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.

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Guest Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

I’m thrilled to have my friend and colleague, Cameron, who blogs at Cam Loves Books, here for a guest review post. Cam reviews YA books and her reviews are witty & fabulous!

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About Cam

Children’s and young adult book blogger. Library professional. Dog mom. English major. Intersectional feminist. Livin’ life one book at a time.

Cam’s Review of History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera  (release date 1/17/17)

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History is All You Left Me, Adam Silvera’s sophomore novel, cements him firmly in the ranks of my auto-buy, auto-love, absolute rock star, favorite young adult authors. His main characters, Griffin, Theo, and Jackson, all leap off the page as fully-formed, deeply grieving boys, mapping uncharted territories of love and friendship in ways I’ve yet to see explored in YA fiction. The book’s plot is new and intriguing, and its gorgeous execution left me speechless. I know it’s early, but I’m calling it now: this will be one of my favorite reads of 2017.

When Griffin’s ex-boyfriend, Theo, drowns while swimming in the ocean, Griffin is devastated. Griffin, who has OCD, thought that he and Theo were a perfect match, and that Theo might be the only person in the world who could understand and love him. He had always believed he and Theo would get back together, and imagining a future without him is something Griffin never thought he would have to do. His grief, guilt, and loneliness are threatening to consume him when Jackson, Theo’s boyfriend at the time of his death and the only other person who could understand what it’s like to lose him, offers to talk to him about their shared loss. As the surviving boys become closer and help each other heal, each must reveal secrets that could destroy their friendship, and potentially their memories of Theo, forever. With lovely writing and frank, complex examinations of grief and friendship, History is All You Left Me is a masterpiece from one of YA’s bravest new voices. 

Adam Silvera is an evil genius, and perhaps the greatest praise I can give his book is that I started crying in chapter three. It took me no time at all to understand the relationship dynamics between the characters and to care enough for each of them that it brought me to tears. And in a book that starts out with a bang – the death of a major character – it would have been easy for the action to fizzle, but Silvera managed to maintain a slight air of mystery throughout the entire story that leads to an even more shocking second act. I blame Adam Silvera for the worst book hangover of my life, because after reading his debut, More Happy Than Not, it took me five full weeks to be able to finish another book. So I knew I had to mentally prepare myself to read History. I knew it would make me cry, and I knew I would be faced with brutal realities packaged in gorgeous writing, which is an emotional one-two punch in itself. I definitely think you should come prepared to be knocked down, too: I think you should bring tissues, a fuzzy blanket, and your best waterproof mascara. However, I also think you should come prepared to be built back up, to think hard about friendship and healing, to learn something important about mental health, and to come out the other side a little more hopeful than you started out. 

Thanks again to Cam for this beautiful review. You can check out more of her reviews here.

The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff

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Emma, a young Jewish woman living in Poland during WWII, is forced to assume a new identity as a Polish girl named Anna. A newlywed, Emma’s husband Jacob is in the Jewish resistance group and he is forced to go into hiding just a short time after they are married.  Emma and her parents are taken into the Jewish ghetto to live in cramped quarters with no comforts of home. Luckily, Emma is secretly taken out of the ghetto in the middle of the night by one of the resistance group members. She assumes the role of a Polish gentile named Anna, a niece to a wealthy Catholic woman named Krysia, who is Jacob’s aunt. Krysia is also involved with the resistance but Emma is much safer in her care than in the Jewish ghetto. Fearing for Jacob’s safety, the uncertain future of her aging parents in the ghetto, as well as her own future, Emma must press on, living a life of lies and secrets in order to remain safe from the Nazis.

To complicate matters further, Emma is introduced at Krysia’s dinner party to Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking, powerful, and extremely handsome Nazi official. Emma knows she should loathe the Kommandant, but he is sweet, caring, and very much interested in her. “Anna” goes to work for the Kommandant, which allows her to secretly assist the resistance group in gathering information from the Nazis. She never dreamed she would be so comfortable in the presence of a Nazi official, much less spend all her time with him and become his “girl.” As the war intensifies in and around Krakow, Anna gets even closer to the Kommandant in order to carry out a most dangerous mission for the resistance group. Torn between her vows to Jacob and her feelings for Richwalder, Emma must decide which path to take.

When the secrets of her true identity threaten to come out, Emma’s life will never be the same again. The ending will have readers reeling. I cried for Emma, who lost so  very much, but still had the courage to carry on despite the circumstances.  This is a beautifully written story with a fast-paced story-line which readers will enjoy from beginning to end.

Thank you to Harper Collins MIRA for an advanced digital review copy.

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. 

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

This story alternates between9780393081428.jpg 1919 San Francisco and 1960’s Napa, California. In 1919, Vivien Lowe, an obituary writer, is holding on to a dream that her long lost love, David, is still alive somewhere. David has been missing since the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, when it ripped Vivien’s home and entire world apart. Vivien knows grief all too well, which is how she is able to comfort complete strangers who have lost loved ones, when they come to her asking her to write an obituary.  Sadly, with both the Earthquake and the Spanish influenza, Vivien is very busy writing obituaries, and many of which are for young children. Vivien believes that dates (date of birth, date of marriage, date of death) do not matter so much as the deceased person’s story – their passions, their loves, their quirks. Her talent allows her to write perfectly fitting tributes for so many lives.

In 1960’s California, Claire is stuck in a loveless marriage with Peter. She is under-appreciated and her hopes and passions stifled by her husband on a daily basis. She wouldn’t dare leave him because of their young daughter, Kathy, and fear of what she would do on her own. Then, she meets Miles, a man who appreciates her, listens to her, and makes her come alive in ways she has never experienced before. Will she decide to remain with Peter, sacrificing any chance at future happiness? Or will she go against what is expected of her and attempt to start over.

This is a wonderful, historically-rich tale of family, loss, love, hope, and courage. Both Vivien and Claire are strong women and lovely characters who will draw readers in and capture their hearts. The author brings the two women together in a most unexpected and extraordinary way at the end. I would highly suggest this story for fans of historical fiction, romantic fiction, and mainstream adult fiction. It’s a quick read, but it will remain in your memory far after you turn the last page.

Falling by Jane Green

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Falling will be released on July 19, 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group. I’ve been a fan of Jane Green’s quick witted humor and true-to-life family drama ever since reading one of her early novels, Jemima J. Falling is sure to be a summer hit, and a great beach read.

This story was engaging, romantic, and enjoyable. I loved the characters, because they felt so real. Both Dominic and Emma have had their share of stress from family and work life. Emma meets Dominic when she moves from the hustle of New York to quaint Westport, Connecticut and rents a house from him. Convenient for her, Dominic’s house is right next door. As Emma starts fresh, exploring her passion for interior decorating and enjoying a slower pace of daily life, she gets to know Dominic and his young son. She finally starts to feel at home, a feeling she has never really felt before, not even while she was growing up in a well-to-do British home. Dominic is a great father and faithful friend. He falls hard for Emma. But, this isn’t your average love story where the ending is tied up in a neat little bow. The story is both touching and tragic. Even so, you won’t be disappointed.

I was taken aback by the twist of fate near the end of the story. It goes to show that one truly never knows how many days they have to spend with another person, which is all the more reason to cherish each and every moment spent together.

 

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

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The Darkest Corners offers fast-paced thrills and suspense. The main character, Tessa, is sort of an unreliable narrator, causing readers to wonder whether she can truly be trusted, or if she is in on some secret herself. As more of Tessa’s family history and past is revealed, readers may start to feel sorry for her, rooting for her to make it out of the nightmare her life has become.

We first meet Tessa as she travels from Florida, where she lives with her aging Gram, back to her hometown. She hasn’t been back in 10 years, and is only going to say goodbye to her father, who is in prison and dying of cancer. He has been in prison for most of her life, and the memories of her father from childhood are mostly sad and violent. Tessa ends up staying with her former best friend and childhood playmate, Callie, who she also hasn’t seen in 10 years. Callie was born into a loving, stable family whereas Tessa came from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. Despite their differences, they were best friends once, prior to being separated at the age of 8. Now, neither wants to admit the truth of what actually happened 10 years ago to the other.

While they are in a sort of standstill with each other, one of their mutual old friends, Arial, goes missing and her body is found shortly thereafter. Her murder matches that of the Ohio River Monster, a man named Stokes, who is only behind bars because of 8 year old Callie’s and Tessa’s testifying that he abducted and then killed Callie’s cousin, Lori. So, if Stokes is still locked up, does that mean the Ohio River Monster is still on the loose and has been the whole time? Add into the mix that neither Tessa’s mother or sister have contacted her in 10 years and she is unable to locate either of them. What does that mean for Tessa? Who can she trust, and why is her family in hiding? Tessa has to figure out who the real serial killer is before it’s too late.

The ending is totally unexpected and will throw readers for a tailspin, in a good way, of course. I very much enjoyed this book and would recommend it to suspense, mystery, and thriller fans.