Category Archives: you think you’ve got problems?

It Started With Goodbye by Christina June

started-with-goodbyeHave you ever been in the wrong place at the wrong time?  If so, you’ll probably empathize with the crazy mess Tatum got herself into.  She went on a shopping trip with her best friend, Ashlyn, and Ashlyn’s boyfriend tagged along.  Sick of watching them make out, she decided to purchase her own items and wait out front, in her car, for them to finish up and join her.  When they came out, though, they were followed by security — because Ashlyn’s boyfriend had been shoplifting.  It didn’t matter that Tatum wasn’t in on his plan.  She and Ashlyn were with him, so they were arrested too.  Not only did she receive a large fine and compulsory community service, but she and Ashlyn stopped talking after she agreed to give testimony for a lighter sentence.

Despite the fact that she didn’t “do” anything, her father grounded her (pretty much indefinitely) right before he left town for business.  Can you imagine?  Just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, her entire summer was ruined.  When she wasn’t out doing her community service, she was stuck on house arrest with her stepmother, Belén — who seemed to hate her and to look for any and every opportunity to punish her — and her stepsister, Tilly.  Tilly basically existed solely to dance [ballet], and was the apple of her mother’s eye, so it was kind of a given that the girls didn’t form any sort of sisterly bond.  There were two bright spots in this whole mess, though.  First of all, her step-abuela, Blanche, would be coming to stay for the summer.  Even though Blanche was coming to help keep an eye on Tatum, she seemed to be more of a “fairy grandmother” than a warden.  Second, there was the fact that Tatum would have plenty of time to spend on her web design skills and creating a company/portfolio to use for her college applications.

Although there were obvious Cinderella vibes, this story didn’t feel like it was *just* a modernized retelling.  I loved the diverse cast of characters, the look into the complications of blended families, the realistic teen angst, and the swoon-worthy romance.  I recommend this book to readers who enjoy contemporary romances by authors like Sarah Dessen, Carolyn Mackler, and Sara Zarr.

Happy Reading!

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

seventh-wishThis is a book that I might have overlooked, had it not been for Facebook.  You see, I was scrolling through my feed recently and happened across a story about an author’s Skype visit that fell through.  On January 17th, Kate Messner posted:

This afternoon, I  had to cancel a Skype visit about THE SEVENTH WISH because the teacher doesn’t want to mention the fact that the main character’s older sister is fighting opioid addiction. She told me that in her class read-aloud, she’s been ‘skipping’ the parts of the story that deal with that, so while the students are aware that there’s a drug issue, most of them think it’s probably marijuana. I told her I wasn’t comfortable with misleading kids in my presentation and suggested that she share the author’s note, which offers a factual and kid-friendly explanation of what opioid drugs are, how they affect the brain, and why they have such a devastating effect on families like Charlie’s.

She opted to cancel the visit instead. She’s never known anyone with a drug issue and believes she’s doing what’s right for her students. She was very kind in her emails, but I have to admit, I’m crushed. I can’t tell you how sad this makes me, mostly for the kids in that class who might already be living in a situation like Charlie’s.

If you have the opportunity to share THE SEVENTH WISH by recommending to a teacher or for a state list or really anywhere, I’d truly appreciate that. I so wish more kids who need this story could have access to it.

I was heartbroken to see that those kids were misled, despite the fact that their teacher had good intentions.  Research shows that it’s best for adults to have an open and ongoing conversation about topics like drug abuse starting at an early age, rather than “having the talk” in adolescence.  Parents and caregivers should look for spontaneous/everyday situations and teachable moments to start open and honest conversations.  In this story, we get a nice combination of of fantasy (Charlie finds a magical wishing fish), Irish culture (Charlie is very involved in Irish Dancing), and some important teachable moments (Charlie’s older sister has been using heroin).  I appreciated the fact that this story didn’t only focus on the drug problem but rather incorporated the problem into how it affected the rest of Charlie’s life, so that it felt much more genuine.  There were times when you could sort of forget what Charlie’s sister was going through, and I think that is very true to how it might be for a person whose family member is battling addiction.  It seems to take over sometimes, but there are moments when you can actually get caught up in the joy and madness of everyday life.

In good news, Kate posted yesterday:

I’m so looking forward to my school visit today. It’s in Brandon, Vermont, where THE SEVENTH WISH was chosen by the entire school district (Rutland Northeast) as a community read for 5th and 6th grade students, in collaboration with Brandon Cares, a local organization responding to the region’s opioid crisis.

This book is a perfect “teachable moment,” and I applaud the Rutland Northeast School District for choosing it as their community read!  Considering the fact that there is a major opioid epidemic all around our country, and not just in Vermont, I think it is important that this book get into the hands of as many people as possible.  Please do your part by reading this book and then passing it along to parents, teachers, and middle grade readers.  I don’t often buy books, since I am a librarian and can’t really afford my reading habit, but I just ordered a copy of this book to add to my personal library so that I can share it with my own children and pass it around to other young people who might benefit (with their parents’ permission, of course).

Happy Reading!

The Best Possible Answer by E. Katherine Kottaras

Best possible answerViviana Rabinovich-Lowe, aka Viv, was a model student and daughter for most of her life. As she headed toward the penultimate year of her high school career, nevertheless, her life began falling apart. The beginning of the end was when she fell in love with the wrong guy and trusted him with a rather personal (::ahem:: nude) photo of herself. After the breakdown that resulted from the photo being shared all over social media, Viv’s life started to unravel even further… Her parents no longer trusted her, she didn’t really have many friends, and panic attacks crept up out of nowhere. Because her grades started to suffer, too, she feared that she would never get into a good college and had ruined her life entirely. And, just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, Viv realized that her parents’marriage was beyond saving — but had no idea how to break the news to her mother.

Not only does this story serve as a great warning of the dangers of sexting, but it is also a great examination of the power of love, trust, friendship, and self-forgiveness. I can only hope this book makes it into the hands of the young people who need it.

Happy Reading!

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!