Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How to Love

Author: Katie Cotugno
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Released: 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Library
Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he's never seemed to notice that Reena even exists...until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated - and pregnant - Reena behind.

Almost three years have passed, and there's a new love in Reena's life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena's gotten used to life without Sawyer, and she's finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn't want anything to do with him, though she'd be lying if she said Sawyer's being back wasn't stirring something in her. After everything that's happened, can Reena let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?
My main question at the beginning of the book wasn't "can Reena let herself love Sawyer," but why the heck should she? Why would she? As the stories unfold, the alternating chapters of Before and After slowly revealing what happened and how Reena felt and feels about it, I found myself beginning to resent Sawyer. I could understand why Reena was enchanted by him when she simply had a crush on him - though there didn't seem to be anything simple about it - but once they were together and Sawyer was such an ass on a constant basis, even with the constant charm, as contradictory as that sounds, I just kept wondering why Reena stayed with him once she realized what he's really like. And even more, now that Sawyer is back, how could she let herself fall for him again?

But then things change. Aside from finding out what really happened in the Before, we get to see how Sawyer is a really great guy. He's sweet and charming, he's sensitive and caring. Of course, it's all mixed up in Reena's swings from loving him fiercely and beyond all help to hating him furiously and pushing him as far away as she can. She honestly doesn't know what to make of him. This story is Reena's, told in her voice, but I loved that we get to see Sawyer's thoughts (indirectly, and we need to sift through Reena's interpretation in order to figure out what Sawyer really thinks) and the way he is slowly revealed as a more complex person than the monster/angel Reena has set him up to be.

The alternating chapters is brilliantly done. It's most brilliant at the end, when a few pages out I could feel what was coming, and sat with my hand over my mouth, bouncing in my seat, as I waited for it to happen. And it totally satisfies when it does happen. Sigh... Romance, tentative and sweetly risky. With an uber-sweet payoff.

A careful and sensitive look at childhood crushes, betrayal, family, disappointment, grief, and true love. Love love love this book, to pieces and back again. (Is that even a thing? Don't know, but I just made it a thing.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Beginning of Everything

Author: Robyn Schneider
Publisher: Katherine Tegen (HarperCollins)
Released: 2013
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Library
Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them - a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: In one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra's knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra has ever met - achingly effortless and fiercely intelligent.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: If one's singular tragedy has already hit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?
I love love love this book. It's a bit of a bait-and-switch, but not really, but kind of - oh, darn it. What I mean is this - the story begins with rumination about tragedy, so I guess you're kind of prepared for a sad kind of tale. But then Ezra finds his place in a new circle of friends, and most of the book is him settling in, having new experiences and discovering who he is, basically enjoying life in a good, healthy way. And then when you're kind of ready to hear what Cassidy's story really is, when you (or at least I) think you know what the mystery is, when you think there's going to be a nice, lovely resolution - well, none of that happens. You do hear Cassidy's story, but none of it is simple, none of it is what you (I) thought it would be.

The thing is that Ezra really does grow. But in the way life tends to go, he has setbacks just when it seems he's found everything. And the big, huge mystery and problem is much more complicated than you could imagine, even after you've found out the base issue. And I absolutely love the way Robyn blended so many different issues together in one page - really, in one paragraph. There's the guilt I expected, though not in the way I expected it, there's frustration and depression, there's paranoia and despair, there's family, forgiveness, friendship and romance. And then there's picking yourself up after everything you've come to know falls apart.

So basically, this book wins on two fronts - the bulk of the book is just plain fun. Because yeah, Ezra is struggling with getting to know himself and his place, but it's all with jokes, and bad (very bad) puns, and good-natured ribbing, and finding out what real people are like when the jocks and cheerleaders fade into the background.

And then when tragedy hits again, my heart broke. I love both Ezra and Cassidy, I love their relationship, I love their friends. And in a weird sort of way because they are completely fictional characters (though why this is any weirder than loving them, I'm not sure) I admire them. They're good people. They make mistakes, but they're good. They try as hard as they can to do good for others. That's kind of where they go wrong, which only makes the whole thing that much more tragic.

But by the end of the book, after we've had all the fun and the heartache, there's a sweet non-resolution, not wrapping things up too neatly, because when is life ever neat, but with the promise and hope of healing.


Author: Ann Redisch Stampler
Publisher: Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)
Release Date: January 7, 2014
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Review Copy from Author
Emma is tired of being good. Always the dutiful daughter to an overprotective father, she is the antithesis of her mother - whose name her dad won't even say out loud. That's why meeting Siobhan is the best thing to happen to her... and the most dangerous. Because Siobhan is fun and alluring and experienced and lives on the edge. In other words, she's everything Emma is not.

And it may be more than Emma can handle.

Because as intoxicating as her secret life may be, when Emma begins to make her own decisions, Siobhan starts to unravel. It's more than just Dylan, the boy who comes between them. Their high-stakes pacts are spinning out of control. Elaborate lies become second nature. Loyalties and boundaries are blurred. And it all comes to a head at the infamous Afterparty, where debauchery rages and an intense, inescapable confrontation ends in a plummet from the rooftop...
I already knew that I love Ann Redisch Stampler's style from her book Where It Began. With Afterparty, the narrator's voice, Emma's voice, is so clear and so sharp. In fact, that sharpness becomes so important in the pivotal scene where Emma is drunk and high and who knows what else, and her voice actually loses some of that sharpness. To me, it highlighted the way that even as Emma categorized herself as "Bad Emma" throughout the book, she didn't even realize how not-bad she was being. Yes, she was sneaking out and disobeying her father, she was going to wild parties (kinda), she had a (gasp!) boyfriend, she lied and lied and lied - but those asides from her "conscience" and "compass" telling her that everything she was doing was so bad, all ignored the way she barely did anything really wrong or bad. Every time she sets out to do something crazy, she either backs out or does a modified version of it. That loss of sharpness is so jarring precisely because she hasn't been in a position to lose it throughout the whole book up until that point. She thinks she's wild, but if you count up and catalog her infractions, she's not that bad.

Of course, that's the point. She is no judge of what's beyond normal, what's crazy sh*t and what's only requiring secrecy because of her overprotective father. Now her father is brilliantly portrayed. He's not evil, she doesn't hate him. Actually, their relationship is pretty good and I'm kinda in love with their conversations toward the end of the book. But because she hasn't had normal experiences growing up, because she felt she had something to prove because of who her mother was, she has a totally skewed idea of normal. So first of all, when any casual observer could see that Siobhan is over the top out of control, Emma doesn't know the difference and thinks this is just normal teenager behavior. And then there's the voice telling her she's bad bad bad, which I know from experience does nothing to make you a better person and actually usually does the opposite.

All the relationships in the book, with the partial exception of Emma's father, are craaaazy. It seems like no one knows what normal even looks like. Siobhan's family, Dylan's family, Dylan himself - I'm sorry, I do like Dylan, but he is just as messed up as Siobhan and Emma in his own way. He's dark and mysterious, he seems to be holding it together, mature and aloof - and when his own crap blows up, he falls to pieces and makes every wrong decision he possibly could. It doesn't help any of this that just about every teenager is lying to at least one person about one thing at any given point.

Basically, this tells the story of repression, bad judgement, damaging friendships, and the true meaning of loyalty and trust. In a non-preachy, thoroughly enjoyable way. A great great book.