Jonah 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.
Stewart 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.
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.
If 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.
The 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.
Liesl remembers when she used to go into the woods as a child and play with Der Erlkönig [the Goblin King]. She found it strange that he kept asking for her hand in marriage since she was only a child, but he persisted. As she grew older, she stopped traveling so often into the woods, but she still heard tales of the Der Erlkönig — especially from her grandmother, Constanze, who urged Liesl to respect the “old laws” so that she could keep herself safe as the Der Erlkönig searched for his eternal bride. Though Leisl was primarily occupied with helping to run her family’s inn, she preferred to spend her spare time composing and playing music with her brother, Josef. She didn’t give much thought to Der Erlkönig and his search for an eternal bride, but then her sister, Käthe, was kidnapped by goblins. Suddenly, Leisl’s entire world was turned upside down — because Der Erlkönig had not only taken her sister away, but he had also clouded the minds of everyone around her.
As she struggled to get out of the house and search for her missing sister, the people around her, who didn’t know who this “Käthe” was, seemed to think Leisl had a mental breakdown. Only Constanze could see through this illusion, but her family thought of *her* as an old woman who had lost her own grip on reality long ago. Fortunately, she conspired to sneak Leisl out of the house so that she could find Der Erlkönig and negotiate for her sister’s safe return. Though this book was set at the turn of the 19th century and Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest was set in modern times, it somehow made me think of that story. (Maybe it’s because of the forest setting? Don’t ask. I have no idea how my mind works!) All I know is that I recommend fans of Black’s work to check this out when it’s released in February.
Anna Morgan is able to communicate with the dead. Or, to be more accurate, the dead are able to communicate with Anna Morgan. This communication doesn’t require fancy summoning rituals like a séance or anything; the spirits of the dead can be found nearly everywhere and many of them compete for her attention on a regular basis. Why? Because they are hoping she will be able to help them complete some final task before they move on. These mental hitchhikers have been accosting Anna since she was a small child. In fact, when she was only a toddler, Anna was abandoned in a food court with a note — “This child is possessed.” — pinned to her clothing. Anna has spent most of her life being shuffled between foster homes and psychiatric institutions because people just don’t know what to make of her. But, luckily, she has found two people she can count on — her best friend, Deo, and her therapist, Dr. Kelsey. Deo is the closest thing Anna has to family, and the two of them look out for one another no matter what. Dr. Kelsey, on the other hand, has helped Anna to deal with her gift and to erect mental walls to contain or keep out spirits as necessary. Talk about an invaluable skill!
Occasionally, Anna lets down her guard to help a spirit in need and Molly is one such case. Anna doesn’t know the entire story, but she knows that Molly was a murder victim who wants Anna’s help bringing her killer to justice. First, though, they need to get in touch with Molly’s grandfather and convince him that Anna is not just a scam artist looking for a payday. Since he has contacts in law enforcement, he is the best possible person to contact… but he is also very skeptical, so Anna has her work cut out for her. This book is a wild ride with plenty of action and mystery throughout, and it even has a dash of conspiracy theories thrown into the mix. With some fairly graphic descriptions of violence, though, I feel compelled to forewarn anyone who might be squeamish. If you enjoy murder mysteries like The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, though, you should definitely check this one out.