Exit, Persued by a Bear
Hermoine is captain of her cheerleading team. Unlike most cheerleading teams, this one is the main event. They are the biggest sport in their high school. In the Summer before her senior year, their squad returns to the yearly cheer camp. Everything is going fantastically, until someone hands her a drink at the dance, and things go black. She is found the next morning on the shore of the lake, exposed and alone, with a very fuzzy memory of the night before. This is the story of how Hermoine copes. She has to come to terms with the fact that nothing will ever be the same again, while fighting to not let the situation take control of her life.
To me this book was very showing of how different people handle trauma in different ways. It seemed completely unrealistic at first, until I realized that. It also showed me that I have no idea how I would react to certain situations in which I have never been. Hermoine handles her situation with the only grace she knows how to have. Her strength is incredible, and her ability to look at the things that are most important (to her) are astonishing. She is lucky to have the support of her family and (some of) her friends. I was really impressed by the fact that she outwardly and inwardly struggled with the horrible events, but that she was insistent to not have those events swallow her whole. This may not be your typical written rape story, but it is one way for the story to unravel. In this subject, I think it is important to show that there is more than one scenario.
Blood Red, Snow White
Set during the Russian Revolution in 1917, Arthur Ransome, a young British journalist, has traveled to Russia in order to write fairy tales. What he finds is that there is much more to do, see, and experience than what he originally had expected. He becomes very deeply immersed in the politics of Russia, and the surrounding areas. He becomes many things to many people, but it seems that he still tries to hold on to his fairy tale life in a world where happy endings aren’t so common.
I thought this was a wonderfully written book., as I think about everything written by Marcus Sedgwick. It weaves the realistic with the ephemeral, and it does so in a way that makes them seem like the same story. The characters, especially Arthur, are multi-dimensional and strong. I love historical fiction, so this is right up my alley. My biggest concern with this book, is that it may not be marketed towards the right audience. I can’t see teens being overly excited to read this story, or to finish it once they have started. It also doesn’t really feel like a fairy tale retelling, so much as a story with a dusting of the magical and mystical within. Although I thought it was a solid work, I am not sure it will find a place with its intended audience.
Girl in the Blue Coat
Hanneke is a purveyor of black market items during World War II in Amsterdam. She is able to provide for her family with this second job. She also sees it as a tiny way that she can rebel against the Germans. One day a customer of hers asks her for an extraordinary favor. She wants her to find a Jewish girl who she was hiding in a secret room in her home. The girl has vanished without a trace, and the only clue seems to be that she was wearing a blue coat.
Part history, part mystery, all thrilling. This time period is my favorite to read about. Although much of the content is completely horrifying, you can see the brightest stars in the darkest of nights. I like to look at the absolute and utter selflessness and kindness in those people who were willing to stand up against the Nazi Regime. This book really shows the mindset of those people. It demonstrates the constant fear that they must live in to do what they know is right. The characters in this book are so strong and brave, despite their fear, they do the right thing every day. Okay, other than the WWII setting, I loved the mystery of this book. Combine these two things and you get such an intense real world suspense. I was very happy with the ending, for reasons I can’t explain, because I am anti spoiler, but if you read it and freak out, don’t judge me, it just felt right. This one really got my feelers moving, and oh the end. If I could give it 8 thumbs up, I would!
Whisper to Me
Sex workers are going missing without a trace, the media is calling the perpetrator the Houdini Killer. Then Cass finds a human foot on the beeach. All of the traumas in her life come flooding back in when she begins to hear a voice after this discovery. The voice is mean, it insults her, threatens her, and forces her to hurt herself. While in a psychiatric facility, she meets Paris, a beautiful, outgoing stripper who also hears voices. She takes her under her wing, and introduces her to a psychologist who thinks he can help her with her voices. Things seem to be getting better. Cass has a crush on the boy who is renting an apartment from her dad, and he is beginning to notice her, the voice is beginning to be under control, and for the first time, she feels like she has friends. Then Paris disappears while working a bachelor party.
There is so much going on in this book, but it is all woven together so wonderfully. It is written in the perspective of Cass. She has broken the heart of the boy who lives above her garage, and she is writing a letter to him to explain EVERYTHING! While being exhaustive of the summer, her past, her feeling, and hopes of the future, it still manages to be suspenseful. I really liked the characters. They were so human, and inherently flawed. Every single person had their own demons to battle. Some were graceful, and some were not, but throughout the book you could see everyone struggling to come to terms with less than pleasant pasts. I loved the ending! However, I will be so angry at the ending if at anytime in the future, Nick Lake makes a sequel. I would like to mention what an interesting insight this book gives on hearing voice(s). I learned a lot of things about how and why they manifest, and what alternative treatment options are available. After reading In Darkness, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It’s not often I feel like I am at the edge of my seat for a 500+ page YA novel. Kudos!
If I was Your Girl
Amanda has just moved from her mother’s house to her father’s in Tennessee. She moved to get a fresh start, to be somewhere where no one knows her past, where she doesn’t get bullied and terrorized for being transgendered. For the first time in her life, she seems to make friends easily, despite the fact that she is trying to lay low. She even meets a boy who she really likes. Will her secret destroy the new life she has worked for?
In many ways, Amanda is a very lucky person. She has a family that has supported her through all of the changes she has undergone, they have embraced her as the person she is, and not who they want her to be. But the rest of the world isn’t as understanding as her family. In fact, as we all know the world can be a very cruel place. Amanda does her best to navigate the world with grace and confidence, not without her missteps. In some ways this book feels very real to life, and it others it feels way out in outer space. Meredith Russo herself is a transgendered woman, who states that she wanted to write a book that showed support, and a hopeful outcome. Do not be fooled, it is not all rainbows, unicorns, and sunshine. There is real pain, and feels in this one.
Highly Illogical Behavior
John Corey Whaley
Agoraphobic teen faces debilitating anxiety (duh!) Enter overachieving college bound female who needs a special project. Smush them together and what do you get? A raging train wreck! Lisa has got to write an essay about her experience with mental illness in order to get into the second best psychology program in the country, which she wants to attend because she know she can be the best at the second best school. So she chooses Solomon, a kid who used to go to her school until he had a complete meltdown and hasn’t left his house since.
I loved the idea of this book. But honestly, I couldn’t like the characters. Solomon doesn’t feel like he has any depth. And Lisa, ugh. I think she should be writing her essay about her own mental illness. What a horrible human being, I’m not even sure she gets any better in the end. The plot seemed formulaic, with your well known love triangle in young adult novels. It read quickly and easily, but it just fell short of what I have come to know and love of John Corey Whaley. Noggin, is one of my absolute favorite books, and Where Things Come Back was so beautifully written. Right after I finished this book, I really liked it, but the more I have distanced myself from it, the less I like about it, the more I feel like it missed the mark.
Every Exquisite Thing
2016 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780316379595
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Age – High School
Nanette has been given a copy of The Bubblegum Reaper by her teacher, and it changes her life. As she struggles with the themes in the book, and the desire to know what happens after the story end, she meets the unlikely author. Only, he doesn’t want to talk about his book. He does, however, want to be her friend. Reading this book ultimately leads her to reevaluate herself, and her place in the world, and a whole lot more.
I really wanted to like this more than I did. While I appreciated the intensity of discovering your self in very difficult years, I just felt like Nanette was so busy with herself that she existed in a world where no one else had feelings or needs. Everyone was just a pawn to the greater calling of her life. Also, the third person thing got really old. Saying that, I really did find a lot of value hidden in this book. Life is HARD, and maybe we don’t let kids in on that fact early enough. Often it comes as a shock at some point in young adulthood. Knowing that, I like how the book portrays ways in which we can relate to life and people through literature, and our own emotions. I like that no matter how hard it gets, there are some people who will always be there, and there is always a way to change your own course.
2015 by HarperTeen
ISBN – 9780061134111
Genre – Realistic Fiction? Fantasy? Mental Illness
Age – High School
Caden is a high school student. He is quite a good student. His friends and family start to notice changes in him though. He seems to space out more, his emotions aren’t like they used to be, and he seems to lack interest in the things he previously enjoyed. He is sinking more and more into his own mind, in which another story is unraveling. He is on a ship that is heading to the Marinas Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. He is the artist on the ship. But things aren’t always as they seem and he must be careful about who he trusts.
This one took some time to get into, to understand what was happening. It was so involved in a world that I couldn’t possibly understand. Then, all of a sudden I could. This book is a deeply personal account of living with mental illness. It is full of brilliant drawings done by Shusterman’s son, who suffers from schizophrenia. Caden seemingly moves back and forth between his two different realities. I liked that although the story of him on the ship seems to be so fantastical, it has so many parallels to what was happening in real life. The choices he had to make were so similar. On the ship he had to choose if he believed what the captain was telling him, or if he wanted to go rogue. This was also a choice he had to make in his real life. Would he be able to have faith in those who supported him, or would he sink deeper into his own delusions and paranoia? Maybe I’m not spot on, but I think this one may be hard to ever completely understand without being in Caden’s shoes. Maybe not even then. It made me think, and feel, and all the good stuff a book should do. Go Shusterman, and congratulations on the award!
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
2015 by Candlewick
ISBN – 9780763668181
Genre – Biography
Age – High School, Adult
6 stars (on a scale of 5)
Dmitri Shostakovich was an incredible musician by a very early age. By the time Hitler and his soldiers surrounded Leningrad, Shostakovich was writing well known symphonies. The siege went on for an incredible amount of time in which more than one million citizens died. Hitler blocked food and supplies from entering the city. People died in the military, they froze to death, and they starved. The tragedy is unimaginable. M.T. Anderson writes a beautiful and detailed account of Shostakovich throughout his life, but focusing on the time of the siege. He writes about how an entire city faced intense hardship, and how they came out in the end. His focus on Shostakovich allows readers to have a glimpse of the pain that one man experienced, and how his actions affected his city and the world. He used not only his music, but his name to inspire hope around the globe. He faced backlash and criticism, but he never gave up. This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is by far Anderson’s greatest work (in my opinion.) Books like this are change the genre of nonfiction for the better. It was full of historical information, but his ability to portray personal accounts so well, made me relate to a time and a place that seems so distant. I can’t say enough good about this book. I have chills just thinking about it. Gah!
We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story
2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780316251020
Age – High School
Genre – Biography, Humor
Josh has not had the best luck with girls, in fact, his only girlfriend was in the 8th grade. It lasted less than a day. This is not for lack of trying. So Josh goes back to all the girls he tried to date to find out what went wrong.
This book is full of hilarious stories that brings me back to the most awkward years of my life. Dating can be tough, but Josh seems to struggle a bit more than others. As a result of a major illness, he is left with one foot, and has a prosthesis for the second. I loved the way he shamelessly talked about all of the silly mishaps, some having to do with his prosthesis, and some just having to do with his shy personality. I think it takes a brave person to go back many years to learn about your mistakes, but I think there is a lot to be learned from an act like that. Josh writes with humor, and unfaltering honesty, and it make this an easy story to follow. In a way it kind of seemed like the real life version of An Abundance of Katherines. I thoroughly enjoyed this one! ***SPOILER ALERT*** Worry not folks, he got married last year! He is also hugely successful, so good things…those who wait. Yes.