Category Archives: you think you’ve got problems?

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!

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!

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!

Black, White, Other: In Search of Nina Armstrong by Joan Steinau Lester

black-white-otherNina Armstrong didn’t think much about being biracial until her parents split up.  She didn’t think much about her creamy mocha skin and curly brown and red hair. Until her parents decided to divorce, she didn’t really feel the need to “pick a side.” Now that her darker-skinned brother, Jimi, has moved out with their [black] dad and she has stayed living with her [white] mom, though, she is starting to question things much more.  Especially with racial tensions in Oakland rising at the same time as her parents’ split, Nina starts to feel like she doesn’t belong anywhere.  She begins to feel too black around the white kids and too white around the black kids.  Some of her best friends suddenly start to treat her differently, and she can’t seem to coexist peacefully with her mom or her dad.  She is also worried about Jimi, who seems to have fallen in with the wrong crowd, but she is worried that seeking help for him will make matters worse, or at least drive him away. The only person she seems to feel a connection with is her great-great-grandmother, Sarah Armstrong — about whom she hadn’t even know until her father shared the manuscript for the book he was writing.  As she reads about the lengths to which Sarah went, to learn how to read and to escape slavery, she finds the courage she needs to face her own struggles.

I thought this title was perfect to share right during #BannedBooksWeek, considering Sarah Armstrong’s epiphany that she had become a “feared posession: property that could read.”  Modern day activists like Malala Yousafzai are quick to remind us ignorance makes people unable to make educated decisions about their own lives and the world around them.  If the masses are kept ignorant, it is easier for the people in power to control them.  This book is also a good conversation starter for people who are interested in delving more deeply into the history of race relations in the US and the #BlackLivesMatter movement that is still/currently making headlines.

Happy Reading!

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

tragic-kind-of-wonderful

Hamster is ACTIVE
Hummingbird is HOVERING
Hammerhead is CRUISING
Hanniganimal is UP!

This is the way the story opens, and the method Mel Hannigan uses to track her bipolar disorder.  The hamster represents her mind/thinking, the hummingbird represents her energy level, the hammerhead represents her physical health, and the Hanniganimal is how they all come together to form “The Hannigan Animal” (aka Mel).  As someone who is only mildly familiar with bipolar disorder and who hasn’t experienced it herself, I thought I would find it difficult to insinuate myself into the mind of a character who was experiencing constant and vast swings between mania and depression.  Though Mel’s experiences with Bipolar Disorder were different than my own mental health issues with “Pure O” OCD, though, these analogies helped me to relate better than I expected.

I truly appreciate that more authors are writing books like this to provide  readers with a healthy dose of information that contributes to compassion and empathy toward people suffering from mental health disorders.  We can’t #EndTheStigma if no one will talk about it!  Even better, I like the fact that this book did so without feeling clunky or didactic.  One of my favorite characters in this story is Dr. Jordan — a resident at the nursing home at which Mel works (who was a therapist, but is not *her* therapist).  He tells it like it is, but he is gentle and diplomatic enough that Mel doesn’t completely shut him out when she is vacillating between moods.  This isn’t just a book about Bipolar Disorder, though.  It’s also a book about navigating life, love, and friendship through the tumult that is adolescence.  After reading and loving both this book and Not If I See You First, I can’t wait to see what will be next from Eric Lindstrom.  (I may have to wait a while, though, since this book is not even due for publication until February 2017…)

Happy Reading!

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

memory-bookThis book hit a little too close to home…  Kinda.  It’s not that I know any young people who have dealt with a “Niemann-Pick Type C” diagnosis, but I have had all too much personal experience in knowing and loving people with varying forms of dementia.  Both of my father’s parents suffered from Alzheimer’s before they died.  My mother’s dad is currently living with Alzheimer’s.  And my own father had a ruptured brain aneurysm [nearly] two years ago that has left him with an “unspecified” dementia related to the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) he sustained from the rupture, several open-brain surgeries, etc.  As far as I am concerned, it might as well be Alzheimer’s, but it seems that his doctors don’t want to pigeon-hole him into a specific diagnosis after a TBI.  What’s the point of me bringing my personal life into this?  Well, I think it speaks to my ability to say whether this book portrays dementia accurately.  And, sadly, I think Lara Avery must have some firsthand experience(s) of her own — because she was spot on.

It is, quite frankly, gut-wrenchingly awful to watch a parent or grandparent fall victim to dementia.  There are some “good” days, when the person will recognize people, be steady on his/her feet, and generally seem OK.  But, then there are the days when your own father doesn’t know who you are, remember where he is, or even recall that he already ate lunch today.  It is frustrating and heartbreaking to watch my father [who used to do construction for a living] struggle to stand up from a chair or take a short walk from the living room to the kitchen.  The only way I could imagine a worse scenario is if it would happen to one of my children, as it does to Sammie McCoy in this story.  Sammie has always been a good kid, gotten good grades, excelled in debate club, and had a plan to go off to NYU after graduation.  But, when she starts to suffer from both failing memory and failing health, her entire life plan starts to crumble.  This “memory book” is Sammie’s way to record her journey through the end of high school so that “future Sammie” will know the stories even if she can’t remember them.  FYI — don’t read this book in public if you’re worried about strangers seeing you cry…

Happy Reading!