The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3) – Marie Lu

Action, alternating narration, death, diversity in YA, Fantasy, Favorites, Female Leads, gay characters, Series

Three different groups of people continue to fight for power and their desire to be the one ruler in the final installment following  The Young Elites and The Rose Society.

Adelina is where she wants to be after the first two installments of this trilogy and that is as the White Wolf ruler.  She has reversed all prejudice and killings of the marked (those with powers) and has reversed the hatred she and her people faced and now in pure revenge fashion, aims it towards her former perpetrators.  She, along with her Rose Society of warriors, ensures that all marked (those formerly dubbed the ‘malfettos’) are respected in society. Her anger, and the voices in her head, make her self-conscious, paranoid, and cruel.

A few countries away her sister Violetta’s health is failing and a  prediction given earlier that the Elites will lose their powers and die seems to be coming true.  Violetta is protected by a powerful group of Elites – the same group that used to work with Adelina.  The Daggers know Adelina has gone off the deep end with her quest for revenge. They are another group vying for power.

Then there is Queen Maeve, one of the best female characters since Lady Macbeth, who harbors the two men that she brought back from death – and not with their former humanity.  Enzo, the former Malfetto Prince is still as powerful, but will kill more easily and Maeve must realize that her youngest brother, the one she always protected, is now more harmful than she realized.  Better think twice before bringing people back from the Underworld.  So Maeve, her soldiers, and her half-dead violent men are the third group.

Soon all sides collide in a battle of skill, power, and death.  People are captured by the other side and no one seems safe from each other or from the new threat they all face as marked malfettos, but a larger issue faces the powerful marked leaders: they are losing their powers.  A prophecy that was shared in the second book of the series seems to be coming true and now these strong leaders and enemies must come together for their own survival.  As battles continue, more people die (seriously – it’s like a Game of Thrones season), we wonder who will survive, who will retain power, and who will be the last leader standing. As the Elites travel to find the Gods and into the Underworld in order to learn why their powers lessen, more die on their journey.  This is a conclusion to the series that was focused on power and ruling an empire, but resolves in characters finding forgiveness, peace, love, and loyalty.

All in all after a violent, power hungry series, the Elites all finish mostly happily – if they were lucky enough to survive – and it’s a sweet ending, full circle all the way.

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The Incident on the Bridge – Laura McNeal

alternating narration, families, Female Leads

Thisbe was once a studious, if a little shy, high school student.  Not until a summer romance ended did she retreat into herself.  It wasn’t just that the relationship with Clay ended, but how it ended. Then as isolating as first heartbreak often is, Thisbe doesn’t realize the distraction and danger it puts her in as we learn it does on one night on the bridge.  As days go by into Thisbe’s disappearance, her little sister Ted and a new friend in town trying to recover from his own grief pair up to seek the truth concerning Thisbe’s disappearance.

Learning the backstory of Thisbe and Clay’s relationship alternating between the present days that occur after the night Thisbe disappeared, readers are privy to the inside thoughts of many characters, family members who fight for the truth they hope for, school friends who saw Thisbe’s demise, and the police who are trying to piece together different images of the  missing Thisbe.  Then as Thisbe picks up the narration herself, we realize this tale is far more sinister than high school relationships and that her broken heart led to a distracted moment which will change her life forever.

And what about all the people who either passed Thisbe on the bridge or the security officer who looked at her phone to check on her sick baby and missed the incident on the bridge?  This is a great telling of how we all interact and how people affect one another sort of like Gone Girl with a mystery to unwind.  As characters revisit conversations they had with Thisbe, everyone reflects on how people affect one another.  Thisbe herself realizes that her fixation on Clay and her own downward spiraling isolation wasn’t just an inward sulking, but a distraction which led to her not thinking clearly and over all abduction.

This is a shared narrative that is full of action, but more importantly it shows how we all connect and how, in a state of emergency, people can come together despite their guilt, innocence, or confusion.  There is a common goal and in this case it is to find Thisbe.

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.

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.

Love Letters to the Dead – Ava Dellaira

Award Nominee, death, families, Female Leads

love

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.

The Program by Suzanne Young

death, Dystopian, families, Favorites, love, suicide

program

Teens + suicide epidemic = The Program

When suicides among teenagers continuously increases, the government – with the support of parents – created The Program.  For Sloane The Program is a place that steals her friends’ memories and returns them as strangers because once you are in The Program, your sad memories are erased in an effort to keep teenagers from getting depressed.  Sloan hides her feelings well, even though people watch her more closely than others since her brother committed suicide.  There is one person who she can be honest with and that is her boyfriend James – her brother’s best friend.  Together they grieve, they hide their true emotions from others, but soon the depression gets too strong for them and they are taken into The Program.

The book is divided into three parts: Before Sloane and James are taken into The Program, Sloane and James in The Program, and then once they are returned to their families.  The plot takes a serious turn in the second part as Sloane tries to survive her time in The Program.  Like an medical institution when the doctors believe the patients are a danger to themselves, certain restrictions apply.  Sloan does find one friend – and one enemy.  As she learns more about The Program she finds out there is a pill that will help you hold onto one memory even if in The Program.  Unfortunately the one keeping this pill from her is only willing to give it to her after she gives in to his advances.

In the third part, and conclusion, Sloane and James are assimilated back into their lives outside of The Program.  Only, like other patients, they do not remember a lot of their past.  And most upsetting is James does not remember Sloane.  There are a few more plot twists along the way, such as the true cause of The Program, but the remainder of the book is focused on whether James will get his memories back and remember his love for Sloan.

Other elements: drugs, sex, (obviously) depression and suicide

Best for ages 13 +

The Sequel: The Treatment