Queen Anne’s Lace by Dawn Gardner

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Gardner’s debut, coming-of-age novel is set in the 1970s and she shed light on some very tough issues which teenagers face, including physical and sexual abuse, homelessness, and alcoholism. Fourteen-year-old Lacy has been hurt by and seen her mother hurt by her father too many times. In a quick act of bravery, she packs a bag and makes a break for it, after finding a photo and note from a man named Tommy in her mother’s closet. Believing that Tommy could be her real father, Lacy decides to try to find him, hoping he will allow her to stay with him. She accepts a ride with a kind truck driver, Butch, and spends a few days with he and his wife Betty, allowing them to feed her and provide her with a safe, warm bed. But when she overhears them talking about calling social services, she knows he has to leave rather than risk being sent back home to her mother and “father,” Samuel. The only thing she left behind at home is a shell of the woman her mother once was, a violently abusive, hateful man, and plenty of alcohol being consumed by both of them. After leaving Butch and Betty, she lives on the streets for a while, a scary situation where she is almost raped after trusting a drug-addicted, homeless woman who offers her helpful information about where to sleep at night. From there, she ends up hiding in a church closet. She catches a lucky break when she crosses paths with Annie at an AA meeting, after she’s been sober for 11 years. Annie provides her with a job, a safe home, and loving care, things she’s never had before. With Annie’s help, Lacy is able to face the hard truth about her mother and real father. The story doesn’t end with a tied in a bow happy ending, which I really appreciate. Lacy’s life continues to have ups and downs and there are some horrible things that happen toward the end of the story. I won’t tell you what they are, because I don’t want to spoil it for you. However, I do recommend that you read this book. It is gritty and real and it will have readers rooting for Lacy to have a brighter future ahead of her. Not recommended for younger teens due to the maturity of the content. Thank you to the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Always, Forever, Maybe by Anna Mrose Ricci

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Originally published in School Library Journal, March 2018.

Gr. 9 & Up: High school senior, Bee, has been living in the shadow of her best friends, popular twins Jo and Eric, counting the days until she can move away from her demanding parents. When Bee begins dating Aiden, her relationship with Jo becomes strained, which further increases as she starts keeping secrets involving Aiden from Jo. The tone starts off lightheartedly, but quickly turns serious as Aiden’s true character is revealed. Bee is convinced that Aiden is the one, and she remains in the relationship as he becomes jealous, irrational, and violent. Her parents forbid the relationship, causing her to want Aiden even more. Readers will sense Bee’s fear, and the pressure of trying to please everyone but herself. When sudden tragedy strikes, Bee finally realizes she must leave Aiden before it’s too late. Rissi’s first YA novel gives an accurate, but heartbreaking picture of teenage relationships. Recommended for additional purchase, the story has mature language and sexual scenes, as well as real-life situations which teen readers will appreciate. VERDICT: Fans of Colleen Hoover will enjoy this modern day realistic fiction story, full of diverse characters and the important message that abusive relationships are never acceptable.