Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dear Life, You Suck

Author: Scott Blagden
Publisher: Harcout (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Released: March 26, 2013
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Irreverent, foulmouthed seventeen-year-old Cricket is the oldest ward in a Catholic boys’ home in Maine—and his life sucks. With prospects for the future that range from professional fighter to professional drug dealer, he seems doomed to a life of “criminal rapscallinity.” In fact, things look so bleak that Cricket can’t help but wonder if his best option is one final cliff dive into the great unknown.
An achingly honest look at an apparently hopeless existence, Dear Life, You Suck pulled me in right from the first page. Cricket's voice, his irreverent attitudes toward everything in life, are just so compelling. Of course, this all turns out to be posturing and underneath his tough exterior is a little boy, desperate and vulnerable, using sarcasm and smart-alec answers in order to hide his deep hurt and despair. He despairs with good reason, of course. He knows the world is not what the adults make it out to be, that you can't depend on adults or you'll get screwed. 

But he sabotages his own happiness time and again, especially with Wynona. Wynona is a lovable character. At first, I felt like I couldn't understand why Cricket was so enamored of her when she was the girlfriend of his biggest enemy, the guy who bullies all his younger "siblings." But as the story goes on, I came to see that Wynona is exactly what Cricket needs. He of course doesn't see things that way, but really Wynona is a large part of why Cricket comes out of the dark dark darkness.

I don't believe he ever really considers suicide. I don't think he thinks he ever really considers it. He just uses it as a comforting thought, that he won't have to deal with everything if he just checks out. But for all his saying that life sucks, for all the reasons he gives Moxie Lord, he really loves life. He just can't see how he can find his purpose. Right now, he has a purpose in protecting the Little Ones and teaching them how to fend for themselves, but he can't picture what life will be like once he leaves school and Mother Mary. Again, for all his calling it the Prison, Cricket really loves the home and Mother Mary. He's terrified of leaving his safe place.

What really makes this book so touching is the way it's told completely from Cricket's point of view and in his own voice, so that we get to see inside his head, with a running commentary on everything that's going on. It means that every emotion he feels is bam! in your face. Everyone else's motivations are seen only through Cricket's view, but somehow we get to understand that not everyone is out to get him. And it means that he presents his own actions in a detached sort of way which only highlights the fact that his actions are heroic.

There is so much more I love about this book. It's a must-read!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

This Is What Happy Looks Like

Author: Jennifer E. Smith

Publisher: Poppy (Little, Brown and Company; Hachette)
Released: April 2, 2013
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds. Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?
Another great love story in the style of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight!! 

Graham and Ellie are both fully-developed characters, so that every decision each one of them makes seems totally natural, even the ones that pop out of thin air. Quinn and Ellie's mother are equally fleshed out, and Olivia is delightfully flat! Together, the cast of characters creates the prefect setting for this love story to happen.

The story starts with the emails, and those set the stage for a meaningful story. The emails talk about nothing, but at the same time, they're deep and thoughtful. They're a great way for both Ellie and Graham to let down their guards and really let someone get to know them. Of course, as Ellie's mother mentions, striking up a relationship with someone online is never a good idea, but in their case, it's best it happens anonymously so that neither one knows the other's secrets.

Then when Graham gets to town, their relationship falls naturally into that rhythm. Ellie is of course at first distrustful, not knowing what Graham's endgame is. But when they both figure out how to reconcile the person they see with the person they know, their interactions become as sweet as possible.

The story is left open-ended. Graham is going back to Hollywood and world tours, but there's a sense that the relationship will continue anyway. I sure hope so!

Freaks Like Us

Author: Susan Vaught
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Released: September 4, 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
When Jason Milwaukee's best friend Sunshine vanishes, Jason knows that something is terribly wrong, but solving her disappearance will require pushing through all the voices in his head and then getting the world to listen to him. His schizophrenia is stopping him from remembering the events leading up to her disappearance, and often he discounts his own memories, and his own impressions. But his deep knowledge that he would never hurt his friend, plus the faith of his parents and a few others in the town bring him to the point of solving the mystery. In the end, it's Sunshine's own love for Jason (Freak) that persuades him of his own strength and goodness.
Let me start with saying that Susan Vaught is a psychologist - and after reading this book, I'd recommend her to anyone I know! She obviously gets people with these illnesses - the descriptions of Sunshine's selective mutism and Drip's ADHD just sound so right, like she gets to the heart of how they think. And that is, of course, overshadowed by the way Freak is written. 

Even though the entire story happens over one 24-hour period, except for the epilogue, I felt like I really got to know how Freak lives on a daily basis. Because of the style of the novel, with glimpses into Freak's mind-voices and flashbacks, which Freak tries so desperately both to remember and to forget, there are so many layers. So many issues were touched on, the way he has to deal with the voices and sift through what's real and what isn't, his own self-image, how others perceive him and behave towards him, and most touchingly, I felt, was the detail about his name. It shows so much about how he and the other "alphabets" view themselves. Agent Mercer showcases that really nicely.

And I really had tears in my eyes during Freak's (almost) last conversation with Agent Mercer. Much more than a story about a missing girl, this is the story of people with disabilities and their place in the world, and seeing Agent Mercer's developing interactions with Freak and Drip - I cried. Literally, no exaggeration. I cried.

And I cried again, even more, at the epilogue. 

I'm going to leave it at that. This is a brilliant book.

In My Mailbox 44

In My Mailbox is a meme created by Kristi of The Story Siren, where bloggers share the contents of their mailbox that week - books bought, borrowed, received... It's a great way to see lots of new books all at once, and leads to great coveting and more buying!

Here's my haul this week:

Don't Go, Lisa Scottoline

Sunday, April 14, 2013

In My Mailbox 43

In My Mailbox is a meme created by Kristi of The Story Siren, where bloggers share the contents of their mailbox that week - books bought, borrowed, received... It's a great way to see lots of new books all at once, and leads to great coveting and more buying!

Here's my haul this week:

I had put a whole bunch of books on hold at two different libraries, and I loved watching as each day this week, I picked up more books and added them to the teetering tower. It fell over a few times, but it was worth seeing!

Rat - Lesley Choyce
Something About Sophie - Mary Kay McComas
Glass Heart - Amy Garvey
Freaks Like Us - Susan Vaught
Then You Were Gone - Lauren Strasnick
The Fool's Girl - Celia Rees
Dear Life, You Suck - Scott Blagden
This Is What Happy Looks Like - Jennifer E. Smith
The Edge of the Earth - Christina Schwartz
Venom - Fiona Paul
On Beauty - Zadie Smith
The Last Kingdom - Bernard Cornwell
The Pale Horseman - Bernard Cornwell
Lords of the North - Bernard Cornwell
The Witness - Nora Roberts

Ebooks for review:
A Happy Accident - Evan Tyler
Doublesight - Terry Persun

So a big week for me. Now to find time to read all these before I have to return them! That's the thing about libraries - you can get as many books as you want without going broke, but it also means that when you go on a book binge, you have limited time to read all those books. 

What's in your mailbox?

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Author: Meg Cabot
Publisher: Point (Simon & Schuster)
Released: May 8, 2012
Genre: YA Paranormal
Series: The Myth of Persephone Darkly Re-imagined (#2)
Source: Library
Seventeen-year-old Pierce Oliviera isn't dead. Not this time. But she is being held against her will in the dim, twilit world between heaven and hell, where the spirits of the deceased wait before embarking upon their final journey. Her captor, John Hayden, claims it's for her own safety. Because not all the departed are dear. Some are so unhappy with where they ended up after leaving the Underworld, they've come back as Furies, intent on vengeance . . . on the one who sent them there and on the one whom he loves. But while Pierce might be safe from the Furies in the Underworld, far worse dangers could be lurking for her there . . . and they might have more to do with its ruler than with his enemies. And unless Pierce is careful, this time there'll be no escape.
Amazing how all of the events in this book happen almost entirely in one day! Everything happens so quickly, moving from the Underworld to the cemetery, to Pierce's home, to the streets of Isla Huesos, and back to the Underworld... And on and on. The pace of Underworld is lightning-quick, with the wit and sass to match. The interactions between all the characters are so real, so vivid.

Pierce doesn't seem to be in danger as much in this book, except that she's being kept against her will and mistakes the Persephone legend to mean that she could eat anything besides pomegranates and won't be bound to the Underworld. That, of course, makes for a lot of tension between her and John as they try to figure out what eating the food in the Underworld actually means. But it's mostly Pierce's cousin who's in danger this time, and it's an added dimension that we see Pierce focused almost exclusively on saving her cousin.

Side point: Look at the progression of the covers. In Abandon, Pierce is lying by herself. In Underworld, she's grasping John's hand. And in Awaken, she's stroking John's hair as he lies in her lap. Nice touch!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Beginning of After

Author: Jennifer Castle
Publisher: HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Released: September 6, 2011
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Sixteen-year-old Laurel's world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laurel navigates a new reality in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overpowering memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all there is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel's life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss--a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways.
Laurel's voice throughout the whole book is very strong, so that you really feel what she's going through. For most of the book, she's actually pretty numb and denying things, suppressing thoughts. Because we hear it in her voice, the narrative gets dragged down a bit as we wait for her to start admitting her feelings. But when she does that, it's a wham and everything starts happening at once. A big scene, and the aftermath where she begins to face the consequences of the accident and how it has affected and will continue to affect her life.

Laurel's relationships with both Joe and David are really nicely portrayed, the arc of each one flowing seamlessly and connecting with her at the various stages of grief. The end of this plotline, when Laurel breaks it off with Joe and commits to David, felt a little quick to me, like it happened so quickly that I wasn't sure at what moment it actually happened. But lack of "moment" aside, the progression of both relationships leads naturally to its conclusion. I like that both guys are decent guys, though it's more obvious with Joe than with David at first, of course.

With the grief cycle, Laurel trying to get her life back on track, and her relationships, both with the boys and her friend Meg, this is a good book, if lacking spark.