Category Archives: contemporary

Unfolding by Jonathan Friesen

unfoldingJonah has a terrible case of scoliosis.  He was supposed to have surgery to have his back straightened when he was a kid, but things never got that far.  He should have known better than to even take the trip out for the surgery, since Stormi warned them not to go and her premonitions always seem to come true.  It was just too tempting to think about being “normal,” though, so he went.  And while he sat in a group therapy session for kids like him who were scheduled to have surgeries at that hospital, he experienced his first seizure.  He and his father decided to head back home right away, since they didn’t want to take any more chances going against Stormi’s warning.  Ever since, both his back and his epileptic seizures have gotten progressively worse.  But he doesn’t blame Stormi.  He knows that she doesn’t make things happen; she just predicts them.  Gullary is a small town where everyone seems to know everyone and everything, so most people listen when Stormi gives a warning.  When one of those warnings is followed by the death of a classmate, nevertheless, some of the townspeople turn on her.  Jonah and Stormi run away, fall in love, and [very slowly] discover the dark secret the people of Gullary have been hiding for many years.  Though I enjoyed this unique paranormal mystery, I found that it was just a little slower to unfold than I would have liked.

Happy Reading!

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

moleculesStewart was a socially awkward prodigy who attended a school called Little Genius Academy and Ashley was a popular girl who excelled at fashion but wasn’t so great at school.  You might think this is a perfect set-up for a story in which Stewart becomes Ashley’s tutor, but that definitely wasn’t how they met.  They actually got to know one another because their parents decided to move in together.  Ever since Stewart’s mom died of ovarian cancer, he and his father have been struggling with ways to manage their grief and honor her memory while also, somehow, moving on with their own lives.  This move seemed to be the ultimate test.  Ashley’s situation was very different, but still very traumatic for her — her parents decided to divorce because her father came out as gay.  Though upset by her family breaking up, it seemed Ashley was even more concerned about what people would think if they found out the truth about why her parents divorced.  After all, being the “it” girl of her crowd was pretty much all she thought she had going for her.

When Stewart and his father moved in with Ashley and her mom, Stewart also transferred into Ashley’s school.  She was relieved to think that she would be “safe” from dealing with Stewart at school, even after finding out that he would be transferring from Little Genius Academy, because he was younger…  But then he was placed in some ninth grade classes because he was so advanced.  Trying to fit in at a new school was tough in and of itself, but it was made even more difficult by Ashley’s insistence that he hide the fact that they were now sort of related.  I really enjoyed the emotional journey Nielsen provided.  There were moments where I was so sad I nearly cried, times when I got angry with characters, moments where I found myself rolling my eyes, and others where I full-on chuckled.  The geek in me also really appreciated the fact that Stewart’s cat was named Schrödinger and that Nielsen included a part in which Stewart explained the joke to Ashley, just in case readers didn’t get it.

Happy Reading!

P.S.  Just in case there are any people considering this book for a younger teen/tween, I feel compelled to mention the fact that there are situations in which both underage drinking and sexual assault come up.  I think it was very well written and offers a fantastic conversation starter, but I didn’t feel right not saying anything.

What Light by Jay Asher

what-lightIf you liked Thirteen Reasons Why but, like me, wished that such a powerful book would have ended on a more hopeful note, you should check out Jay Asher’s latest book.  The cover and a more superficial summary might give the impression that this is a light and cheesy holiday romance, but I assure you there’s more than meets the eye.  Yes, Sierra’s family owns a Christmas tree farm and she falls for a cute guy named Caleb during the month her family spends in California selling those trees… but there is SO much more to this story!

First of all, there is Sierra’s difficulty in balancing her friendships with her best friends back home (in Oregon), with whom she *never* gets to spend the holiday season, and her best friend in California, with whom she *only* ever gets to spend the holiday season.  Secondly, there is the tension around the possibility that her parents might call it quits with the tree lot after this year.  (Though she only overheard a conversation about the possibility, it still started her worrying about what it would mean for both the family business and life as she knows it.)  The third conflict, of course, centers around Caleb.  Not only does Sierra have to decide whether she wants to invest time and emotion in starting a relationship with a guy she might never see again, but her best friend also told her a story about something Caleb did in the past.  Something pretty terrible.  And Sierra doesn’t know how to broach the subject, let alone how she might/should react if there is any truth to the story.

Coming of age, dealing with changing family and friendship dynamics, falling in love, and confronting/forgiving mistakes people have made in the past?!?  Yeah…  This is definitely *not* just a light and cheesy holiday romance.

Happy Reading!

Grand & Humble by Brent Hartinger

Grand & HumbleHarlan and Manny don’t have much in common.  Harlan is a popular jock whose parents are wealthy, well known, and politically connected.  Manny is a poor geek whose father keeps mostly to himself and is very secretive, even where Manny is concerned.  The one thing that links them together, though, is an accident that happened when they were both three years old.   Neither of them really remembers the accident or knows that the other exists — but Harlan has been having strange panic attacks that seem to hold premonitions, and Manny has been having horrible nightmares that might just have flashes of real memories.  I can’t say much more without spoiling the twist at the end, but I will say that I nearly started the book over again when the ending revealed the truths behind those panic attacks and nightmares…  And y’all know I never re-read anything!  LOL

Happy Reading!

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

26465507The first Justine Larbalestier book I read was Liar, and I recall being very frustrated with the *completely* unreliable narrator.  I just wanted to know what had really happened. And I was a little worried that might happen again — but it turns out that, if anything, I wish I could go back to NOT knowing what I learned of Che and Rosa’s story!  Why?  Well, to be entirely honest, I’m not so comfortable reading about a teenager (Che) whose little sister (Rosa) is a literal psychopath — especially one who can hide in plain sight because she’s a cute little girl who reminds people of Shirley Temple.  Why?  Well, with my own son closing in on his own teen years and an adorable daughter who is approaching her 7th birthday, this felt a little too close to home.  Granted, my daughter isn’t a psychopath… but Rosa’s parents didn’t think SHE was a psychopath either!

It’s tough enough for parents to hear the occasional “I hate you” as kids struggle to gain autonomy, but it was crazy hard to read about a cute little girl who was only a few years older than my daughter and had absolutely NO problem stealing, lying, hurting, or even killing.  With no empathy or conscience to guide her, Rosa literally relied on Che’s guidance to keep herself out of trouble (which was the only reason she bothered to behave and/or to try to be normal).  It was particularly heartbreaking to see how difficult it was for Che to keep Rosa in line because everyone else (even his parents) thought he was overreacting when, in fact, he was the only one who saw through her manipulative facade.  (/shudder)  Yeah… I think I’d like to stick to stories about adult psychopaths for a while, thankyouverymuch! If you enjoy thrillers and you think you’re brave enough to read about an adorable little psychopath, though, I highly recommend this book.

Happy Reading!

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!