Forbidden – Eve Bunting

Award Nominee, families, Female Leads, Read-a-Likes, Young Readers

It is 1807 in Edinburgh, Scotland and Josie, a recent orphan is carted off to an unknown uncle and aunt to live for the next two years until she becomes of age.  Immediately Josie sees how her life is to change.  Not just in wealth and love, but also in expected behavior and told to be a participant of a continuing crime.

Soon Josie learns the truth of her uncle’s “fishing” and a town secret is uncovered.  The story is a short one with a little mystery involved, but the length does not leave any element or secret uncovered.  It focuses more on Josie who grows from a formal, privileged girl of wealth into one who is strong, determined, and focused on doing the right thing.  In one moment she finds her inner will – both confident against her rough aunt or uncle but also against their fierce dog, mistakenly named Lamb.   She is offered a little kindness from Eli, the boy her uncle and the town warn her against, and his grandmother who know the truth of the town’s pillaging.

This is a safe little mystery for young readers.  With only a hint of romance, but a larger focus on finding the courage to do what is right even if it means you must do it alone.  Not as Dark as Seraphina and the Black Cloak, but a similar mystery and young girl who lives to do what is right in the world.

 

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Untwine: A Novel – Edwidge Danticat

Books Worth Crying Over, death, diversity in YA, families, Read-a-Likes

Identical twin sisters Isabelle and Giselle are born into this world holding hands – and are holding hands when a car wreck takes Isabelle out of this world.   The description of “untwine” sort of breaks your heart in the first chapter.

Haitian parents who have announced their divorce to their teenage daughters and then a car crash all within the first chapter – it’s another death story, but the twin aspect is new.  There are very detailed descriptions of the car crash that nearly destroys this family.   While Giselle is in the hospital unconscious, she hears her visitors and is trying to will her body to wake up.  Finally she does wake to the realization that her sister is dead.  The rest of the story is showing the family trying to cope and move on.  When the police come to question the family stating the accident is under investigation because they do not think the driver who ran into the family’s car (another high school student) was an accident, Giselle starts to investigate this theory.  What would a new student have against her family or her sister?

This is a heartbreaking story as we witness this family try to physically heal from horrific injuries to emotionally heal with the loss of a sister, daughter, niece, and granddaughter.  Giselle narrates the first part of the book from within a coma and tries to focus on visiting family members and doctors.  She can’t stay awake long enough to learn of her injuries or her sister’s.  Once she is released from the hospital, she must begin living her life minus her other half.  This is a lovely story of friendship, love, and having to start over.  There’s a little mystery thrown in, but the beauty in Untwine is the way in which love and heartache are portrayed from everyone from a boyfriend to a parent  Throughout the novel there are flashbacks and stories to exhibit the family dynamics, the tradition of Haitian culture, and Giz still manages to find a few teenage secrets her twin kept to herself.

You’ll cry.  You’ll feel love and hope, but you’ll cry.  Danticat writes of how the sisters are entwined, they were holding hands when they entered the world and they held hands in the backseat of the crash, which eventually was their final separation: their untwine. As Giz slowly accepts Isabelle’s death, she realizes the rest of her family survived.  One decision, to remove her seat belt for a  moment, changed everything, but she and her family will survive this.  She questions how even though some goodness came with closure (remember, it’s a bit of a mystery so I’m not going to give that away), her sister is still gone, and pain is still felt.  In her sixteen year old logic seeking brain, she believes that maybe her family had just had too much joy, it was time for something bad to happen, and others needed some joy.  Giz questions the idea of why bad things happen and feels the loss of not only her sister, but of her best friend and now has no one to be other other half to whom she talks too.

In a touching scene late at night, on the kitchen floor, her aunt says she will become that person for Giz.  I sort of want to be adopted into this family.   This is a beautiful multi-generational family who come together in the worst moment of their lives and support one another in order to try and heal.  Very touching family moments and a good tear-jerker well worth shedding a few tears.

Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon

diversity in YA, Favorites, Read-a-Likes

I feel I should apologize for judging a book based on the description – I was sucked into this story so fast I was shocked.  While a ‘bubble girl’ is a bit far fetched, the writing, family, and witty banter between teens is quick and enjoyable.  You can tell it will probably be a fatal romance, but it didn’t keep me from rooting for those early bunt cake jokes between windows between Madeline and Olly: two oddballs, but for different reasons who find a connection.  Maddy is a deep character for many reasons – fatal illness, highly witty and intelligent, biracial, forgiving, and funny.  As she realizes living her life to the fullest, even if it’s a short one, is worth it.  Towards the end she reflects on how her life has been affected by love.

Love.

Love makes people crazy.

Loss of love makes people crazy.

These two are cute.  Not quite so put together as Hazel and Augustus (The Fault in Our Stars) who even though they have hardships with their health, they seem overly self assured at flirting and building a relationship.  Madeline and Olly are awkward.  Madeline questions her outfit to meet him, even though she only owns white shirts and jeans, and Olly, with his parkour, uses the control over his body when he can’t control him home life or Madeline’s illness.

One Madeline’s mom learns that her nurse has let Olly into the house (after decontamination of course), she is livid and fires the nurse, and Madeline is heartbroken.  This leads her to do something drastic and try to live life to the fullest.

————————- Page 264 —————————

From Everything, Everything, we go to “Holy Crap, Holy Crap”  A shocking realization a ‘al We Were Liars (but not for the same reason, obviously) this story begins nearly a new plot right at the end.  Fabulous.

There’s a continued questioning of the infinite and how life moments are connected to lead to our identies, our experiences, and how we become who we are.  As Maddy loses her once held beliefs of other people and must adapt to new truths, she does a perfect amount of teen questioning.  There are a couple of serious downers to this book, but some are realistic enough that it makes for a great story that one’s reality may not always be how it’s perceived, from a mother’s relationship to the lives of neighbors.  Still the little escapism Maddie and Olly find first online and then …….. (avoiding a spoiler)……. are both nicely timed and a happier distraction from the more serious plots of this story.


Read-a-likes: The Fault in Our Stars, All the Bright Places, and any teen love story where someone faces loss.

And We Stay – Jenny Hubbard

Award Nominee, death, Female Leads, Printz Award Nominee or Winner, Read-a-Likes, suicide

Jenny’s Junior Year of High School involves a transfer to a prestigious all-girl boarding school in Massachusetts.   The reason:  her ex-boyfriend showed up to her old high school, with a gun, and killed himself in the library.  OK, that sounded a bit like a game of Clue, but And We Stay is nothing to laugh at.  This Printz Award Nominee (2015) reminds me of Looking for Alaska by John Greene in that also has darker passages into the psyche of adolescents and forming self-identites.  While Alaska took us into the thoughts of the suicidal teen, And We Stay deals with the thoughts, questions, and anger of those left behind in possibly an accidental suicide.  Even that is a question – was Paul intending to kill himself or was it an accident?  There are no clear answers to this tragedy in Emily’s life.

An interesting element to the story is that it’s set in 1995, which is before school shootings began to be a common occurrence.  I wonder why she set it 20 years ago, but it will still appeal to teens now, but I am curious to the time chosen.

  • Notes to myself for the next article I’m doing for YALSA’s The Hub: this story brings up the shame and wanted secrecy of being left behind (or even the cause) of a suicide.  Also, touches on how people deal with death.  In I Was Here, the small town finds no surprise in Meg’s suicide using hindsight to process and understand that vibrate girl’s suicide.  In this story, while people try to find solace in religion and a higher power, Hubbard clearly (and honestly) offers an example of how people process grief – finding understanding through religion.  For Emily, however, that offers no peace or understanding – a fact I appreciate as many people face anger in the aftermath of a death and it is not only a respected stage of grief, but an honest human reaction to facing tragedy that one cannot understand initially, if ever.  The mind needs to process (not to mention the heart) …. in the aftermath of tragedy trying to process and cope are her challenges. Questioning faith and God

But Emily knows that God had nothing to do with it: it was her human error that caused Paul to end his life….As Reverend Wright prepared,with ancient Biblical words, to return Paul to the earth, Emily sent a letter to God….. Paul’s funeral was forty- six days ago.  She has not spoken to God since. (20)

Emily considers how girls’ brains are different and how she possibly could have saved Paul – an often guilt ridden thought left by those following a suicide.  Toward the end Emily has come to accept Paul’s death (time and a new environment surely helped) and developed a less angry tone to remembering Paul, “Emily knows she will always remember Paul, but she isn’t sure where it is he will stay.  She hopes he’ll stay in her head.  She will need room in her heart for other things, other people.”  This makes me rethink the title of And We Stay from focusing on the people left behind in a death to thinking those that die still stay in our hearts and minds.

An added bonus to Hubbard’s writing is the comparison and insight to Emily Dickinson’s life and poems – Dickinson is the namesake of the school.  But besides some enjoyment offered to our narrator Emily, the interest in poetry as a form of expression assists our Emily as she processes Paul’s death.  It also offers her a connection to Emily Dickinson while she’s hiding her past, shipped off from her family, and thrust into a new world – one that knows nothing about her and in which she feels alone.  We (the reader) are gifted with poems from both Emily Dickinson and Emily Beam – classics and originals, from Dickinson and Hubbard.  I especially liked the one with the take on the name/word Paul.  Hubbard is not only a great novelist, but also a nice poet.  This is a great story, covering two serious life events (death and an abortion), but it also covers the difficult process people go through in dealing with tragedy to heal and also develop deeper understanding to their own self-identity and how identities change and grow.

 

The Rose Society – Marie Lu

Action, Fantasy, Favorites, Female Leads, gay characters, Read-a-Likes, Series, Young Readers

So. Excited. For. This. Sequel!!!!  There are some awesome females in this series:  “Right now, what I want is the throne.  Enzo’s power.  A perfect revenge.  And all the Inquisitors, queens, and Daggers in the world won’t be able to stop me.” (196)   —— Boom ———

Adelina is strong and she and her sister immediately begin their search for other Elites.  In hiding their powers, they sneak among society, but ever fearful of being caught by the Inquisitors ruled by Teren and Queen Giulietta – those who fear the malfettos (aka: gifted people after the fever left them with powers.  Those with the strongest powers are the Elites).  This sequel immediately keeps the plot moving and character’s personalities grow.  I may just prefer the sequel to the debut, something that I haven’t done since Catching Fire from the The Hunger Games series.

Raffaele Laurent Bessette is a new leader of the Dagger Society and a former consort, and former confidant to Prince Enzo – an Elite himself who was killed by Teren, (the self hating Elite who works and loves Queen Giulietta, the sister of Enzo) —- a very connected group of characters for sure.  While Raffaele is taken under a new Queen’s charge he struggles with the loss of Enzo.  Maeve, the Malfetto Queen and ally to Enzo with her vengeance and violent tendencies, has recently risen to power and has no problems using Raffaele as a tool, even if it means his death.  She fights and has a ferocious white tiger and I keep thinking of Lady MacBeth, yep – she’s sort of that frightening as a newly crowned young Queen.  Her power is one of the darkest.

Lots of secrets and trickery, but a fast moving plot and unlike Six of Crows, which has similarities, this one is easier to follow.  Maybe it’s just that  we’re following 3 groups instead of 6 backstories, but it flows better.  And as far as sequels go, it keeps you reading and I almost want to reread it.

Another side of the plot’s maturity deals with love, the disappointment with it (not in a teenage sappy love story).  It covers the gut wrenching loss of a confidant, the cruelty given by a parent, and true abandonment.  Not to mention our characters have to choose between friends, choose who suffers pain (even death), and who to let go.  Adelina certainly comes to understand how her ideal of love has changed.

“I’m suddenly angry.  Why must I lose everything that I care for? Why is love such a weakness? I wish, for an instant, that I didn’t need such a thing.  I can win the same things in my life with fear, with power.  What is the point of searching for love, when love is nothing but an illusion?”

I think what really makes this book stand out is the darkness that comes through for many of the characters, Adelina mostly who struggles with a desire of revenge and power, but also of the prejudice towards the malfettos.  Eventually her drive for power, and the whispers in her head overtake her initial goal of justice and it’s a glorious spiral out of control.  One that is very Shakespearean or Game of Thrones like.  Not a typical depth found in Young Adult Literature and one Marie Lu covers so well.  You will not put this book down for the last half, I promise.

Sadly, I must now wait for the third book, but at least we’re already into 2016 right?   I love this series and recommend it to male and female students and also to adults.  It does not disappoint in action, plot, creativity, and characters.

All the Bright Places- Jennifer Niven

Books Worth Crying Over, Favorites, love, Read-a-Likes, suicide

Violet and Theodore meet on the roof of their high school’s bell tower as each contemplate suicide.  As they sort of rescue each other and come down the stairs and back to the reality of high school, Theodore (aka: Finch) won’t let Violet go.  In an effort to get to know her he befriends her secretly in a one-on-one Facebook relationship and publicly, as declaring her a partner for a school project.

Through the daily tasks of teenagers trying to please parents and trying to uphold school ideals, Violet and Finch each struggle with their own thoughts and the reasons why they were on the bell tower in the first place.  For Violet, it’s a broken heart after surviving a car accident which killed her older sister.  For Finch, it’s balancing his awake moment and his “asleep” moments.  Violet tries to get past the victim status known for “extenuating circumstances” and even hit upon that in life you don’t always get answers, sometimes bad things happen,  sometimes good things happen, and sometimes life just happens

As predicted these two from opposite social circles soon find things in common and once paired on a school project, they open up to one another.  A similar guy-girl differences and conversational banter a ‘la The Geography of You and Me and The Fault in Our Stars, the teen YA romantic crowd will enjoy.  As they discover significant locations around town they discover that life has little moments of “bright places” and they find small moments of happiness with one another.  Even at the end, there’s a sort of farewell scavenger hunt for the last of the assignment.  It provides a romantic closure similar as The Fault in Our Stars.

Similarly to real life, those that struggle with depression often lose the battle.  This is the case for this story as well as one of our friends dies, but the book should not be avoided due to that plot.  In fact, it should be read for the beautifully written friendship that emerges and as a reminder to find the bright places in each of our lives.

It also covers the anger, guilt, and selfishness felt by many left behind a suicide. How people get to the point of contemplating suicide and how people can help one another.  These things and life  can leave you forever changed.

Watch an interview with Jennifer Niven.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

diversity in YA, Favorites, love, Middle Grade Romance, Read-a-Likes, Safe Bets, Young Readers

boys

A story of sisters, crushes, mean girls, and first loves.  Yes, plural.

When Lara Jean’s secret love letters to all of her crushes (5) are mailed suddenly and accidentally, her love life is all too public.

A week shy of her older sister going to college in Scotland, Lara Jean, who doesn’t like change, realizes her life is about to change drastically.   Their mother died six years ago and Margot, the eldest, has kept the family organized and running.  Besides losing her sister to the Scots, she has lost a dear family friend (and her first crush) Josh when Margot breaks up with him.

Of course all the letters get out and all the recipients come looking for answers.  Lara Jean must explain and hide her true feelings for Josh.  It’s awkward and embarrassing, and totally funny when she and one of her recipients decide to “fake date” so she can save face and he can make his ex-girlfriend jealous.

As the story continues, Lara Jean gets a bit braver and honest with her relationships – with Peter, Josh, and her sisters.  Of course it can’t stay light and funny forever.  Soon Margo returns home and there’s a distance between the sisters from her time away.  A school trip brings a mean rumor and a post-Christmas party of carols and cookies ends up with everything publicly announced.  Kitty, the funny wise-beyond-her-years little sister gets her puppy though. Lara Jean realizes how her boy crushes through the years were all fantasy and that love is messy.

“Love is scary: it changes; it can go away.  That’s part of the risk.” and that’s a lesson everyone should learn.

A cute book.  Sequel: P.S. I Still Love You.  (yes, I’ll probably read it)