Little Big Love by Katy Regan

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Originally published in Library Journal, March 2018

A modern family drama unfolds in alternating points of view of authentic voices between a 10 year old named Zac who likes to collect facts and cook, his single mother, Juliet, and her father, Mick.  Juliet and Zac live on Harlequin Estate in Grimsby, a seaside town in England which was a major fishing port. Zac’s father, Liam, left under mysterious circumstances after the tragic death of Juliet’s brother, Jamie, ten years ago. Only Mick, a recovering alcoholic and retired fisherman, knows the truth, but he hides behind grief, guilt, and his opinionated wife. Juliet drowns her sorrow with alcohol and food, and she and Zac have become overweight, causing Zac to be bullied. When the bullying at school escalates, Juliet is determined to get Zac healthy and happy. Convinced it will please his mom, Zac’s mission, a secret with best friend Teagan, is to find Liam. Soon, finding Liam becomes Zac’s top priority, but when the truth is revealed, there’s no going back, no matter the pain it brings. VERDICT: Fans of Jane Green and Susan Wiggs will enjoy Regan’s debut novel with strong family bond that explores the age-old question of what if and the aftermath of one poor decision.

 

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Love Songs & Other Lies by Jessica Pennington

9780765392275_3ab13Originally published in School Library Journal, March 2018.

Gr 9 & up – On summer break, Virginia (Vee), a talented songwriter and musician, leaves Michigan for a 3 month reality band competition tour with best friend, Logan. Much to her surprise and initial dismay, the newest member of Your Future X is Cameron, Vee’s not-quite forgiven or forgotten ex. Guilt-ridden and alone, Cam moved to Riverton from California after a horrible accident which killed his parents. Vee becomes the center of attention on a tour bus full of single musicians where every moment, private or not, is viewed by the fans. Told in alternating points of view, the pacing is quick, switching between two years prior to the present. Much like notes plucked on their guitars, Vee can’t deny the hum of sexual tension between herself and Cam. Will Vee forgive Cam and open herself up to love again? This modern-day realistic fictional romance has both steamy love scenes and tender moments between best friends, appealing to even reluctant readers. It’s like Battle of the Bands meets the Bachelorette in book form. VERDICT: Filled with lyrics, love, and late nights, Pennington’s timely debut novel will appeal to romance fans of Sarah Dessen and Susane Colasanti.

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd

9780399592188_1bf94Originally published in Library Journal, February 2018.

Readers meet Venus Black, age 13, in 1980 Washington state, as she is locked up in juvenile detention after a horrific event involving her stepfather Raymond. Her father died when she was 5, and soon after Inez, her self-absorbed mother, married Ray. The only positive aspect of their union is her developmentally disabled step-brother Leo, whom Venus loves fiercely. Later details emerge that Venus shot Ray who had been peeping into her bedroom for years. Inez refused to help, forcing Venus to ensure Leo’s and her own safety from Ray the only way she could. Leo is then kidnapped by Ray’s estranged brother, Tinker, who feels he is doing Leo a favor, rescuing him from Inez and Venus. Tinker rents a room from tattoo artist, Tony, and his 11 year-old daughter Tessa. Tessa cares for and loves Leo like a brother. At age 19, Venus is released, rents a room from Mike, and begrudgingly agrees to babysit his precocious 9 year-old niece, Piper. Venus eventually adores Piper like a sister, but when Piper moves away, Venus decides to find Leo, no matter the cost to herself or Inez. In the aftermath of finding Leo, Venus and Inez find forgiveness and hope for a loving future where Leo is loved by two families. While searching for Leo, Venus meets Danny, a determined cop who loves her despite her troubled past. At the end, Venus decides to start college and write her memoir as a way to heal and move forward. VERDICT: Fans of realistic fiction will enjoy Lloyd’s fast-paced, debut novel for the unique characters, captivating story-line, and beautiful tribute to the healing power of love.

Where I Live by Brenda Rufener

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Originally published in School Library Journal, November 2017.

Grade 9 & Up – Secretly living in Hinderwood High, teenager Linden is homeless and working two jobs to afford living essentials. After her mother was killed, she ended up in Oregon at her grandmother’s nursing home, before she died too. Linden, white and homeless, and her best friends, Korean American Seung, and gay, fun-loving Ham make up the Triangle. Linden’s goal is to graduate and go to college with the Triangle, her only family and support. While reporting for the school blog and trying to keep her homelessness a secret, Linden uncovers perfect, mean-girl Bea’s secret – an abusive boyfriend. Not wanting to draw attention to herself, Linden worries for Bea, but does not expose her secret. When Seung becomes more than a best friend, Linden inadvertently lets her guard down, starting a new chapter in her life. When the truth is revealed, reactions of her friends and community prove that family is where your heart is, regardless of blood relation. Rufener’s cast of diverse characters and genuine dialogue helps balance the unlikely premise that a teenager could be living in a high school undetected. Readers will empathize with Linden, because her matter-of-fact attitude and bravery, never wallowing in self-pity. VERDICT: Recommended for strictly additional purchase for older teens due to mature language. Fans of Jennifer Niven and Nicola Yoon will enjoy this debut realistic fiction novel which brings to light heavy topics of homelessness and abuse.

Welcome to the Slipstream by Natalka Burian

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Originally published in School Library Journal, May 2017.

Grade 9 & up: Van, 17, was forced to grow up quickly in the slipstream of her mentally ill, brilliant mother. Her father died of a drug overdose when she was an infant. Van, her mother Sophie, and Ida, a surrogate grandmother, have lived as vagrants, following Sophie’s work. Leaving their home in Uzbekistan, the women land in Vegas, the city that never sleeps, for Sophie’s job at the Silver Saddle Casino. Van is tutored and left to spend her free time inside the lavish place with, Alex, a handsome college student, as her guide. Alex becomes her first true friend and love interest. Playing the guitar has always been Van’s true joy and form of escape, and she is now given the opportunity to join a band. Then, tragedy strikes and her family unit is falling apart before her very eyes. With Ida ill and Sophie caught in a scam, taken to the Sedona desert for “healing” by a cult, Van follows, determined to save her mother. The pacing is quick, parallel to the constant movement of Van and her mother Sophie. Van has an out of body experience and ends up fighting to survive in the desert. The end is filled with heavy-hearted goodbyes, but also hope and promise for Van’s future. It’s more of a beginning as Van makes a tough decision to set out on her own. The mood throughout is laced with worry and uncertainty, and readers will empathize with Van. Burian’s debut realistic fiction novel is based upon real-life events she witnessed. VERDICT: Recommended for general purchase, teen readers will enjoy the story line and well developed characters, while rooting for the strong female lead to survive what life has dealt her.

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.