The Voice in My Head by Dana L. Davis

imagesOriginally published in School Library Journal, May 2019.

Gr. 9 & Up: Davis’s second YA novel set in Seattle, follows 18 year old black twins Indigo and Violet and their chaotic family on an unlikely road trip. While attempting suicide, Indigo hears a voice say that her terminally ill twin Violet will live if she hikes the Wave, a 2 ½ mile scenic rock formation in the Arizona desert. Unsure whether the voice is God or a symptom of a concussion, Indigo bravely pleads to her family before Violet’s medically assisted death plans unfold. Thanks to a resourceful Pastor, Jeb, everything falls in place allowing the family to set off in a rainbow-colored paratransport bus covered in eyeballs. Pastor, the twins, their retired parents, a 16 year old brother Alfred, and 33 year old nurse practitioner sister Michelle and her husband and biracial children are a motley group of passengers, seeking healing for Violet’s pulmonary fibrosis. From kidney stones to an attempted robbery with a paintball gun, there is never a dull moment for the Phillips family. Indigo’s perspective of herself and her family changes along the way, allowing her acceptance and hope. The writing is refreshing and characters relatable. Though the novel tackles heavy subject matter of terminal illness, mental health, and death; light-hearted, comical scenes make for a heartfelt, yet entertaining read. VERDICT: Readers of diverse realistic fiction will enjoy the sibling banter, unique characters and authentic dialogue.

 

The Competition by Cecily Wolfe

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Originally appeared in School Library Journal, November 2018.

Grade 7 & Up: A diverse cast of characters take part in the Penultimate, an Ohio state writing competition, where 100 teens battle for a full college scholarship. Mary Sofia (a Latina) lives in a shelter. Her mother blames her for the unforgettable, tragic night her abusive stepfather was killed by her older brother Matias, as he protected Mary Sofia. She longs to visit Matias in prison, missing him dearly. Michael, Caucasian, is an introvert who excels at swimming and writing, who is instantly attracted to Mary Sofia. Camera who is shy and biracial carries a secret of being sexually assaulted during a party. Raiden is a Chinese American teen who dreams of becoming a nurse, though his father would rather he be a doctor. The four young people conveniently pair up into couples, forming a foreseeable cozy group for the remainder of the story. One of the contest themes is writing about “a defining moment,” which forces both Camera and Mary Sofia to finally come to terms with their painful pasts. The story line is realistic with hints of tame romance. After an unlikely turn of events for the new friends, the predictable yet hopeful ending offers each an unexpected chance at a brighter future. Compared to other realistic teen fiction, Wolfe’s second novel falls short in pacing and writing quality. Themes of friendship and typical teenage behaviors are represented well. VERDICT A strictly additional purchase.

Purple Hearts by Michael Grant

y648.jpgPurple Hearts is the final book in the Front Lines trilogy by Michael Grant. This young adult historical fiction story takes place in 1944. Though the Battle of D-Day at Omaha Beach, the Battle of the Bulge, and the depiction of German death camps is written with historical accuracy, the one twist in the story is that it takes a place in a world where women are drafted into military service right along with the men. For this reason, the series focuses on three main female characters from the first book when they start out as recruits, through the second book where they receive Silver Stars for bravery and to the final book where they have earned Sergeant status and Purple Hearts. Rio, Rainy, and Frangie (Doc) courageously fight through excruciating conditions and never-ending days of battle, in which the harsh realities of war are not sugar coated. 

Rio, a Sergeant and the first woman to receive a Silver Star recipient, has a boyfriend (an army pilot named Strand who cares more about himself than anyone else), but she begins to develop feelings for Jack, one of the soldiers under her command. This makes for a bit of romantic angst in the midst of so much war, which I rather enjoyed.

Fellow Sergeant and friend, Rainy, is undercover in Nazi-occupied France in order to get closer to the enemy and destroy some of their ammunition stockpiles. She joins forces with the maquis, forming an unlikely partnership in which the end goals are the same. Rainy is a Jewish American who is both bold and brave, not afraid of her mission at all.

Frangie Marr, known as “Doc,” is a black Army medic from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her religious Southern upbringing bodes well for her “bedside manner” with wounded soldiers, making her a friend and favorite to many. Though she is dealing with “separate but equal” segregation back home, as a soldier she is equal, allowing her to really make a difference, saving and comforting wounded soldiers with a fierce, brave tenacity that is unparalleled.

The writing is well-researched as Grant seamlessly weaves together the narratives from Rio, Rainy, and Doc, along with some other lesser known characters that are important to the storyline. Being the final book in the trilogy, the way the author provides closure for each of the characters taking readers through to the end of the lives is well-written and most appreciated, allowing readers to see that the war wasn’t the end for these brave young women. They had so much life left to live and enjoy after serving selflessly for their country. Also included between the narratives are letters written to many of the soldiers from family members they left back home, which really brings the characters to life even more.

Even though it’s intended for a young adult adult audience, it would certainly appeal to adults who enjoy military fiction. The battles and violence are graphic and bloody and the dialogue includes quite a bit of rough language, so I would not recommend this book for younger teens or middle grades. Fans of Ruta Sepetys and Chris Lynch will enjoy this series.

A sincere thank you to the publisher for the review copy of this book.

Till it Stops Beating by Hannah R. Goodman

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Librarian Laura’s Review

Till it Stops Beating, a young adult realistic fiction from author Hannah R. Goodman tackles some very heavy themes including mental illness, alcoholism, sickness (cancer), and loss. The language and scenes are very mature, so I would not recommend it for readers under the age of 16. It is, however, a great book for teens to relate to for a variety of tough situations that may come up during high school or teenage years. 

Maddie Hickman, a 17 year old senior can not stop thinking about the boy who got away. No matter who she dates or that it’s been years since she’s laid eyes on him, Justin is the one for her. Her best friends, fun-loving Susan and handsome, gay Peter attempt to keep her mind off of Justin, to no avail. Added to her constant anxiety about Justin is the fact that Maddie has a major Senior Project due soon, which involves writing a book about the one that got away…Justin. Her older sister, Barb, has battled alcohol addiction for most of her adult life, which ultimately led to her marriage falling apart. To complicate matters, Barb starts bringing around her new beau, who is a bit overbearing for Maddie’s taste. And then, Maddie receives a phone call from Bubbie, her beloved grandmother who lives in Florida, to let her know that she has cancer. This announcement sends Maddie over the edge into a full-blown anxiety attack, which leaves her feeling unmoored and shaken. Come to find out, her father has suffered from a similar mental illness, so Maddie begrudgingly sees a therapist at her parents’ request. 

In the midst of all of these issues surrounding her, Maddie ends up taking a life-altering road trip with her friend Peter and his current boyfriend. On the way, she decides to take a risk and really start living her life the way she wants to live it. I won’t give you any more plot details because you’ll have to read it yourselves. The author does a great job of bringing the characters to life, in a way that readers can identify with them. 

My favorite quote from this book: Bubbie tells Maddie “Never worry about your heart, honey, till it stops beating.” (Good grandmotherly advice.)

Thank you to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

About the Book

Seventeen-year-old Maddie Hickman’s senior year begins with the good (the reemergence of The One That Got Away), the bad (a cancer diagnosis, not hers, but it might as well be) and the WTF (an anxiety attack that renders her writhing on the floor like an upside down crab).

Adding to her spiraling anxiety is Senior Project, in the form of I’ve Decided To Write A Book about The Other One That Got Away (And Crushed My Heart). Compounding it all is applying to college and keeping up with her friends. The ever mounting stress eventually rips her tight grip on all that she holds dear.

Her break down leads to an unexpected road trip where she is forced to listen to her wildly beating heart. It is only in the back of a convertible with pop music blasting, that she discovers she must risk everything in order to really live.

Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/dp/1684330807/‬‬

About the Author

Often referred to as “the teenage whisperer”, Hannah R. Goodman’s twenty-year career working with teenagers includes the titles teacher, tutor, coach, and, more recently, mental health counselor. Hannah has written essays about mental health for various online publications. Her work has appeared on MindBodyGreen, OC87 Recovery Diaries, Zencare.co, and The Mighty. Though she has previously earned the title author with her first three books, the last was released in 2009 and all were self-published. This time around, indie publisher Black Rose Writing released her novel Till It Stops Beating this summer.

Hannah’s first YA novel, My Sister’s Wedding, won the first place award for The Writer’s Digest International Self-Publishing Contest, 2004, children’s book division. She published the follow-up, My Summer Vacation, in May 2006, which went on to win a bronze IPPY in 2007. The third Maddie book, Fear of Falling, was released in the fall of 2009 and was praised by teachers and readers for tackling subjects like homophobia and coming out. She’s published young adult short stories on Amazon’s Shorts, in an anthology entitled Bound Is The Bewitching Lilith, and in the journal Balancing The Tides. She also has written columns for The Jewish Voice & Herald. Recent, previous projects include Sucker Literary, which features emerging YA authors and All The Way YA, a group blog of writers telling the real deal about writing and publishing YA fiction.

Hannah is a member of ARIA (Association of Rhode Island Authors) as well as a graduate of Pine Manor College’s Solstice Program in Creative Writing where she earned an MFA in Writing For Young People. She resides in Bristol, RI with her husband, two daughters, and black and white cat named Zoe

You can find Hannah:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/969127.Hannah_R_Goodman

Twitter: @hannahrgoodman

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tillitstopsbeatingnovel/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tillitstopsbeating/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannah-goodman-76b9596/

Amazon Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/Hannah-R.-Goodman/e/B002BLU56K

Website: https://www.hannahrgoodman.com

Holly Jolly Summer by Tiffany Stewart

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Originally appeared in School Library Journal, April 2018.

Gr 7 & up – The summer tourist season is bustling in the stifling hot town of Christmas, Kentucky, as 15 year old First Daughter, Darby causes a very public disaster at the annual Snow Globe unveiling. Her single father, Mayor Peacher, encourages her to get a job and be a regular kid, replacing her unofficial position in his office with Marianne, an attractive city-girl type sent by the Governor’s office to help Christmas become an even greater tourist destination. Darby goes to work at Holly Jolly Land, a local amusement park full of promise, but in need of a little TLC. Despite being the lowest on the maintenance crew, having to use the infamous M.O.P, and her reputation that precedes her, Darby gets to know the owner, Nick, a Vietnam vet, and the “Misfits,” feeling a sense of belonging. Her new supervisor turns out to be Calvin, a cute boy from the not so distant past, who causes her crush on Roy, the class heart-breaker, to fizzle. Will Calvin stand by Darby when the future of Holly Jolly Land is in the balance? Lacking any mature scenes or language, this squeaky clean young adult romance is suitable for middle grade readers as well. VERDICT: Recommended for strictly additional purchase, Stewart’s debut beach read is full of holiday flavor and humor, but also predictability.

Always, Forever, Maybe by Anna Mrose Ricci

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Originally published in School Library Journal, March 2018.

Gr. 9 & Up: High school senior, Bee, has been living in the shadow of her best friends, popular twins Jo and Eric, counting the days until she can move away from her demanding parents. When Bee begins dating Aiden, her relationship with Jo becomes strained, which further increases as she starts keeping secrets involving Aiden from Jo. The tone starts off lightheartedly, but quickly turns serious as Aiden’s true character is revealed. Bee is convinced that Aiden is the one, and she remains in the relationship as he becomes jealous, irrational, and violent. Her parents forbid the relationship, causing her to want Aiden even more. Readers will sense Bee’s fear, and the pressure of trying to please everyone but herself. When sudden tragedy strikes, Bee finally realizes she must leave Aiden before it’s too late. Rissi’s first YA novel gives an accurate, but heartbreaking picture of teenage relationships. Recommended for additional purchase, the story has mature language and sexual scenes, as well as real-life situations which teen readers will appreciate. VERDICT: Fans of Colleen Hoover will enjoy this modern day realistic fiction story, full of diverse characters and the important message that abusive relationships are never acceptable.

 

 

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

51yzVoK9UiLI probably wouldn’t have picked up this book to read, but I was assigned to read it for a state high school book award committee on which I serve. I’m SO glad that I read it. It’s an awesome book about finding yourself in spite of pressure from your family, your peers, and the closed-minded views of the world around you. It’s a lighthearted, quick read with plenty of hilarious banter and adorable first love moments.

When Dimple meets Rishi, it’s certainly nothing like either of them would have planned! Told in alternating points of view between Dimple and Rishi, both in their final summer before starting college, the story is engaging and refreshingly unexpected.

Dimple Shah is determined to be successful, choosing a college and career path where she can get the best education, rather than her very traditional mother’s plan for her to find the I.I.H. (Ideal Indian Husband).  Dimple is pleasantly surprised when her parents agree to send her to a summer program for web developers called Insomnia Con at SFSU where she plans to attend college in the Fall. She plans to code an app and win first place in order to have the chance to work with her idol, developer and past Insomnia Con winner, Jenny Lindt. She has no clue that her parents are planning for her to go so she can meet and then marry the son of their friends, Rishi Patel.

Rishi Patel, a romantic at heart, believes in tradition and is thrilled when his parents tell him of their plan to send him to Insomnia Con in order to meet his future wife, Dimple. He is under the impression that Dimple has been included in the plans. Though his very successful, wealthy father plans for him to study engineering and follow in his footsteps, Rishi’s dream is to pursue a career in creative arts with comics, in which he has substantial talent and interest. Sadly, knowing that his father will never approve, he has agreed to follow the path chosen for him.

You can probably imagine what their first meet-up will be like, but its likely much more comical than your imagination suggests. I found myself laughing out loud while reading many times. Again, I loved this book and would recommend it for both teens and adults. The characters are unique and easy to love. They say opposites attract…but whoever “they” are haven’t met Dimple and Rishi! Read it; you won’t be sorry.