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. 

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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.

 

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.

 

The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

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This is a heartbreaking, raw story of mental illness and how it can systematically unravel the bonds between a family. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the story, but it was so much more than a young adult coming-of-age story. Of course, there is some young romance and dating involved, but poor Cassie was forced to grow up so early in her life, and was therefore wise beyond her years. For these reasons, the plot is more mature than some young adult novels, and adults would enjoy it as much as teens.

I won’t reveal too much of the plot because you will enjoy it much more learning the story as I did – in bits and pieces of Cassie’s past as she remembers them, discovering moments that have been hidden or repressed in her own memory.

Cassie was placed in a mental institution by her mother, out of the blue, and against her will at the age of 15. She spent two and a half years there, with no support from her family and most everyone believing that she was lying. Even the therapist assigned to her, Dr. Meeks, didn’t believe her or support her. When she turns 18, she emancipates herself and leaves the institution to attend college at her mother’s alma matter. Her only regret is leaving the only true friend she has ever had, James, behind at the institution. Readers get the truth behind why Cassie was at the institution in snippets and flashbacks of her life and tumultuous relationship with her mother. At times, it is hard to read, to imagine what Cassie went through all her life. Once I read the full story of what all happened to her, when she finally revealed it to Liz, near the end, tears streamed down my face.I felt so horrible for Cassie, yet so proud of her ability to carry on and try to find herself. This is a beautiful story, and a unique look at mental illness and perception. Not everything is as it seems.

I was intrigued by the title of this book, and after reading it, I couldn’t think of a more fitting title. Drowning doesn’t always have to be in the literal sense of drowning in water. Unfortunately, as young Cassie is well aware, she spent most of her life drowning.

This is a debut novel and it packs a huge emotional punch. I’ll not be forgetting Cassie or her story any time in the near future. I hope Kletter writes many more stories. I highly recommend this book, if for nothing else but a reminder to everyone to have compassion and empathy for others.

Fans of We Were Here, Everything, Everything, and All the Bright Places will surely enjoy this novel.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

wewereliarsI’ve heard a lot about this popular YA book and I’ve been meaning to read it for some time. This past week, one of my students checked it out from the public library and put it on my desk with a demand to “read it!” So, I did. And, I am pleased. It was a beautifully written story spanning 3 (what should have been) idyllic summers with the Sinclair family, as they spent time on their own private island, wanting of nothing. However, money doesn’t buy happiness, as they say. The book is surrounded by mystery as the reader follows the main character, Cadence or Cady, as she tries to remember what happened during the summer she was 15 that caused her to have such terrible migraine headaches. She remembers small details, but can’t quite put together the whole story, and no one will answer her questions or tell her what happened, because they don’t want to upset her. By the end the book, I was glad to finally figure out what happened, but it was definitely not what I expected. It’s a quick read, and I would recommend it to my HS kids. I’ve ordered a copy for our school library.

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway


Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway is a YA novel that is set to be published 6/23/15. Wow! I absolutely loved it. It packed a powerful punch of emotions, especially at the end. As a Mom reading it, I totally cried. Emmy & Oliver have been best friends and next door neighbors since they were toddlers. But, Oliver disappears when he they are only 7 years old, leaving his family, Emmy, and their other two best friends, Caroline and Drew absolutely heartbroken. Then, one random day 10 years later, Emmy gets the news that Oliver has been located and is on the way home. Will they be able to pick up the pieces of friendship (or maybe more) when he comes home? Is he a different person altogether? How strong are the bonds of friendship, family, and love? I will not give out any spoilers. Trust me; you will want to read this. It is a beautiful novel. Just read it.

The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall

This is a brand new and refreshing YA (young adult) novel which was published today, 1/13/15. It was certainly a nice break from all the post-apocalyptic YA fiction that is constantly being published. This novel, which takes place in modern day, reminded me of a teen version of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code because it has some of the same elements, such as following clues in foreign countries and trying to trace historical happenings in order to solve a current day mystery. Also, who could forget the element of being chased and the character being in grave danger throughout the story. The difference is that the main character is just an average teenage girl (Avery) at the beginning of the book. She quickly realizes that others have plans for her life, which she knew nothing about. And, there is a bit of romance, which makes the story line even better. Two young gentleman, Jack and Stellan, are both dishing out affectionate vibes at times, even though neither one is actually allowed to be with her based upon their position in the Circle. Nothing wrong with a little love triangle to make a book more interesting! The book ends abruptly and makes me wish the sequel was already on my night stand waiting to be read next. I really must know what happens next with Avery, Jack, and Stellan! I would highly recommend this book to both teens and adults. It is a great first novel by author Maggie Hall.