Archive for the ‘Young Adult’ Category

ImaginaryGirlsImaginary Girls is Nova Ren Suma’s (Dani Noir) second novel. I’m finding it hard to explain what it’s about, so I’ll give you the beginning and maybe a few comments from the book flap. Fourteen year old Chloe idolizes her nineteen year old sister Ruby, as well she should. Ruby practically raised her. Ruby would do anything to protect her and is also proud of her. Swimming with friends one night down at the reservoir created to provide water for New York City, Ruby brags that Chloe can swim the  width of the reservoir and come back with a souvenir from Olive, the town that was drowned in order to create the reservoir. Halfway across, Chloe tires and as she loses strength, a rowboat magically appears. She grabs on and as she feels around the boat, she realizes there’s a body in it…a classmate, London.

That’s as much as I’m going to tell you.

On the back of the book jacket, Nancy Werlin calls is “A surreal little nightmare in book form.” Aimee Bender calls it “eerie and gripping…” The book flap says “…a masterfully distorted vision of family…” If this doesn’t have you totally confused…

Suffice it to say, Suma does a masterful job. I like the way she writes. It’s descriptive and literary. You can visualize the characters, the setting, the action. You constantly wonder what’s going to happen next. Yes, it is surreal. It is eerie. But I had to keep on reading.

For an out of the ordinary book, it’s Imaginary Girls.

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Kiri is spending July alone at home while her parents are on a month long anniversary cruise. WildAwakeHer older brother is away at school. She is supposed to be practicing piano non-stop for a competition she’s entered. But one call upsets all of her plans.

The call is from Doug Fieldgrass and he slurs “Lissen, I ain’t going to call again. You want her stuff (Kiri’s older sister Sukey who supposedly died in a car accident when Kiri was 10), you get yourself down here and take it.”

Kiri is perplexed. She idolized her artist sister. She also knew that Sukey and her parents were at odds and Sukey was thrown out of the house. But no one ever speaks of Sukey. Kiri decides to track down Doug and find out what happened.

Along the way she befriends Skunk, a guy a few years older, with his own problems.

Wild Awake, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel, is certainly an interesting read. However, I found the beginning slow going and by the end I just wanted to find out what happened, so I guess a little more editing might have been a good thing. Also, if it’s meant to be realistic fiction, there were some parts in which you have to suspend your belief and rely on imagination.

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ThisSongWillSaveYourLifeSince this was in last Sunday’s New York Times book review, I thought I’d add my two cents.

In this debut novel by Leila Sales, sixteen-year-old Elise Dembowski is invisible most of the time and taunted the other times. A driven teenager, she spent the summer reading teen and fashion magazines, listening to gossip, learning how to dress and what to talk about, all in the hopes that come September she’d fit in, have friends. However, on the first day of school, nothing has changed, so she left early, went home and feebly attempted suicide by slitting her wrists. Sitting in the bathroom bleeding through a bandage she put on, she called a girl she wanted to be friends with, Amelia Kindl, who immediately called 911, which started a chain of events including therapy.

Fast forward seven months and Elise (still nothing has changed), who splits her time between her divorced parents’ houses, finds it hard to sleep so she sneaks out at night to walk the neighborhood. One night two girls beckon her over, thinking she was looking for the dance club, Start. Following them inside, Elise is in awe and, getting introduced to the DJ, realizes that’s something she would love to do.

I must say that This Song Will Save Your Life reminded DerbyGirlme a bit of Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, which I really liked (young misfit teen finds something she’s passionate about but is too young to pursue it without parental consent). Readers will immediately like Elise and feel her pain. They’ll also like Vicki (read the book to find out who she is). They’ll understand Elise’s desire for recognition, acceptance, friends and her inability, at times, to recognize who her friends really are. Sales is a talented writer and if this book is any indication, I can’t wait for her next book. It’s a fun story on a serious issue.

And….there’s a bonus; a playlist at the back of the book. So, now I’m off to find some CDs with songs mentioned on the playlist.

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A.S. King tackles two significant topics in Everybody Sees the Ants. The first is the status of the Missing in EverybodySeesTheAntsAction in our sundry wars and the second is bullying. Known recently for her highly praised Ask the Passengers, King’s 2011 novel centers on Lucky Linderman who has been bullied by Nader McMillan since he was seven years old when Nader peed on Lucky in a restaurant restroom and escalated to rubbing Lucky’s face in the concrete by the local community pool when Lucky was fifteen forming a scab that started out taking the shape of Ohio and diminishing to various other states before finally healing.

AskThePassengersTwo underlying themes include Lucky’s proposed (but vetoed) social studies project, a survey of the student body with the question “If you were going to commit suicide, what method would you use?” This, of course, spurred the school’s administration into action, suggesting that Lucky seek professional help…thus avoiding the issues surrounding why kids would want to commit suicide to begin with.

The second is Lucky’s grandfather, Harry, who is a Vietnam veteran missing in action. His grandmother, Janice, was an MIA advocate and refused repeated governmental attempts to have her agree to change his status to presumed dead. On her deathbed when Lucky was seven, she made him promise to find Harry. Of course, Lucky had no clue as to what this meant, but it started a series of unusual dreams.

We are all familiar with bullying (this book was excerpted in an audio CD on bullying…that’s how it came to my attention). King created a bully we can all visualize in Nader. There is no person unscathed from his actions. Compounded by Lucky’s inactive parents, he has no recourse but to ‘take it’.

We are less cognizant of the fact that there remain MIA veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

King’s characters’ lives vary, in many ways making us realize that we all have shit to deal with and while we may have it rough, there are people who have it rougher, although on the outside everything looks fine. King makes her point on both counts with an entertaining book, interesting characters and fine writing. You can read Everybody Sees the Ants for the enjoyment or for a purpose, but in either event, you’ll have a good read.

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BookOfBrokenHeartsJude Hernandez is confronting two issues in the summer after graduating high school. Her papi, only 52 years old, is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease and his actions, moods and memory are unpredictable.

One day, she uncovered an old motorcycle under tarps in their barn. It was her papi’s and he rode it all over Argentina before moving to the States. In the hope of delaying/reversing El Demonio, they decide to have it restored. Unfortunately, it is Emilio Vargas who is given that chore-the Vargas boys are known for breaking the hearts of Hernandez girls-and Jude is falling for him defying an oath the four sisters took to avoid Vargas’ at all costs.

The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler is the only YA book I know of that addresses this important issue. According to the Alzheimer’s Association,

  • Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • More than 5 million Americans have it.
  • Approximately 4% (200,000) of the above cases are early onset, meaning the person is under 65 years old.
  • By 2025, it is estimated that 7.1 million Americans will have the disease and
  • By 2050 it jumps to 13.8 million.

Ockler ably tackles the issues surrounding the disease and the family members who have to deal with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, such as caregiving (both short term and long term), the progression and unpredictability of the disease, the need for family members to lead their own lives.  The romantic spark between Emilio and Jude amid the disapproval of her sisters adds to the story line.

The Book of Broken Hearts is a touching story on many levels.

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BrutalIn this day and age when things are fast and new becomes old quickly, we tend to forget about books that aren’t on the best seller list. It’s nice, on occasion, to remind ourselves of some of the good books out there and Brutal by Michael Harmon is one that we should remember. An audio excerpt was on a CD about bullying, which is what first brought it to my attention.

Harmon’s dedication says it all. “This novel was written for all teenagers out there who have the courage to stand up for something they believe to be true, and the willingness to overcome mistakes made in trying to make a difference in this world. It’s also for the parents, teachers, and administrators who listen to them.”

Poe (named after Edgar Allan) Holly is new at Benders High School in Benders Hollow, CA, having moved in with a father she hasn’t seen in sixteen years when her surgeon mother decides to spend a year in South America helping to the people there. What Poe sees as she navigates her first few days at Benders High is the inequality among students: the sports team members are high on the totem pole, followed by cheerleaders and the championship choir. Lowest of the low are the geeks and dorks, some of whom literally get beaten to a pulp. She tries to convince her guidance counselor father that school rules, to some extent, foster this inequality, but he’s not on board yet. It can be something simple like football team members can wear their jerseys to gym instead of the authorized ‘gym uniform’ to something more severe such as the football star beating up a kid and getting away with it. Poe is out to make things right.

Having an affinity for non-conformists, I really like Poe, who dresses Goth or whatever fashion suits her, and I’m sure most readers will. She teams up with Theo, the mayor’s son and another outcast, making an interesting couple. She’s certainly got her own demons to conquer as she grows up and tries to exert herself, but as a sixteen year old, she’s making a great start.

In this era when it seems to me kids are apathetic and when bullying, especially bullying via social media is dominating the news, it’s refreshing to know that someone cares and one person can make a difference. Brutal is a quick, enjoyable read.

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Susan is the adventurous one. She’ll see a book cover that interests her, read the firstDrBird page or two and decide whether or not the book is worth reading. Me? I typically take my cues from reviews or favorite authors. So, it was odd that I’d just pick a book from Books of Wonder and decide to buy it based on the title and cover. But that’s exactly what I did and it was a good choice. (The other book I picked was from an author I like and it was somewhat disappointing.) Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos was a rewarding, humorous, serious book.

James Whitman, no relation to Walt, does have an affinity for Walt’s poetry and cites it often. James is a tree hugger, when he gets depressed. The shape, the bark, the roundness, the texture oftentimes makes him feel somewhat better. And James does have things to be depressed about. His father, the Brute, and his mother, the Banshee, are abusive. They’ve kicked his sister Jorie out of the house, ostensibly because she beat up another girl at school. But Jorie’s always been a problem.

When James needs to vent or think things out, he sees Dr. Bird, an imaginary pigeon therapist who knows all about James, as Dr. Bird is in his mind. Dr. Bird will walk in circles, coo at him, stick his beak under his wing and stare at him with his big black eye. This, too, seems to help James cope.

Like all high school juniors, James has anxiety…about school, about girls (especially Beth), about life, about his sister. Unfortunately, his anxiety extends far beyond that of most teens.

Mr. Roskos wonderfully handles the issue of anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide and cutting. He tells kids it’s not bad to have anxiety but too much is no good. He lets kids know that it’s OK to need someone independent to talk to about problems. He also lets kids know that they don’t necessarily have to live with abuse.

It’s Mr. Roskos’ combination of the serious and the absurd (James’ friend Derek being the absurd…I won’t tell you why) that caught my attention and kept me reading. There are some books that are ‘in your face’ about teen issues and there are those that get the point across more subtly, as is the case with Dr. Bird.

I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets. It’s probably low on most people’s radar but I hope this may bring it up a notch.

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JustLikeFateWhen I decided to read Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick, it was for two reasons. The first was that I really liked her book Forgotten (which made my 2011 Top Ten list) about a girl who loses her memory every night. The second was I read the blurb, but not the whole blurb. Shame on me. I read “One decision changes everything…” I missed the “…in this Sliding Doors meets Anna and the French Kiss novel that explores split realities of romance and family loyalties.” Knowing that the main character, Caroline, is faced with her gram’s impending death and she can make one of two decisions, I expected a heavy dose of realistic fiction, the two outcomes diametrically opposed. Instead, I got chick lit.

Having said the above, I enjoyed the book (I like some chick lit), it kept my interest, but it was far from what I expected. Caroline has two choices: stay in the hospital with Gram or go to a party. Still I thought these two choices would have equal and opposite consequences. With 50 pages left to go, though, it doesn’t appear that way. Similar to Parallel by Lauren Miller, which is time travel/time warp, both authors seem to bring their stories full circle…which, of course, shouldn’t happen, in my opinion.

Just Like Fate does explore, to some extent, family relationships (which siblings like each other and which don’t), divorce (Caroline’s parents went through a bitter divorce), boy/girl relationships (should she or shouldn’t she). The characters are interesting, the plot keeps you reading, but it isn’t something that you won’t find in other books.

I’d categorize Just Like Fate as a beach read. Nothing too heavy.

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There is something so sad about If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin. Having lived IfHeHadBeenWithMea good portion of my life already, it saddens me to see or read of wasted time, things that should be that aren’t. Nowlin’s book describes just that. Autumn and Finny lived next door to each other since birth. Their moms are best friends and it was always their hope that their children would take their own best friendship one step further. But you know how middle school and high school blur the ‘what should be’ with cliques and odd friendships and boyfriends and girlfriends, so that what should be doesn’t happen or is delayed.

So it is with Autumn and Finny. They get sidetracked. The sad part is that one word from either of them would get them back on track, but that doesn’t happen. And so we follow Autumn and her friends from eighth grade through high school graduation, the getting togethers and the breakups and the sex and the drinking…and mostly Autumn’s epiphany about Finny and her regrets.

And while If He Had Been With Me is nicely written and the main characters come to life, there were things that bothered me, although probably minor things. (1) None of these high school kids had summer jobs. They basically spend the summers bumming around, going to the mall, and drinking a bit. These are the cream of the crop, honors students. No summer jobs? It seems odd to me. (2) So little talk about college and where everyone should go so that they could maintain their relationships. Honors students are obsessed with college. Not these, however.  (3) The ending. I won’t tell you about it, but I couldn’t get my hands around it. Sorry. Some may find it sweet. Some may ask why. Some may groan. I was the guy who asked ‘why’? Why that? Couldn’t it have been different? The whole thing doesn’t ring true. (I guess your opinion might help me accept the ending…or not.)

I admit something about the book compelled me to keep reading, to find out what disaster occurred because you know from the beginning that a disaster occurs, but you don’t know why. Maybe I could have gotten there faster. Maybe I was tired of Autumn and Finny’s reticence to make the move. I don’t know.

You might say after reading this that I’m ambivalent about the book and as I write this, I guess I am. Don’t get me wrong. I liked it, it’s just that I was bothered by the things I mentioned earlier. Was anyone else bothered?

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OK. Here’s where I’ll say it. This cosmos we live in is grand and full of wonderful surprises.Parallel These surprises will continue to reveal themselves and, more likely than not, they’ll be things we never even dreamed of. So, to think that we humans are the only intelligent life in our universe, in my opinion, is ludicrous. I believe that intelligent life exists elsewhere, although it may not look or sound or think like us. I also think that these beings may have visited our planet and may continue to do so. If we’re exploring space, why wouldn’t they?

If you believe the above, it’s not a giant leap to think that there could be a parallel universe; that the Ed Goldberg of here and now may exist in a parallel universe, at a different time. (I’m not as sure of this as I am of other intelligent beings, but I’m not dismissing it either.)

Such is the case with Abigail (Abby) Barnes in Lauren Miller’s debut novel, Parallel. The problem is that, while normally these parallel universes exist independently, her present and parallel lives collide. Unfortunately, her parallel Abby’s (Abby 2, for these purposes) life is about a year behind. Because of this collision, an action by Abby 2 impacts the life of Abby, who has no memory of the intervening year since Abby 2 hasn’t lived it yet.

Sound complicated? Well, it’s not…it’s merely the way I describe it that sounds convoluted. Simply put, similar to a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon and causing a ripple in Africa, such is Abby 2′s impact on current Abby. Enough of that.

Lauren Miller has written a very interesting, fun read and it’s not complicated following the events (as some reviews suggested). In Librarything, the 10 reviews gave it  4 1/2 stars. Not bad! You immediately like Abby and her geeky friend Caitlin. You sympathize when she wakes up in a strange place because of an action in the parallel world. Of course, there’s romance involved as well. You have to expect that.

Overall, Parallel is a fun read. (I will admit, I didn’t love the last few pages of the ending, but I understand why Ms. Miller ended the book that way.)

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