Cracked Up to Be
Author: Courtney Summers
Publication Date: 12/23/08
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Perfect Parker Fadley isn’t so perfect anymore. She’s quit the cheerleading squad, she’s dumped her perfect boyfriend, and she’s failing school. Her parents are on a constant suicide watch and her counselors think she’s playing games…but what they don’t know, the real reason for this whole mess, isn’t something she can say out loud. It isn’t even something she can say to herself. A horrible thing has happened and it just might be her fault. If she can just remove herself from everybody--be totally alone--then everything will be okay...The problem is, nobody will let Review:
The more of Courtney Summers
I read, the more her work reminds me of Sara Zarr
's. They write vastly different characters - Zarr's are more subdued, quiet; Summers' are often in-your-face obnoxious and loud. But what is similar about these two authors is how well-realized their narrators' voices are. Zarr's and Summers' characters are unique and real, often unlikable, but always unforgettable.
The protagonist of Cracked Up to Be
, Parker, is hard to like. She is brash and sarcastic, offends and lashes out at everyone who cares about her - parents, friends, teachers. There is a reason behind her self-destructive, self-punishing and antagonistic behavior, and it's a big one. You won't like Parker even when you find out her secret, you might even hate her then. But, with all that, she is still a human being worthy of understanding and maybe empathy or, possibly, forgiveness. Cracked Up to Be
is a strong debut. I don't think the climax of the story was constructed the best way it could have been. The last few chapters are a little messy. But I do like how the novel ended. There are consequences to Parker's sins, but there is a hope for her break from the abyss of self-hate too. There are mistakes in our lives that we need to forgive ourselves for, just to survive. Even if they are as heavy as Parker's.3.5/5 stars
How to Save a Life
Author: Sara Zarr
Publication Date: 10/18/11
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young AdultsBlurb (GR):
Jill MacSweeny just wishes everything could go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she's been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends--everyone who wants to support her. And when her mom decides to adopt a baby, it feels like she's somehow trying to replace a lost family member with a new one.
Mandy Kalinowski understands what it's like to grow up unwanted--to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, one thing she's sure of is that she wants a better life for her baby. It's harder to be sure of herself. Will she ever find someone to care for her, too?
As their worlds change around them, Jill and Mandy must learn to both let go and hold on, and that nothing is as easy--or as difficult--as it seems.
Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about the many roads that can lead us home.Review:
Frankly, I was taken aback by the synopsis of Sara Zarr
's new novel when I first read it. Told from the perspectives of 2 teen girls - Mandy, who is pregnant and is considering to give up her baby for adoption, and Jill, the only daughter of a recently widowed woman who wants to take in Mandy's child - it felt just too cheaply 16 and Pregnant
to me. Plus there are some themes in YA that I absolutely have no interest in reading about - teen pregnancy is right there, at the top of that list. But I was proven once again that a good writer can crash my preconceived notions. In How to Save a Life Sara Zarr
offers something very special.
What Zarr is best as is character development. Both protagonists in this novel are fairly unlikable.
Jill is mourning her father. Essentially, she is a mean bitch. Yes, she has an excuse - her dad's death - but she is still a very unpleasant person - cynical, rude and off-putting.
And then there is Mandy. Mandy made me very uncomfortable at first. You know the type of people who throw themselves at you, needing attention, who will stick to you and will tell you everything about their lives and will consider you their best friend within a few minutes of knowing you? That is Mandy.
I don't know how Zarr does it, but once again she made me appreciate her characters that I first thought very difficult and unpleasant. Maybe not love them, but understand them and revel in their growth and transformation. These two girls' journey to accept and get the best out of each other was truly magical.
I believe How to Save a Life
is Sara Zarr
's best novel to date. It certainly made me cry harder than any other book of hers. One astute friend of mine pointed out the biggest flaw of this work to me - its utterly predictable outcome - and I absolutely agree with it, however the novel was so marvelously consuming that I didn't even realize that the ending was exactly the one I wished for. Is this a bad thing?5/5 stars
Tales of the Madman Underground
Author: John Barnes
Publication Date: 5/28/09
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Wednesday, September 5, 1973: The first day of Karl Shoemaker's senior year in stifling Lightsburg, Ohio. For years, Karl's been part of what he calls "the Madman Underground" - a group of kids forced (for no apparent reason) to attend group therapy during school hours. Karl has decided that senior year is going to be different. He is going to get out of the Madman Underground for good. He is going to act - and be - Normal. But Normal, of course, is relative. Karl has five after-school jobs, one dead father, one seriously unhinged drunk mother . . . and a huge attitude. Welcome to a gritty, uncensored rollercoaster ride, narrated by the singular Karl Shoemaker.Review:
At first, this books is hilarious, then it is sad, heartbreaking and scary and later it is inspiring. To think of it, my favorite kind of book.
Karl Shoemaker is determined to start his senior of high school being completely "normal." After spending years in mandatory group therapy with other madmen (abused, traumatized and plain crazy kids) after a disturbing rabbit killing incident, Karl for once wants to separate himself from the mad group and be a part of the "normal" school population. But can he have any claim to normality though? With 5 jobs, house full of cats and a "super super lady" mother who is constantly drunk and doped up, who brings a new boyfriend every night and steals Karl's hard-earned money to buy booze and pot? Hm, maybe not.
I'll be frank, there were a few times while reading this novel when I caught myself thinking - isn't it a bit over the top? can it really happen like this? can these things go on and no adult cares?
Karl's fellow madmen are a messed-up bunch indeed - a molested cheerleader, an emotionally unstable farmboy/jock, a batshit crazy girl who talks through her toy rabbit and who attempted to blind her younger brother, a gay boy who resorts to turning tricks when things at home are rough. But. But. But. There is so much color in these character, so much vibrancy, there is so much humor in Karl's foul-mouthed, horny, profane narrative, that I found myself overlooking the soapy parts of it.
Every year Printz
committee searches for new and unique voices in YA literature. Sometimes I dislike what they unearth and celebrate. But Karl Shoemaker and his Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973
will stay with me for awhile.
Looking For Alibrandi
Author: Melina Marchetta
Publication Date: 1992
For as long as Josephine Alibrandi can remember, it’s just been her, her mom, and her grandmother. Now it’s her final year at a wealthy Catholic high school. The nuns couldn’t be any stricter—but that doesn’t seem to stop all kinds of men from coming into her life.
Caught between the old-world values of her Italian grandmother, the nononsense wisdom of her mom, and the boys who continue to mystify her, Josephine is on the ride of her life. This will be the year she falls in love, the year she discovers the secrets of her family’s past—and the year she sets herself free.
Told with unmatched depth and humor, this novel—which swept the pool of Australian literary awards and became a major motion picture—is one to laugh through and cry with, to cherish and remember.
When I was in school, we routinely had to complete projects about our heritage. People asked (and still ask) “what are you?” meaning what is your nationality. A lot of these projects ended up with discussions about why third or fourth generation Americans still call themselves Irish, Italian, Korean, Filipino, Greek, etc. instead of saying they are American first. My blood is pretty watered down at this point—Irish, Swedish, German, Spanish…but it really doesn’t matter. I’m sure kids in other primarily immigrant countries had to do the same kinds of projects/presentations. I identify most with the mish-mash of cultural traditions that my immediate family celebrates and those of my dearest friends than those of any specific country from which my ancestors hailed. Sometimes I wish I was full-blooded something, or at least enough that I could be part of an ethnic community but until American Mutt becomes an ethnic category I think I’m out of luck. It is fun to go crazytime on St. Patrick’s Day, make Pepparkakor, and put sauerkraut on tons of stuff though. As much as I couldn’t connect with Josie’s Italian culture, I totally understood the Catholic school and community situation. It’s a close-knit community and everyone knows everyone else’s business. This is especially true when people have a lot of siblings. (Josie was perhaps lucky in that regard) And feeling guilty about everything? GUILTY! Anyway, I totally understood Josie’s confusion about her identity and her and several other characters’ confusion about their futures.
I kept putting this book off because it was the last contemporary YA Marchetta book that I’d yet to read, and I’ve been told many times that it was probably her weakest book. (which to me meant that it would still be better than 98% of the YA out there) Turns out I think it was my favorite Melina Marchetta reading experience to date. The narrator for the audiobook was perfect. I watched the movie the other day and I almost wished (slash actually did wish) that some of the characters had the narrator’s voice instead of the actors’ voices. I wish I could take back watching the movie because it felt trivial compared the book. I suppose that is what I truly enjoyed most about the book, though—Josie was living everyday life and getting up to no good with her friends, seeing a boy her family might disapprove of, and feuding with a girl at school but all the while she was thinking of her cultural identity, what she would do in the future, how people’s individual life choices affect where their paths go, and about the difference between sadness and pure despair. (I absolutely bawled during the death and funeral scenes)
I think I felt a real affinity to Josie as a student-- our experiences weren’t that far off. All-girl’s Catholic school. Uniforms. Nuns. She is much more of an overachiever than I was. I never cut school but I used to leave early when I had free periods to hang out at my sister’s apartment and play cards and watch movies. (oooo, rebel.) Anyway, I’m sure you all don’t give a crap about my high school antics and really, if you aren’t already reading Melina Marchetta’s books, I don’t know what I could do to persuade you. I could tell you that her books are beautifully written, that each one of them is emotional in a different way, that her characters are multidimensional, that she understands families and friendships more than most authors, and that each one of her books is a favorite of mine. All of that is true, and if you haven’t already started reading her back catalog, you are truly missing out. But if you’re still reading this I bet you’re my friend and you already have read one or more of her books. That’s one of the reasons you are awesome. (Yeah, you.)
Please Ignore Vera DietzAuthor: A.S. KingPublication Date: 10/12/10Publisher: KnopfBlurb (GR):
Vera's spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she's kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.
So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?
Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz
is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.Edit: For some reason, many people seem to be finding this review while looking for the setting of Please Ignore Vera Dietz--it is set in an unnamed town outside Philadelphia. Somewhere in Eastern Pennsylvania. (at least I can't remember the author ever mentioning the name.)Review:
Vera Dietz is a good person. This book is like watching Vera in the gallows being pelted with tomatoes until she is finally released to go on her way. Her lifelong best friend Charlie just passed away under somewhat mysterious circumstances, the town blames him for something which tarnishes his reputation, and Vera is being harassed by some of her schoolmates. The thing about Vera, and I absolutely loved her as a character, is that she just deals with it. She is angry with Charlie, she hates him and she loves him and she realizes it is possible to feel both of those feelings at the same time. She resents all the choices that he made that led up to his death and she resents herself for not doing something more to help him.
Vera’s father has been raising her as a single dad since his wife skipped town. The narration, which skips between Vera, her father, Charlie, and even a town architectural landmark, lets us know that the main characters are all worried about being foregone conclusions. Are we all destined to be like our parents or what everyone tells us we’ll become? I truly hope not, not because my parents aren’t lovely people but because that would be a sad state of affairs. Vera’s father Ken struggles with Vera drinking because he is an alcoholic. Vera worries about becoming like her absent mother. Charlie worried about becoming an abuser like his father. We all worry about something.
I can absolutely see why this book was a Printz Honor pick. Vera’s voice is very matter-of-fact but her contemplations and commentary were funny at times, poignant at others, and she keeps a level-head for almost the entire book. She deals with her missteps while still trying to figure out how to grieve for her best friend who was mostly lost to her even before he died. I’m reading another book right now where someone has just passed away (Minding Frankie
) and a character talks about that saying that a person remembered through memories or mentions is never truly gone. Or how Jacob Coote tells Josie Alibrandi that he dealt with his mother’s death by crying at the memories until one day, he could smile or laugh at them. (Looking for Alibrandi
) This book takes place before Vera has come to terms with the loss but by the end, it was clear that she was no longer using a band-aid to cover up a gaping wound. Please Ignore Vera Dietz
was very successful in audio format. The narrator’s Vera was perfect and I appreciated the fact that male narrators pitched in for the points in the story not narrated by Vera. I’m curious whether the descriptions of flow charts in the narration were actually flow chart images in the book so maybe someone who knows can chime in with an answer. I would absolutely recommend it in this format.
I’m excited to check out A.S. King’s upcoming Everybody Sees The Ants
. After reading a review that said it had similar themes, I’m hoping that it will be sufficiently different but retain a similar tone. This one was sad but weirdly hopeful. It was about 4.5/5 for me. 4.5/5 stars
Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publication Date: 12/2/10
Blurb (GR): Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris - until she meets Etienne St. Clair: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.
As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near - misses end with the French kiss Anna - and readers - have long awaited?
Boarding school story
Girl meets short boy with girlfriend
Cue teenage drama
Also it is in France, some of the parents are douchebags, and it is as enjoyable as cookies and milk.
Gone (Dream Catcher, #3)
Author: Lisa McMann
Publication Date: 2/9/10
Publisher: Simon Pulse (audio publisher: Brilliance Audio)
Blurb (GR): Janie thought she knew what her future held. And she thought she’d made her peace with it. But she can’t handle dragging Cabel down with her. She knows he will stay with her, despite what she sees in his dreams. He’s amazing. And she’s a train wreck. Janie sees only one way to give him the life he deserves: She has to disappear. And it’s going to kill them both.
Then a stranger enters her life — and everything unravels. The future Janie once faced now has an ominous twist, and her choices are more dire than she’d ever thought possible. She alone must decide between the lesser of two evils. And time is running out. . . .
Now, I'm not saying that length and quality are completely connected. (they're definitely not) All I am saying here is that the entire Dream Catcher series is shorter than many adult novels and is half the length of some middle grade series. There just isn't much going on--and there wasn't enough substance for me. Sure, I enjoyed the writing. Sure, I thought the story was interesting. But when it came to writing a review, I felt like there just wasn't enough
. This series is the first where I just do not understand the 5-star reviews. The gushing love out of every bodily crevice. (I take it back. I also don't really understand Mortal Instruments, Twilight, and a few others) Perhaps people just fell in love with the writing style and I missed out on it with the audiobooks. However, I read the last section of the first book (Wake
) and didn't love that.
I doubt anyone will be reading this review that hasn't read the preceding two books but here is a recap of the series in three sentences: In book one, Janey, who lives with her alcoholic mother, figures out that she falls into people's dreams and falls for a neighbor boy who is actually (SPOILERa narc for the copsEND SPOILER)
and she helps solve a drug ring. In book two, Janey and Cabel help figure out which teacher at school is sleeping with students and Janey comes to know more about the ramifications of her "gift." Book three just wraps things up...I guess. I just finished it yesterday and I had to actually think hard
about what actually happened plot-wise. Not much. I feel like a total jerk. The second book definitely has the most going for it--substance and story-wise.
Anyway, if you are at all curious about the series, I'd recommend it. It takes a nanosecond to read all three and they are enjoyable. Just don't be expecting anything earth-shattering. 3/5 stars
Cracked Up To Be
Author: Courtney Summers
Publication Date: 12/23/08
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Perfect Parker Fadley isn’t so perfect anymore. She’s quit the cheerleading squad, she’s dumped her perfect boyfriend, and she’s failing school. Her parents are on a constant suicide watch and her counselors think she’s playing games…but what they don’t know, the real reason for this whole mess, isn’t something she can say out loud. It isn’t even something she can say to herself. A horrible thing has happened and it just might be her fault. If she can just remove herself from everybody—be totally alone—then everything will be okay...The problem is, nobody will let her.Review:
Parker Fadley used to be head cheerleader. She had perfect grades and a perfect boyfriend. Fast forward a few months and she is drinking heavily, treating everybody like crap (though this hasn’t changed much), broken up with her boyfriend, and missing every single homework deadline. What happened to cause her decline?
When I was in high school, I had to wear a uniform. Since it was an all-girls Catholic school, my morning went something like this:
6:00—alarm goes off. Snooze.
6:15—alarm goes off. Snooze.
6:30—alarm goes off. Snooze
6:45—roll out of bed wearing t-shirt and boxers. Put on socks. Pick up polo shirt, kilt, and clogs from floor. Brush teeth.
7:00-7:30—drive to school. Eat granola bar. In school parking lot, put polo and kilt on over pajamas.
Proceed with day.
This is funny to me because Parker’s hungover/total mess description basically aligns with my every day of high school look. I don’t remember brushing my hair for four years. But, thankfully, I wasn’t such a psychological mess. The narrative in this book basically follows Parker in the present day but snippets of the night “it” happened are interspersed in the text until it all unravels. I found this both intriguing and annoying; the latter because the night kept building up little by little but what we already knew was repeated. (x, then x and y, then x and y and z) By the end, I was practically shouting at the book, “I GET IT! I KNOW XYZABCDEFGHI happened. Just frakking tell me already!” (though I already had it figured out)
But you’ll notice that I gave this one four stars. I love Courtney Summers
’ writing style. She writes the horrifically mean girl like no one else. (more prominently in Some Girls Are
) Her characters are realistically flawed and you can almost smell the desperation that drips off of nearly every one of them, whether they are desperate for friendship, love, or forgiveness for missteps. This book isn’t for everyone for that reason—it is a frustrating read because you see all of these characters trying to help Parker find what she is looking for and she walks all over them and manipulates their feelings. I don’t know if I could have the patience for her that several of her peers did, especially considering I didn’t have much patience for her as a reader.
The “love triangle” (if you can call it that) in this book was a little bizarre. Parker’s ex-boyfriend Chris is still in love with her and will basically do anything for her. The more-like-a-love-square is filled out with Parker, Chris’s new girlfriend who is Parker’s frenemy, and new guy Jake, who is attempting to get Parker to open up about what happened. Flash! Bang! Drama! Anyway, Courtney Summers lovers will find the same old awesome in this one: gritty topic, beautiful writing, a bitchity main girl, and a lightning fast read.
Shoutout to Cory, who interviewed Courtney Summers
last week at The Book Lantern
Author: Lili Wilkinson
Publication Date: 2/8/11
Blurb (GR): Ava has a secret. She is tired of her ultracool attitude, ultra-radical politics, and ultrablack clothing. She's ready to try something new—she's even ready to be someone new. Someone who fits in, someone with a gorgeous boyfriend, someone who wears pink.
Transferring to Billy Hughes School for Academic Excellence is the perfect chance to try on a new identity. But just in case things don't work out, Ava is hiding her new interests from her parents, and especially from her old girlfriend.
Secrets have a way of being hard to keep, though, and Ava finds that changing herself is more complicated than changing her wardrobe. Even getting involved in the school musical raises issues she never imagined. As she faces surprising choices and unforeseen consequences, Ava wonders if she will ever figure out who she really wants to be.
Humor, heart, and the joys of drama—on- and offstage—combine in Ava's delight-fully colorful journey of self-discovery.
So there's that.
Author: Shirley Marr
Publication Date: 5/1/10
Publisher: Black Dog Books (no US date yet)Blurb (GR):
Let me tell you my story.
Not just the facts I know you want to hear.
If I’m going to tell you my story,
I’m telling it my way.
Strap yourself in...
Eliza Boans has everything.
A big house.
A great education.
A bright future.
So why is she sitting in a police station confessing to murder?
ETA: (This blurb seriously rocks)Review:
I was hooked on this from the first page-- It was like reading about The Heathers murdering someone. A bunch of rich, spoiled high school girls are picked up for murder and the entire book flits back and forth between the main character, Eliza, harassing a psychologist who is attempting to elicit her story and flashbacks to the days leading up to the crime as Eliza actually shares the backstory. It was interesting to read a book in which we already know the killer from page one, nay, from the back cover. It did not ruin the excitement of the unraveling and I actually began to feel sympathy for Eliza despite her heinous personality. (okay, maybe only an inkling of sympathy but still…) Most of the characters in Fury are rather unlikeable but I still found a relationship to enjoy throughout the entire book—that of Eliza and Neil, childhood friends whose snarky but endearing friendship might not be as strong as it once was but the foundation is still there and I loved when Neil showed up in the storyline. I don't want to spoil anything but I just need to say that the ending was a little emotional for me...
The high school scenes in this book felt like a combination of Rushmore and Courtney Summers’s Some Girls Are and Cracked Up To Be—in that they seemed to live in Stepford and everyone was a bitch. Even the guys, who had names like Alistair Aardent. Speaking of names, what the heck was up with the plethora of Jane Austen names up in here? Eliza, Marianne, Ellanoir Dashwood (that is not a misspelling on my part)? Obviously Jane Eyre wasn’t Austen but Eliza’s nemesis is named Jane Ayres. Maybe I’m just being nitpicky but I would’ve enjoyed this book even more if everyone had original names and I didn’t get the feeling that Shirley Marr has a hard on for Jane Austen. (because seriously, a lot of us do)
The ending of this book is absolutely unsatisfying. And I can’t write about it without spoilers so I’m just not going to. Just know going into this one that some threads will be left hanging. Recently, Kat started a discussion about the differences between the Aussie and US legal systems when it comes to the treatment of minors. I was at a complete loss about a lot of what was going on—why did she have no advocate? Why was she being questioned without a parent or lawyer present? What are the procedural due process rights for Australians? I’m pulling out my hair here! Do they have a bail system? Too.many.legal.questions.
Anyway, I found this book entertaining. It is somewhere between 6 and 7 stars. I feel like this review bites the big one but whatever, you can’t win them all. (unless you are in Pleasantville before it turned to color…because everyone knows they DID win them all before Reese Witherspoon gave Paul Walker a BJ)
P.S. This cover rocks. Three cheers for relevancy!
P.P.S. Thanks to Missie at The Unread Reader
for putting this unobtainable Aussie book on tour in the US.3.75/5 stars