Category Archives: contemporary

YOU by Charles Benoit

youThis 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?

Happy Reading!

 

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

challenger-deepCaden 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.

Happy Reading!

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen

the-compoundEli 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!

Happy Reading!

The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend

other-f-wordMilo’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?!?

Happy Reading!

After the Fall by Kate Hart

after-the-fallImagine 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).

Happy Reading!

This Is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang

where-the-world-endsMicah 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.

Happy Reading!

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

lily-and-dunkinI was thinking about saving this review for Pride Month, but current events lead me to believe people need to read this book NOW!  Why?  Because it is not only working to #EndTheStigma of mental illness with a realistic portrayal of a teen boy who has bipolar disorder (Dunkin), but it also details the struggles — both internal and external — of a trans girl (Lily).  I am not trying to make light of Dunkin’s struggles, because he does truly struggle with finding a balance between feeling like himself and properly controlling his bipolar disorder with medication and therapy, let alone feeling like he needs to hide his diagnosis from his peers… but I am going to focus mostly on Lily for this review because think fewer people recognize the difficulties faced by the trans (T) portion of the GLBTQ community.

Imagine looking in the mirror and seeing a reflection that doesn’t match the *real* you — the person  you know, in your heart, you were born to be.  Even as a small child, Lily always knew she was really a girl.  But, she was born with a penis and labeled a boy at birth.  Her parents named her Timothy McGrother, but she would much rather people call her Lily Jo McGrother.  In fact, her mother once walked in on her trying to cut off her penis with a pair of nail clippers after her bath because she felt so certain that it didn’t belong.  Can you imagine the pain of hearing the “wrong” name or pronoun all the time; even from your own father?  Can you imagine the embarrassment of being forced to use the bathroom and locker room of the “opposite” gender?  How painful would it be to be scolded for painting your nails, growing your hair long, or trying to wear a dress outside of your home when you just want to feel pretty?

Adolescence was painful enough as a cisgender girl; I can’t even imagine the additional complications of being transgender.  Between the lack of acceptance and the outright discrimination and bullying they face, it’s no wonder 1 in 3 transgender youth try to commit suicide.  I think it is very important, therefore, for people to get the word out about stories like Lily and Dunkin. Not only so cisgender kids (and adults) can better empathize, but also so that transgender kids can see that they are not alone.  #WeNeedDiverseBooks because we need to #ProtectTransKids.

Happy Reading!