Although I loved this story, I understand that it may not be for everyone. It jumps back and forth between the past and the present, and there are multiple points of view, so some readers might not be able to follow so easily. Plus, there isn’t much in the way of action and adventure, which might turn some people off. But there is love, and loss, and yearning, and learning about self and family and friendship. So much emotional depth! I hadn’t really heard anything about this book before I saw the audiobook was immediately available for download via my local library, but I did recognize Jenny Downham’s name because I recalled sobbing my eyes out as I read Before I Die. (I often search and see which YA titles are “available now” rather than searching specific titles because I like to find hidden gems and, well, I am impatient!) So, yeah… I decided to give it a go. And, boy am I glad I went for it!
Katie is seventeen and she is struggling with several things. First, and foremost, she is struggling with her sexuality. Not only is she not totally sure how she identifies, but she is being bullied at school because of it. On top of that, she has an overbearing mom (Caroline), who often needs her to help care for her special needs brother (Chris). And, as if that all wasn’t enough, she also discovers that she has a grandmother (Mary) whom she never really knew and who now requires a place to live and constant care because she has Alzheimer’s and her long-time partner/caregiver (Jack) just died of a heart attack. When Katie decides to record stories in a memory book, to try to help preserve Mary’s memories, she discovers so much more than family history and secrets. She uncovers a variety of reasons her mother is so up-tight and the realization that “truth” varies greatly with perspective.
Cliff Hubbard was probably the biggest loser in his school, both literally and figuratively speaking. He was 6’6″, 250 pounds, and had a physique that earned him the nickname Neanderthal. And, ever since his brother Shane killed himself, his life at home had become increasingly terrible as well. So, how did he end up getting a girlfriend and becoming friends with the über cool and extremely popular quarterback, Aaron Zimmerman? Well, it all started when Aaron met God. After awaking from a coma, which resulted from a drunken boating accident, Aaron Zimmerman claimed that he had met God and that God had entrusted him with a list of tasks to complete in order to make Happy Valley High School a better place. And The List, as it was often called, apparently required the assistance of Cliff Hubbard.
While I don’t think there are a ton of teens out there who will suddenly be called upon by God with specific lists of ways to make their own schools suck less, I think it is entirely possible that this book could inspire greatness. And although the circumstances of HVHS might not align exactly with the circumstances of every high school, readers can certainly draw some parallels between The List and the ways they could reach out and help out people in their own schools and communities. I highly recommend that Nerdfighters who want to end Worldsuck check this book out when it’s published in May.
Henry and Rachel were best friends. And they were falling in love. But neither of them was brave enough to admit it out loud. Henry found it much easier to fall back on dating his on-again-off-again girlfriend Amy. And Rachel took a chance on a love letter placed inside one of Henry’s favorite books. This idea was kind of brilliant, actually, since Henry’s family owned a book shop called Howling Books which was well-known for its letter library. (The letter library was a room full of books that were not for sale but rather left there for people to read, leave notes in the margins, and even exchange letters with other readers.) When Rachel moved away and Henry never replied to her letter, she assumed that he didn’t care. But, little did she know he never received her letter.
A few years later, after Rachel’s brother Cal died and she dropped out of school, she moved back to town. She was sent to live with her aunt so she could get a job and try to move on with her life. When the job her aunt originally lined up fell through, though, she ended up getting Rachel a job at Howling Books. Amy had just dumped Henry, and Rachel was silently grieving the loss of her younger brother, so the tension was pretty thick, but they both decided to try and make it work. After all, Rachel was hired because the shop was going to be sold and Henry’s father wanted/needed her to catalog the letters in the letter library. I really enjoyed the samples of letters people had left one another. And I also loved how true-to-life these characters were. Their feelings rang true, their interactions were painfully realistic, and the evolution of their relationship was very believable. I recommend this book to fans of All The Bright Places and/or Eleanor & Park.
Jonny needed a new heart, but he wished someone else didn’t have to die just so he could live. Well… Truly live. He was technically alive while he was in the hospital, but it wasn’t much of a life being connected to a machine that acted as his heart. Though Jonny had made some good friends, he missed his life outside of the hospital and longed for a time when he would not feel sick and tired all the time. Besides, he hated to see his parents so worried. He wished he could just get a new heart so he could move on and start the rest of his life already.
Neve was sick of her twin brother. Leo was just so good at everything — music, school, making friends — and she felt like she was living in his shadow. Until she wasn’t. When Leo suddenly died from a freak accident while their family was on vacation, Neve realized she didn’t really want him gone, but it was a bit too late for that realization. The good news is that Leo had discussed his desire to be an organ donor and his parents followed through to honor his wishes. The better news is that his heart was a match for Jonny, who had a rare blood/tissue type that made finding a donor especially difficult. And while that all seemed to work out pretty well, the good news certainly didn’t take away the grief.
I don’t like spoiling plots, and I don’t really feel like I can say much more without ruining the experience for y’all. But, based on the book description it’s pretty obvious that Neve and Jonny meet up and help one another through this difficult stage in their lives. Readers who enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars and/or Somebody Up There Hates You should definitely check out Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart. Murray’s depiction of chronic illness and the stages of grief were spot-on, and this bitter-sweet romance is sure to stick with readers long after they turn the last page.
Contrary to popular belief, heroes are not always perfectly behaved and villains are not always evil. In fact, heroes sometimes act out of spite or self-interest, and villains sometimes act selflessly to help other people. In this story, both the Renegades and the Anarchists are comprised of prodigies — people with special powers, much like the X-Men — but their vastly different ideologies have placed them on opposite sides of the hero-villain spectrum. The Anarchists honestly believe that society would fare better without so much governmental oversight and interference, i.e. with anarchy. The Renegades, on the other hand, think that they are doing society a favor by overseeing everyone and bringing back law and order. Though both sides think their way would be best for the greater good, neither side seems capable of seeing the other side’s point of view.
Enter Nova, aka Nightmare.
Nova was raised by her Uncle Ace [the leader of the Anarchists] after the Renegades failed to protect her family. Nova has been consumed by a desire to avenge their deaths for as long as she can remember, but none of her plans seem to work out. Luckily, the Anarchists have an alternate plan that just might work. Because the Renegades don’t know Nightmare’s true identity, the Anarchists decide to send Nova to Renegade try-outs so that they can use her to gather intel and take down the Renegades from the inside. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Nova, who takes on the Renegade name of Insomnia, to start to feel conflicted. Not only does she start to fall for a guy who is a part of the Renegades, but she starts to see *why* the Renegades operate the way they do and that their methods actually have some merit to them. What’s a girl to do?!?
Nell has always been an overachiever. Whether training hard so her team could advance to and win the state volleyball championship or studying hard to become her class valedictorian, Nell has always given her all. And that was why she couldn’t stand Jackson Hart. He never seemed to try nearly as hard, but he always got what he wanted. Jackson was the captain of his baseball team, one of the most popular guys at school, AND he was beating her by a fraction of a percentage in the class rankings. Not only that, but Jackson came from money, and she only attended their elite prep school because her mother was the principal. Talk about opposites! But, as the saying goes, opposites attract. Nell had always been frustrated by the fact that no one else could seem to see past his charming exterior to recognize the slime ball that he was inside. Until even she started to fall for his charms. And she fell hard… But then she began to suspect that their relationship might be just another of Jackson’s games. And, if it *was* a game, Nell was determined to win.
This book was a great read on so many levels. It touched on honesty — between friends, between family members, and with one’s own self. It addressed what can happen when competition is taken beyond a healthy level. And it explored how perfectionism and toxic relationships (familial and dating) can contribute to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. This is definitely a book you’ll want to add to your #ToBeRead list so you can be sure to check it out when it’s released at the end of January.
Michael, whose father is the leader of a group called Aussie Values, has always assumed that his parents’ stance on immigration was correct. They’d always been kind and loving toward him and his brother, so they were clearly just looking out for the best interests of natural-born citizens with their work in Aussie Values, right? Well… Then he met Mina, a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan, and he began to see things from her perspective. When Mina started to open up to Michael about her own experiences — including the horrific circumstances in which she fled her home, her time in a refugee camp, and her harrowing journey to Australia — he finally understood that the world was not so “black and white,” that not all Muslims are hate-filled terrorists, and that immigration was much more complex than his parents would have him believe. But, can his better understanding help him to encourage tolerance and acceptance? Or will his personal understanding and empathy for the Muslim community, and refugees in general, simply drive a wedge between him and his family?
Sadly, xenophobia (intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries) and Islamaphobia (dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims) are a world-wide epidemic. Far too many people find it easier to fall back on fear of the “unknown” than to educate themselves about what they and those “other” people have in common. Hopefully stories like this will help to personalize the struggles of Muslim people, particularly those who have been displaced by war and are only seeking a better life for themselves. #WeNeedDiverseBooks because we can only stamp out illogical fear and hatred with a better understanding of the people and the world around us.