Category Archives: you think you’ve got problems?

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!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

ready-player-one As a child of the 80s (having been born in 1979), this book felt so much like coming home.  All of the references to 80s pop culture, especially geek culture, were just so spot-on!  I was not an arcade kid, since we didn’t have an arcade close enough to my house, but I definitely played more than my fair share of video games on personal gaming consoles like the Atari 2600 and NES.  I also have fond memories of playing puzzle and sim games on the Commodore 64 and Mac Classic in “computer class” at school.  I also watched waaaaaay too much TV and too many movies, so most of Cline’s references felt like a conversation with an old friend.  It’s beyond obvious that Ernest Cline was a fellow geek and that he loved all the cheeseball 80s stuff just as much as my friends and I did.  For real…  If you are a fanboy/fangirl of geeky 80s pop culture, you NEED to read this book!

Even better than the reminiscing, though, was the foreshadowing of what could come to be if we (citizens of the world) don’t change our reliance on fossil fuels and unplug a little from the world of “social media” to actually interact with the people and the world around us — in real life!  Imagine, if you will, a future in which most people around the world are so immersed in a virtual reality “utopia” known as the OASIS that they rarely leave their houses.  Since most people no longer have their own vehicles or even the financial means to utilize public transportation, the OASIS was the closest thing they would ever get to traveling.  Kids even started to attend school in the OASIS because the virtual world created it’s own schools to let pressure off of the failing public school system.  When I read one quote, I wondered if Cline was really just that attuned to the forthcoming changes in our society back in 2011 or if he somehow traveled through time to 2016 before he finished his story — “Now that everyone could vote from home, via the OASIS, the only people who could get elected were movie stars, reality TV personalities, or radical televangelists.”

One of the creators of the OASIS, James Halliday, had very few friends and never married or had any children.  By the time of his death, he had even been estranged from his former business partner and one-time best friend for about a decade.  So, before he died, he crafted an elaborate “Easter Egg” hunt within his virtual world to determine who would receive his fortune.  Halliday’s last will and testament was announced to the world with a video chock-full of 80s references and explained that his heir would need to use their knowledge of Halliday’s favorite things to puzzle out the location of three keys and three gates/trials he had programmed into the OASIS.  Everyone went nuts at first, but excitement waned after the first five years and only hardcore Gunters (a condensation of “egg hunters”) like Wade kept up the hunt.  When Wade finds the first key and his name shows up on the leader board, though, the OASIS is suddenly hopping again and the competition stirs up adventure, danger, and even romance. I can’t wait to see how the movie of this book turns out…

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!

This Is Not the End by Chandler Baker

this-is-not-the-endImagine a world in which every person had the opportunity to resurrect someone on their 18th birthday.  It sounds kind of cool at first, but then you have to imagine making that incredibly difficult choice.  Do you think YOU could choose to bring someone back if you had to go through all the people you’ve lost in your lifetime and only pick one person?

For Lake Devereaux, the choice is nearly impossible.  You see, her parents have long expected her to use her resurrection to bring back her brother who had an accident and became a quadriplegic.  (There’s just that tricky little thing about how they would have to be sure to kill him first — minor detail!)  To complicate things even more, though, Lake ends up in a devastating car accident in which both her boyfriend (Will) and her best friend (Penny) die.  Not only does she need to go through the painful physical recovery after the accident, but she needs to sort out her emotions in a few short weeks before she turns 18.  She needs to decide whether she will go through with the original plan her parents concocted or whether she will bring back one of her friends.  Would she and Will have ended up breaking up at some point anyway, or was he her one true love?  And could she really feel right not choosing Penny even if it was for Will?  What will her parents do if she doesn’t choose her brother?  And does she even care?  Such a great premise for a story… I’m only sad that the rest of y’all have to wait until August to read it.

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!