Meant to Be by Julie Halpern

meant-to-beThe concept of a “soul mate” has been around for practically forever, but something strange started happening a few years ago.  No one knows why, but people started getting names on their chests.  Not like a tattoo, per se, since they didn’t choose the name and/or do it themselves.  Names just started appearing.  Signatures, actually.  Though no one knows why or how this started happening, many people honestly believe that the signature belongs to the person they are Meant To Be with (their MTB).  People believe in this phenomenon so much, in fact, that there are even services to help you scan in your signature and your MTB’s signature so that you can find each other more quickly.  And I guess that is great if you believe in the whole MTB thing, but what if you don’t?

Agatha isn’t so sure about the whole MTB thing.  In fact, she prefers to use the term “Empties” (MTs) instead of MTBs.  She was probably a little jaded by the fact that her high school boyfriend immediately dumped her and went in search of his MTB when a signature appeared on his chest, but it is more than that.  She just doesn’t know how she feels about love and relationships in general.  Is there really such a thing as fate and destiny?  Could it possibly be that easy to find the person who is right for her?  Sadly, her MTB has a very common name, so she doesn’t exactly have an easy time searching for him online to find out more of what he might be like.  And then, to complicate things just a bit more, she starts to fall for a guy at work.  This witty coming-of-age story is a great blend of humor, romance, and magical realism.  Just an FYI, though — based on the mature content, some people might be more comfortable labeling this New Adult rather than YA.

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!

The Big F by Maggie Ann Martin

the-big-fDanielle had always planned on going to Ohio State.  And, since her mom was renowned for her work as a “college psychic” (who helped families pick the perfect school), she didn’t bother applying to any back-up schools.  Although no one was surprised to find out that she got accepted, she wasn’t sure what to do when she was notified that they rescinded her acceptance.  How could that even happen?  Well, Danielle failed AP English.  So, she had to find a way to replace that failing grade if she wanted to earn back her acceptance.  Plus, you know, find a way to tell everyone that she was no longer going away to Ohio State in the fall.  Ack!

I was very pleased to see that Danielle took it upon herself to come up with a new plan and that her new plan involved redemption rather than admitting defeat.  I was also happy to see that, though this is definitely a romance, Danielle didn’t intend to rush out and find herself a boyfriend…  It just kind of happened when she least expected it.  Readers who enjoy a coming of age story with light romance and family/friend drama should definitely check this one out.

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 One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth

one-safe-placeDevin never knew life before the Earth got too hot.  All he knew of that time was what his grandfather told him.  But, despite the fact that he grew up in the “after,” he wasn’t really aware of the hardships that affected most people.  Growing up on the farm, he learned how to make due with what the animals and the land provided.  As long as he and his grandfather worked hard, they had all they really needed.  When his grandfather died, though, it became too much for a single person to manage.  So, Devin set off to the city to see if he could find anyone to help him work the farm.  For the first time in his life, Devin experienced true thirst and hunger.  He was also exposed to the darker side of humans when he encountered people who were willing to hurt others and steal in order to survive as well as those who ignored the suffering of others.

After settling in with some other orphaned children who taught him to scam and scavenge enough to get by, Devin began to hear rumors about a special home for children.  If the rumors were to be believed, it was a place in which children would have more than enough food and toys for all.  Even better?  There was a chance that the children could be adopted by families that could provide for them!  Some of the orphans believed in this place, but others thought it was a mere fairy tale.  When Devin met an older boy who promised to bring him to this home for children, though, he decided to take a chance.  As it turns out, this home really did exist… but something was not quite right.  This book is technically “middle grade” fiction, but teen and adult fans of dystopias should definitely check it out.

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!