Sunnybrook High doesn’t have cheerleaders anymore. It wasn’t a hazing scandal or a lack of funding that ended the cheerleading program, though. It was the fact that Sunnybrook was trying to make it easier to move on from the tragic loss of five cheerleaders. The first two died in a car accident. The next two were brutally murdered. And then the final cheerleader died by suicide. Five years later, Monica is still struggling to come to terms with her sister’s death and to figure out what really happened. First of all, Monica is convinced that her sister never would have killed herself. She also finds it extremely troubling that the man who supposedly murdered two girls was killed as the police attempted to apprehend him. Her stepfather and his partner swore that they were acting in self-defense, but their story doesn’t quite add up when you consider the evidence at the scene.
When Monica discovers a stack of letters in her stepfather’s desk, it becomes very clear that whatever happaned isn’t actually over. The letters have been coming every year around the anniversary of the cheerleader tragedy, and they insinuate that all the deaths were somehow connected. There is also the fact that Monica found her sister’s old cellphone hidden in her stepfather’s desk. Why on earth would he have kept that?!? Monica decides that something must be up and she becomes determined to figure out what really happened. It’s pretty clear to her that *somebody* has to know something more, but she doesn’t know who they are or what they know. How far is she willing to go to find the truth? And why does she seem to be smack in the middle of whatever it is that happened?!?
Julia is NOT her parents’ perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s title. Now that Olga is dead, though, Julia is all her parents have left. And it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to understand that Julia wants to focus on her education, especially going away to college, instead of focusing on her family. The thing is, though, that Julia is pretty sure the “perfection” of Olga was a myth. She definitely played the part of the dutiful daughter well enough, living at home and spending her free time hanging out with extended family. But after Olga’s sudden and tragic death — she was hit by a semi while crossing the street — Julia found a few clues that Olga might not have been exactly who she seemed to be. Because Olga’s friends don’t seem to know anything, or at least won’t talk to Julia about what she found, though, she isn’t sure she will ever learn the whole truth.
I really loved how Sánchez walked us through Julia’s revelations about people and interpersonal relationships she had taken for granted all her life. Julia’s awakening insight into the rationale and motives of people around her, particularly her parents, was often aided by her memories of Olga as she navigated her own grief and guilt surrounding Olga’s death. And although she wasn’t a particularly likable protagonist, with all her whining and complaining, I was intrigued by Julia’s desire to stay true to herself while still “giving in” to her parents’ desires and attempting to honor her family and her cultural traditions. (If you are not familiar with Mexican cultural traditions such as the quinceañera, by the way, this book is an excellent primer.)
Emilia had a particularly tough childhood… After surviving a horrific attack behind her elementary school, she was so traumatized that she actually stopped speaking for some time. In the aftermath of the attack, her father also left because he couldn’t deal. Now that she is in high school, she is frustrated that she still can’t quite get past the attack. She sometimes finds herself mentally trapped in the time of the attack and reliving it. Winters are especially bad, since that was when the attack took place. And attempts to be intimate with her boyfriend seem to be particularly triggering. To make matters worse, she just found out that the person who attacked her was *not* actually the person she identified and who went to jail. With the knowledge that she sent an innocent person to jail and that she will likely see him around town once he is released, Emilia isn’t sure how she will make it through this winter.
Though this story doesn’t deal with straight-up amnesia, fans of With Malice will likely enjoy the way this story also unfolds bit by bit to reveal how everything happened. If you’re looking for a book that will keep you guessing, and on the edge of your seat, you should definitely add this to your summer reading pile.
Hannah desperately wished she could go back in time and say something to stand up for her [former?] best friend Emory. And Emory wished she could take back the hurtful things she *did* say to Hannah. But neither girl knew how to bridge the gap in their friendship after the damage was done. Though the girls were next door neighbors and best friends for their entire lives up to that point, the events of one terrible morning may have caused irreparable damage. And then, a strange twist of fate had the potential to bring them back together. One night, as she went into her kitchen to get a glass of water, Hannan noticed Emory’s boyfriend, Luke, outside of her house — slumped over behind the wheel of his car…
Chapters alternate between Hannah (a believer) and Emory (a skeptic), as they navigate their changing lives and beliefs. After Emory learns about her family’s financial struggles, and especially after Luke’s accident, she finds herself re-evaluating both her faith and her relationship with her family. And though Emory had a pretty solid plan to break things off with Luke before they headed their separate ways for college — including a journal with a countdown to the day they would say goodbye — she finds that she might not be ready to let go. Between Luke’s exploration of his own beliefs [after his near death experience] and the revelation of what caused the fight between Hannah and Emory, Tamara Ireland Stone provides her readers with plenty of food for thought.
Everyone thinks Jake is a hero. Everyone except Jake, that is. He doesn’t think he was heroic for his actions during combat — he was just following his instincts, using his training, and doing what he had to do to survive. He is expecting to receive a Silver Star, nevertheless, which is an even greater honor than the Bronze Star his famous grandfather, The General, received for his valor during the Vietnam War. Jake would rather get a medical discharge from the Army. It would be sacrilege to say as much, though, since both sides of his family [and his entire town, in fact] are very pro-military. How can Jake possibly go through physical therapy only to head back and finish his deployment? How can he put himself back in danger knowing full well that he might be killed next time? How can he bear the burden of killing more “enemy” soldiers now that he has seen them up close and recognized that they feel as justified to fight on their side of the war as he does on his? Though he already has difficulty coping with what he has been through and is even starting to question how truly “voluntary” the US military is, Jake isn’t sure how he could ever step away from this path he is expected to take.
By alternating between Jake’s homecoming and his time in training and combat, Strasser does an excellent job juxtaposing the varied conditions under which modern day soldiers must learn to cope. After living through the explosion of an IED on patrol, for instance, Jake finds it nearly impossible to keep his cool in a military parade during which people shoot off fireworks in complete ignorance of the fact that they are triggering his PTSD. Night terrors make it difficult to sleep, and depression and anxiety make it difficult to function while awake. Sadly, trends show that many military service members often avoid mental health care due to the stigma and the belief that seeking treatment could affect their military career advancement. This book did a great job illustrating the variety of factors that play into the military mental health crisis so that civilians might better understand the difficulties faced by those who serve and have served.
My decision to read this book on Memorial Day Weekend was very purposeful, by the way. First, I wanted another way to recognize and observe the great sacrifice many service members have made for our country. Secondly, I wanted to have time to review this book by the end of #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth. It is my hope that books like this will help to start and/or keep the conversation going so that we can #EndTheStigma. For another fantastic book about a young soldier coming back from the “forever war” in the Middle East, I highly recommend Ryan Smithson’s memoir Ghosts of War.
People tend to take a lot of things for granted. We assume our parents or siblings will be there for us when we need them. We assume we will have time to make up with our significant other after a fight. We assume that the ride home, to school, or to the mall will be only as stressful as traffic makes it… But Jason, Alexa, Scott, and Skyler learned a very hard lesson about making such assumptions. When The Tobin Bridge collapsed — as their parents, girlfriend, and sister were driving over it — they discovered how truly unpredictable life can be. While they waited at Massachussetts General Hospital, these teens bonded over their grief, terror, uncertainty, and helplessness. Seeing victims come in via ambulance and watching as other people in the waiting room received news about their loved ones was almost too much to bear.
I think Lawson did a wonderful job showcasing the variety of ways people react to a traumatic event. Though this wasn’t a fast-paced thriller, I still found myself reading with rapt attention. I particularly enjoyed the flashbacks that helped readers get to know more about the background of these characters and the people about whom they were worried. I am definitely looking forward to reading more from this new author.
Reynolds and Kiely have written a fantastic primer and conversation starter for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. By alternating between two perspectives — Rashad, a victim of police brutality, and Quinn, who was both a witness and a close family friend of the officer involved — they even helped to address the #BlueLivesMatter rebuttal.
Rashad was a good kid. He did well in school, was in JROTC, and generally stayed out of trouble. All it took was one moment of confusion in a corner store for a police officer to think he was a thief and a punk who may have attacked an innocent woman. The next thing he knew, he was pinned to the sidewalk and getting pummeled. Mind blown and body battered, Rashad had to face both his physical recovery and his awakening to the racism that still existed within his country and even his own community.
Despite having witnessed the arrest/beating and [later] the videos that other people had captured, it was still very difficult for Quinn to process. He had always thought of Paul as a good guy. He knew that what he saw went over the line… And yet, how cold he turn his back on someone who had helped him so much when his own father died? With friends and family pressuring him to side with the officer and his conscience begging him to side with the victim, Quinn had some very tough decisions to make. Would he join the protest march? And could he live with himself if he didn’t?
After finishing Long Way Down, I knew that I had to read something else by Jason Reynolds, and the cover of this book jumped right out at me. I definitely wasn’t disappointed. I look forward to reading more from both of these great authors. After all, what’s a few more books added to my never-ending TBR list?!? 😉