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Archive for the ‘Young Adult’ Category

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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Suicide is the third leading cause of death among people ages 10-24 and approximately 4,600 people in this age category die each year from suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, more young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9–12 in public and private schools in the United States found that 16% of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13% reported creating a plan, and 8% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey. Each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at Emergency Departments across the U.S.

The top of a clock tower, contemplating suicide, is a strange place to

AllTheBrightPlacesmeet, but so it was with Theo Finch and Violet Markey. Her sister, Eleanor, dies nine months previously in an auto accident for which Violet feels responsible. It was her idea to take the A Street Bridge which can get treacherously slippery at times. Theo is just trying to get away from a broken family, abusive father and bullies at school calling him Freak.

It is Theo who saves Violet, not only from jumping but from the paralyzed life she is leading. She refused to get into a moving car and rides her bicycle, Leroy, everywhere. She has stopped writing (she and Eleanor had co-authored a blog). She has disengaged from all her friends. When Finch requested to be partnered with Violet in a U.S. Geography project that will force them to travel around the state of Indiana, she is forced into a car and she is forced to write, to things that will get her on the road to recovery.

However, Theo’s issues are more severe. Theo has clearly fallen in love with Violet. She has shown him that there are good days, not only bad ones. And while, in many ways, Violet has saved Theo, the real question is will it be enough.

FallingIntoPlaceWhile I liked All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, I didn’t love it. It is another case of an odd couple, in this case the once-popular girl and the outcast guy. It is also another case of a road trip changing someone’s life. I don’t have a feel for whether Theo rings true because I’ve never known anyone who was extremely bipolar, so it was hard for me to get into his character. The book does provide an interesting contrast in parents when you compare Theo’s to Violet’s and it raises the unanswerable question of ‘should a parent be able recognize that a child needs help or are they always the last one to know?’

A recent book I would recommend about suicide is Falling into Place by Amy Zhang. In that, you can feel the pain.

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It is five days before Christmas when Alex’s younger brother, Ty, TheLastTimeWeSayGoodbyecommits suicide: a shotgun blast to his chest. He had stayed home from school, ran certain errands and, it seems, carefully planned the day.  Her mother is coping by going to work, coming home, having a glass or three of wine and crying. Her parents divorced several years ago and, while Alex sees her father weekly for dinner, the time is taken up with idle conversation, so his emotions barely play a role in this book. Alex is barely coping herself.

Alex’s therapist has suggested antidepressants to which Alex is vehemently opposed. So, instead he recommends that she keep a journal as an outlet for her emotions. Possibly direct the entries to someone in particular, and describe firsts and lasts.

Both Alex and her mother often seem to find themselves in Ty’s basement bedroom. On one such visit Alex thinks she smells his cologne and sees him leaning against the wall. On another visit she finds a letter in a desk drawer addressed to Ashley, his former girlfriend. She and her neighbor (and former best friend), Sadie, debate the merits of giving the letter to Ashley. Sadie is addicted to shows about mediums and thinks Ty’s appearances are due to unfinished business which Alex must complete.

For some reason I feel like I’ve read a similar book recently but I can’t remember the title. In it as well as  The Last Time We Say Goodbye there is a letter to a former girlfriend left by the suicide. (If you have any ideas, let me know.) Of course the letter has a cathartic impact on the recipient.

As I imagine is the case in most suicides several people feel they could have prevented Ty’s actions, when truth be known, most of the time those last actions would have been too late. That is a hard lesson to learn and accept. Additionally, everyone reacts differently to loss of a loved one, which is evident in The Last Time We Say Goodbye.  As the book jumps back and forth between Alex’s journal, present day and recollection, it concentrates on the survivors, and less so on why Ty did what he did. There are vague hints, but nothing that over time would suggest suicide as being inevitable. This might have put everything in a better perspective for the reader.

Having said all of this, I found The Last Time We Say Goodbye a good read. I liked the characters, although, as I said, you don’t get much of a feel for Ty. The emotions seemed real. The interaction between Alex and her friends and family is understandable. And hey, it has as happy an ending as a book about suicide can have.

I must be in my ‘reading suicide’ phase because I just started AllTheBrightPlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, which starts off with a teen thinking of suicide. So, I think after this, I’ll move on to a happy book. Any suggestions?

 

 

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OpenRoadSummer

I can’t believe that I never published this post.

Rising country star seventeen-year-old Lilah (Dee) Montgomery is on her summer tour and takes her best friend, bad-girl Reagan O’Neill with her. Reagan, coming off bad relationships, has resolved to reform beginning this summer. When the tabloids print a photo of Lilah and her ex-boyfriend with hints of her pregnancy, her good-girl image is tarnished. Her publicist signs Matt Finch as an opening act, replacing the local area talents, hoping to divert media attention with speculation that Lilah and Matt are a couple. Matt, in a brother band, the Finch Four, several years earlier, is currently under the radar. His good looks and squeaky clean image are enough to start new rumors. The only problem: no matter how much Reagan tries not to, she’s falling for Matt and vice versa. Can she have a relationship with a ‘good’ guy? If the media finds out, how will that impact Lilah?
Open Road Summer, Lord’s debut novel, is truly fun ‘chick-lit’. Lilah, Reagan and Matt are characters readers will immediately like. Lilah’s pain at leaving her ex-boyfriend, who let her go to follow her dream, will pain readers. Reagan’s uncertainty about life and love will resonate with teenage girls, whether ‘good girls’ or ‘bad girls’. Readers will want Matt’s and Reagan’s relationship to thrive. Lord also provides a realistic look at the lengths paparazzi and the media will go to invade a star’s privacy.

Open Road Summer, published last April, is a well written beach read. And since much of the country is under mounds of snow, tack a picture of the ocean and palm trees on your wall, put some logs in the fireplace to heat up the room and pretend you’re lying on a beach somewhere.

By the way, Emery Lord has a new book coming out in March 2015, The Start of Me. I’m ready to give it a go.

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IllMeetYouThereAlex and Josh are lost souls for two very different reasons. Josh just returned from Afghanistan minus a leg. The all American boy, good at sports and getting girls, is not quite what he used to be. That’s before you consider the nightmares and how he stiffens when he hears loud noises, such as fireworks.

Alex, on the other hand, lost her father five years earlier and her mother has been on a steady decline ever since. Now, having lost her job, her mother has taken to staying in their trailer and is seeing a total sleazeball who encourages her to drink. Alex is wondering whether she’ll have to be the family’s total support and be forced to turn down her full scholarship to San Francisco State.

Somehow, though, at Josh’s ‘welcome home’ party in July, the two seem to connect. What a contrast, Alex the ‘good girl’ never drinking (because her father died in an auto accident when driving while intoxicated) and Josh, who will chug a beer and crush the can.

Alex, for some reason, brings out Josh’s softer side and Josh makes her feel safe.PurpleHeart

In I’ll Meet You There, readers will feel the complexity of Josh and Alex’s relationship and the insecurity each feels. Alex, having never had a boyfriend and Josh, needing to shed his image of chasing everything in a skirt, are unsure both of their feelings and how to act upon them.

ThingsABrotherKnowsDemetrios touches on the PTSD that Josh faces after returning from the war zone. Although it is not the premise of the book, it certainly plays a role in Josh’s (and Alex’s) life. A more pointed and wonderful book dealing with PTSD is Patricia McCormick’s Purple Heart. Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt is also worth reading.

I’ll Meet You There is a poignant story bound to, at different times, bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your face.

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GirlDefectiveThe Martin children are named after birds: fifteen year old Skylark (Sky) and eleven year old Seagull (Gully). Their mother left them when Sky was 10 to become a performance artist…in Japan. She has little contact with her former family. Their father never moved past the 1970s, owning a record shop that won’t stock anything past 1980, won’t stock CDs and won’t sell on the internet. He spends most days on the verge of drunkenness.

Unfortunately these circumstances leave Sky with primary responsibility for Gully who is autistic. He wears a pig snout most of the time which, as you can imagine, doesn’t endear him to his schoolmates. He fancies himself a detective and when a brick is thrown through the store window, he makes it his business to track down the perpetrator. She also helps out at the record store, which doesn’t get much traffic.

Sky’s only friend is a world-wise nineteen year old, Nancy. It must be true that opposites attract because Nancy is everything that Sky isn’t.

When Mr. Martin hires Luke Casey to work at the store for the Christmas season, Sky is miffed. When it turns out that Luke’s younger sister drowned after drinking and posters of her keep cropping up all over town, Sky is intrigued. The fact that Luke is cute doesn’t hurt.

Girl Defective by Simmone Howell is a story about growing up, both teens and adults. Sky must learn what the world is all about (on her own and through Nancy) and her father has to move into the new century and take on his fatherly responsibilities. Howell’s characters are good, although at times I’d like to hammer Mr. Martin for foisting Gully on Sky all the time, and her writing is descriptive, at some points exceptional (“Night fell soft as a shrug. Even the palm trees looked tired, like showgirls standing around waiting for their pay.”). Any story rooted in music is a plus, especially 70s and 80s music. Of course, since this takes place in Australia, I don’t know some of the musical references, but that’s OK.

All in all, Girl Defective is a fun book.

 

 

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