Category Archives: you think you’ve got problems?

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

turtles-all-the-way-downSome people seem to think that money can buy happiness, but I’d be willing to bet that Davis Pickett isn’t among them.  Not only could money never replace Davis’ mother, but the existence of his father’s fortune actually complicated all of his relationships.  His father was distant, always consumed with work, and Davis was never sure whether potential friends actually liked him or his money.  Being rich, as it turns out, had made him very lonely.  And then, to top it all off, his father disappeared the night before a police raid on his home related to a fraud and bribery investigation.  All sorts of old “friends” came out of the woodwork in hopes that they could collect a reward for information leading to the capture of the fugitive billionaire.  And though Aza technically ended up at Davis’ home as a result of her friend Daisy’s plan to try and capitalize on the reward, a spark of their earlier friendship remained and quickly rekindled. 

The two had met years before at a summer camp Aza called Sad Camp, since they both had a parent who had died, but Aza was sure that Davis wouldn’t remember her.  As it turned out, though, he remembered all sorts of details about her — like the fact that she suffered from anxiety-induced thought spirals, had a perpetual injury on the pad of her middle finger [because of a compulsion caused by her thought spirals], and loved Dr. Pepper.  Perhaps that spark was more than just friendship?!?

I will never cease to be amazed by how well John Green captures the essence of being a young adult.  He not only captures the unique blend of abstract thinking, idealism, and self-discovery that keep me coming back to YA, but he accurately depicts the mental health struggles, like depression and anxiety, many young adults face.  “True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice in the matter.”  His characters are relatable without being too cliche.  If you have enjoyed John Green’s other books, you will likely enjoy this one too.  And, if you have never read anything by John Green, what are you waiting for?!?

Happy Reading!

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I Was Here by Gayle Forman

i-was-here“I regret to inform you that I have had to take my own life.”  That was the beginning of the letter Cody received from her best friend, Meg — sent via email, with a time delay to ensure that her suicide had been completed before anyone could try to stop her.  In that letter, Meg went on to apologize for the pain she knew she would cause the people who loved her but also to explain that she saw suicide as the only way to end her own pain.  Something else she said in that letter, nevertheless, led Cody to question what actually led Meg to kill herself.  She found it nearly impossible to believe that she had no idea her best friend would want to kill herself, and she set out to uncover the truth of whether this truly was a suicide or whether Meg had been somehow coerced.

I read this book a while ago, but actually forgot that I had read it when I was recently browsing through “available titles” on OverDrive…  All I remembered was that I had loved Gayle Forman’s writing in If I Stay and Where She Went, so I checked it out.  As I listened to it for a second time, though, I started to recall bits and pieces of the plot and felt compelled to keep listening in case there was anything else I had forgotten about the story.  Then it hit me that this would be a perfect book to share when #SuicidePreventionAwarenessMonth and #BannedBooksWeek overlapped.  Not only does this book inspire readers to think about and look for the possible warning signs of suicide, but it also helps to create a better sense of empathy for people who struggle with mental illness.  Rather than calling people “cowards” or “selfish,” we need to recognize the sense of helplessness that mental illness creates.  Hopefully, books like this will lead to a more open dialogue so that we can work to #EndTheStigma.

Happy Reading!

The Unlikelies by Carrie Firestone

unlikeliesSadie was more than prepared for a boring summer.  Her best friend was going away to work at a summer camp and she was going to work at a farm stand selling fruits, veggies, and $12 chunks of cheese to “citiots” who were on their way from NYC to the Hamptons.  Then, something completely random happened.  When a drunk and belligerent man pulled in to the farm stand, Sadie became a bit of a hero.  Rather than let him drive away with his toddler screaming and crying in the back seat, Sadie physically stopped him from leaving.  It wasn’t all that simple, though.  As she struggled to take away his keys, she actually had her head smashed off a toolbox and ended up with a major concussion and a terrible scar to show for her efforts.  Video of her daring deed went viral and she was nominated for an award at a “homegrown heroes” luncheon that honored local teens.

Though they would have been unlikely to come together on their own, these teens felt an instant connection and decided to start hanging out as a group.  Before long, they were working together to take down internet trolls while leaving care packages for the people who had been bullied.  I don’t want to give away too much, but I think it’s fair to say that their good deeds soon escalated with the help of a generous benefactor.  Though I was glad to see a book featuring brave and generous characters from a wide variety of backgrounds (both ethnic and socio-economic), I have concerns about the dangerous situations into which these teens placed themselves and can only hope that readers will know better than to emulate those particular acts of heroism.

Happy Reading!

Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

life-in-a-fishbowlJackie Stone wasn’t the most popular girl, but her life wasn’t really terrible either…  That is, until her father (Jared) was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Then, her life quickly spun out of control. With his family’s future financial security in mind, Jared made the decision to auction his life to the highest bidder on eBay.  That is where we meet several of the other narrators — a billionaire who wants to win so that he and Jared can compete in their own “Hunger Games,” a nun who wants to win so that she can help people find God and see that the Catholic Church values all life, a producer who wants to sign Jared’s family up for a reality TV series, and an online gamer who simply feels compelled to try and win so that she can help this man die with dignity.  I don’t think it is much of a spoiler to say that eBay took down the auction, since it clearly violates their human remains and body parts policy.  And, based on the title, I don’t think it very “spoilery” to even acknowledge that Jared did, in fact, agree to contract with the American Television Network for a reality TV series.  What I won’t spoil, nevertheless, is what happened *after* ATN stepped in.  Suffice it to say that it was kinda crazy but also not completely outside the realm of possibility.

Between Jackie, Jared, Glio (the name the brain tumor gave itself), and the bidders from eBay, I initially found it a little difficult to follow the myriad of perspectives.  I am glad that I kept going, nevertheless, because this story was filled with such great food for thought.  Individual rights and privacy of minors in reality TV series and euthanasia were merely the tip of the iceberg!  Despite the morbid premise, the story managed to be much more quirky than depressing and I am fairly certain I laughed more often than I was sad.  If you enjoyed Reality Boy, you should definitely read this book as well.

Happy Reading!

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

inexplicable-logicBefore Salvadore started his senior year, his life seemed to make much more sense.  Applying to colleges and thinking about both his history and how his life might change in the near future, though, started him questioning everything he thought he knew and understood.  Sal was adopted, but it wasn’t a “typical” adoption.  His dad, Vincente, and his birth mother were very good friends before she ever met his birth father and became pregnant.  So much so, in fact, that Vincente was the “birth coach” when Sal was born.  Although Vincente was gay, he even married Sal’s mother so that he could adopt Sal more easily before she died of cancer.  Sal never missed his mother too terribly because he had been too young to really remember her, but also because he felt so loved by his adoptive family.  Despite their different ethnicities (he was white and his adoptive family was Mexican-American), he never felt like an outsider.  When a few kids at school started directing racial and homophobic slurs at him and his father, nevertheless, Sal even started questioning his place in his family.

I don’t want to spoil any of the plot for y’all, but I think it is fair to say that this story includes several major, life-changing events that affect Sal and the people he loves most.  As he did with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Sáenz handled coming of age, family dynamics, and evolving friendships with both realism and beauty.  I was especially grateful for the adult characters, like Vincente and Mima.  Sal’s best friend, Samantha, and new friend, Fito, were amazing characters as well, but I find that it’s far less common for a YA novel to have such fully-developed, accessible, vulnerable, and honest adults.  If you haven’t read anything by this author, you need to fix that problem immediately…

Happy Reading!

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

before-i-let-goWhen Corey moved away from Lost Creek, Alaska, she promised to come back to her best friend Kyra.  And Kyra promised to wait for Corey.  But, only a few days before Corey was scheduled to go back, she received word that Kyra had died.  In the middle of the harsh Alaskan winter, Kyra had supposedly fallen through some ice and drowned.  To Corey, who knew that Kyra suffered from Bipolar Disorder (and how very thick the ice could get in the middle of winter), it seemed much more likely that Kyra had chosen to break that ice and taken her own life.  The insistence that it was an accident wasn’t even the most bizarre thing, though, as far as Corey was concerned.  Even more bizarre was the way the small town’s people reacted to Kyra’s death.  For her entire life, the people of Lost Creek had never cared for Kyra or her art, but they were suddenly displaying her artwork all over the place and talking about how well liked and respected she had been.  Instead of acknowledging that Kyra had been suffering from depression, her mother insisted that Kyra was truly happy near the end.  And, even though Corey had grown up in Lost Creek and only moved away a short time ago, people suddenly treated her coldly, called her an outsider, and warned her not to “pry into other people’s business.”  When she carried on asking questions to try and understand what had happened, Kyra’s mother simply said, “Her death was inevitable, and so be it.”  Say what?!?

I absolutely loved Nijkamp’s first book, This Is Where It Ends.  I saw on Facebook that a friend had read this ARC, so I immediately messaged her and asked if she had an actual physical copy and, if so, whether she would *PLEASE* send it on to me.  Luckily, it was and she did!  Just like TIWIE, I could not put this book down!  I read the first 150 pages in a single shot and only stopped at that point because my husband would have been upset if I chose my book over dinner with him and our daughter.  😉  I read the rest of the book in one more sitting and almost considered re-reading it to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  Sadly, this book is not slated to be published until January 2018, so it looks like most of y’all will need to wait to read it.  But just trust me and put it on your TBR list now…  It will be worth the wait.

Happy Reading!

Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy

divided-we-fallDanny Wright signed up for the Army National Guard when he was 17 years old because he felt compelled to both serve his country and to honor the memory of his father, who died while serving in the Army.  At first, he was proud to wear his uniform and excited to get to train with high-powered guns… but that all changed only a short time after he finished bootcamp.  Why?  He was called in by the Governor of Idaho to help with protests in Boise (about a proposed new federal ID card) and things got very out of hand very quickly.  One accidental shot turned into a firefight in which civilians were injured and killed, and people started making comparisons to the Kent State shootings that took place during a Vietnam War protest in 1970.  Knowing that he fired the shot that started it all, and seeing how quickly people snapped to pass judgement when they did not have all the facts, he was glad that the Governor pledged to protect the identities of the guardsmen who were involved.  But, how long would the Governor be able to protect them when the President of the United States of America was demanding answers?

I especially appreciated the way Reedy worked in both extreme news coverage and polarized social media reactions.  I was impressed to see a YA novel tackle the very complex topic of federal government/federal laws vs state government/states’ rights, but the audiobook impressed me even more.  Much like Countdown, this audiobook uses a variety of sound effects and multiple readers to create sound bites that mimic news broadcasts and to set apart the non-narrative portions of the book.  The only “down side” to listening to this audiobook all at once (on a road trip) was that the “near future” setting seemed entirely too plausible and actually made me feel a little anxious as if I were really listening to the news.  :-/

Happy Reading!