Archive for the ‘Young Adult’ Category

My first Sarah Dessen book was Dreamland, upmteen years ago andSaintAnything I was hooked. It was about an abusive relationship, as was Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn, which I read shortly after. Both authors have since moved on from topical issues, Flinn to retelling fairy tales and Dessen to summer romance. So I was happy to see that in Saint Anything, Dessen has inched back towards a topical issue.

Sixteen year old Sydney Stanford’s older brother Peyton had it all-charm, athleticism, smarts-but for some reason he threw it all away, drinking, breaking and entering, etc. Having served several short stints in jail, he’s now locked away for a longer time for something more serious, drunk driving and hitting a pedestrian.

BreathingUnderwaterSydney, in order to avoid knowing eyes and whispers, decides to leave her prestigious private school for the local public school, Jackson High, where nobody knows her. This also meant leaving behind her best friends Jenn and Meredith and their after school coffees, etc. After her first day of school, not wanting to go home to a mother so focused on Peyton, she wanders into a local pizza place. As she opens the door, a good looking guy, Mac, comes in behind her and goes behind the counter. Sitting and eating her pizza, a young blond girl, Layla, rushes in and disappears behind the door marking Private. Little does Sydney know how important these two people will become in her life.

DreamlandThis is the second book in a row I’ve read where mothers become overbearing, for one reason or another, and children suffer. Sydney’s mother, Julie, is so focused on making Peyton’s jail time as comfortable and enjoyable as possible (yes, it is jail, not play school) and in making sure that Sydney doesn’t make the same mistakes, that the once lively Julie has become a machine. She’s talking with prisoner advocates, monitoring Sydney’s activities and organizing parents of other inmates, so that Sydney’s once idyllic home life has been obliterated.

In addition, Sydney also has to deal with the creepy Ames, a friend of Peyton’s who has wormed his way into the Stanford household as her mother’s friend. His mere presence makes her uncomfortable, but of course, no one notices.

As I said, Saint Anything is a step towards realistic fiction while not losing the summer romance angle that has made Sarah Dessen as popular as she is. Dessen explores Peyton’s feelings towards his family, the society imposed and self imposed isolation that comes from being in jail. Julie’s transformation from lively, energetic mother to overbearing, focused, disciplinarian, which in part causes Sydney’s feeling of isolation from family and friends, is palpable.

In typical Dessen fashion, music plays a major role in Saint Anything. She has created a cast of characters that you’ll love from page one. Saint Anything is another winning Sarah Dessen book which fans will devour…if they haven’t already. (P.S. Other than mentioning the fictional town of Colby, I didn’t recognize anything from any of her other books. She usually does have oblique references to prior books. So, if you find one, let me know.)

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I’m of the belief that there are certain authors who can do no wrong, GloryObrienaccording to book reviewers, and A. S. King seems to be one. So it must be me who’s missing the point. If writing an absurd book is a satirical way of looking at our absurd society, she’s done a bang up job in Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. Otherwise, she’s merely written an absurd book and/or I’ve missed the point completely.

Gloria O’Brien and Ellie Heffner live across the street from each other, Glory in a normal house and Ellie on a commune. Glory and Ellie’s parents moved to rural Pennsylvania together to live in a non-materialist world but had a falling out. Days before Glory’s high school graduation they drink beer laced a disintegrated bat (absurdity number 1) and wake up the next morning able to see into people’s ancestry and progeny for millennia (absurdity number 2).

Glory’s mother, Darla, committed suicide when Glory was only four, by putting her head in an oven. Glory and her dad have been living oven-less for the past 13 years. No one, friends or family, seem to have discussed Darla’s actions with Glory (absurdity number 3 or 4—I’ve lost count).

Glory doesn’t care about the normal materialistic things teenagers care about: clothes, jewelry, make up. She’s a loner and Ellie is her only real friend, although Glory is reconsidering their relationship. She considers Ellie self centered and neither has really had a serious conversation with the other. The fact that Glory may be equally self centered never seems to dawn on either girl.

Darla was a photographer and Glory has taken up the art. She carries her camera virtually everywhere. Darla’s darkroom has been unused for 13 years, but after graduation Glory gets the courage to ask her dad, Roy, if she could use it. There she finds Darla’s sketch books, one of which was entitled Why People Take Pictures which  seems to record some of Darla’s anguish.

AskThePassengersThere are two stories here, which somewhat intersect: Glory’s search for her past and memories of her mother juxtaposed against her visions for the future. There was enough material in the first story for a book in and of itself without adding the second, which really, in my mind, diluted the impact of Glory coping, 13 years later, with the loss of a parent.

I really enjoyed Ask the Passengers by King. Her other books never really sparked my interest enough to open the cover. I was hoping Glory O’Brien would be different. Alas, I was totally disappointed. If you go by the review journals, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future got starred reviews. I, however, would only give it a 3.

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ReadBetweenTheLinesRead Between the Lines by Jo Knowles got good reviews from library journals including a starred review from Kirkus, so it was with high hopes that I began reading. I had wanted to read it for a while. I had previously read See You at Harry’s which I thought was pretty good.

Ms. Knowles stated that the idea for the book germinated with an incident in which a driver gave her and her family the ‘middle finger’. It annoyed her even more than it would normally have except that he was in the wrong to begin with. So, as you can guess by the cover art, Read Between the Lines is all about that middle finger.

I will admit that I was somewhat disappointed with the book. It is comprised of several disparate stories that tenuously come together, sort of, in the end. Nate is bullied at school (and at home, to some extent) and in a rough game of dodge ball in gym, he breaks his middle finger and has to wear a splint. Everyone is somewhat jealous that he can give everyone the middle finger without really giving them the middle finger.

Claire is tired of ‘the girls’ and wonders if there is more to life than gossiping about everyone. Dewey bullies his next door neighbors because they are a lot messier than he is. He and his father began being ‘neat’ in hopes that the mother/wife who left them might come back. Now they’re anal about it. But their neighbors don’t mow their lawn and actually the mother is a hoarder. So, of course, Dewey is going to give them the finger.

There are more vignettes along these lines: bullying, giving the fingers, scamming, hopefulness, hopelessness, sexuality, peer pressure, etc. Everything takes place in the course of one day and, as a result, about midway through the book, lives start intersecting. But these intersections and their conclusions, at least to me, were unsatisfying, especially the last one regarding a sexy, new English teacher, Ms. Lindsay.

Ms. Knowles gets her point across and Read Between the Lines would be a good discussion book middle schoolers and young high schoolers.

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If we’re truthful, we all have our guilty reading pleasures. StartOfMeAndYouThose of you who follow this blog know that I like YA chick lit, like those books written by Sarah Dessen. But I’ve also mentioned two newcomers to my chick lit reading list: Morgan Matson and Emery Lord. The Start of Me and You is Emery Lord’s latest book.

I like the beginning of The Start of Me and You. “…Our town (Oakhurst, Indiana) was too big for people to know everything about you, but just small enough for them to clench down on one defining moment like teeth clamped on a prey. Won the spelling bee in fourth grade? You are Dictionary Girl forever….” Paige Hancock was the Girl Whose Boyfriend Drowned. It might have been a year ago, but she still gets That Look. She’s still afraid to go swimming. She still gets nightmares that she’s drowning.

The beginning of her junior year, she decided she needed to change and make a five point plan.

  1. Parties/Social Events
  2. New Group
  3. Date (Ryan Chase)
  4. Travel
  5. Swim.

To that end, she joins the Quizbowl team, in part because nerdy Max Watson, its captain, is cousins with Ryan Chase, a guys she’s crushing on. What better way to meet Ryan.

OpenRoadSummerOf course, I’m not giving anything away by saying that The Start of Me and You is about Paige realizing it’s the nerdy guy she likes. But as is said in the book, it’s the journey, not the end that’s the fun part. Lord has given Paige a great group of girlfriends, Morgan, Kaleigh and Tessa, who are always there for each other. She’s provided a wise grandmother and an annoying little sister. And of course, she’s provided some family drama and some boyfriend drama. All the right ingredients. I like her easy going writing style and the story line, which is quite different from her previous book Open Road Summer, which is also chick lit.

If you’re looking for some fun reading, give Emery Lord a try.

P.S. She does the old Sarah Dessenesque mention of characters from her previous book in the current one, but only once that I could see.

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Emmy and Oliver were best friends since birth. They were born on the same day in the same hospital (their basinets were next to each other) and they lived next door to each other. Their bedrooms faced each other and at night, they would each blink their light when it was bedtime. Emmy, Oliver, Caro (Caroline, but no one ever called her that) and Drew were an inseparable quartet.

When they were seven years old, Oliver disappeared. His father, Keith, kidnapped him. His mother, Maureen, was frantic and tried everything she could to find him, with no luck. After the initial news media frenzy, the public lost interest and things got back to normal, as normal as they could be under the EmmyAndOlivercircumstances. Emmy continued being friends with Caro and Drew. However, Emmy’s parents became over protective of their only child, prohibiting her from doing many things young kids did, forcing on her an early bedtime. As a result, she ended up hiding a lot from her parents.

When she was 17, Oliver returned. The problem with that was several fold: (a) Maureen had remarried and had twin girls, (b) she remembered Oliver as a seven year old boy and that’s who she expected to return and (c) Emmy and Caro and Drew had 10 years of memories, inside jokes and dreams of which Oliver was not a part.

Robin Benway covers a lot in Emmy and Oliver. Most people think of the anguish of parents losing a child to kidnapping. And when we think of kidnapping, as in the news media, it is always children hidden away and brutalized. In Emmy and Oliver, Keith treated Oliver well and after Oliver got over the initial shock of a missing mother, he had a relatively normal life. Yet, thrust back into his mother’s life and home was traumatic for both parent and child.

Benway does a great job of verbalizing the impact of Oliver’s return on everyone, Maureen and her young twins, Emmy, Caro and Drew and especially Oliver. I’m not giving anything away by saying the Emmy & Oliver is a love story. There are some loves that do stand the test of time and separation. But it’s more than that. It’s the story of awakening from a 10 year slumber to find out that things aren’t the same as when you drifted off to sleep…for everyone, not just Oliver. I liked every character in Emmy & Oliver, even Keith. I can understand everyone’s actions and motives. Other than Keith’s actions at the end, I thought everything rang true (not that I was ever involved in the situation described in the book).

I know describing a book as a ‘beach read’ may be the kiss of death, but I don’t mean it to be. Had I received the book when it is issued in June 2015, I can see me sitting under a big shade tree on Cape Cod, listening to the sound of the bay and the seals, reading Emmy & Oliver. So maybe I’ll amend my statement to say it’s a good summer time, feel good, read. I do highly recommend Emmy & Oliver.

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In 1966, the River Arno  overflowed its banks and flooded the OneThingStolencity of Florence. The resulting 600,000 tons of mud, rubble and sewage that flowed through the city’s streets damaged or destroyed millions of masterpieces of art and rare books, as well as displacing 5,000 families. This despair was overshadowed by Mud Angels, people from around the world, who also flooded into Florence to help remove the mud and sludge and help restore both the city and the antiquities.

In One Thing Stolen, Beth Kephart (my favorite author) contrasts the despair and hope described above with the despair and hope of Nadia Caras, a seventeen year old girl in Florence for her professor father’s sabbatical, who suddenly has trouble verbalizing. It is her best friend, her family and a doctor, who provide the hope that she will regain her communication skills.

Although Nadia is supposed to be her father’s right hand during his research of the 1966 flood, she is losing herself in Florence. She is barely sleeping. She, inexplicably, has the urge to steal things, many of which end up in the intricate nests she weaves and hides under her bed. As she wanders the city alone, against her parents’ wishes, she runs into Benedetto, a young boy who steals flowers. He shows up in the oddest places, often giving Nadia a flower. The problem is that no one other than Nadia has seen him.

As Nadia begins to lose herself and think herself crazy, her link to sanity is finding Benedetto. However as much as she searches, he does not want to be found.

Beth Kephart has layered her stories here. There are the constant flashbacks of Nadia and her best friend, Maggie, in Philadelphia, when Nadia was in full control, when she was the one with all the ideas, the leader of the two person pack, in contrast to Nadia’s struggles now. There is the story of Nadia’s father’s empty notebook, his story of the flood more resembling a drought. There is the story of Nadia’s brother Jack and his budding love affair with the beautiful Perdita. And there is Katherine, a Mud Angel, a doctor and her father’s friend who devotes herself to helping Nadia.

While the story is an unusual one (I can’t think of any comparable plot), it is the descriptive use of language that makes any Beth Kephart book special. It is through this language that we get the feel of Florence, its alleyways, its cobblestone streets, its cathedrals, its myriad of markets blanketing the bridges over the Arno. It is through language that we understand Nadia’s frustration with herself, her fear that she might be going crazy. It’s through language that we understand all the different types of nests that birds construct (who knew?).

If you want a literary treat, read a Beth Kephart book (adult or young adult), my favorites being: One Thing Stolen, Nothing But Ghosts, Small Damages and You Are My Only….heck I love them all.

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Simon is being blackmailed by Martin, the class clown. It seems that Simon wasSimonVsTheHomosapiens indiscreet enough to email his virtual boyfriend, Blue, from the library computers and forgot to log out. Martin used the computers, read the emails and threatened to out Simon unless Simon extolled Martin’s virtues to Abby, Simon’s close friend. Since neither Simon nor Blue have come out, Simon feels trapped. The problem is that Abby likes Nick.

Meanwhile, all that Simon knows is that Blue goes to his school, so as he walks the halls, attends play practice, and eats lunch in the cafeteria, he’s trying to figure out who Blue is. It could be any one of a number of people, even Martin!

Throughout all of this, Simon must negotiate his junior year of high school, deal with his very strange family, and the ups and downs of friendships.

Although I read David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy ages ago, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda brought that book into my mind. Simon lives in world with little homophobia. When Simon does come out to friends and family, it causes little ripples vs. tidal waves of emotion. It is giving nothing away to say that Simon’s and Blue’s meeting is a happy occasion…very romantic. It is the journey towards meeting and the mystery of who Blue actually is that is the fun of the book.

Becky Albertalli knows what she’s talking about with Simon. Among other jobs, she was a counselor for seven years to a support group for gender nonconforming children. Her understanding of the subject matter is evident. Her characters are fun and evoke emotions that all teenagers go through, regardless of gender identity.

It’s nice, every now and then, to read a gay/lesbian romance that merely deals with the trials and tribulations of the romance itself (which, in and of itself carries with it enough mine fields) and not necessarily the gender issues. If you’re looking for just a fun romance, try Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

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