Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Golden by Jessi Kirby

Title: Golden
Author: Jessi Kirby
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BYR
Release date: May 14th 2013
Pages: 278
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
Add to Goodreads | Puchase from Amazon
Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.
Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.
Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jessi Kirby has impressed me yet again, with another beautifully written contemporary. Jessi Kibry's books are usually unassuming in the best way, the kind of books where you can't put your finger on what exactly makes them so good. Her writing effortlessly makes you get lost in a new world, and I loved getting lost in Parker's and Julianna's stories.

Jessi Kirby's writing is gorgeous, and it's always what carries her novels. Her writing style is emotional, honest, and poignant. It's rich in lines that will make you want to stop and think, while at the same wanting to never stop reading. At times, I was thinking that the writing was too good, too beautiful, considering this is supposed to be a journal, but then I decided that I don't care as long as I get to keep reading these gorgeous words.

Parker is a strong main character. She does fit into the standard YA MC trope of the quiet, studious girl that needs to get out of her shell, but she's so well-written that I think it works. She's easy to relate to and feel for, with a strong voice and impressive character growth over the course of the novel. Even though we don't get to read from her perspective for very long, I also grew to love Julianna through the pages of her journal. I also loved Kat, the spunky best friend, and Trevor, the slow-burn love interest done just right. I just wish we could have gotten some more insights into Parker's parents' characters, especially towards the end.

The mystery is okay. In the beginning, it's very intriguing, and I like how it starts out with this facade of perfection that slowly comes crumbling down. I really liked what the mystery meant to Parker - her emotional investment in it rings true, and it works really well with her personal development. The actual mystery, though, isn't too impressive, in my opinion. The main points are fairly predictable, and I kept hoping there would be more to it, but... there wasn't. The motivations behind what happened ten years ago aren't strong enough to justify what happened, in my opinion, making this seem more like a device to develop Parker's character, rather than an independently strong storyline.

But that's okay - Parker's character development is enough to carry the story. If you're in it for the mystery, there's definitely stronger YA mysteries out there, but if you're looking for a strong contemporary with some mystery elements, Golden is perfect for you. Jessi Kirby continues to impress me with her breathtakingly beautiful writing and effortless ability to write characters and worlds you're immediately immersed in. I can't recommend her books enough!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Title: Where the Stars Still Shine
Author: Trish Doller
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's
Release date: September 24th 2013
Pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
Add to Goodreads | Puchase from Amazon
Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She's never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love--even with someone who seems an improbable choice--is more than just a possibility.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I read most of Where the Stars Still Shine on the subway - which I would not recommend, because it's kind of a miracle I never missed my stop, considering immersed I was in this story. Trish Doller is amazing at writing incredibly absorbing novels with complex, unique character, and Where the Stars Still Shine is no exception.

The whole set-up of Where the Stars Still Shine is original and intriguing: it takes what some might consider to be a happy ending - a girl "rescued" after being kidnapped and kept away from her family for most of her life - and questions what happens after. What it must be like to return to a "normal" life after living on the run for so long and meeting your family whom you don't remember is such a fascinating idea.

The set-up makes for a main character who is incredibly fascinating to read about. I loved  Callie; she is so different from any other YA character (or any character) I've read about. She doesn't know how to let people in or how to let someone care for her - doesn't know how to be a daughter to someone who cares, how to be a friend, or how to have a romantic relationship that isn't based on someone using her. I felt for Callie and grew to love her so much over the course of this novel. Callie must have been such a hard character to write, and even though of course I can't really judge, her struggles seemed very realistic. Even when her choices are frustrating, it totally works, and just adds to the depth of her character.

I absolutely loved the romance in Where the Stars Still Shine. Alex is older, an usual love interest for YA, which works perfectly for this story. He has his own issues, which are also intriguing, even if they're not explored in as much depth as Callie's. Callie and Alex have amazing chemistry, and an inspiringly respectful way of treating each other. But even though the swoon factor is strong, romance is definitely not the only important relationship in this novel. I also loved Callie's relationship with her cousin/self-assigned best friend Kat, her dad Greg, an the rest of her family. I loved how all of these relationships combined showed Callie that she is worthy of love and capable of having meaningful relationships. And then, of course, there's Callie's relationship with her mother, which isn't as easy to love, but just as well-done. Callie's ambivalent feelings towards her mother and her inner struggle are portrayed with honesty and raw emotion, and I especially loved how Callie's feelings develop over the course of the novel.

I thought for a while about whether I should talk about this or if it's too spoilery, but since Trish talks about this in promotional posts, I'm assuming it's okay to talk about the issue of sexual abuse in this novel. How this issue is treated is actually one of the most impressive things about this book, in my opinion. Callie's past experiences with sexual abuse and how it affects her life today is portrayed in heartbreaking honesty. I loved how Trish Doller discusses the impact of Callie's past experiences on her relationships today, since survivors of sexual assault or abuse (re-)gaining a healthy relationship to sex is something that isn't talked about much. It's interwoven in Callie's relationship with Alex in subtle and important ways. I also love how this plays into Callie's relationship with her mother. Even if it weren't such a great story all-around, this book would be worth reading just for its respectful and raw emotional portrayal of this issue.

The only issue I have with Where the Stars Still Shine is that the ending seems a little rushed and melodramatic, everything with Callie's mom and Alex coming crashing down at the same time. Specifically, I'm talking about a very Hollywood-y hospital scene that, in my opinion, is too melodramatic to discuss the story in the depth it deserves. The ending-ending - what comes after this scene - is good again, it's just in this climax that the novel loses some of its plausibility, for me.

With this book, Trish Doller has manifested her position as one of my favorite contemporary YA authors. With a unique story, lyrical writing, and characters I won't soon forget, Where the Stars Still Shine was a book whose world I didn't want to leave. I can't wait for even more Trish Doller books.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bookish Anticipation #51

Bookish Anticipation is a feature I do every once in a while to spotlight future releases I'm excited for. It was inspired by Breaking the Spine's Waiting on Wednesday. You can check out more of my Bookish Anticipation posts here.

Violent Ends by Shaun Hutchinson
Release date: September 1st 2015
It took only twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to exit his car, march onto school grounds, enter the gymnasium, and open fire, killing six and injuring five others.
But this isn't a story about the shooting itself. This isn't about recounting that one unforgettable day.
This is about Kirby and how one boy—who had friends, enjoyed reading, played saxophone in the band, and had never been in trouble before—became a monster capable of entering his school with a loaded gun and firing on his classmates.
Each chapter is told from a different victim's viewpoint, giving insight into who Kirby was and who he'd become. Some are sweet, some are dark; some are seemingly unrelated, about fights or first kisses or late-night parties.
This is a book of perspectives—with one character and one event drawing them all together—from the minds of some of YA's most recognizable names.

My Secret to Tell by Natalie D. Richards
Release date: October 6th 2015
Emmie's had a crush on her best friend's brother forever. Deacon is the town bad boy who's always in trouble, but she sees his soft side when he volunteers with her at the local animal shelter. She doesn't think he's dangerous…until he shows up in her bedroom with blood on his hands.
Deacon's father has been violently assaulted and Deacon is suspect number one. Emmie's smart enough to know how this looks, but she also knows Deacon's biggest secret—he's paralyzed by the sight of blood. She's sure he didn't do this. Or did he? Because even Deacon's own sister thinks he's guilty…

Very in Pieces by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Release date: September 29th 2015
Very Sales-Woodruff is done being a good girl. Done being the only responsible one in a family that’s unraveling. Done being the obliging girlfriend in a relationship that’s sinking. Done saying no to what she wants—like Dominic, her rebellious classmate.
With her mom’s drinking, her dad’s extended absences from home, and her younger sister, Ramona, running wild, the path Very has always seen for herself doesn’t seem to matter anymore. At the same time, Very’s grandmother, a poet known less for her work and more for her exploits with the likes of Andy Warhol and Arthur Miller, is slipping away.
If everything else can fall to pieces, why can’t she?


Future Perfect by Jen Larsen
Release date: October 6th 2015
Every year on her birthday, Ashley Perkins gets a card from her grandmother—a card that always contains a promise: lose enough weight, and I will buy your happiness.
Ashley doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the way she looks, but no amount of arguing can persuade her grandmother that “fat” isn’t a dirty word—that Ashley is happy with her life, and her body, as it is.
But Ashley wasn’t counting on having her dreams served up on a silver platter at her latest birthday party. She falters when Grandmother offers the one thing she’s always wanted: tuition to attend Harvard University—in exchange for undergoing weight loss surgery.
As Ashley grapples with the choice that little white card has given her, she feels pressured by her friends, her family, even administrators at school. But what’s a girl to do when the reflection in her mirror seems to bother everyone but her?
Through her indecisions and doubts, Ashley’s story is a liberating one—a tale of one girl, who knows that weight is just a number, and that no one is completely perfect.

One by Sarah Crossan
Release date: September 15th 2015
Tippi and Grace share everything—clothes, friends... even their body. Writing in free verse, Sarah Crossan tells the sensitive and moving story of conjoined twin sisters, which will find fans in readers of Gayle Forman, Jodi Picoult, and Jandy Nelson.
Tippi and Grace. Grace and Tippi. For them, it’s normal to step into the same skirt. To hook their arms around each other for balance. To fall asleep listening to the other breathing. To share. And to keep some things private. The two sixteen-year-old girls have two heads, two hearts, and each has two arms, but at the belly, they join. And they are happy, never wanting to risk the dangerous separation surgery.
But the girls’ body is beginning to fight against them. And soon they will have to face the impossible choice they have avoided for their entire lives.

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu 
Release date: September 29th 2015
Silly is used to feeling left out. Her three older sisters think she’s too little for most things—especially when it comes to dealing with their mother’s unpredictable moods and outbursts. But for Silly, that’s normal. She hardly remembers a time when Mom wasn’t drinking.
This summer, Silly is more alone than ever, and it feels like everyone around her is keeping secrets. Mom is sick all the time, Dad acts like everything’s fine when clearly it isn’t, and Silly’s sisters keep whispering and sneaking away to their rooms together, returning with signs that something mysterious is afoot, and giggling about jokes that Silly doesn’t understand.
When Silly is brought into her sisters’ world, the truth is more exciting than she ever imagined. The sisters have discovered a magical place that gives them what they truly need: an escape from the complications of their home life. But there are dark truths there, too. Silly hopes the magic will be the secret to saving their family, but she’s soon forced to wonder if it just might tear them apart.
What releases are you anticipating this week? 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: Paperweight by Meg Haston

Title: Paperweight
Author: Meg Haston
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: July 7th 2015
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free advance eGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
Add to Goodreads | Puchase from Amazon
Seventeen-year-old Stevie is trapped. In her life. In her body. And now in an eating-disorder treatment center on the dusty outskirts of the New Mexico desert.
Life in the center is regimented and intrusive, a nightmare come true. Nurses and therapists watch Stevie at mealtime, accompany her to the bathroom, and challenge her to eat the foods she’s worked so hard to avoid.
Her dad has signed her up for sixty days of treatment. But what no one knows is that Stevie doesn't plan to stay that long. There are only twenty-seven days until the anniversary of her brother Josh’s death—the death she caused. And if Stevie gets her way, there are only twenty-seven days until she too will end her life.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I've read a lot of books about eating disorders, but Paperweight blew me away like no other since Laurie Halse Anderson's masterpiece Wintergirls. With a complex main character who experiences tremendous growth and a richly layered story of self-acceptance, Meg Haston's YA debut has me very impressed.

It's fascinating to be inside Stevie's mind. I've read some other reviews saying they didn't like Stevie and found it hard to connect to her, and while I can see where they're coming from - obviously, she doesn't always make the best choices, and she's very reluctant to heal - I absolutely loved her. Her actions can definitely be frustrating, but she's such a realistic character, and with her motivations laid out in such depth and honesty, it was hard not to feel for her. Her eating disorder, as well as her other issues, are explored in harrowing honesty, making you go back and forth between wanting what's best for Stevie but also understanding how her inner demons fight so hard against just that. 

The whole set-up of the treatment center was intriguing - it's fascinating to read about how they go about 'fixing' something so all-encompassing and seemingly unsurmountable, and to see the effects of therapy in Stevie's thinking processes. I especially loved Stevie's relationship with her therapist Anna - so many books I've read portray therapists as either completely useless or as an underdeveloped, unrealistic solution to the main character's problems. Anna is neither of those things - she develops a great, witty rapport with Stevie and helps her in just the right ways, but Stevie's inner strength is still what ultimately save her, rather than any outside forces. 

I also loved the other girls in the treatment center and the relationships they formed with Stevie, especially Ashley. Their relationships are a fascinating combination of competition and friendship - they're all evaluating each other and comparing their bodies, and the anorexics feel superior to the bulimics, but they also build some very strong bonds. I really liked seeing the spectrum of eating disorders, and the girls' different reasons for developing them.

I'm not sure how I felt about the storylines concerning Stevie's issues other than her eating disorder. I really liked reading about the family dynamics, even though I wish there had been more of a confrontation between Stevie and her mom. How Stevie's brother's death relates to her eating disorder, though, was kind of strange: currently, her goal is to starve herself to death as punishment for having killed her brother. But Stevie's eating disorder developed long before her brother's death, and we get some glimpses into how that relates to her mother, but I still wished we had gotten to see more of how all of this first started. Stevie's relationship with Eden is fascinating, too, but I felt like it was lacking some kind of final conflict or resolution. I did appreciate, though, that there is no romance, other than the destructive sort-of relationship with Eden - rather than some romantic interest swooping in and saving Stevie, she really does save herself.

Paperweight was a hard novel to read, but it was most definitely worth it. It reads like a very personal, intimate story, but one that needs to be told. With a gripping voice and an intriguing main character who undergoes realistic character growth, Paperweight offers harrowing insights into eating disorders and depression. For anyone who enjoys darker YA novels, this one is a must!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Review: Between Us and the Moon by Rebecca Maizel

Title: Between Us and the Moon
Author: Rebecca Maizel
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: June 30th 2015
Pages: 384
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
Ever since Sarah was born, she’s lived in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Scarlett. But this summer on Cape Cod, she’s determined to finally grow up. Then she meets gorgeous college boy Andrew. He sees her as the girl she wants to be. A girl who’s older than she is. A girl like Scarlett.
Before she knows what’s happened, one little lie has transformed into something real. And by the end of August, she might have to choose between falling in love, and finding herself.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Between Us and the Moon took me a long time to get into. For the first 100 pages or so, I was sure I was going to hate this book, and I even considered DNF'ing it because it was so frustrating to read. But I'm so glad I didn't - over the course of the story, the book got so much better, and I ended up really liking it!

The reason the beginning is so frustrating is really just the main character Sarah. She is ridiculously immature in the beginning, and I know that makes sense, considering she's fifteen, but she makes some really stupid decisions. I get that she wants to be different after what her ex-boyfriend and her family tell her, but the way she goes about it is almost painful to read. How she steals her sister's clothes and says really stupid stuff because she thinks it will get people to like her is pitifully desperate. I know this is intentional, that she needed to be like this for the character growth over the course of the novel to work, and I did like Sarah towards the end. But that doesn't make the beginning any less frustrating to read.

And, of course, there's the lying to Andrew. At first it made sense, when Andrew was just someone she met once and wanted to impress as part of her turning-into-Scarlett scheme. But I started to get annoyed when their relationship progressed and she went on so long without telling him, not even considering how her actions might impact him. It's not like she tried and it was always a bad time or something; she had plenty of opportunities to tell Andrew the truth and just... doesn't. Since this goes on for so long, I was frustrated with Sarah about this for most of the novel.

I did love the character growth Sarah undergoes over the course of the novel; it's realistically done and well-written. I loved Andrew, his backstory and how he treats Sarah, but I appreciated how romance is not the main focus, letting Sarah's own story of personal development take center stage.

I was pleasantly surprised by the ending - I thought this would be a very predictable story, but I really appreciated the realistic, unusual way to end this novel. I just wish Sarah's family had played more of a role in the ending - her issues with her family are an important part of the novel, and I loved everything about Gran and the development of Sarah's relationship with Scarlett. But I wish we could have seen Sarah's relationship with her parents evolve more towards the end. 

Between Us and the Moon was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, with the amount of times I wanted to slap Sarah and the times I wanted to hug her. I'm very glad I didn't give up on this book in the beginning because the development Sarah undergoes is very worth it. I recommend Between Us and the Moon if you're looking for a contemporary YA with well-written character development, as long as you can handle how incredibly frustrating Sarah is in the beginning. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...