Ronit & Jamil – Pamela L. Laskin

alternating narration, biracial couple, diversity in YA, families, love, Middle Grade Romance, novel in verse

Take Romeo and Juliet and put it in current times with the Israeli and Palestine conflict and we have Ronit & Jamil.  A smart Israeli girl and a smart Palestinian boy, both raised by doctors who meet in passing assisting their fathers at a hospital.  Thus begins this little (178 paged pocket sized) universal love story.

This story reads quickly and even quotes a few lines from Shakespeare’s work.  What is unique in this modern retelling is that communication not only occurs via text messages, but that Ronit and Jamil, unlike Juliet and Romeo, know the entire time they are going against family rules and cultural laws.  In fact, knowing how their relationship would be both a disgrace and punishable, makes them value their time together even more than the immature star-crossed-lovers.  The forbidden love is similar, as it has probably occurred throughout time, but these passages make it modern in a way the reader – even if unfamiliar with the Palestine and Israeli struggle – will follow.

Throughout the alternative narration, Ronit and Jamil have similarities with their family lives and their own interests, as seen in the passages “What I love” and “What I hate”.  The overall tone is one of finding love and while being afraid of rules, family, and law, holding onto that love through a time of war; finding joy and truth when it contradicts what you were led to believe.  Ronit and Jamil eventually must face their reality and which they will chose: family or love.

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P.S. I Like You – Kasie West

families, love, Middle Grade Romance, music, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Lily wants to be a songwriter and her constant need to create lyrics eventually leads her to a secret pen-pal who can also talk about music.  For a girl who doesn’t feel she fits in at her high school other than with her best friend and no help to Cade, who singles her out whenever he can, she finally finds a person who she can be completely open with. It begins as a simple doodle and lyric on a desk in Chemistry class, but soon develops to a full note exchange between classes.  This is similar to You’ve Got Mail with pen-pals being school notes left in a desk.

Once Lily learns a few details about her pen-pal, she begins to look at most kids in her school with a curious thought: could he/she be the pen pal?  Juggling school, a music competition, and her overcrowded house with a sister and twin younger brothers, there’s not a lot of time for Lily to write.  Add to this, her best friend and her boyfriend trying to set her up with their friend Daniel.  Soon Lily wonders is her pen pal the cute boy she always sees listening to his headphones or should she stop hiding behind the secrecy of letter writing and focus on Daniel right in front of her?

She is a strong girl who doesn’t mind wearing the clothes she buys from thrift stores or being the odd girl who stands up to Cade.  Still, the mystery of a stranger who she can speak about music with is inciting and causes Lily to act similarly as any teenager with a crush.  It’s honest and real and any teen uninterested in dating or those that don’t mind developing crushes each week will enjoy.  Readers will find themselves in a little bit of Lily.  Characters can be independently strong, yet also susceptible to the actions of peers and the distractions of a first crush.


Read-a-Likes:

 

The Book of Broken Hearts – Sarah Ockler

diversity in YA, families, Favorites, love, mental illness, Safe Bets

Jude Hernandez is 18, the much younger sister of three older sisters who live around the country, and is spending her summer before college in an effort to fix her dad’s old motorcycle.  Why?  Because her dad, Papi, is at the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and Jude sees how each time Papi speaks of his summer riding the motorcycle, he lights up.  The only problem is the 19 year old who is the hired worker to fix the motorcycle is Emilio Vargas – the youngest brother of the Vargas boys who have broken the elder Hernandez sisters’ hearts.

Jude (JuJu) was a 12-year-old preteen when she took the oath to swear off the Vargas family with her older sisters.  Surely now that the eldest sisters are living in different states, and are grown, the juvenile oath doesn’t hold…. the bike can get fixed before the summer and her sisters will never know Emilio Vargas was invited into the Hernandez household.  The only problem is Emilio shares the good looks of the Vargas family, and JuJu not only relies on him to restore the motorcycle, but begins to rely on him during the summer she cares for her ailing dad.

With sisterly humor, family struggles, a light romance, and a daughter’s love wanting to do something for her father who is disappearing from their lives.  Her love for her dad surpasses the sisterly oath.  In a light, entertaining read, this is an entertaining romantic and even silly story of a family and first romance.

Hades – Alexander Adornetto

love, religious, Series, Uncategorized

This is the sequel to Halo and while I normally don’t read religious focused YA, I was curious as to how the angel got kidnapped and into  Hades.  The story continues with Beth, an angel sent to Venus Cove with her fellow angels covering as her older brother and sister.  She still is in the relationship with Xavier, a human who knows all about the angels.  As the students return to school the struggles of an appeared teen suicide still haunts Beth and her friends.  On Halloween, the girls decide to do a seance – and thus, evil returns to Venus Cove.

The story is actually entertaining, if juvenile in how relationships are perceived and the stereotypes of activities in Hades occurring.  Yes, Adornetto even goes so far to not use the word “hell”, but Hades even though vocabulary is mature and violence takes place.  It’s an odd combination of innocence with Beth’s point of view on love, but then with a very obscure and impressive vocabulary.  Juvenile in plot and story – but with writing of someone who knows how to use a thesaurus!  I think this is why it’s a safe series and I have middle school girls reading it.  The romance is interesting to them and the overall point is to be more good and angelic than bad and unkind.

We do meet Lucifer (who the demons call “big daddy”) and witness traditional sins, learn the history of fallen angels, and that a glimmer of hope causes some Hades to break loose in Hades. Beth does have a few other lost souls trapped who try and help her and once she learns how to witness and connect with Xavier and her siblings, the plot continues with the angel and human brigade (my words, not the author’s) trying to find a way to rescue their angelic Beth.  So with portals to and from hell, I mean Hades, an archangel, a seraphim, and a nun to assist, and two teenage humans, the struggle for the angel who may start the apocalypse by being in Hades is real and a unique plot.

The Carnival At Bray – Jessie Ann Foley

Award Nominee, death, families, Female Leads, love, Printz Award Nominee or Winner, suicide

The story begins in 1993 in Chicago then a move to a small town life in Bray, Ireland, which made me wonder if teens in 2016 would even grasp the Grunge movement or know of the musicians that intertwine with 16 year old Maggie Lynch.  Well, I needn’t have worried since Maggie is similar to any teenager whether living 20 years ago or today.  Her life is uprooted when her flighty mom suddenly marries and Irishman and moves Maggie and her little sister to the coast of Ireland. But teenage angst, first love, and identity issues follow a person no matter where they go.

At her new school, and new country, Maggie doesn’t quite fit in with the locals, but also doesn’t try too hard opting for evenings spent at home exploring the goodies in care packages her rocker uncle sends.  As she navigates high school, dating, and first crush, she also balances her personal loneliness, her favoritism to her uncle whom her mom and step-father seem to always clash with Kevin’s ideas and behavior.

This novel in three parts covers a range of emotions and life experiences that one would have difficulty covering in one novel without seeming rushed or random.  That is, unless you are Ms. Foley who manages to show depth and personal growth to Maggie nearly every few chapters. The pilgrimage Maggie takes is not only physical, but emotional and enlightening maturity wise (other than leaving the country and not telling the parents, that’s never a mature action). As she comes across fellow travelers, she realizes the world is larger than what she believed not only regionally, but in relationships.  As she deals with personal loss, she also undergoes personal growth; while learning to accept herself, she learns to forgive her mother.  Relationships and experiences are at the heart of this novel whether it’s a friendship with Bray’s 99 year old village legend or the rocker, grunge loving irresponsible uncle.  Advice from both men help Maggie live to the fullest, open up to others, and experience life.

This story is certainly for the older teen reader (sex, alcohol, suicide, sexual encounters, drugs), but the telling of the mid 1990s and of life in Ireland is such a unique mix that I was surprised to find it so familiar.

This is also the funniest way to fill out an author bio that I’ve seen.  Jessie Ann Foley has her teenage self interview her adult self.


Awards and Nominations:

Printz 2015 Honor Book

William C. Morris Award Finalist

Kirkus Best Book of 2014

YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults 2015

 

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.

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

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.

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.

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)