All The Rage – Courtney Summers

Award Nominee, Female Leads

The title isn’t a trendy saying, instead it’s the rage of Romy Grey who was date raped by a popular boy, and Sheriff’s son.   Once he is accused, Romy is an outcast – seen as a liar and bullied by the small town high school teenagers, and even prominent adults in the community. This is a story that needs to be told- date rape occurs and should be reported.  I’ll get this out at the beginning – Romy is a survivor in more ways than one.

It begins with the retelling of a night in which Romy was so excited – what to wear on an anticipated date, being asked out by the cutest boy, and then having “fun” defined  by the 6, 7, 8, 9, and even 10 shots of alcohol she ingested  – probably no more then 110 pounds.

“How do you get a girl to stop crying?  You cover her mouth”

Where are the friends the night of and where are the adults the days after I was left wondering?  It makes me sad to read about the isolation and shame that results after a rape and certainly after a woman doesn’t report it. This is a strongly written, bold and powerful novel.  If every girl who experience some form of harassment had the strength of Romy, we would bee strong  stronger as  a female population.  Romy struggles and it is also important for readers to see protagonists with real life struggles and that there isn’t always a quick fix.

Months after her rapist has left town, the harassment continues as classmates are angry of his absence and she is seen as a liar.  Throughout the novel, she uses red nail polish and red lipstick as her shield and Romy finds courage to go to school each day (impressively), but her real solace is working in a diner one town over with people who don’t know her or her history.  When these worlds collide, Romy must face her past and also her vulnerability.  There are positive people in her life, but they cannot offset the mean girls at school and the harassment of boys. When Romy is found on a dirt road, 30 miles from town after going missing one night, with her clothes messed up and the words “Rape Me” written on her stomach, she cannot ignore her past any longer.   The same night, the town’s favorite popular girl also goes missing and Romy wonders if the coincidence of their disappearance on the same night has any link to her past.

Summers covers the aftermath of rape – isolation, shame, anger – well and also shows the strength in Romy as she deals with a town who shames her and calls her a liar.  When even the Sheriff publicly humiliates a teenager, one can’t read past the unfairness and sexism that Romy faces and that females still face such horrible backlash if coming forward with rape accusations against the wrong guy – even if it is the truth.  There is cruelty and unfairness in this novel, but there is also determination and strength.   In the end, Romy’s truth is known, she accepts support, and kindness from an unlikely person helps her feel validated and have a sense of worth.  Still, there are lots of serious mature issues in this besides the date rape.  Definitely a book I won’t forget for a while for the honest and respectful way it dealt with a serious issue of rape, teenage parties and bullying being allowed by adults, and how quickly one girl can get lost and isolated.


I am interested in Courtney Summers now and her award winning other books.  I love that this is her idea of a great character, “She likes writing books about girls who only have themselves because sometimes that realization is the scariest and most important thing–the slow untangling of the difference between ‘lonely’ and ‘alone.’ Her favorite kind of stories are the ones that make you wish so badly they’d ended differently but deep down you know they really couldn’t have gone any other way.”   She is a strong voice, who seems to focus on strong female characters.  Read more about her on her website

 

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The Gathering – Kelley Armstrong

diversity in YA, families, Fantasy

A teenage girl lives in a community owned by a pharmaceutical company and the town thinks nothing of it (#1 mystery foreshadow).  Oh yeah, her best friend – a great swimmer – drowned last year (#2 mystery foreshadow) and she can heal animals faster than the vet. It isn’t until a newcomer comes to down, an old lady calls Maya a witch – and that’s why her biological parents left her (ouch! They just met), and she begins to have fainting spells does Maya think her life may not be as normal as it seems.  Lots of mysteries thrown in this first book of Darkness Rising.

She also seems to connect closely with animals, mostly the cougars who live on the park her dad manages.  Yeah…. she thought this was a normal life.  Although I guess when you live in isolation your idea of ‘normal’ needs to be put in perspective. So this is fantasy and clearly the real reason all of these scientists and families live isolated will come out, but what begins at a normal teenage party results in the realization that skinwalkers (shape shifters) exist and a certain birthmark identifies you as such.  Have I mentioned that all of these teenagers excel at some athletic ability: swimming, boxing, running?  And the company which owns the town sends a team of doctors once a year to do physical check ups on these kids. Part Native American folklore and part Science Fiction, the story incorporates many creative elements to keep the mystery going nearly to the end.  And as it’s the first of a series….. the mystery clearly continues past shape shifters, strangers with guns, and the reason the town has to be evacuated.

Other topics: folklore, adoption, love, death, and communicating with animals.   So far this series is safe for younger readers – minus one incident with a drink being drugged, but nothing happened.


Series continues with The Calling and The Rising.

 

I Was Here – Gayle Forman

death, families, mental illness, suicide

Cody receives an email from her friend Meg that she has killed herself.  Planning an email on a time delay, indicating which motel she was in, and telling her parents how to deal with her body…. it seems Meg thought of everything, only not how her suicide would affect her best friend, family, and the small town she had just left behind.

Cody, much like everyone, is confused more than anything that Meg killed herself.  Even boxing up most of her own belongings before committing suicide, it seems Meg was factual, logical, and of sound mind – lists, boxes, emails.  How can one such intelligent and functioning girl want to die?  In her email Meg wrote it had been coming for a long time and Cody begins to question her entire background with her best friend.

  • A side note to myself on the main emotions and how loss is dealt with in this book (for my next piece on The Hub): Confusion, bitterness of being left behind, and that she failed her friend by not keeping in touch.  The overall tone is being left behind and the reasons Meg killed herself.  Confusion mostly until Cody feels a purpose in figuring out why Meg killed herself, and that is where the suicide gets darker in a realistic, online-suicide-group sort of way.  Everyone processes grief differently – baking, talking (or not talking), reliving memories, or anger….. “the tentacles of her suicide” affecting everyone.  Later Cody must acknowledge forgiveness and that she may need to forgive herself, but in her grief she’d rather be angry because she’d rather focus on anger than feel exposed and the resulting sadness.  She does not want to face the depth of her loss.  Meg’s Dad mentions how if there was someone to blame then grieving her would be simpler and cleaner.  Once Cody let’s her true feelings out, the guilt is the strongest, but in the end she is just left left sad about what was and what could have been.  Anger and sadness can be experienced at the same time during grief and this book  covers it well – as well as the added bonus of trying to teach forgiveness for ourselves (and hits upon depression and mental illness).

Once Cody, with the help of one of Meg’s roommates who hacks into an encrypted file on her computer, finds a trail to an anonymous internet suicide group she has a purpose to find out why Meg killed herself.  With the help of Meg’s odd mix of roommates (the stoner minister’s son is a good one), and the ex that broke Meg’s heart, Cody finds an odd Scooby Gang to help her investigate Meg’s death.  The book gets dark, but isn’t that a needed warning for teens and what they can find on the internet and to be wary of anonymous strangers?  Many who censor what their children read won’t like this once the suicide group gets into the plot,  but I believe that knowledge is useful and a powerful form of independence and intelligence – I think it’s a fine book, definitely dark, but stuff like this is out there so why not address it?  There is a really shady person on the chat board who discusses suicide as “freedom” and even encourages Meg to find her freedom and that perhaps it will set others free from her.  What can be troubling is the one-sided view of the forum showing suicide as seen as brave in some cultures and encouraging the act.  I certainly wouldn’t want that taught to some young readers, but most teens know there are bad groups on the internet.

While the main plot is Cody trying to find the reason for Meg’s suicide, in searching for that answer she feels is necessary to move on in her own life, we are shown different types of families – from the best to the worst-  and it isn’t until the end that the reader grasps that not all of life’s events have predictable causes, not all people are as they seem from social stereotypes, and families range from loving adoptive parents to those that abandon their children, or worse – show indifference to their existence.  But the most important thing that comes out of this book is forgiveness, not for a criminal or a victim, but for those left behind and how we forgive ourselves, and to remember those who die were here.  For a moment. I Was Here proves there are so many moments and emotions during the healing process and that it is different for everyone.

 

Out of Reach – Carrie Arcos

Award Nominee, families

Everyone Lies. Siblings often lie thinking they are helping or covering for their other sibling.  In this case, the lies lead to loss.  Not intentionally of course, but how often do we lie thinking of the snowball effect they will cause.  People often don’t think of the pain a lie will cause – simply because the pain wasn’t intentional.  But intentions aren’t what matters when the end result is the same.  In this story, the lies led to Micah’s downfall, disappearance, and a family searching for answers.

Rachel reflects on the beginning of Micah’s drug use and compares living with a lie as a tapeworm that isn’t removed from your life until it is physically removed from its host and she spends the entire novel trying to remove her symbolic tapeworm.

Rachel goes through guilt of her brother’s bad decisions and not telling her parents sooner that he was using drugs (the first time and when he began again), being angry at him for lying to them all, for leaving.  Soon her anger subsides to concern when she receives an anonymous email that Micah is in trouble. She enlists Micah’s best friend, Tyler, on a road trip in search for Micah.

  • Shock, denial, anger, responsibility and in the end she understands the necessity and coping in the ability to let go of what one cannot control (a note to myself since my next article for The Hub is about loss, grief, and bibliotherapy in YA fiction.)

The novel’s entirety is less than a 36 hour weekend, but the flashbacks provide a detailed telling of Micah’s destructive downfall.  Tyler helps Rachel look for Micah and come across various misfits, drug users, and concerned friends. Rachel comes to terms that her brother’s choices were not anything she could control or wish for a different outcome and there is some closure at the end – but not the closure she had hoped.  An important undertone of the story is also how Micah’s spiral from a regular teenager to a runaway, drug addict affects those around him, an element that even with the darkness of this book a lot of teens would benefit to witness.  In the words of Stephen Sondheim, “You are not along” and all of our actions affect those nearest to us.

National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature (2012)

If You’re Lucky – Yvonne Prinz

Action, death, families

Georgia’s brother Lucky is dead on the first page.  The first chapter shows anger and raw emotion as she and her parents process Lucky’s death.  As an adventurous, outdoorsy, responsible college student the death, drowning during a surfing accident off the coast of Australia, seems like an uncharacteristic end to such a charismatic and strong man.

Prinz covers the topic well, not just for dramatic entertainment, but for the gut wrenching descriptions of a mother’s animal-like wail to the stages of grief and how quickly Georgia can curse at her brother for dying, then tell him she loves him in the next breath.

  • doubt, sadness, and disbelief are the main emotions, but in the end Georgia feels lucky to still be alive and (a note to myself since my next article for The Hub is about loss, grief, and bibliotherapy in YA fiction.)

This story is more than a story of grief and healing.  It takes on a mystery surrounding Lucky’s death, one that resembles The Talented Mr. Ripley while Georgia suspects the new stranger, Fin, is not the mourning best friend who her family takes in.  As she questions his true nature, her family begins to wonder if Georgia’s grief has taken on a hallucinating state of denial.  The mystery laid out (enjoyably so) for the reader is whether Georgia isn’t fooled by Fin as the rest of the small town or whether her own mental state (specifically schizophrenia) is what is fooling her.

As Georgia’s suspicions grow (or is it the case of her mental illness worsening?) she gathers clues against Fin and sees (hallucinates) Lucky, who is trying to warn her.  Is Georgia the only one who sees the truth or is she the only one falling into a state mixed of grief and paranoia?  When does one allow the true loss to be felt in order to try and grieve and heal instead of trying to find a piece to hold onto of the person you miss the most?  Grief and healing is different for every person, but throw in the mix a mental disease and skipping medication— well this gave quite the climactic mystery.

It’s Not Summer Without You – Jenny Han

death, families, love

Well I picked up this audio CD without knowing it was a 2nd in a series.  That’s OK, I like Jenny Han and I caught on.  It’s a story about loss and how one moves on from loss.   In this case it’s our narrator, Belly (guess I should have read the first of the Summer series to know why her nickname is ‘Belly’).  Anyway, her pseudo aunt has died and left many heartbroken, but she is also recovering from the breakup with Conrad, Suzanne’s son, and summertime childhood friend turned fling after many years.

A good amount of teenage questioning occurs such as how, as we age relationships change.  Conrad struggles with the loss of his mom and turns everyone away, while his brother Jeremiah is happy to rekindle his old friendships – especially when Conrad disappears for a few days. The kids have an unrealistic few days at the summer “Cousins” beach house (unsupervised), but it’s a nice coming of age / grieving / growing up that any teen reader will enjoy due to those days of freedom.

What is significant in this novel which deals with death is that the question of how one grieves is brought up numerous times.  Sometimes even to question whose grief is more important than other person’s grief – the sons, the best friend, the ex-husband?  How everyone reacts to death is different not only based on the relationship, but based on each individual, and Belly finds out that its not whose grief that is most important, but that it is dealt with properly in a way to heal and move on.

Still, I prefer (and loved) To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before also by Jenny Han, which also offers a great coming of age story, but a bit more comical.

The ending though totally makes me want to read the third book – it’s years later and Belly runs out on her own wedding…..what!?!

Series: The Summer I turned Pretty 

the-summer-I-turned-pretty

Halo – Alexandra Adornetto

death, religious, Series

I usually don’t read angel books, but this came recommended.  Angels are coming to Earth to try and get humanity on the right track.  This is less about going to church and more about stopping violence so I thought that was a good enough reason to begin reading.  It’s the first of a trilogy so who knows how into religion it goes, but considering the following titles are Hades and Heaven, I’m guessing it gets deeper.  What I like about this series so far is less the idea of angles and more the budding love story between Bethany (the teen angel) and Xavier.  He is School Captain and overall nice guy, but still guarded after the death of both his girlfriend and best friend.  Odd things have occurred in this town, which is why Bethany and her two siblings – both Heavenly and as a cover story for their Earthly presence – were sent.

As Bethany learns the ways of a small town and stereotypical high school experiences, she sees the good in humanity.  It isn’t until the (obvious) introduction of the mysterious, cute, British rebel that the storyline isn’t all rainbows and goodness.  It’s obvious from the beginning of meeting Jake Thorne that he will be a demon or something to counter the good (and lazily named) sibling trio, whose chosen last name is Church.

twilight_book_cover

I kept thinking this shared the obvious, and overly too perfect for each other love of the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer.  Two beings, from different worlds, are both drawn to one another and in a far, too dramatic in teen angst, but too mature in adult reasoning and relationship revelations type of love relationship.  In these two books, the ability to process such complex relationship issues as one would have if loving an angel from Heaven or a vampire from hundreds of years ago is not a realistic ability in maturity of the typical 17 year old.  But why try to draw reason in these plots when the series is so clearly for preteen girls just beginning to think of relationships and wanting the never-ending love that they believe is the love story waiting for them?

This has an OK storyline.  It certainly won’t offend most parents since it involves angels and at least in this first segment, it’s not too religious to offend this laid back Episcopalian.  Jake eventually gets a following and brings some demons to earth and our angels must intervene, but I am sort of curious about the next in the trilogy…… alluring most readers with the title of Hades and with the promise that a spurned and angry Jake (demon) Thorne is returning.

series

Overall, this is just as over the top teen love and high school driven plot as many YA novels where the love story is between a mortal and immortal being.  Not sure how religious it goes, but it is not subtle in showing how decisions (drinking, dating, sex, grades, responsibility) affect one’s life, which is probably a lesson many preteens need to be reminded of and one most parents wouldn’t mind this angle-mortal love story teaching.

H2O – Virginia Bergin

Uncategorized

h2o

It begins outside of London with a bunch of friends drinking at a party and many in the hot tub.  That’s the most “YA” upper age thing – besides all the blood and death, but know it begins with making out in a hot tub.

An outbreak overseas has made its way to Europe and by the time they realize the disease is in the rain, it is too late.  In a matter of days, Ruby has gone from making out with her crush in a hot tub to traveling alone and no longer remembering how many dead bodies she has seen.  As she begins living fearful of rain, neighbors, and all water those first few days after the first deadly rain, it becomes clear that her village outside of London is alone.  And soon Ruby is alone.

Lots of action, very gory and descriptive.  A great story, but probably best for the older readers of YA due to the violent, bloody, flesh scratching way people die…. and the smell and decay that is mentioned throughout the story.   There are some comical parts – when Ruby uses self tanner by candlelight and her rescue of neighborhood dogs, but there are passages that are borderline science fiction end-of-days and lonely passages of Ruby’s personal thoughts or memories of her mom and baby brother.

Sequel (UK title) – The Storm

Breathe – Sarah Crossan

Uncategorized

breathe

“Breathing is a right, not a privilege, so I’m stealing it back” –  a great first line.   Oxygen in the atmosphere gone.  Great way to begin!

Our trio of narrators have different experiences living in the Pod where air is available to its citizens- at a cost.  While Alina is a pretty kick-awesome, strong, independent, lead character trying to find a better future out of the Pod, Bea and Quinn are more typical High School students focused on family and friends.  In a world where only Premiums have oxygen on a needed bases, Bea and Alina and their families (Auxiliaries) pay for Oxygen with their taxes, or extra fees when needed.  As you can imagine, life is not easy when the most necessary thing costs money and you are poor and concerned for every breath – such is the life for Bea and her family.  On the other end of this society are the Premiums, the elite, and those who can afford additional oxygen tanks not merely for survival, but for extracurricular activities: jogging, making out, even jubilant laughter – such is the life for Quinn, Bea’s best friend.  Soon Alina, Bea, and Quinn are out of the Pod of society and in the Outlands and the story of how man destroyed trees, the ocean, and led to the lack of oxygen is explained.

Years ago, when the levels of oxygen decreased and the planet nearly died, the population grew desperate as they died off.  As chaos grew, the company Breathe created a lottery for those allowed into Pod to try and survive.  Life is stuck, decades later, still in the Pod under the dome, using Oxygen tanks bought from Breathe and everything – and everyone – outside of it died.  Oxygen is created by those in charge but necessarily bought by everyone.  There are no trees or oceans, or fairness in deciding who gets the tanks.

Of course the struggle for power between Breathe (the company making people dependent on oxygen) and the Resistance (Alina and the rebels who are not only fighting against Breathe, but secretly growing trees in the Outlands) affects our trio quiet personally and they must accept new truths as well as changed relationships. This is another story of a government deciding the restraints and freedoms for its citizens based on a class system [not a big surprise for YA whose readership are mostly teenagers who constantly struggle for more power].  However, an additional power struggle, not focused on in many YA books is mentioned by a fierce, filthy, strong, old woman (a drifter living in the Outlands) who teaches our young female characters a thing or two about courage and love – and equality. Perhaps more YA doesn’t focus on sexism and inequality for fear of being deemed a “girl book”, but Sarah Crossan sneaks in a truth most books, even with the strongest female characters don’t showcase to its underage readers.  (It also doesn’t go unnoticed that two of the narrators are female and there are strong female characters throughout (I’m holding out hope that Quinn’s mom becomes one in the end)).   When Bea comments how nice the freedom must have been back then  – when air was free – Maude Blue takes this moment to school Bea on the reality of life:

 It weren’t that way.  It ain’t never that way.  People is people and greed is greed.  There weren’t never a time of true equality. Women didn’t play in that stadium and get the same crowds as the men…. Freedom and equality is myths, girls.  You should learn that now” (194)

Once the battle between the soldiers and the Resistance is underway, and the aftermath of it, this story – which already has a great pace – really gets exciting.  It reminded me, though not as bold or as heartbreaking, of the action packed chapters of Mockingjay or the final battle in Harry Potter, and since Breathe has a sequel I am sure the future action will only increase…. one can hope it’s as bold in action as it is in taking on climate issues and equality.

Sequel – Resist

When I Was the Greatest – Jason Reynolds

Uncategorized

when

Ali (Allen) lives in Brooklyn – not quite the worst part but far from the best.  His dad is barely around, but when he is he is present so it’s not a story of a poor minority neighborhood, but there are struggles, drugs, and crime.  Ali has a good neighborhood life: devoted single mom, old soul little sister, and two best friends – Noodles and Needles.  These nicknames (Ali, Noodles, Needles) were given to the 15 year old boys by Jazz, Ali’s little sister, who finds an unique quality for each in which to give the names.  Needles has Tourette Syndrome in an area where hospitals are not frequented because people choose to pay the rent over a hospital bill.  So he has never had medical or therapeutic help and is unmediated.  The plot builds to where you know at some point the rough neighborhood will overpower the niceties of Ali’s family life.

This isn’t a ghetto story or a gangster story, but one in which the plot becomes more serious as it continues.  It is a relief that at the climax, violence is not seen as the resolution.

This is up for the Arkansas Teen Book Award and while it’s a good story, and possibly even some group of readers could relate, it doesn’t leave me with anything to think about later.  Nor do I feel that it is any different than a book centered around kids living in a bad neighborhood trying their best to be good.  What is different is that Ali is mature and Needles has Tourettes.   Mental illness is accepted as part of life by the neighbors, but also addressed as an issue that makes life challenging and hinders relationships.

In the end – I’m glad no one is killed as bad groups of people, guns, and being “hunted” are plot points, but I also don’t think it’s award worthy.