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.

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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.

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

9781250121004_9c076.jpgI was excited to see Lara Avery had a new novel coming out, because I read A Million Miles Away and loved it. Now The Memory Book has become my favorite Lara Avery novel. I devoured it in just over one day. The chapters are short, mostly written as journal entries into Sammie’s memory book, making for quick, easy reading. Avery’s characters seem so real that readers will have no trouble loving them, despite their flaws.

This is the story of Sammie McCoy, a high school senior and valedictorian of her class, who is preparing for the national Debate finals and starting college at her dream school. She has worked tirelessly for the past 4 years, planning out everything so her future would be bright. Sammie’s family plays a big part in her life, and she enjoys time spent with her parents and three siblings.

However, Sammie is writing everything down hoping to never forget. She is hoping Future Sam will be able to read and remember all the things she likes, dislikes, and all the things she has experienced. True to her personality of being a go-getter, perfectionist, planner, and fighter, Sammie plans to keep living as best as she can, even after she is diagnosed with a rare genetic disease (Niemann-Pick Type C) which will cause her to lose her memories and eventually die. She doesn’t tell anyone about the disease at first, keeping it from her best friend and even her boyfriend. Sammie doesn’t want to be pitied, because she is determined to beat the odds and go ahead to college and chase her dreams.

Sammie is inspiring and brave. She is determined to spend her remaining time on earth really living, and being with the ones she loves. Even as her health declines, she still records all of the everyday moments in her memory book. She wants it to be real, showing both the ups and downs of her life.

One of the most memorable parts of the story was the scene where Sammie and Coop are together and Coop is reviving Captain Stickman, a character who made his appearance often when they were children. The way the scene is written with the back-and-forth shouting is hilarious, but also touching because it shows how Sammie can and has always been able to truly be herself with Coop, even if they have grown into young adults with pressure and responsibility. I was laughing out loud during this scene because it was a perfect way to capture Sammie and Coop’s easy-going relationship.

I also cried a lot while reading Sammie’s memory book, especially near the end when all of the people she loves are writing in the book. Fans of All the Bright Places and The Fault in our Stars will love this story, as it touches on some similar themes. However, I found it to be unique and an absolutely beautiful, touching story. I’ll be recommending The Memory Book wholeheartedly to all of my students when school starts up again in August.

Thanks to Little, Brown, and Company for the Advance Review Copy.

 

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

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The bad news is that we have to wait until June 28th for this beauty to be published! The good news is that it is totally worth the wait! I love, love, LOVE this book. I’ll try to do it some justice with my review.

First Comes Love is filled with highly relatable family situations and candid conversations among the characters. The characters are likable, despite their flaws. They seem real, and Giffin goes a wonderful job of making them come to life. At times, the scenes are hilarious, while at others tender and heartfelt.

The story begins as the family is approaching the 15 year anniversary of Daniel’s tragic and untimely (at the age of 25) death due to an auto accident which was of fault to no one. Each character’s outlook on life and circumstances for the past 15 years demonstrate the different ways loss & grief can affect relationships between siblings, spouses, parents/children, and even best friends.

Sisters Meredith and Josie are about as opposite as can be, with regard to their personality and life choices. Yet, their tumultuous relationship is refreshing, as it proves that they can put love first despite their differences and overcome some major rough times. They likely wouldn’t have a thing to do with each other, save for Josie’s love for her younger sibling Meredith’s 4 year old daughter, Harper. Meredith is a high profile lawyer and busy mother, living with constant stress and strain in her marriage to Nolan, her late brother Daniel’s best friend. Josie is a 1st grade teacher, life of the party, but worried about finding “the one” because she is getting closer to 40 and has always wanted to be a mother.

Nolan & Meredith’s marriage is particularly true-to-life, because in reality no marriage is perfect. Marriage takes work by both parties, whether the parties love each other or are “in love,” or both. Giffin makes a point that with social media, everyone seems even more worried about keeping up appearances and appearing perfect in front of the world. It is mentioned by one of the characters that everyone assumes that everyone else has the perfect life and marriage, when in reality most everyone struggles at some point – and that’s ok. Life wasn’t meant to be perfect. It’s meant to be lived. Much of the beauty found in life is revealed in times of tragedy and struggle. Everything about this book is relatable, which makes me love it more.

Emily Giffin has a knack for realistic fiction and she slams a home run with this one. I truly loved The One & Only (released May 2014), but I enjoyed this story so much more because of the message it sends – love truly does come first.

I already miss these witty characters, and wish I could spend more moments in their lives. I want to be there for Josie and Gabe, but also for Nolan and Meredith as they are all about to experience a major life change when the story comes to an end. Sequel, please? 

 

 

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nivens

All the Bright Places is at its heart a story of an unlikely friendship and then love between a girl named Violet and a boy named Finch. However, it’s not your average YA romance, and there are richly created scenes and moments. It has been compared to The Fault in Our Stars, but I found it to be so much more than just another story dealing with loss. I chose to read this book after a recommendation from a good friend who loves YA. The story takes place in my home state of Indiana, which is where the author grew up. I appreciated the amount of research the author completed about the different “bright places” of Indiana, as well as the way she wove in so many passages and quotations from famous literature and writers. This was a beautifully written, touching story, and I would recommend it wholeheartedly. The story touches on so many important issues which teens unfortunately may face on a daily basis: loss of a sibling, survivor’s guilt, grief, abuse, mental illness, bullying, and suicide. Both Violet’s and Finch’s narration captivate the reader, and both have important stories to tell. After reading, you’ll have a new appreciation for Post-it notes and teenagers. Read it, read it, please read it!

The Grown Ups by Robin Antalek

This was a great book. It follows the lives of Bella, Sam (male), and Suzie from the time they are 15 until they have reached adulthood. The story switches back and forth between the characters, giving the reader glimpses of each as they grow older and experience love, loss, marriage, children, etc. The author does a nice job of keeping the interest level high, even though much of the plot consists of everyday life. The romance is sweet, and it’s not overdone. I would recommend this book as a quick read for those who like realistic fiction.