent* the fact that he needs to follow Noemi’s orders. (His sass kind of reminded me of Iko from The Lunar Chronicles!)
I don’t know how much more I can say without getting all “spoilery” on you, but I think it goes without saying that a human who has been taught to mistrust mechs and a mech who doesn’t want to serve a particular human make for a rather unlikely team. But Abel doesn’t really have a choice and Noemi doesn’t really have any other special advantages in the fight against Earth, so teaming up is the only logical conclusion.
Milo’s moms are really great, but he sometimes wonders what life would be like with a mom and dad instead of two moms. I mean, he loves his moms and all. And he knows that they love him too. But he just feels like they don’t “get” him sometimes and that maybe a dad, by virtue of also being a guy, would understand him more. So, when Milo’s doctor suggests that genetic testing of his biological father could help develop a better treatment plan for his insanely varied and severe allergies, Milo latches onto the opportunity to find his bio dad. The first step of which is to reach out to his half-sister, Hollis, whom he had met as a young child. Hollis also had lesbian mothers who used the same sperm donor, which is how they came to meet in the first place, but she wasn’t really interested in finding her dad. Nevertheless, reconnecting with Milo and his moms seemed to be the first thing to make Hollis’ mom, Leigh, happy since Hollis’ other mom, Pam, died years before… So, she decided to roll with it and see how things turned out.
What started out as a suggestion to request genetic testing relating to Milo’s allergies quickly morphed into something else. After posting to a message board for the clinic their moms had used, Milo and Hollis discovered that they had three more half-siblings. What were they like? Would they get along? Would they be able to work together and find their donor/dad? What would this new “f-word” (family) look like in the end?!?
Imagine being smart enough to get into a really great college, but watching your single mother struggle to simply keep up with the bills every month. Imagine being popular enough to be invited to lots of parties, but knowing that showing up will likely just add fuel to the flames of the various rumors about you. Imagine having a best friend who has known you for practically your whole life, and who lets you curl up in his bed every time you have a nightmare, but feeling like he doesn’t really understand you. Imagine going through an experience so traumatic that you aren’t even sure which pieces of your life you’d like to pick up, let alone how you might manage to accomplish such a feat.
This coming of age story tackles a variety of important topics like under-age drinking, consent, and grief. Not only does it present a realistic/modern view of friendship and dating in high school, but it also provides a no-hold-barred examination of the sexist double-standards and slut-shaming that are so prevalent in our society. I recommend this book to readers who liked Story of a Girl (Sara Zarr) and/or Inexcusable (Chris Lynch).
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. 😉