Archive for the ‘Young Adult’ Category

InfiniteInfinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler is getting starred reviews. Jake, Mia, Whitney, Zoe and Gregor are grouped together at high school orientation in rural upstate New York. They must think of a project that will bond them together and be accomplished that afternoon. They decide to write a letter to their future selves, hide it somewhere in the school and meet after graduation under the basketball hoop in the school yard to read their letters.

Infinite In Between follows the quintet through four years of high school, going their separate ways and coming back together. The teens run the gamut: a gay guy, a biracial girl, an Asian girl, a daughter of a movie star (constantly in rehab) who is living with her aunt and a stereotypical teen guy. Their experiences run the gamut from illness to dating complications to sexual identity to college applications to getting drivers licenses to getting pregnant to alcohol consumption. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any issue Mackler left out. (That could be one of my issues with the book.)VeganVirginValentine

The story is told by month over the four years with short chapters about various quintet members.
As with other Mackler titles, (I’ve read The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, Vegan Virgin Valentine, Love and Other Four Letter Words, and The Future of Us co-written with Jay Asher) her current title is extremely readable. It’s a fast read despite its 400+ pages. Each and every character, with one exception, is likable (possibly another issue I have with the book).

TheEarthMyButtIf a starred review means you like a book and want to read it to find out what happens, then Infinite in Between earned its stars. However, if a starred review means it’s a fantastic, well written, can’t see how it could have been much better book, then it falls short. As I said earlier, Mackler packed virtually every teen issue into this book. That might, and I said might, have been OK if she’d tackled the issues, but 90% of them turned out happily-no muss, no fuss, no bother. What’s more, she treats a high school girl getting pregnant and the father having no responsibility with equal weight as getting a drivers license. If she got shit from her parents, we don’t know about it. If she confronted the father, we don’t know. The only thing we do know is that she decided to give birth. Is she giving the baby up for adoption? Is she going to keep it? What is she going to do about college and child care? All important questions that should be addressed, even though it does not happen to one of the quintet.

As for every character being likable? Come on, there has got to be at least one unlikable bully in high school. That’s just a fact of life; someone who would make the life of a gay guy, a biracial girl, an Asian girl or the daughter of a movie star totally miserable. To gloss over this is unrealistic.

Listen, I’m not saying every Young Adult book must be as issue driven as those of Patricia McCormick, Laurie Halse Anderson or Dana Reinhardt. But, hey, even characters in Sarah Dessen, Emery Lord and Morgan Matson novels have significant(?) issues they need to overcome before they get to the happy ending and how they got there is apparent (and part of the reading enjoyment, I think). In Infinite In Between, the one big issue is ignored and the quintet’s minor issues (because truly they all are minor) are expounded.

Since I don’t give numerical ratings on this blog, I will merely say that I must be jaded by something because in my humble opinion Infinite In Between does not warrant a starred review. It is a nice, feel good read, however, and well worth your time.

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Clare and Aiden have 12 hours before she departs for Dartmouth in HelloGoodbyeNew Hampshire and he jets to Los Angeles to attend UCLA. The question that so many teens face but hasn’t been written much about in YA literature is what do they do. Having been dating for 2 years Aiden is of the impression that long distance romances can work and there are so many folks who have married their high school sweethearts. Clare, on the other hand, thinks that they should break up now, while on an up streak, rather than wait until it fizzles out over time and seeing each other on college breaks becomes awkward. However, Aiden, always the joker, hasn’t been keen on discussing this subject.

So, on their last night together in the suburbs of Chicago, Clare the anal one and list maker in the relationship, has created a list of places of importance to their relationship that they must visit before leaving for separate coasts. Aiden, the unromantic one of the duo, isn’t quite sure what occurred at some of these spots but he’s going along with Clare.

In the 12 hours from 6 PM to 6 AM the next day, Clare and Aiden come to a decision. Along with this, readers get a glimpse of both Aiden’s and Clare’s parents, who play a major role in how the teens react to their situation. Additionally, they get to know their best friends, Scottie and Stella, who also impact their decision.

ComebackSeaspmHello, Goodbye and Everything in Between is a great title because the book is a 12 hour roller coaster of emotions. Should they? Shouldn’t they? Saying goodbye to friends and family is tough even if it isn’t permanent.

I’ve been a fan of Jennifer E. Smith from The Comeback Season, to StatisticalProbabilityThe Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight to Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between. While at the beginning of the book, it wasn’t my favorite, by the time I got to the end, it was high on the list (I think The Comeback Season will always be my favorite since it was my first (and her first) Smith book). You know what to expect with Smith. A great story. Great characters. A great ending. And possibly a teary eye at the end.

I’d put Jennifer E. Smith up there with Sarah Dessen, and new favorites Emery Lord and Morgan Matson.

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WhenKaceyLeftSticks and Stones were Kacey and Sara, ever since they were little kids. One without the other was incomplete. So when Sticks (Sara) wakes up to a phone call telling her that Stones (Kacey) has died, her whole world changed. Was it gossip or true friendship that caused Drea to call Sticks and tell her what happened? In Sticks’ mind it was the former.

In When Kacey Left by Dawn Green, Sticks has to come to grips with Stones’ death. In the form of journal entries (letters to Kacey) mandated by the o.c. (obnoxious counselor) who she’s forced to see, the story unwinds over the course of a school year. It begins when school starts and everyone stares at Sara with that ‘her best friend killed herself’ look. It progresses to the re-connection with their friends and more…I don’t want to ruin the ending.

But the other thing Sara wonders is whether she could have prevented what happened. Were there signs that she missed? Was Kacey acting differently? If she had done one thing differently, would Kacey still be alive? I imagine that is something everyone who knows a suicide victim constantly wonders.

The journal format that Green uses is not new, but it doesn’t feel old and worn out in her hands. Readers get a sense of who Kacey and Sara are; the idealized version of Kacey as Sara remembers in the beginning of the book to the realistic version as she progresses through her mourning process. Whereas many books concentrate on the causes of suicide be it bullying, stress, etc. in When Kacey Left the author concentrates on the best friend left behind; the whys and wherefores of Kacey’s action are largely unexplored, except for the wondering why.

As satisfying as any book about suicide can be, When Kacey Left is a satisfying read.

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Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay is a nicely written EverythingThatMakesYoudebut novel. It’s a ‘what-if’ novel. In alternating chapter sections you have Fiona whose face was disfigured by burning oil as a child, Fiona the good student, Fiona the would be singer/songwriter contrasted with the cute Fiona, the athlete, the middling student, the going steady with Marcus Fiona.

Everything That Makes You takes you from Fiona’s junior year in high school through to the end of her freshman year at college. The disfigured Fiona’s chapter sections are entitled Fiona while the cute athletic Fiona’s sections are entitled Fi. One would think that when you’re young and cute and athletic, you’ve got the world on a string. You’d be carefree, self confident, flirty and more. But McStay points out that regardless of physical attributes and abilities, everyone has his/her own set of insecurities.

Clearly Fiona is not the only person affected by her accident.Her brother Ryan, 10 months older, is a key player in Fiona’s life and the book.

Of course you know that somehow the lives of the Fionas intersect (not the Fionas themselves because they are not living in parallel universes but their friends and acquaintances), but I won’t tell you how.

McStay does a fine job of portraying an overly protective mother, one who doesn’t listen to her daughter, one who in an effort to forge the best makes her daughter feel incompetent and less. She also has a few secrets stored up as she gets closer to the end.

Everything That Makes You is an unusual twist on the ‘what-if’ scenario. It’s a fast read and once you start you won’t want to stop reading.

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In Kissing in America, Margo Rabb has put a new twist on the road-trip story, KissingInAmericagrowing up story and realistic fiction story. Eva Roth’s father died when his plane crashed into the ocean two years ago. No bodies were recovered. Eva and her mother went to counseling and have joined a chat room about the accident. But it’s almost like her mother has forgotten her father: she’s thrown out his belongings and never talks about him. (Eva managed to salvage a few of his possessions.) To numb the pain, Eva’s fills up her time reading mindless romance novels. Even though she knows real love isn’t like the books, it gives her hope.

Towards the end of her junior year in high school Eva meets Will and romance starts to bloom, just like in her romance novels. However, his divorced mother is in bad financial straits and they’re forced to vacate their apartment. She moves into the one bedroom apartment of her friend and Will decides he’s better off living in California with his father. After a sad goodbye, Eva is now wondering how to get from Queens, NY to Los Angeles to visit her true love.

When she hears about a televised contest The Smartest Girl in America, she convinces her genius friend, Annie, that they should enter–actually Annie should enter and Eva be her ‘go to’ companion. The winner will receive a $200,000 scholarship and Annie desperately wants to go to MIT. Of course, the program will be conducted in Los Angeles.

Kissing in America follows Annie and Eva on their two-week cross country bus trip, stopping at friends and relatives in Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Arizona along the way. Annie and Eva are a study in contrasts, the former postponing love until college while Eva is desperate for it, possibly to provide something her mother seems incapable of providing. But of course there is more than meets the eye in the various adult characters and Eva learns this through her interactions with family and friends.

This is the second book recently where something terrible happens and parents either over react by becoming overly protective and/or shut down totally, depriving their children of the love and attention they want and need. It is also the case where the children are too shy or insecure to say what they feel, to open the dialogue that might get a parent/child relationship back on track.

Each major section of the book starts with a poem. And Ms. Rabb entices readers with this (which is really just a come on since there are very few other romance novel quotes that are worthy of reprinting):

“Sir Richard’s chest sparkled with man-dew as he whispered “Lilith, it may hurt you when I burst they womanhood.” “Hurt me,” Lilith breathed. Her rosy domes undulated like the sea as he joined her in a love that vanquished every sorrow known on earth.”

I’m not going to tell you that you can’t predict what’s going to happen because that would be a lie. Much of what happens in the end you can predict in the beginning. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination.”. If it’s any indication, I stayed up until 12:30 AM to finish the book, so it must have been an enjoyable journey.

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ASenseOfTheInfiniteHilary T. Smith, the author of Wild Awake, has written another book I didn’t want to put down, in A Sense of the Infinite. But it’s the subtitle, What Comes After Me and You that really defines this coming of age novel. Annabeth seems to be a personable seventeen year old. She works at the ice cream shop in the botanic garden over the summer and  gets along with patrons and coworkers. However, at home she feels that Noe is her only friend, the person she can be herself with, the person who understands her totally. Noe is loving, sympathetic and will speak for her when she’s tongue tied.WildAwake But there’s more to Annabeth and more to Noe than meets the eye and as Smith describes Annabeth’s senior year in high school, this all emerges. The big question is whether Annabeth can return to being the independent, nature loving young girl she was before she met Noe in ninth grade or will she transform into the gymnastic loving girl that Noe needs her to be. A lot happens to Annabeth this year, some of it puzzling, some of it appropriate. It is Smith’s writing that draws readers in. She’s got a way with a phrase that draws a picture in your mind. You see the swirling leaves and you hear the silence of the woods. You experience Annabeth’s feelings more than you would with other authors. A Sense of the Infinite is a rewarding read.

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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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