Category Archives: contemporary

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

me_and_earl_and_the_dying_girlRight about now, the whole world seems to be filled with doom and gloom.  Many people in America fear for the future of our nation, and some Americans actually fear for their own futures.  So this would be the perfect time to recommend a dystopia, right?!?  Wrong!  As far as I am concerned, now is the time to find every bit of levity and hope we can cling to.  So, then why am I reviewing a book with “the dying girl” in the title?  Because, believe it or not, this is one of the funniest  and most hope-inspiring books I’ve ever read.  I once said that Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon was the “funniest book about kids with cancer” that I’d ever read, but I think this book actually topped it…  Crazy!

Greg is a bit of a social outcast, but he doesn’t mind. In fact, he actually spent his entire high school career engineering ways to associate and get along with all of the different cliques without actually becoming a part of any one clique himself.  His one true friend, whom he prefers to call his “co-worker,” is a kid named Earl.  They actually do work together, in a sense, because they make films.  But most people would recognize that, despite coming from drastically different families and socio-economic backgrounds, Greg and Earl are kindred spirits who became best friends as they bonded over Greg’s father’s eclectic film collection.

Where does the “dying girl” come in?!?  Greg’s mom finds out that Greg’s childhood friend, Rachel, has been diagnosed with leukemia and insists that he call her.  It’s super awkward, and neither he nor Rachel seem to want to hang out at first, but his mom insists that he keep trying because it’s the right thing to do.  As it turns out, introducing Earl (and the films Greg and Earl have made) to Rachel helps to rebuild their friendship and to provide Rachel with some joy and distraction as she endures chemotherapy.  Jesse Andrews completely nails it by balancing teen angst, raw emotion, and what some people might consider “inappropriate” humor that is sure to appeal to even reluctant readers.

Happy Reading!

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

geekerellaElle Wittimer is a die-hard Starfield fan.  It only makes sense, since her father was so obsessed with the single-season cult classic.  (Think Firefly.)  He was such an über geek, in fact, that he was one of the founders of the geek convention known as ExcelsiCon.  Elle has kept in touch with the fandom online and even writes a Starfield blog, under the pseudonym Rebelgunner, but she hasn’t been back to the con since her father died.  Now that Starfield is getting a reboot as a major motion picture, though, she has a very good reason to attend — the winner of the cosplay will win tickets to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball (a dream of her father’s) and a meet-and-greet with the actor who plays Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot.  It’s just too bad the guy they picked to be Carmindor is the annoying teen “heartthrob” Darien Freeman…

Darien Freeman is an über geek in his own right, but no one really knows it.  When he was younger, he used to live for Starfield and events like ExcelsiCon… It was always his dream to play Carmindor.  But, he feels like a fake because he is seriously lacking in geeky “street-cred” now that he is so well-known for role on a popular teen show called Seaside Cove.  It would have been hard enough for anyone to step into that role after David Singh’s amazing portrayal, but the very vocal lack of confidence of the Starfield fans has Darien feeling even more rattled.  So much so that he doesn’t even want to make his appearance at ExcelsiCon.  If only the number he found to get in touch with the person responsible for running ExcelsiCon wasn’t wrong, he might have been able to talk his way out of attending.  At the very least, though, he has “met” a pretty cool girl who seems to love Starfield as much as he does.  And, as long as she doesn’t know who is really texting her, he is free to just be himself.  (Kinda ironic, right?!?)

This modern adaptation of the Cinderella story is simply amazing.  With a falling-in-love via text homage to You’ve Got Mail, and a true understanding of geek culture reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, it’s a #mustread for hopeless romantic geeks like myself.  Aside from the story, by the way, I think I am seriously fangirling over Ashley Poston.  I already loved her for creating this story, but her acknowledgements hit me right in the feels:

Never give up on your dreams, and never let anyone tell you that what you love is inconsequential or useless or a waste of time.  Because if you love it? If that OTP or children’s card game or abridged series or YA book or animated series makes you happy? That is never a waste of time. Because in the end we’re all just a bunch of weirdos standing in front of other weirdos, asking for their username.

Happy Reading!

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti

100-liesHawthorn Creely is a bit of an outsider.  She doesn’t really have a lot of friends, and most people consider her to be a bit strange.  Her older brother, Rush, though, is a part of the popular crowd and even used to date the seemingly-perfect Lizzie Lovett.  When Lizzie disappears, nevertheless, it is Hawthorne who becomes obsessed with figuring out what happened.  How obsessed?  Well… She kinda decides to go and apply for a job at the diner where Lizzie worked — they *obviously* have an opening! — and to try and get close to Lizzie’s boyfriend, whom many people suspect of foul play.  After all, her boyfriend was the last person to see her when they went camping together.  Maybe if she spends enough time around the same people and places as Lizzie, she will be able to uncover some clue everyone else is missing.  The thing is, though, Hawthorn has a completely crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie…  I’m talking, I think she needs some serious mental help.  But she is utterly convinced that she is right and that by spending enough time living like Lizzie, she will be able to prove that she is right.  If you like mysteries and enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you should get this book when it comes out.  [It is slated for a January 3, 2017, publication.]

Happy Reading!

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

bone-gapThe O’Sullivan brothers lived alone and did their best to get by, but it was tough having a dead father and an absentee mom (she took off with an orthodontist who didn’t seem to keen on having teen-aged step-sons).  Sean had to put his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold to take care of his younger brother Finn; he worked as an EMT instead.  Finn was an awkward boy whom the townspeople all seemed to talk/worry about, and Sean’s resentment was fairly evident.  Then, one day, Finn found a girl in their barn.  Roza was badly hurt, but she refused to go to the hospital, so Sean took her inside their house and did his best to mend her injuries.  They decided to give Roza the keys to the unused apartment in the back of their house, and her presence seemed to help all three of them thrive… until the day Roza disappeared from Bone Gap.

Sean was heart-broken and Finn was devastated because he largely blamed himself.  He swore that there was a man who took Roza away, but he couldn’t really describe the man other than the strange way he moved through the cornfields.  He felt that if he could just do a better job at describing the man, he could save her.  People in town had always called Finn names like “space man” because of he always seemed to lack focus and didn’t really look people in the eye.  He also seemed to have a hard time recognizing people, though his vision was technically fine.  The only person Finn seemed to get along with was a girl named Petey, whom most of the townspeople teased for being “ugly.”  Petey believed Finn when he said that a man took Roza away, and she was determined to help him solve the mystery, but she was so self-conscious she couldn’t help but wonder if Finn was just pretending to like her.

I’m gonna be perfectly honest and admit that I actually had to start listening to this audiobook over again because I was about half way through and all sorts of confused. The book changes perspectives between Finn and Roza — as he looks for her and she deals with having been taken — and also goes back in time a bit, at times, to explain how everything came to be.  I mean, I was doing chores like mowing the lawn and folding laundry, so it’s not like I was focused on something terribly exciting that took my attention away…  But it was confusing enough that I really couldn’t go on without starting over.  I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I just figured it was worth mentioning in case any of y’all start to read/listen to this book and end up feeling confused, too.  It was totally worth starting over again, in my opinion, so I would recommend doing the same if you also feel lost.  Now that I “got” it, it was pretty awesome.  If you like books with a touch of magical realism, like Belzhar, you should check this one out.

Happy Reading!

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

tragic-kind-of-wonderful

Hamster is ACTIVE
Hummingbird is HOVERING
Hammerhead is CRUISING
Hanniganimal is UP!

This is the way the story opens, and the method Mel Hannigan uses to track her bipolar disorder.  The hamster represents her mind/thinking, the hummingbird represents her energy level, the hammerhead represents her physical health, and the Hanniganimal is how they all come together to form “The Hannigan Animal” (aka Mel).  As someone who is only mildly familiar with bipolar disorder and who hasn’t experienced it herself, I thought I would find it difficult to insinuate myself into the mind of a character who was experiencing constant and vast swings between mania and depression.  Though Mel’s experiences with Bipolar Disorder were different than my own mental health issues with “Pure O” OCD, though, these analogies helped me to relate better than I expected.

I truly appreciate that more authors are writing books like this to provide  readers with a healthy dose of information that contributes to compassion and empathy toward people suffering from mental health disorders.  We can’t #EndTheStigma if no one will talk about it!  Even better, I like the fact that this book did so without feeling clunky or didactic.  One of my favorite characters in this story is Dr. Jordan — a resident at the nursing home at which Mel works (who was a therapist, but is not *her* therapist).  He tells it like it is, but he is gentle and diplomatic enough that Mel doesn’t completely shut him out when she is vacillating between moods.  This isn’t just a book about Bipolar Disorder, though.  It’s also a book about navigating life, love, and friendship through the tumult that is adolescence.  After reading and loving both this book and Not If I See You First, I can’t wait to see what will be next from Eric Lindstrom.  (I may have to wait a while, though, since this book is not even due for publication until February 2017…)

Happy Reading!

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

memory-bookThis book hit a little too close to home…  Kinda.  It’s not that I know any young people who have dealt with a “Niemann-Pick Type C” diagnosis, but I have had all too much personal experience in knowing and loving people with varying forms of dementia.  Both of my father’s parents suffered from Alzheimer’s before they died.  My mother’s dad is currently living with Alzheimer’s.  And my own father had a ruptured brain aneurysm [nearly] two years ago that has left him with an “unspecified” dementia related to the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) he sustained from the rupture, several open-brain surgeries, etc.  As far as I am concerned, it might as well be Alzheimer’s, but it seems that his doctors don’t want to pigeon-hole him into a specific diagnosis after a TBI.  What’s the point of me bringing my personal life into this?  Well, I think it speaks to my ability to say whether this book portrays dementia accurately.  And, sadly, I think Lara Avery must have some firsthand experience(s) of her own — because she was spot on.

It is, quite frankly, gut-wrenchingly awful to watch a parent or grandparent fall victim to dementia.  There are some “good” days, when the person will recognize people, be steady on his/her feet, and generally seem OK.  But, then there are the days when your own father doesn’t know who you are, remember where he is, or even recall that he already ate lunch today.  It is frustrating and heartbreaking to watch my father [who used to do construction for a living] struggle to stand up from a chair or take a short walk from the living room to the kitchen.  The only way I could imagine a worse scenario is if it would happen to one of my children, as it does to Sammie McCoy in this story.  Sammie has always been a good kid, gotten good grades, excelled in debate club, and had a plan to go off to NYU after graduation.  But, when she starts to suffer from both failing memory and failing health, her entire life plan starts to crumble.  This “memory book” is Sammie’s way to record her journey through the end of high school so that “future Sammie” will know the stories even if she can’t remember them.  FYI — don’t read this book in public if you’re worried about strangers seeing you cry…

Happy Reading!

Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

enter-title-hereI don’t know how honor students in high school today manage not to have nervous breakdowns on a regular basis.  I went to a school that had a fairly good “enrichment” program starting in elementary school and followed that program straight through taking AP level classes in high school.  Perhaps it is only because I attended a relatively small school (with a graduating class of just under 100 students), but I never felt any extreme pressure to work the system for the highest possible GPA.  We were all encouraged to do our best, to take AP exams to save on time/money in college, to apply for college and scholarships based on our interests, and to also participate in other extra-curricular activities.  My classmates and I had the general knowledge that extra-curricular activities could impact our college applications, but we didn’t spend every waking moment calculating which activities would look best on college applications — we just chose the activities that supported our interests.  (What a concept!)

Reshma Kapoor is a fictional character, but my experiences in working with teens over the last decade or so have shown me that she is absolutely based on reality…  I wasn’t even working with teens who attended super elite schools, and many of them were still beyond stressed about which classes they needed to take and which activities would best round-out their college applications.  (Some of them actually started worrying about college in middle school!)  In addition to the fact that Reshma attends an über elite and highly competitive school, though, she also faces a lot of pressure from her Asian-American parents who believe that studying and doing well in school are of the utmost importance.  For nearly her entire life, she has focused on academic achievement with an end-goal of becoming a doctor.  Now that senior year is here and Reshma is *this* close to graduating, she is fully dedicated to keeping her position as valedictorian and getting accepted to Stanford.  Especially now that Reshma has a literary agent who is interested in helping her publish a book, she is certain that she has an edge on the competition.  If only she wasn’t so lacking in life experience and knew more about “typical” teenagers, she might have an easier time writing that book…  So, she’ll just have to make a friend and get a boyfriend to get some plot points.  How hard could it possibly be?!?

Happy Reading!