The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly –

Award Nominee, Female Leads

Minnow Bly’s parents joint a cult when she was young.  She was punished by her hands being chopped off at the wrists.  Let’s take a moment and process that.  Many people, including my public library, thought this book was an adult book – so be warned.

The story is told in flashbacks and to the FBI psychologist that visits Minnow in juvenile detention.  We read about her story from her family joining “The Community”, the years her family increased in both children and importance within The Community, and the events that led to Minnow’s disability –  as well as the death of the Prophet. Minnow is a smart seventeen year old, despite the fact she cannot read and has had the world kept from her.  Through the years she didn’t trust the Community or the Prophet’s stories and communication with God.  Only when she runs further into the woods and finds a teenage boy living in a cabin, with his dad, does she realize the lies she has been told and that people outside of the Community are not evil.  Jude helps her through the years by offering a supportive escapism.

With such a sad and dark plot, the humor found with Minnow’s cell-mate Angel is a nice reprieve, in juvenile detention, but still.  Angel helps Minnow learn the rules of juvenile detention.  Minnow decides to get the truth out about the Community, especially how it treated children and women, and agrees to talk to the FBI, who are investigating the burning of the Community and the death of the Prophet.

A dark story of mystery, a cruel disfigurement, and overcoming something horrible.  Similar to This. As we read more about Minnow’s background and the brainwashing the men of The Community taught, it is difficult to separate this story from modern cult-like groups.  For being a debut novel, I was very impressed with the depth of the various plots.  Be aware there are beatings, torture, and some cussing, but overall it shows how Minnow survived and begins to rebuilt her life.

Here is an interview with Stephanie Oaks

William C. Morris YA Debut Novel Nominee (2016)



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 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.

Love Letters to the Dead – Ava Dellaira

Award Nominee, death, families, Female Leads


For a school assignment, 15 year old Laurel is instructed to write a letter to a dead person.  Instead of choosing her hero, recently deceased older sister, she opts for various celebrities: Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, Amelia Earheart, Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger.  In between her letters to the dead – some praising them, some thinking aloud – we follow her days in a new school, bouncing between the house of her dad and her aunt, and her struggle to fit in and make friends while still under the shadow of her sister.

It’s not very depressing or sad at the beginning. In fact, it seems fluff at first.  The most entertaining parts (for me) were learning about the backgrounds of Kurt Cobain and Judy Garland.  Laurel gives lots of history in her letters to bond or share similarities with these dead celebrities, so there’s a bit of nonfiction to their biographies.  In real life, her friends at school are all misfits: secret lesbians, smart girl dating the “doesn’t apply himself” boy, and the crush with a bad history.

Like most teens with a tragedy behind them, Laurel blames herself for May’s death.  As she writes her letters to the dead, her truth comes out: abuse and self blame.

The only real star quality of this book is that in losing her sister, Laurel appreciates life.  This isn’t a great piece of literature or doesn’t have a shocking climax.  For an overly dramatic teen or one who loves these musicians or celebrities (or someone who thinks their journal writing is the most significant writing out there) a teen will enjoy the book.

Sadly, most adults reading this YA won’t feel like they found a new “hit”, but will simply be reminded of their own high school, overly dramatic and self important, days.

But, Laurel grows to be stronger.  So there’s a conclusion, still….not the next big hit.  But for a teen who struggles, he/she may find some connection. To me, it’s just aimed at whiny, self-important preteens.

Due to the sexual abuse, death, and alcohol use —- still 14 and up.

All the Truth That’s In Me

Award Nominee, diversity in YA, families

It begins with the sense that there is already disappointment or danger in our young narrator’s life. “In time, you became a man, and at once, I became this”

Divided into Books, and then brief paragraphs separated by roman numerals, it starts as if each paragraph is an afterthought with a lingering pause as if each thought is waking into a new moment after a restful sleep. Early on, the reader senses longing and regret from our narrator for a future that was lost, an experience that was forced, and a return that is half empty. Judith is silent, seen more as a nuisance by her mother and brother than a daughter or sister.  Her role in the tiny community is isolated and she is a presence only, not a friend or participant after a 2 year absence.

You see, a fellow farmer and community deacon, after his wife left him, took two girls.  After drinking his way to madness, setting his home on fire, one girl washed up the river dead, the other returned to her family missing not only two years of her life, her innocence, but also half of her tongue.

We start with a one-sided love story between neighbors who live in cabins and live the simple life.  With families that came together on a boat, they have been intertwined for years in Roswell Station.  Farming, living, and living in a safe, small community – one in which there needs to be a guard each night watching the ocean for ships and invaders (homelanders).

As the story continues, the second person narrative gets a bit old.  Although I suppose if you were always spying on someone I would think of it as a “you did this”  and then “you did that”.  Each section? Chapter? …. the writing is broken up sometimes after only a few lines and sometimes after pages, but I don’t know my roman numerals much past 20 so I acknowledge the style as pauses in thought, or a dimming of lights to end one scene and then light up the stage again to a new thought, scene, chapter, or whatever I call it, it is lovely prose often sucking me in and keeping me reading longer than I should.

I felt like the plot ended with the resolution of the battle and the death of Judith’s abductor, which made me wonder where the story was headed. As Judith returns home with the injured men from her town, the community slowly recovers from the battle. She also finds a friend in an unlikely person, her own strength, and her own voice.

(and as a mom of two young children, I personally liked this expansion of my phrase “use your words” when my son was learning to talk.  Maria to Judith, “Use language worthy of your mind. Use what you have. Stretch it forward” —- that’s going to become my new ‘use your words’)