Category Archives: contemporary

What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold

what-girls-are-made-ofNina Faye was most definitely not a hopeless romantic.  Her own mother told her (when she was only 14 years old) that there was “no such thing as unconditional love,” and she took that message straight to heart.  Nina’s work in a high kill shelter and her obsession with stories of saints who had endured horrible tortures to prove their love for God only reinforced her mother’s statement.  And because she was aware of the fact that love was “conditional,” she made it her mission to figure out the conditions of love for the people in her life.  Not only did she try to figure out what she should do to make sure her parents didn’t stop loving her, but she also started to keep track of the conditions by which she could keep her boyfriend happy.  But what if knowing those so-called conditions of love is not enough?

This story was a brutally honest, often heart-wrenching, look into the struggle many girls face with both loving and being loved.  As the story alternates between Nina’s own story and the stories she is writing for her senior project (inspired by the stories of the tortured saints), readers are able to witness Nina’s life and better understand her frame of mind.  Since it describes both sex and torture in graphic detail, nevertheless, I feel compelled to state that this book is not for the faint of heart.

Happy Reading!

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

jane-unlimitedJane led a relatively quiet life.  She was raised by her Aunt Magnolia, who was an adjunct professor best known for her work as a wildlife photographer.  Sadly, Aunt Magnolia was lost on one of her adventures in Antarctica, and Jane was left completely alone.  Though able to make ends meet, Jane barely did more than mourn her aunt, work, and construct umbrellas.  Construct umbrellas?  Yes, you read that right.  Jane was a bit of an artist, but her works were elaborately themed umbrellas rather than photographs or paintings.  (One of her favorites, for example, looked like a speckled bird’s egg.)

Everything changed, though, when Jane was visited by an acquaintance named Kiran Thrash.  Kiran insisted that Jane should come home with her — to her estate, Tu Reviens, for a gala.  Though Jane was reluctant to go, she recalled a time when Aunt Magnolia had made her promise that she would go to Tu Reviens if she was ever invited.  With nothing much to lose, she agreed.  And this was where everything went wacky…  Not only did Jane meet a variety of people — everyone from Kiran’s family to the caretakers of the Tu Reviens property — but she also found herself in the midst of a great heist.  Right as everyone was ramping up and preparing for the gala, some very famous (and very expensive) artwork went missing.

This was nothing like the Graceling [fantasy] stories, though I don’t think fans of that trilogy will necessarily be disappointed.  Jane, Unlimited was very much a mystery/spy story, but it had coming-of-age, romance, and science fiction elements as well.  In fact, I can’t imagine having to pin it down to a single genre.  Since it is very character driven, and there are SO MANY characters to get to know, it was a little slow for me to get into this one at first.  I think that perseverance paid off, but I feel compelled to “warn” readers, nevertheless, that this book has a bit of a Groundhog’s Day feel to it.   There were several times where I wondered if I had lost my place and read something over again only to realize that only some, not all, of that information had been revealed before.  I can’t say much more without giving away any spoilers, so I will just have to ask you to trust me on this one and read it when it comes out in September.  (Hope you like it as much as I did.)

Happy Reading!

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

list-of-cagesDuring his senior year, Adam was assigned to be an aide for the school psychologist.  At first, he had a lot of downtime, which was kind of hard to deal with (since he had ADHD), but he found small ways to keep himself busy.  After all, he didn’t want to complain and end up with a much harder job.  All of that downtime went away, though, when the psychologist asked that Adam become an escort for a student who kept missing/avoiding his appointments.  As it turned out, the student was a freshman named Julian — and Julian actually used to be Adam’s foster brother!  Adam was overjoyed, at first, to be reunited with Julian, but then he started to worry about the younger boy.  Julian was much quieter and much more sullen than he used to be, and he didn’t seem willing to open up to Adam anymore.  Adam wondered whether it was simply that Julian had changed a lot since they parted ways about five years prior, but he worried that Julian was hiding something about the “uncle” who took him in when he left Adam’s house.

Would Adam be able to reconnect with Julian to find out what, if anything, was wrong?  Would he be able to, at the very least, get Julian to attend his appointments with the school psychiatrist and to open up to her?

While it is important to have “tough reads” like this out there — so some people will realize they are not alone in their suffering and others will be able to empathize with those who have suffered horrific abuses — I think it is important to warn people about the graphic descriptions of abuse in this book.  I know there are far too many children who are living this horrible reality, but there is also no need to scar the emotionally immature tweens and teens who aren’t yet ready to learn about the darker side of humanity. (I would hand this to readers who could handle Living Dead Girl and The Lovely Bones.)

Happy Reading!

Little Monsters by Kara Thomas

Even though Kacey was new to Broken Falls, she seemed to fit right in as soon as she arrived.  Her step-mother and step-brother were kind and loving, and her little [half] sister adored her.  She even ended up with a couple of close friends, Bailey and Jade, almost immediately.  But then something must have happened because her friends suddenly seemed distant.  Although they would usually show up and practically force her to go to a party even if she initially said no, they didn’t even text her before they went to a big party without her.  That would have been strange enough on its own, but then Bailey never made it home from the party.  And then Kacey found a bloody smear in the barn where the girls had recently performed a seance.  As the new girl in town, especially one with a troubled past, she was afraid everyone would think she was to blame for Bailey’s disappearance.  As the investigation proceeded, though, Kacey started to worry less about herself and more about whether someone who was close to her had something to hide…

Happy Reading!

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!