Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs

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Map of the Heart will be published August 22, 2017. I was in the mood for a love story, and this one was a perfect fit. This is a modern-day romance mixed in with a healthy dose of historical fiction, historical mystery, and a forbidden historical romance.

36 year old widow and single mother, Camille, has shut off her own heart from feeling happiness or true love, since her husband died in a tragic accident five years prior. At that time, she also gave up her favorite past-time which brought her the most joy – photography.

Camille spends her days trying to figure out the best way to deal with her moody teenage daughter and aging father, whose cancer is fortunately in remission. Part owner of Oh-La-La, a home-goods shop in downtown Bethany Bay, the New England touristy beach town she calls home, Camille also has a film developing business. She specializes in developing and restoring very old film.

Enter Finn, Malcolm Finnemore, but known only as Finn. He’s a handsome historian and professor who specializes in war and military history and volunteers his time recovering lost soldiers remains to give families closure. His own father, a soldier, disappeared during the Vietnam War before Finn was born, and Finn has been unable to find any clues to locate him, until a lost roll of film from his father’s camera was uncovered. The film could be images of the last place his father was alive, and it could even lead to his whereabouts. Giddy with excitement at the prospect of getting closer to finding his father, he contacts an expert, Camille, to restore and develop the very old, important film for him.

What follows is a series of sparks, then fires, then uncertainty, and passion in a romance made for the movies. Oh la la, indeed!

Camille’s father, Henri, who grew up in Bellerive, France, receives a box found in the attic at Sauveterre, and estate in southern France where he grew up and that he owns. Inside are some puzzling items that belonged to Henri’s mother, Lisette, who died during childbirth. There is little to no resemblance between Henri and his presumed father, Didier. Camille and Henri begin to question whether Didier Palomar, mayor of Bellerive and a Nazi supporter who was killed shortly after WWII ended, is actually Henri’s birth father.

Henri and Julie, Camille’s daughter, decide to spend the summer in southern France at Sauveterre, despite Camille’s resistance. She finally gives in after Julie is involved in an accident at school and Camille is unsure whether Julie is the bully or the bullied. Julie is miserable, and a summer away with a mystery to solve may be just what she needs to snap back into a happier childhood. And, of course, Camille realizes that Aix-en-Provence where Finn lives is very close to Bellerive. A summer in beautiful southern France AND a handsome, charming, single man dying to meet up with her as soon as possible – any woman in her right mind would be crazy to turn that down! Thank goodness, for the sake of the story, Camille lets go and heads to France.

The story switches back and forth to the 1940’s as readers get to know young Lisette and her remarkable story. Once the truth about Henri’s real father and Lisette’s past are revealed, readers will not be able to put the book down. I know I certainly couldn’t!

Map of the Heart is well-written with equal parts heartbreak and romance. The romance isn’t too steamy, but subtle and implied. I felt transported back and forth between the beach town of Bethany Bay and the picturesque estate of Sauveterre in the Var – both places that I would love to be. I loved the story and even the ending, which I sometimes do not like in romantic fiction. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Kristin Hannah will love this story.

Subject to Change by Karen Nesbitt

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Review first appeared in School Library Journal, February, 2017.

NESBITT, Karen. Subject to Change. 276p. Orca Book Publishers. Feb. 2017. $14.95. ISBN 9781459811461.

Gr 9 & Up -In Nesbitt’s debut realistic fiction novel, readers come face-to-face with Declan, a teen living in Quebec and dealing with major family issues. Told through Declan’s (at times) vulgar point of view, the pace is somewhat slow until the reasoning behind Declan’s parents break-up is revealed: his father cheated with another man and is gay. Coupled with Declan’s older brother Seamus’ illegal behavior and bullying attitude toward him, Declan is at a breaking point, receiving so many detentions at school that he is forced to undergo tutoring. His tutor, Leah, turns out not to be the “Little Miss Perfect,” he assumed she was all along. The language and content of the novel is very mature in nature. The subject matter would appeal most to teenage males, and even reluctant readers. The story is a great example of a teen’s uncertain relationship with a gay parent, as well as a family dealing with the aftermath of an affair. As Declan spends time with Leah and her grandmother, Bubby, a Holocaust survivor, his perspective changes a bit, allowing him to give his father another chance, and just in time as tragedy strikes Seamus. VERDICT Fans of John Corey Whaley and John Green will enjoy this brazen, realistic young adult “guy’s story.” Recommended for strictly additional purchase.

The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Weber

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Review first appeared in School Library Journal, January 2017.

WEBBER, Katherine. The Heartbeats of Wing Jones. 336p. Delacorte Press. Mar. 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780399555022.

Gr 8 Up – Set in 1990’s Atlanta, this coming-of-age story is realistic fiction with a touch of magical realism, is full of diverse and strong female characters. Bullied for her looks, Wing Jones, half Chinese and half black, doesn’t stand out like her football star, golden boy brother, Marcus. After a night of drinking, Marcus causes an accident, killing two people and ending up in a coma.  Unable to sleep at night, worrying for Marcus and living on the brink of poverty, Wing starts running. Though Marcus is one of the reasons Wing is running, she is able to step out of his shadow, finally feeling acceptance and accomplishment. Aaron, Marcus’s best friend and Wing’s long-time crush, is also a runner, providing a romantic element and additional distraction for Wing. Running gives her the courage to embrace her differences and stand out. Wing’s family back-story regarding her father is heartbreaking, revealed early on, explaining why her father is not in the picture. Wing lives with her mother and both grandmothers, and as such, is surrounded by female role models with take-charge attitudes. The plot moves along quickly, written in first person through Wing’s perspective of the changing world around her. Fans of Jandy Nelson and Stephanie Perkins will enjoy Webber’s debut novel. VERDICT A uniquely original novel about family, love, and the courage to stand up to life’s challenges and triumph which will delight teen readers. Recommended as a general purchase for all libraries.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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Holding Up the Universe will be published on October 4, 2016.

If you thought Violet & Finch from Niven’s All The Bright Places were unforgettable characters, wait until you meet Jack & Libby. Much like with All the Bright Places, Holding Up the Universe is written with chapters alternating back and forth between the two main characters, Jack and Libby. The story moves along quickly in this manner, and I found myself unable to stop reading, finishing the entire book in an evening.

Libby is a strong female character, but also a major target for bullying because of her weight. Once the world’s fattest teen, she had to be cut out of her house and rescued. Due to grief & depression from the sudden, unexpected death of her mother, Libby became so large that she was physically unable to move from her bed. Now after therapy and rehabilitation, Libby is half the size she used to be, starting her junior year of high school with a new confidence and determination to make it through and enjoy the experiences. She knows there will be bullies and name calling, just as there always was when she was younger, but its how she responds to them now that shows readers (and Jack) just how much she has truly grown.

Jack is everyone’s favorite classmate, favorite teammate, favorite friend, etc. He’s a likable guy who appears to have everything going well for him. However, he is carrying around a burdensome secret that is threatening to upset the somewhat normal aspects of his life. He has a rare genetic disorder called prosopagnosia, in which he is face-blind, or unable to recognize facial features, even of those people he sees everyday (his family and best friends). To make matters worse, his father is cheating on his mom with one of his teachers, causing Jack to be awkwardly, and unwillingly involved. Jack is coming to a crossroads where he has to decide whether to tell anyone his secret, or to watch his comfortable lifestyle and friendships crumble around him.

When Jack and Libby’s path collide in a peer-pressure induced bullying incident, they end up in a group doing community service together. As they spend more time together and start to lean on each other for support, knowing that they both are fighting a battle and that life is tough, they become stronger together. Readers will absolutely love this pair of characters – Jack for his charm & quick wit, and Libby for her no-nonsense attitude and healthy dose of sass. I certainly did.

It’s clear that Niven thoroughly researched prosopagnosia, helping the story to seem very real. Niven’s writing style is versatile. Readers will be laughing hysterically on one page and crying for the characters on the next. She also has a knack for transporting her readers into the halls of high school, causing them to reflect on their own experiences as they go through some of the same situations with her uniquely crafted characters. This is a beautiful story about embracing oneself, flaws and imperfections included, and realizing that everything is far from perfect, but perfectly okay.

Thank you to Random House for the early review copy. 

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

What We Saw is a fictional account of a teenage rape loosely inspired by the 2012 Steubenville, OH case where two high school football players were accused and then convicted of raping a teenage girl at a party. The details of the crime are horrific, and reading the news coverage incites anger and outrage in most, due to the way the media and the school administration portrayed the victim as being at fault because of the way she acted, dressed, and the fact that she was drunk and couldn’t say no. Not being able to say no isn’t the same as saying yes. These kids were star football players, and surely they would never commit a crime! And especially not during football season, which would affect their team’s performance. Goodness, no! They were just “boys being boys.” And the worst part was that a video of some of the crime was circulated on social media as if it were a joke. As we know, anything captured on a phone or sent to even one person will never be buried forever. It can always be recovered and lasts forever. Unfortunately, teenagers only think about the present, and they don’t think about how much something like that can harm others and fall back on them so heavily.

Okay, back to the book. Aaron Hartzler did a wonderful job of portraying the story from the perspective of Kate, a girl who was also very drunk at the same party as the victim, but she was driven home earlier in the evening prior to the time of the crime. Kate, a HS junior and soccer player, struggles with guilt because she used to be friends with the victim, fear because it could have been her, and apprehension because she wants to help Stacey (the victim), but everyone else seems to be blaming her and calling her horrible names when she isn’t even at school to defend herself or give the true story. People in the community refer to the crime as a “rumor” and they way they talk about Stacey is downright ugly. In the book, it is four basketball players who commit the crime, so it’s a huge deal for the school to have four star basketball players arrested during the season and right before a major series of games. Oh, and they may lose their college scholarships over this scandal. To complicate matters, Kate begins to date Ben, also a star basketball player and best friends with two of the accused players. She has been close to Ben as friends since they were five, but now they are dating and she finds herself falling in love. However, the fear and helplessness about the case and Stacey overshadow many of the happy feelings with Ben. Against her fathers wishes that she steer clear of the case, she decides that someone has to help Stacey. Even the football coach and principal are trying to cover up evidence, which fuels her mission to find out the truth despite the cost.

To top it all off, there is a bit of a surprise ending. I loved every part of this powerful, beautiful book. The author captured the wide range of emotions so well that I laughed and cried along with Kate. I also enjoyed the relationship between Kate and her brother Will, who is two years younger. If only there were more HS students like Kate and Will in the world. This book should be read by everyone: high school kids, teachers, parents, and even those adults without kids. It is so important for a story like this to be understood in different perspectives. And it is important for people to see just how much social media can devastate lives and cause chaos.

There are some beautiful passages from this book, and one below that I want to share:

At the end when Kate is playing soccer, “I see a hawk soar high above us and feel a rush of gratitude for the knowledge that just this once we have escaped the gaze of a camera lens or a status update. Some moments should only be recorded in our hearts.” Wow. Isn’t that the truth. I look forward to a day when people start recording more moments in their hearts rather than Twitter and Facebook.

Props to you, Aaron Hartzler. This is the kind of literature that we all need. Thank you for writing it.