Wow. So, it hasn’t been too long since I completely gushed over Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King. Well, of course when I got my hands on a copy of Goodbye Days, I absolutely loved it as well. Like, seriously. One of those books where you procrastinate the important thing you should be doing (in my case – packing,) because you just cannot stop reading. In this gripping novel by Zentner, we meet teenager Blade living in Nashville, TN. The story opens with Blade attending yet another one of his best friend’s funerals. That enough is a shock, right? Well, unfortunately – it’s the third funeral. Blade’s best friends Mars, Blake, and Eli were killed in a car accident while he was at work. The accident occurred when Blade was sending a text message to the friend driving, Mars. The families of Blade’s friends each respond a bit differently to the tragedy. Some of them are kind, open, and forgiving (at least in trying to console the fault he’s placed on himself,) but others are not so comforting – casting off blame, guilt, and bitterness. Blade’s parents are loving and kind but he doesn’t have very open communication with them. He’s close with his older sister, Georgia but she’s about to head off to college, so he needs to confide in someone. In comes Jesmyn, who was Eli’s girlfriend. She moved to Nashville over the summer, and had met Eli at a music camp. It’s an absolutely awful circumstance to bring two people together, but Jesmyn and Blade both need someone to talk to, someone who can at least slightly get what they’re going through. (It doesn’t help that they go to school with Eli’s twin sister who definitely blames Blade for everything.) So, not only is Blade trying to navigate the pain and guilt of suddenly losing the three closest people in his life all at once – he has a giant black legal cloud hanging over his head. Mars dad decides to pursue a criminal investigation. You’d probably be having panic attacks to if you were him, right? Well, at least Georgia talks some sense into Blade (or forces some on him basically) by taking him to her therapist, so he is at least talking to a professional. In the meantime, Blade spends time with Blake’s grandmother. She is grieving immensely as well. It makes me tear up just thinking about her scenes in the book. Blake’s mom was in no position to have a child, so when Blake was younger his grandma basically rescued him from a bad situation. Blake and his Nana were a team, that’s for sure. Blade tried to help around the house in ways that Blake used to, as if the tasks could help alleviate some of his guilt but also because he truly cared for Nana as well. On one of these days, is when Blake’s Nana proposed the idea of a “goodbye day” where she and Blade would do all the things that she wished she could’ve done with Blake on a last day together. The emotional enormity of such a situation is overwhelming even to consider. It’s just as literally heart-wrenching as it sounds, but it’s still…a journey you want to go on with him. Zentner writes this story in such a beautiful way. You experience Blade’s grief with him, and his stumbles as he tries to navigate life, writer’s block, planning college essays even though he’s devastated that his best friends don’t have those futures to look forward to anymore. This book is absolutely heart-wrenching, but also beautiful, and complicated and doesn’t that all just describe how life is, anyway? It amazes me the stories Zentner has within him to share, and the way they navigate such huge life topics that feel like they can swallow you whole. When you finish reading though, you’re not left in a pit of despair, there’s hope and there’s growth, and there’s the progression of life because you’ve gotta keep going. One of those reminders you can’t hold everything in, and it shows how art and communication, and reaching out, and sometimes just being yourself in whatever emotion you’re feeling – right in that moment, is how you keep taking baby steps forward. This is a heavy story, but a wonderful one – I highly recommend you check it out!
Is it really summer if you don’t read a Sarah Dessen book? YOu may recall that Dessen’s latest Once and For All was on my list of anticipated reads for this year. Now that I’ve read it, I just want to be immersed in the story again. As you know, I’m not a fan of formulaic writing (exactly why you don’t want to get me started on Nicholas Sparks books.) Although some may think that Dessen’s novels are predictable, I on the other hand am pleasantly surprised by her plot twists. There was a gut punch in Once and For All that I wasn’t expecting, (which is sometimes a delicious surprise, but here I was biting my lip, and trying not to cry.) Okay, okay I’m getting ahead of myself. Once and For All chronicles the summer before Louna goes off to college. Her mom owns a wedding planning business with her best friend William. Louna is used to not getting caught up in the “magic” of weddings, constantly seeing the bridezillas or the behind the scenes meltdowns, but you have to wonder how a teenager got so jaded. What happened that makes her question if true love is real? Well, you’ll find out. I love that in this story, we’re introduced to Louna’s best friend Jilly, and the trouble maker ADD son of a client Ambrose – both of their personalities balance out Louna’s serious nature. Ambrose is completely unpredictable, and Jilly is all about “living your best life” (however you do that!) As the story unravels we learn about Louna’s past, maybe what makes her skeptical or hesitant, and we’re also reminded that people aren’t always what they seem to be on the surface. It’s a great summer read, as Dessen finds a way to take us back to her favorite endless possibility beach town, Colby, and even teenagers working hard in the summer have to let lose once in a while. I read this entry on Sarah Dessen’s website where she wrote about some of the things that inspired Once and For All (two babysitters simultaneously planning their own very different weddings.) Then I stumbled across this passage, which not only sums up the heart of Once and For All, but it’s also pretty accurate about life:
As I started to think about all this, I began taking it wider, to the idea of how many “perfect” things we want, or are allowed. I’d had everything I wanted with SAINT ANYTHING: maybe I’d never get that again. Louna, my narrator, has this amazing first love and thinks that’s her only chance, her once and for all. But life goes on, even after those walking into the sunset moments. We can’t always have a perfect day, or a perfect experience. We need to take those great moments, though, and appreciate them. It’s tough for us perfectionists, but it’s true. The best stories, I have learned, often come when things don’t go as you planned. (source)
A friend recommended The Selection series by Kiera Cass with the premise of “it’s like a combination of The Hunger Games and The Bachelor.” Okay, so I don’t watch The Bachelor, but I am a twenty something living in America, so I vaguely know what’s up. Also, as you probably remember I was absolutely obsessed with The Hunger Games. I’ll admit, THG holds a high spot in my heart, so I was a little weary going into this one, but my goodness was I wrong. Cass weaves an intriguing story, mixing romance, friendship, loyalty to self and country all into a web of addicting pages. America Singer is a teenager leaving in a future country long after what we know as America doesn’t exist anymore. Illea is ruled by a monarchy, and it’s time for Prince Maxon to find a wife for him to rule the kingdom in the future with. They use a process called The Selection where women are chosen from each region, to come and live in the castle and go through a dating process very similar to The Bachelor. It was never really part of America’s plan to actually be a contestant in the Selection. She thought she’d continue her life in her caste as a 5, singing at lavish parties, and marry her childhood best friend. Of course, life has its own unexpected twists and turns. I don’t use the word addicting lightly. As soon as I finished The Selection, I went online and saw the e-library had The Elite available and downloaded it immediately. Basically, my obsession continued through the rest of the series, along with the final two of the five that take place after a time jump.Cass writes so vividly that I could easily see this series being adapted for a television show, (which I think it was a while ago.) I would also throw in, if you’re a fan of Reign you would probably also enjoy these. If you’re looking for something fun to read that will keep you on the edge of your seat, I highly recommend this series.
E. Lockhart is one of my favorite authors. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is one of my favorite novels. Her characters are typically independent, witty, strong, smart, inspiring young women and their perspective on life and adventures is such a breath of fresh air. Being that I follow about a zillion YA authors on Twitter who were all buzzing about it, I was in the camp of complete anticipation to get my hands on a copy of her latest, We Were Liars. I was following the Tumblr (check it out for awesome quotes, photos, playlists and more) with all it’s bits and teasers, so I knew there was a certain mystique surrounding the story, and I didn’t want the suspense to be ruined before I could read it. I pre-ordered the book, and brought it with me to the beach one weekend, and I read it in a few beach sittings. It’s not my favorite Lockhart novel, but there’s still something…special about it. The curiosity sparked by the mystery was enough fuel for me to keep reading. Plus, the gorgeous description of the Sinclair cousins, and friends? Those beautiful words were enough to suck me in immediately. (Example: “He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. I could have looked at him forever.”) It’s funny because the characters are so articulately and artistically described in these acute details, but at the same time you don’t necessarily feel like you know their depth. At first this frustrated me as a reader, but later I came to think that it may have been more of a story-telling technique, intentional in its design. I don’t want to spoil the aura of surprise with this one, but I’ll say it’s a story with much more than meets the eye. Perhaps you pick it up and think it will be about a snotty rich family’s summers in the Vinyard, or first love, or teenage rebellion and careless days spent in the cloak of invincibility. Maybe it’s all of those things, but it’s more…there’s the flip side of love in loss, and there’s the struggle of navigating uncertainty in friendship and relationships, there’s the drama of coming to terms with the fact that our family members are humans with their own flaws and mistakes, and it’s about the moments that shape and define who we are and what we will become. Summer may be coming to an end, but there’s always time to pick up this book and jump right back in. Be prepared to get attached to these characters, and maybe for a little bit of shock and surprise. At one point, I felt like I’d been punched in the chest by surprise, and while that caught me off guard, I also wanted to applause the success of plot twists. Definitely a READ THIS! recommendation.
(via We Were Liars Tumblr)