Review: Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Keuhnert

Ballads of Suburbia Stephanie KuehnertBook Title/Author: Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Keuhnert
Publisher/Year
: MTV Books 2009
Genre: Contemporary YA
Series: No
Other Books From Author: I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

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I purchased this book with my own cash money back in the day!

 

 

It’s the 90′s in Oak Park, IL — a suburb of Chicago — and teenage Kara just wants to fit in. She’s always been an outcast but she’s always had her best friend Stacey by her side. When Stacey moves away right before high school and they slowly drift apart, Kara internalizes her pain by cutting herself. When she meets new student Maya, who is confident and cool, she eagerly accepts her invitation to meet up with some friends at Scoville Park where a new side of the suburbs awaits her. Finally feeling like she could be accepted, she starts going to their parties, smoking weed, drinking and meeting guys. She discovers that some of her friends in the group have started a notebook called Stories of Suburbia — containing crazy newspaper clippings of things that happened in suburbs amidst their own handwritten stories about their lives. The only rule is that you can’t read everyone else’s stories until you write your own — a task that Kara doesn’t get a chance to do before she suddenly flees Oak Park at the end of her junior year.

Wow! I’ve had Ballads of Suburbia on my shelf unread since I bought it when I first started blogging in summer of 2010! WHY did I not read this one before then?? It was really a fantastic book– raw, gritty and powerful in both its story and the emotional impact it had on me as it weaved together this story of family, heartbreak, losing control and then making the choice to regain control amidst the chaos.

The book begins by Kara coming home for the first time in four years and being reunited with her friend Stacey. It was quick to grab my attention because we aren’t told the whole of why she has left Oak Park but we understand how hard it is for her to return but how important it is so that she can move forward. You get the sense she was in a lot of trouble before she left and I immediately was invested in wanting to piece together the story of how everything spiraled out of control from that beginning part.  The rest of the story unfolds by Kara telling her story, her ballad that she’s finally able to write, and interspersed in the book are the “ballads” of some of the more main characters she spends time with and are central to her own story whom have written in the notebook — which I found to be so touching to get to know some of these characters more and really added to shaping them to these real, fleshed out characters.

This was definitely a darker, more gritty read. Don’t go into this looking for something light and for happy endings for all — because there aren’t for everyone. There’s a lot of drug use (heroin, ecstasy, coke, acid) as it’s pretty central to the lives of the kids she meets in Scoville Park.  A lot of them have really rough pasts and your heart can’t help but break as they are numbing a lot of it in different ways and trying to cope the best they can. As much as obviously their shared drug use was dangerous, I felt little pieces of hope in this small moments where they were there for each other and were the family and the support that they never had — which, to me, is a lot of what brought them together.ballads-of-suburbia-review

What I LOVED about this book, besides the heart and soul of the story, is that the drug use was NOT used as this preachy thing and this books was NOT an “issuey” book (which I totally DO love) but sometimes it’s incredibly powerful to read a story where it’s not an issues type novel and the drugs are just part of their life. It’s clear, as you’ll read, that there are consequences to some of their more reckless behavior but I never felt like there was this preachiness to it and I loved that.  The story was told and not hindered by a “hugs not drugs” message but told freely and powerfully — giving me a glimpse of lives I’ve never lived but that I know are true for some. Face it, this story is a reality for some and I’ve seen it effect the lives of family and family friends. Ballads of Suburbia TELLS a story that shows a side of growing up and being a teenager that is a scary and heartbreaking reality for some and it’s not one that is always addressed.

Ballads of Suburbia is a book will take you out of your comfort zone a bit with it’s gritty and dark exterior but will move you greatly with the heart and soul in Kara’s story and the ballads of her friends. Their stories are heartbreaking and tragic but there were small little glimmers of hope amidst some really heavy stuff. Stephanie Keuhnert will wow you with this intense story that, on the outside, could seem like a story about kids who do drugs but it soars far beyond that and never ventures into preachy. It’s a story of kids you may or may not have known that are looking to be accepted, learning how to deal with the hand they’ve been dealt and making the choice to finally take control and figure out the way their story is going to go — for better or for worse. The story is so real that I could feel that feeling of spiraling out of control or the weight of the problems and I couldn’t shake these characters. AT ALL.

 

For Fans  Of: grittier books, a darker YA book that you don’t often get to see, a YA book dealing with drugs without being preachy, books set in the 90′s (or those who can remember when MTV was pretty much ALL music), fans of books that integrate music, characters that jump off the pages

ballads-of-suburbia

 

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one?? Heard of it? If you’ve read it before, what did you think? Did you enjoy (that seems like a weird word in this case) like I did or feel differently? I want to know! Have you read any other books that deal with drugs that aren’t issuey or preachy? Not that I have a problem with “issues” books, but I’m just finding it rare in YA to see a story integrate drugs without it being preachy. It was nice to see the clear consequences and effects in this book without the author really preaching and to just TELL a story that shows a side of growing up and being a teenager — one that is scary & heartbreaking. Your thoughts?

Book Review: Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

10861195Book Title/Author: Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans
Publisher/Release Date
: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers – January 15, 2013
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Paranormal (hard to say because I thought it would be way more science fiction-y than it was but there are paranormal elements)
Series: Yes. It’s book 1 of The Memory Chronicles
Other Books From Author: None — it’s her debut!

Amazon| Goodreads | @lenoreva |

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way swayed my opinion. Pinky swear! And full disclosure: Lenore is a fellow blogger and friend but I have written my full and honest opinion of the book that has not been swayed by my relationship with author.

When Felicia dies, she finds herself in Level 2 — an afterlife that isn’t quite disconnected from the living but isn’t quite the “next life.”  She and the others in her chamber spend their day plugged into computers where they have access to view all their old memories or the memories of others by way of a very elaborate system of credits. When a girl in Felicia’s chamber suddenly vanishes and a very dark piece of her past enters the chamber, a chamber that nobody on the outside had ever come in, and tells her there is an uprising and rebellion happening against those running the show in Level 2. Felicia isn’t sure whether or not she can trust this mysterious guy, Julian, from her past but her curiosity about what lies outside her chamber, and Julian’s promise to reunite her with somebody important, just might be the push she needs to follow him and align with the rebellion that is taking place.

Truly, Level 2 was one of the most unique and refreshing books I’ve read in a while!  I loved the concept from the start — dying and then your sort of afterlife consists of this “in-between” place where you have access to all your old memories to revisit and there is a credit system wherein your memories can be loaned out and you can borrow other peoples memories. It was interesting to think about which memories I would never want to relive and which ones I’d find myself watching over and over again. I kept thinking about which sorts of memories I’d want to borrow from other people — probably some good travel memories, memories of reading books so I could experience those and probably all sorts of lovely dovey memories because in the afterlife I’m sure I’d still be a sap like that.  So, obviously, I was instantly intrigued from page one as to what Level 2 was and why Felicia was there.

It was just unlike anything I’ve ever read before! The world-building was fantastic! I loved learning how things worked and could picture the pods and the rooms so easily– although I will be honest that at first it was A LOT of information to absorb. But the world is intricate and well built and I loved the pace at which we learned more about what Level 2 is right alongside Felicia as she learns from Julian that there is way more to Level 2 than she knows. I know I couldn’t stop turning the pages just anticipating what the deal with Level 2 was and why there was a rebellion and WHO controlled it. SO MANY QUESTIONS.

I loved, loved loved how the story builds through Felicia’s access to her memories and we get to learn more about her through these memories of her life that she chooses to access and through her response to them. More of the pieces start to come together through these memories  and I loved trying to figure out what the deal was with Julian and why he got her in trouble in the past. Lenore moves you seamlessly through the past and the present and I loved that because sometimes flashbacks can be troublesome.  I’d say that the first part of the novel really is less ACTION and more memories and introducing you to the world and then from there there is more movement outside of the chambers and plot twists to boot!

I found myself really attune to  the emotions of this novel.  I felt such a deep sense of sadness at points, I felt anger, the pain of betrayal, longing for what was  lost, the tension, etc. Through the memories we are able to experience the sweetness of how Felicia and Neil fell in love, the shame  and guilt Felicia had for the mistakes she made that hurt her best friend when Julian was in the picture, the intensity Felicia felt when reliving her death, etc. Felicia isn’t perfect and she isn’t always likeable but she felt SO real and well fleshed out and I really enjoyed her perspective.

Up until the end, Level 2 and I were were moving in the right direction and I was thoroughly enjoying it. And then the big climax came and I found myself thoroughly confused. Like I honestly re-read it and still couldn’t really figure out what happened. I don’t know if it changed in the final copy, which I plan to buy so I can re-read, but I felt like we are moving along at a certain pace and then the ending came and there was this flurry of THINGS happening really fast and I just couldn’t keep up or picture what was going on. Remember in cartoons when a scuffle or something would happen and all you would see is a whirlwind of dust and occasionally a splintered chair would fly out or we’d see a pot or pan come outside the dust and then after the dust settles we see a disheveled character with bumps and bruises or something wearing a dress or something. I don’t know if I explained that well but THAT’S how I felt. I have NO idea what was going on there behind the “dust” when the action was happening, but would  catch one or two things, but then when it ended I guess I knew technically WHAT happened but everything was very hazy leading up to it. I really don’t get what happened.

EDIT: I meant to add this in my review but forgot initially. I will let you know that there ARE a lot of religious aspects to this novel. I didn’t personally find this got in the way but others I spoke to did. Just a warning!

Level 2 was a really strong debut — refreshing and unique with great characterization and an intricately built, imaginative world. The presentation of information through the past memories and the present was evenly handled and made for a great page-turner that was a blend of a contemporary novel, science fiction and a paranormal-y sort of afterlife. There were perfectly placed plot twists and revelations and I can honestly say I never knew what to expect from the time I cracked open the book until the very climatic end. I will say that towards the end things sped up and the final scene is a complete blur to me because I have no idea what happened as it happened at break-neck speed for me but that wouldn’t deter me from recommending this! Can’t wait for Level 3 because there is still SO much more to learn and I need to  know what happens to Felicia!

For Fans  Of: unique afterlife stories, YA science fiction/paranormal with a contemporary balance via flashbacks, great worldbuilding

Level-2-Lenore-Appelhans

 

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one?? Heard of it? Were your thoughts similar to mine or different? Did anyone else have a hard time knowing what was going on in that least scene?  And did anyone else have some serious thinking about which memories you’d never ever want to relive again? And which ones you’d keep replaying over and over again? I pretty much would never want to experience my mother’s death or funeral ever again. On the less serious side, I would not want to relive a breakup or the time I had toilet paper stuck in my pants and flapping behind me as a tween. I’d love to relive some great dates, first kisses, my travels to Europe, sweet moments with my niece, my wedding day and some really fun moments with friends. I have a feeling I’d probably analyze some “what went wrong moments’ in my life. lol

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys cover Maggie StiefvaterBook Title/Author:The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher/Release Date
: Scholastic – September 2012
Genre: YA Fantasy/Supernatural
Series: Yes, The Raven Boys is book 1 of The Raven Cycle series
Other Books From Author: The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, The Scorpio Races, Book of Faerie series

Amazon| Goodreads | Twitter |

I checked this bad boy out from my local library!

 

 

Blue has always kept her distance from boys as she’s been told by her clairvoyant mother that she’ll cause her true love to die. When she accompanies her mother, as she always does, on St. Mark’s Eve  she is able to see, for the first time ever, one of the soon-to-be dead walk on the Corpse Road as her mother days. The spirit, a young boy her age, reaches out to her and directly communicates with her. She crosses paths with the boy, Gansey, and find out he attends the wealthy private school — a Raven Boy. She finds herself curious about Gansey and soon finds out he and his best friends — Ronan, Adam and Noah — are on a mysterious quest that she also finds herself wrapped up in full of myths and magic and darkly strange things.

WOW! This is one of those books that I’m going to have to reread FOR SURE before the second book comes out because there is just SO MUCH TO THIS BOOK. It almost borderlines on TOO much to my brain but seriously these pages were bursting at the seams with WONDER and IMAGINATION and MYSTERIES I NEED TO KNOW. I read The Raven Boys in a single day — a single, very stormy wrapped-up-all-in-my-blankets kind of day and that is how I recommend you to read it. For that day, I pretty much could not pluck my brain and my heart out of this mesmerizing and fantastical world where there is magic, psychics, kings and ley lines and other supernatural things that just were so intricately woven in to the contemporary lives of our characters. Dishes were not done, the husband felt neglected (psh not too badly because that meant a whole day of video games) and I don’t recall getting up too much. One of the most absorbing books I’ve read in a long time!

This story was just SO unique and fresh. I’ve only read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater but both of these books are the two most unique novels I’ve read in a long time. I found The Raven Boys to be much less poetic in nature (but still gorgeously written) as The Scorpio Races but The Raven Boys captured the same captivating storytelling ability I found in The Scorpio Races.  OH my stars can Maggie Stiefvater tell a story!  And the characters! I LOVED Blue and just found myself wanting to go on adventures with the Raven Boys — Gansey was definitely the most memorable for me! I just felt how confused Blue must feel knowing how that she’ll kill her true love with a kiss and then she sees Gansey walking on the Corpse Road and then later actually SEES him as a living and breathing human. I felt her curiosity and I understood why she wanted to spend her time with Gansey and the boys and became so enamored with their mission to find Glendower — just as enamored that I, as a reader, became with this journey and all the mystery! There’s just so much depth to these characters and yet I still feel like there is so much to learn about them!

I will say, while this wasn’t a HUGE problem for me, if you are the type who doesn’t like to wait a while for the story to come together..this might be hard for you…but just keep reading and then the story will really start to come together. And at times there is SO much going on — so many different threads to this story — and it can kind of be overwhelming that it borderlines on confusing at times. You’ll find yourself immediately taken to this story but it’s definitely a slow burn type of book.

Maggie Stiefvater is a master storyteller and I tumbled into these pages and stayed there until I finished it in one day. There’s a lot going on on in this novel but I found myself breezing right though it because of Maggie’s knack for just sucking you into the pages whether we are reading about Blue & her clairvoyant family or the Raven Boys search for Glendower. There’s magic and kings and psychics and ley lines and all sorts of mythological and supernatural intrigue worked right in there with the contemporary lives of these truly memorable, fleshed out characters! It takes a little bit to get into the story and there IS a lot going on but it’s just such a unique and wonderful story that is worth being patient for.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one?? Heard of it? Did you enjoy it or feel differently than I did? Which Raven Boy was your favorite?? I loved Gansey the most though all of them have a place in my heart!

Review: Through The Ever Night by Veronica Rossi (No Spoilers!)

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Book Title/Author: Through The Ever Night by Veronica Rossi (Book #2)
Publisher/Year
: HarperTeen January 8th  2013
Genre: YA Dystopian
Series: Yes — Under The Never Sky was the first book in the series.
Other Books From Author: Under the Never Sky (book 1)

Amazon| Goodreads | @V_Rossibooks |

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way swayed my opinion. Pinky swear!

Since Under the Never Sky, Aria & Perry have been apart from each other with much on their minds. When they are finally reunited, these problems certainly don’t fade away but are magnified. Perry’s troubles with gaining the respect as the Tides leader is even more in jeopardy with Aria’s arrival and the ever increasing frequency and strength of the Aether storms threatening their land. Aria, with the weight of Talon’s disappearance on her shoulders, knows she has to find the Still Blue for Hess to even have a shot at reuniting Talon & Perry. Aria faces the hard decision between staying with Perry (even though she knows her presence is causing trouble) or  leaving to find information about the Still Blue.

Upon finishing Through The Ever Night, I can say without a doubt, this is one of my favorite series right now and one that I’ve found myself recommending more than anything else! If you love dystopian novels, and even if you are burnt out on them, this series is where it is at. Under the Never Sky was a great debut (so great that when I got this in the mail back in September I read this IMMEDIATELY) but this book was what sealed the deal for me! I will say that you should do yourself a solid and reread Under the Never Sky because my memory was a bit foggy on how things ended.

Through The Ever Night took the notion of “second in the series syndrome” and squashed it. My heart just longs for a re-read when I think about how wonderful this book was. The action was intense and heart-pounding but this story was also ridden with quiet, sweet moments and just top-notch character development. We get to know our favorites better (Perry, Aria, Roar, Cinder) but we are introduced to new and memorable characters and reunited with some secondary characters — some whom play bigger parts this time around. Every page was filled with heart and emotion it seemed because I would find myself tearing up or gripping the pages out of anger or feeling incredibly panicked for the characters we love.

Veronica Rossi just knows how to tell a story — that’s all I feel like I can say because I don’t want to give away ANYTHING plot-wise. There were twists and turns and important things to be learned in this book. I loved Aria & Roar’s journey and some of my favorite moments were in those chapters– albeit things that made my heart hurt. I also really enjoyed learning more about Perry & the Tides and watching Perry assert himself as worthy of being leader. I felt like I really learned so much about Perry through these chapters. There was also some crazy dramarama in these chapters too and things that made me MAD! A LOT of meaningful things happen in this book but we are still left with some lingering questions by the end that set up for some really incredibly things for Into The Still Blue (2014? Really, V, really?? How about now?). I loved how the ending wrapped up — just perfectly with some things resolved but still so many things to look forward to.

Vagrant little things:
1. ROAR!! If you loved Roar in Under the Never Sky (are there people who didn’t?) you are going to be so excited because it’s like double the Roar here! I really loved getting to know him more and he’s one of my favorite characters of recent. He breaks out of that “sidekick” kind of mold that comes with being friends with the romantical couple and becomes just as important. His friendship with Aria in this novel is one thing I loved the most and I loved watching them struggle and triumph together.

2. In Under the Never Sky my ONE little problem was that I just felt like I was SO lost about the Aether — like I missed something.  Like I KIND of thought I knew what it was but really didn’t understand it and I felt like Rossi did an amazing job explaining the Aether more in a really natural way that made me be able to SEE it and understand the destruction it was capable of — which we DEFINITELY see in this novel!

3. The romance you ask? AHHH. I’m not telling! Nope! I’m not! I’ll say they’ve got their share of struggles in this one but I think this is one of my favorite couples ever.

4. Aria’s growth has been one of my favorite’s to watch in YA series.

I’m going to pretty much officially say I liked Through The Ever Night MORE which I rarely ever say about a book 2. Prepare to get your workout in turning those pages furiously because this was one of those books that are the epitome of words like “exhilarating” or ” riveting” (and ummm HEARTBREAKING at moments). But Veronica Rossi balances all of that action with truly incredibly characters who you just really fall in love with even more, some really tender moments and making your heart pitter patter with Perry & Aria’s romance. It’s just one of those addictive books that make me shut out Real Life in favor for an imaginative, dangerous journey with characters I wish were real. I love the worldbuilding, I love the characters, I love it all. This series is a favorite that I’ll keep on recommending for lovers of dystopian worlds with fantastical elements.

You May Also Like: Legend by Marie Lu, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

 

through-the-ever-nightLet’s Talk: Have you read this one?? Heard of it? Did you like Under the Never Sky better or Through The Ever Night? I have to ask..do you think there is a chance that a certain character is actually not dead??

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Book Title/Author: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer  E.  Smith
Publisher/Year
: Little Brown 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: Nope!
Other Books From Author: You Are HereThe Comeback  Season, The Storm Makers, This Is What Happy Looks  Like  (Out Spring 2013)

Amazon| Goodreads | @jenesmith |

I bought this with my own cash moneyyy.

When seventeen year old Hadley misses her flight to London for her dad’s wedding to the woman he fell in love with & left her mother for, she finds herself stuck in the airport waiting for the next flight –  thinking about what awaits her in London, how she’ll actually make it to the church on time and unresolved feelings she has towards her dad. What she didn’t imagine happening as a result of those four minutes that prevented her from making her original flight was that she’d meet Oliver — a British boy studying at Yale – who happens to  be  in the same row  as her. Hadley & Oliver spend the entire flight laughing and letting the walls down and sharing some of the most important matters of the heart. When their flight lands they are shuffled off into different lines at customs and Hadley is against the clock to make it to what awaits her at the wedding while she wonders if she’ll be able to talk to Oliver again.

Why the heck had I not read this already?? Everyone had been singing its praises and saying that it would be a total Jamie book! I even BOUGHT it and got it signed at an event but  I don’t know…it got lost in the shuffle of books I own. In Mitali’s (former blogger at Alley of Books & lady who knows what books I love) words:

 

And THE WORLD WAS RIGHT.  In short:

I really enjoyed The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight! It was cute and swoony and such an addicting read that I finished in a single day. I immediately know I have to edit my End Of Year Book Survey to include this book and I already added her to my top ten favorite new-to-me authors that I’ve read this year and I’m dying to read off her backlist & look forward to her new release This Is What Happy Looks Like.

I think this concept of “love at first sight” has the ability to be really tacky and contrived but luckily what Jennifer E. Smith does is just pure perfection for me. It’s one of those things, prior being with Will, I always wondered if it would happened. If that cute guy and I would end up next to each other on the train or if that cute guy in the coffee shop and I would strike up a meaningful conversation and spend hours just talking. A girl can dream! Those chance encounters are always so fun to me and The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight will make your heart thump in your chest at Hadley & Oliver’s meeting and throughout their transatlantic conversation in which they learn the random and the important things about each other. The slow burning realization that there was a connection there was so sweet to watch and deviates far from the “insta-love” that I hate. This was two people who met and had great, honest conversation — it’s happened to me in a non-romantic way plenty of times! Sometimes you keep in touch and sometimes you don’t.

I loved learning about them through their conversation in the airport and on the plane in the first half half of the book and then I LOVED getting to see Hadley finally see her dad and meet Charlotte. There is a particular touching scene between she and her dad and I felt ALL OF THE FEELS. And I don’t want to give too much away but there was some pretty epic scenes that took place in London and I loved how you could see how Hadley realized perhaps her and Oliver meeting was more than a chance encounter that would dissolve into a vague memory.  While I kind of predicted what was going to happen, it did not detract at ALL from my enjoyability level. Hadley & Oliver’s story was sweet, touching and one to cheer for!

I absolutely and undeniably LOVED The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E.  Smith — an author I cannot wait to read more from! It’s a sweet and charming contemporary romance that will bring ALL OF THE SWOON and Hadley and Oliver are two of my favorite pairs this year! It’s a memorable and touching story about happenstance, forgiveness and opening your heart and it will charm the pants right off you. Perfect if you are in the mood for something lighter but with substance!

For Fans Of: swoony books, the movie Happenstance (umm hello Audrey Tautou, sweet contemporary YA stories, scouring the “Missed Connections” pages (oh yeah, I totally used to do this all the time — the thought of someone finding someone so memorable on a train and maybe chatting them up but then parting ways and hoping you can find them again! Le sigh!) , Just One Day by Gayle Forman

 

 

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one? Heard of it? Did you guess the THING about Oliver?? Which book should I read next from her? ALSO, have you ever had a connection like this with a stranger??

Review: Not That Kind Of Girl by Siobhan Vivian

 

Book Title/Author: Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
Publisher/Year: Push (Goodreads & Amazon are conflicting — one says 2010 while the other says 2011)
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No.
Other Books From Author: The List, Burn For Burn, Same Difference, A Little Friendly Advice

Amazon| Goodreads |Siobhan Vivian’s Website

 

 

 

 

 

Natalie is the good girl — she’s smart,  an overachiever  and is running for Student Council. She holds her reputation in the highest regard and knows what she wants out of a relationship and won’t accept anything less; much less the typical immature, jerk fare of her high school. She’s Type-A and has it in her mind how she and her friends should act as women. But do they agree with her about what kind of girl they should be? Soon she realizes that some of the closest people in her life might not completely share her opinions and are keeping secrets from her. The freshman girls are challenging Natalie’s ideals with their provocative take on female sexuality  and boys she said she’d never give the time of day are suddenly surprising her into bending her own rules. How will Natalie continue to be that kind of girl she’s always thought she should be when so many things are threatening it?

I had heard everyone rave about this one and again felt super behind on my YA contemps since I started reading YA late in the game. The lovely Carla (formerly of The Crooked Shelf but now blogs over with the super fab Jen at Makeshift Bookmark) told me in her very convincing British accent that I MUST read it. So I did. And I really, really enjoyed it. Definitely a book I wish I would have read in high school and definitely a book I think could be such an amazing book for teen girls to discuss together! I will say that, as an adult, I felt I could SO appreciate this book and read it with a different lens.

I have to say – Natalie annoyed the hell out of me most of the time but I really loved her. But confession time? I think my annoyance was spawned from the fact I was SO SO like Natalie in high school. While I can’t say I was super uptight in general nor was I THAT high strung about school, I was such a “goodie-goodie” and had super high standards that I didn’t think most people didn’t live up to. Those girls talking about sex during homeroom? Yep, they were sluts. I didn’t need to know anything about them. I just knew I didn’t want to be like THEM. I wasn’t that type of girl. I didn’t dress like a “slut” nor did I sleep around. And that’s pretty much how Natalie was. We both were super judgey. I think that’s why she annoys me so much because I was coming face to face with my high school self. I’m glad I had my own standards but I needed to chill the EFF out.

So what I really loved about this book is that it opened up a FANTASTIC platform to talk about slut-shaming, feminism and sexuality. It wasn’t preachy and it didn’t say which “kind of girl” was the right path. You saw girls who were struggling to figure out who they were and their path and what was right for them. Natalie herself crosses her own lines (I think that a lot of us girls do that. “Oh I would NEVER DO THAT.”) and Spencer does see the downsides to some of her thinking.  I loved the contrast of Natalie and Spencer (the freshman who dresses provocatively and openly talks about wanting to have sex with guys). Siobhan Vivian shows you sides of both that you might agree with and makes you think critically and challenge your notions of sexuality and feminism — despite who you identify with more. ALL while not being preachy. It was just so well done that I feel the need to slow clap and whistle (though I can’t really in real life).  Just WOW.  And I know this seems a lot like the whole point of Mean Girls — but seriously, this book shows that it’s SO important how we as women treat each other and judge each other. I JUST LOVED IT.

I can’t say I LOVED the romance but that, to me, wasn’t the shining part of this novel nor the point but I thought it DID have it’s place. It was ok but not my favorite. I’ll tell you that Siobhan really knows how to write characters — all of them. I could see them as real people that had roamed the hallways in my high school back in the day. I could feel the struggles. The pressures of high school, fitting in, determining your sexuality, being yourself. She writes it fabulously and flawlessly. I loved the journey Natalie went through and really grew to care about her and the other girls  — their flaws, mistakes and all!

 

Not That Kind of Girl was truly remarkable! It opens a discussion about feminism/sexuality/slut-shaming in a way that is super easy to relate to and NOT PREACHY like some books end up being. The characterization is top notch, the high school setting was authentic and Siobhan Vivian causes you to take pause and think. I loved that. I’ll be recommending this to people who love contemporary YA books that speak to the normal struggles that girls encounter in high school and really beyond. There isn’t super angsty drama or crazy things that happen — but it tells the story of what a lot of girls go through in high school when trying to figure out what kind of girl they are and want to be.

 

For Fans Of: Realistic contemporary YA about normal struggles teens face, books dealing with feminism/sexuality in a non-preachy way, books that make you think, books with incredible characterization

 

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one? Heard of it? What did you think if you have read it? I’m curious to know which girl you identified with more?

Review: By The Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead by Julie Ann Peters

YA books about bullying & SuicideBook Title/Author: By The Time You Read This  I’ll Be Dead by Julie Ann Peters
Publisher/Year: Hyperion 2010
Genre: YA Contemporary
Topics: Bullying, Suicide
Series: No.
Other Books From Author: She Loves You, She Loves You Not.., Between Mom & Jo, Rage: A Love Story, Luna, Keeping You A Secret & more.

Amazon| Goodreads |Julie Ann Peter’s website

 

 

 

 

 

Daelyn is ready to end it all. She’s tried to commit suicide before and she’s failed which has only made things worse for her — everyone thinks she’s a freak and her parents won’t let her out of their sight. This time she’s found a website that will help her in her efforts but only if she’s serious. She’s also found herself spending a lot of time in the forums on this website where she reads about other people’s experiences and why they want to commit suicide and posts her own thoughts. She’s happy when nobody talks to her and doesn’t have to interact with people  so when a boy named Santana starts hanging around her after school it gets under her skin and throws her for a loop since she wasn’t expecting on making any friends knowing that she plans on killing herself.

This book pretty much threw it’s metaphorical hand out of the book and ripped through my body and just squeezed the hell out of my heart. Oh man. It was really heavy and made me so incredibly sad for anybody — especially the young people — who are contemplating suicide or who have endured horrible bullying or just any sort of horrible thing that they’ve kept to themselves that’s made them want to end their life. I seriously can’t even explain how hard my heart ached for Daelyn and people in situations like her.

The way Julie Ann Peters unravels Daelyn’s history of being bullied was just completely effective. When my heart didn’t think it could break any more from hearing how she was bullied, it would start to break even more with the stories she’d reveal — the fat camp, how nobody would listen to her, the bathroom scene at school. I could honestly see why things were so hard for her. It was so painful to read it and to think that this kind of stuff happens in real life. I think Julie Ann Peters gave such an authentic look into the mind of a girl who just grew weary of being bullied, of having nobody listen to her and of trying to make it through every day. She was drained. I quite enjoyed Daelyn’s voice — she was kind of snarky and called it like it was. Obviously I’d wish anyone to choose to live but I found myself really rooting hard for her to find her way through it. I connected with her in the moments when she allowed us to see HER; not the Daelyn who has given up.

Each chapter is a countdown and gives the number of days she has left — a number generated by the website. As every day got closer and closer to the day she was supposed to complete I was reading even more anxiously to find out if she was going to actually go through with it or if she would find some glimmer of hope that would make her change her mind — maybe Santana and his story would, his friendship, or when the music teacher sticks up for her in a way. So many things made me think that maybe she’d find what little bit of hope and strength she could from the good.  I loved when Santana enters the picture and I’m happy that the author didn’t go in the direction I thought it could go in terms of a romance suddenly make everything better. Santana was so full of life despite the heavy stuff he was facing and was so determined to live which was a real contrast to Daelyn and how numb she was.

The ending totally wasn’t what I was expecting. I don’t want to give it away. I still don’t know how I feel about it but I think it was actually kind of perfect in a way and not necessarily in a pretty little bow.

By The Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead is a heavy, heavy book dealing with bullying and suicide in a really powerful way. It weighed heavy on my heart for a while. I felt like it was such a raw and honest portrayal of a subject that is so delicate yet so prevalent in our society. I’ve read books dealing with these subjects before and sometimes they feel really contrived or less than authentic. This just felt really superior to a lot of them in authenticity and emotion as it never felt contrived nor was Daelyn made to be this poor, poor pitiful me character. Daelyn’s voice is just unshakeable and Santana is unforgettable. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Hard to say that I LIKED it because of the nature of the topic but I was really moved by it and it caused me to think.

 

You May Also Like: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford, Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

 

Let’s Talk: Have you read this one? Heard of it? What did you think if you have read it? What other books have you read that deal with bullying & suicide? If you did read it what were your thoughts on that ending?

Review: Beyond by Graham McNamee

Book Title/Author: Beyond: A Ghost Story by Graham McNamee
Publisher/Year: Wendy Lamb Books (imprint of Random House) 2012
Genre: YA Horror/Paranormal
Series: No.
Other Books From Author: Acceleration, Bonechiller, Hate You

Amazon| Goodreads | About Graham McNamee

 

On the outside it may appear to people that Jane is clumsy, reckless or maybe suicidal. After all, she’s had some near fatal accidents. But only Jane and her best friend, Lexi, know the truth about all Jane’s “accidents” and how it’s her own shadow that take hold of her body and guides her to do these things. As Jane and Lexi work to figure out what’s happening to Jane they find a connection to Jane’s shadow mystery they would have never believed.

I thought this book was really creepy — not scary — but just plain ol’ creepy. I mean, I just think about the premise of your shadow warring against you and making you do things that you don’t want to do and it gives me the heebie jeebies. So many of the things that go bump in the night are outside forces and this one is something that is inside you and you can’t even control! Seriously, it could be a cool movie, I think. I mean, let’s recap here: HER SHADOW IS TRYING TO KILL HER. The premise alone simultaneously creeped me out yet thrilled me.

Beyond by Graham McNamee was very slim in size but it was one of those books that you really felt like you got this very whole and complete story — which was nice considering I’ve been reading SO many series. It was just darn nice to have a paranormal-like story and have it be a standalone. I read this SO quickly because it’s pacing is so great! I just kept wondering — is she possessed or is it a ghost or is her shadow an actual entity. And then when other things were revealed I was  even more intrigued! I did think that they ending was a little predictable, at least to me, but it still was enjoyable nonetheless.

And let me tell you, I love Jane and Lexi! They were awesome characters and I love seeing a pair of besties who are THIS close. They had a really awesome bond and I have to say that I loved that a romance didn’t get inserted as the main plot in this book. I don’t want to give anything away regarding the plot but I’ll say there is somebody Jane has her eye on but it’s not a driving force of this novel!

This was a perfect addition to my Halloween reading! It was a quick and creepy read that gave me something more unusual to read about! I mean, your own shadow tries to kill you on multiple occasions? I loved the path to figuring out the how’s and why’s of Jane’s shadow and was thoroughly engaged the whole time. If you are looking for a quick ghost-y/paranormal book that’s creepy, but not scary, and is NOT a series, I’d say pick this one up! Also, if you are wanting a break from a romance or a love triangle plot, this might be your thang.

 

For Fans Of: YA Horror, ghost stories, paranormal type stories without the romance focus (there IS a love interest but it’s not the focus), love triangles or sequels

 

Let’s Talky Talk: Have you read this one? Heard of it? What did you think if you have read it? What other good, truly creepy reads have you encountered? The bigger the creep factor the better!

Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Book Title/Author: Every Day by David Levithan
Publisher/Year: Knopf Books for Young Readers 2012
Genre: Contemporary + maybe magical realism? Really defies genre.
Series: No.
Other Books From Author: The Lover’s Dictionary, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, Boy Meets Boy, The Realm of Possibility, Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, Love Is the Higher LawWide Awake, Every You, Every Me, Are We There Yet?, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares
Amazon| Goodreads | David Levithan’s Website

 

Every day A, a teen who is neither male nor female, wakes up up in another body and experiences another life for twenty four hours. The teen has no control over it and never knows what body will be next nor the rhyme or reason to it. All A knows is that the best way to get through the day is to just go through the motions of the characters life and try not to do anything out of character or that would really interfere with their life. A has successfully been able to do that until Justin’s body where A meets Rhiannon — Justin’s girlfriend — and makes a very real connection with her.

As somebody who is normally overly verbose and always has something to say, I’m at a loss for words when it comes to Every Day by David Levithan. I will try to explain why I loved it so much but just know this, because I’m afraid my words will just get in the way, I FREAKING LOVED THIS BOOK. One of my favorites of this year and pretty close to being an all time favorite. If there was ever a time for you to listen to me and read a book I loved, please make it be this one because it is just so beautiful, unique in EVERY sense of the world and just a book that will touch your heart.

The plot itself was just so fascinating. The idea of someone jumping from body to body every day just intrigued me from the start and I loved learning all about how A has coped with it and how it must feel to exist in a completely different way as other people. Life as A knew it was way different than we see life.  I was so in I loved getting these little vignettes of the people’s lives and how A related to them or tried to assert themselves. Some of the lives were just incredibly sad. And then once he formed this relationship with Rhiannon I was already invested in A’s life and was so intrigued as to how everything was going to work out considering he was never in the same body. Right from the moment that A made the choice to act differently than he did with all the other bodies I KNEW I was in for a complicatedly good story. I have to say that I SO wished that we knew the WHY/HOW it happened to A but I was completely satisfied not knowing and just accepting it as it was.

A is one of those characters whose presence didn’t just linger for a few hours after I finished but seems to be nestled within the folds of my heart somewhere. A’s story was just incredible. I instantly felt how lonely A was having to switch bodies day after day and be basically rootless. A’s love for Rhiannon was just so overwhelming to me as I could feel ALL OF THE FEELINGS that came with making a real connection with somebody for the first time.

What I found most interesting was how A was gender ambiguous. To be honest, I had the hardest time writing this review because I wanted to keep saying “he” but then had to stop myself. It was interesting because I kept thinking of A as a male even though it was clear that A didn’t know what gender he/she was since A didn’t exist outside of the bodies, both male and female, that he jumped in and out of each day. I found it interesting that I kept thinking of A as a male. I don’t know what it was that kept me hearing A’s voice as male.  It challenged me to think a little bit about why that was and if Rhiannon was actually a male would I have seen A as a female? I didn’t have any answers but I thought it was interesting that Levithan was able to challenge my own notion of making A fit nicely into a box of either male or female which was sort of an issue Rhiannon had.

 

As per usual, David Levithan’s writing is beautiful and gets straight to the heart. He’s really outdone himself this time though making this my favorite David Levithan book thus far! This book is imaginative, will dazzle you with its beauty, make you fall in love with A and make you just want to promptly start it all over again. Every Day defies genre and age — I will recommend this to EVERYONE I know — regardless of what they typically read. Both beautiful and page-turning

 

For Fans Of: Incredibly unique stories, books that make you think a bit, books that defy genre

Every Day by David Levithan - Best Book of 2012

 

Let’s Talky Talk: Have you read this one? Heard of it? What did you think if you have read it? LOVE it as much as I did? Did you think of A as male or female in your head?

Review: Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Book Title/Author: Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
Publisher/Year: Little Brown 2008
Genre: Contemporary YA
Series: No.
Other Books From Author: How To Save A Life, Story Of A Girl, Once Was Lost

Amazon| Goodreads |Sara Zarr’s Website

Got this little beaut at the library!

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Harris used to be THAT girl in school — the one that always got made fun of and who was a complete social outcast. Her best friend, Cameron, was her one and only friend in school so when Cameron disappears randomly so does the old Jennifer. Fast forward a little bit and once social outcast Jennifer is now pretty and popular, well-liked Jenna who has a boyfriend — something she thought she’d never have.  On the outside she may have changed but on the inside she still hurts from Cameron’s disappearance so when Cameron mysteriously reappears in her life it hits her hard and she has a hard time reconciling her old self that Cameron knew versus who she has become.

I am definitely a new found Sara Zarr fan! This was just straight-up excellent contemporary YA. It’s not flashy or trying too hard — it’s incredibly authentic and sweet yet tells the really heartbreaking story of two friends who share a whole lot more than just your typical elementary bffs type memories.

I instantly fell in love with Jennifer and also Cameron. Their relationship as kids was just so beautiful and pure — they had a friendship that was so strong because everyone else rejected them. I felt so badly for them but loved that they had each other. And when the book fast forwards to “Jenna” I really loved her too. Zarr really wrote her in a way that you could totally understand her desire to change who she was and get a fresh start but you could feel that deep conflict in her soul where Jennifer and Jenna warred — with Cameron, who accepted Jennifer, being at the heart of it. Zarr creates some really well developed characters in this novel that felt incredibly realistic. And Cameron’s story — so sad!

The thing I loved MOST about this book was that it was a book about friendship — true friendship. Two incredibly broken people who could find solace and love in each other when they were young and again when they found each other again. I truly thought this book would be a sweet little romance and that’s not at all what I got. I feel I got something way more. It didn’t have that forced romance plot and I loved that. Their friendship ran so deep and they shared that secret and I just felt how hard it was for each one of them to deal with it on their own so when they came together again Sara Zarr just created this intense feeling of longing, confusion and unfinished business. There were so many things that were left unsaid with the two of them and I loved how you could just feel the intensity of it.

I’ll say that I personally thought the ending was quite fitting. I felt hopeful and just sad to see their story end. The ending actually did kind of surprise me just because I totally thought I’d predicted what was going to happen. I know a lot of people were wanting more resolution but I was fine without everything all tied up neatly in a bow for this story.

After only one Sara Zarr book I know I’ll be racing back to my library to pick up all of her books because she is a force to be reckoned with in the contemporary YA world. This story of a beautiful friendship was unexpected for me and touched me more deeply than I realized until I was done. The characters were just incredible & the way Sara Zarr unraveled this story and their secret  from the beginning to end was perfect.

 

For Fans Of: Sarah Dessen, Elizabeth Scott, Sarah Ockler

 

Let’s Talky Talk: Have you read this one? Heard of it? What did you think if you have read it? Were you satisfied with the ending or were you wishing for more resolution? Have you read any of Sara Zarr’s other novels? Which was your favorite?

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