I guess you could say I’ve taken a bit of a break from young adult novels in the past few weeks, (well, in terms of usual ratio,) but I saw the movie trailer for Nicola Yoon’s Everything Everything, and thought to myself “why the heck haven’t I read this yet?” Too impatient to wait on the library’s hold list, I picked up a copy at Sam’s Club, and dove right in. Maybe I’m off my game, but I was thrown by the plot twist. And I LOVE that. I genuinely love when I’m surprised by the words on a page, and am so overwhelmed absorbing the information I didn’t expect to see, I have to pause. Everything Everything tells the story of teenager Madeline who has lived her whole life in the same house, breathing filtered air, with only in-person contact with her mom and her nurse (who takes her stats and vitals all day,) and a time or two a visit from a teacher – because she is allergic to everything. Can you imagine? Though, maybe it’s like some things in life – when you haven’t experienced them yet, you don’t know to miss them. You can’t miss the smell of the ocean, if the salty air has never wafted below your nose, and you can’t miss the taste of a steaming hot slice of pizza burning the roof of your mouth, if those ingredients have never touched your tongue. You probably won’t daydream all day about holding hands with a boy, if you haven’t interacted with one in real life. Maddy lives life vicariously through the pages of the books she devours, and is entertained by movie nights, and made-up board games with her mom. Life as Maddy knows it, changes when cute, mysterious, Olly and his family move in next door. How convenient their bedroom windows face one another. What starts with hand gestures, and condensation notes on window panes, leads to e-mails and the ole trusty instant messenger, and then opens to a whole other world of experiences beyond what Maddy could have imagined on her dreamiest days. Armed with a credit card, and a mischievous streak of braveness not to let her life pass her by, Maddy makes some huge decisions – taking her life and all of it’s possibilities into her own hands. Everything, Everything is a story of love and friendship, trust and betrayal, adventure and risk, and listening to your gut. I know I’m late to the game, but this was a fantastic read, and I found it refreshing. If you haven’t yet, check out this great novel. (I have to admit, I’m excited to see what they’ve done with the movie adaptation!)
I was curious of other reader’s feedback, so I looked at some reviews on Amazon. One person shared: “Look, I’m stoked people are even still writing books, let alone reading them AND sometimes buying the actual book. However, this was just boring.”
Unfortunately, I had to agree.
The Girls focuses on fourteen year old Evie, in the summer of the late 60’s. Bored with her only friend Connie, frustrated with her mom and her string of new boyfriends, desperate and eager for attention she finds herself falling in with a cult. This story line had strong potential, but in my opinion fell flat. The descriptions of the characters, though flowery in their prose, brought us no closer to understanding any of them. The most we got were Evie’s obsessive sexual fantasies about (basically the ring leader of the woman in the group – though they claimed to live belonging to no one with an equal flow of love in all directions) Suzanne. The story is told in flashbacks of present day Evie – older, timid, living a quiet life alone. Basically the whole book just felt like a shell of a story. We don’t really learn much about Evie’s life after that summer, (she wasn’t connected to the crimes committed), except that she made a few friends at boarding school that year, and later in life she had a few different roommates. Even during the summer with the cult and it’s leader, Russell (baring uncanny descriptive similarities to Manson) the flashbacks are lacking as well. Listen, I wasn’t looking for some gruesome telling of the murders, or sexual assault but I just felt confused the whole time. The story didn’t really seem to have much to do with the bizarre practices themselves. Evie seemed to mock them, and question them regularly (mostly internally,) but it was just a means for her to be able to follow Suzanne around and be close to her. Sure – if this wasn’t fictional, it’d be great that some young teenage girl didn’t get completely sucked in. But how much reality is there to the idea that she just rode her bike to hang out with these people on a ranch, occasionally spending the night, but sometimes returning home in time for dinner? It felt non-committal.
Hopefully the other titles on my “to-read” list for 2017 are less disappointing. I know that mine is not necessarily a popular opinion regarding this book. Some people sing the praises of Emma Cline for her “beautiful style.” I wouldn’t personally recommend this book, but I still think it’s good to gather your own opinions, of what is being buzzed about.
(Image from Amazon.)
I have had a fascination with realistic historical fiction books since I was a little girl reading the Dear America series. Anything involving the 1940’s, and World War 2 particularly peaks my interest. A few years ago I read Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, and I knew that it would be a rare thing for me to find similar novels that left an impression on me the way these did. Since I try to keep up with the buzz in the YA world, I was aware of Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray, but I wasn’t sure if I was emotionally prepared for the read. Well, about a month ago after reading a variety of different subject matter (such as The Hopefuls, Luckiest Girl Alive, and Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend) I stumbled upon BSoG at the library and figured why not give it a try? Oh my goodness, what a treat. Between Shades of Gray tells a really beautiful story of one girl’s struggle to hold on to hope, in the face of such horrifically dark and trying times. Lina is young, intelligent, inquisitive, and her sharp tongue speaks of her brutal observations (though sometimes she is able to restrain herself). The fact that that she shares her story through the eyes of an artist, provides a beautiful angle to the icy events. There are several references to flashbacks of simpler times, girls days shopping with her mom, the joy of splashes in a lake in the moonlight, laughing til your stomach hurts, ice cream on a hot summer day, the comfort of a hot cooked meal around a dinner table with family. They’re all reminders of sweet moments we might take for granted in our everyday lives. These people didn’t expect for their worlds to be torn apart overnight, separated from family, some to never be seen again, and uncertain fates. While the subject matter is incredibly heavy there’s a way that Lina’s perspective gives your heart wings while you’re reading. Her strength and persistence lets readers emotions rise above the despair while reading. This novel is superb and I can’t recommend it enough. This is one of those stories that my heart felt like it was shattering while I was reading it, and I definitely shed some tears, but there was also the light of hope picking me back up again.
I will shamefully admit that prior to reading Between Shades of Gray, I had really limited knowledge about Stalin’s deportation of Lithuania and the Baltics during the Russian invasion. This novel pushed me to start researching after I finished, and I was surprised to find that there is still so little communicated from these people that were sent away to work camps and prisons for years, and if they did return to their homes only to find that they were occupied by soldiers who had assumed their identities?! And the fact that they were threatened if they were to speak out against what happened to them? It’s another reminder how important it is to learn from our past, and not let the same atrocities be committed again.
(Image from Amazon.)
Of course, when Reese Witherspoon recommends a book, I’m all ears. I saw the praise for Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, and immediately put myself on the wait list at the library. I was instantly drawn into the world of Ani in all of its splendor, but also hazy secrets. Readers learn quickly that some events earlier in Ani’s life led her to fight for a life as a successful, beautiful, thriving woman – someone who would build armor from the admiration and jealousy of others. Ani is living in Manhattan, in her late twenties, engaged to a handsome man of Wall Street, and writing provocative columns for a women’s magazine. It’s unclear at first what events drove Ani to revent invent herself into the salty, cut throat young woman, wanting to be superior to those around her but as her story unravels – there’s a tenderness, a vulnerability that makes everything make sense. I’ll say at first all of the high-end label name dropping threw me. I felt like it was an unnecessary tool that didn’t have high impact on the plot but eventually it grew to be less of a distraction, as I was more consumed by the emotional details of the story. Eventually the story starts alternating between Ani’s high school experiences in a small, prestigious prep school and her current life in the city. That’s when things start getting really gritty. I’ll be honest, usually I consider myself to be a pretty observant reader and I can sense a plot twist coming. This one took my breath away. I literally felt my hand fly to my mouth with a sharp intake of breath, unprepared for the turn of events on the page. Now that really made me admire Knoll’s writing style. She’d already captivated this reader’s attention, but then she drug me even deeper into the story unable to look away as hard as it was at times to push through the sharp details. I know that this is a vague telling of a novel that I’m recommending with such a high regard but I was so struck by the element of surprise in this story that I would hate to ruin that reading experience for anyone else.
I subscribe to LennyLetter and several months ago, I saw Jessica Knoll had penned her own, “What I Know.” I saw the description, but I declined reading the letter in its entirety, until I’d read Luckiest Girl Alive. Well, after finishing the book last time I went ahead and read the letter, and I have goosebumps just thinking about it. Click here to check it out.
For those of you who have already read Luckiest Girl Alive, thoughts? Comments? I’ve also seen that Witherspoon optioned the movie rights, and Knoll wrote the screenplay so I’m curious to see how that pans out!
You might not be expecting it at first, but this is definitely a powerful read. Knoll gives TifAni a powerful voice in this story, and she writes in a way that captures a plethora of emotions she cycles through – lust, fear, guilt, remorse, uncertainty – it’s all there. I highly recommend you add it to your list. Happy Reading!
(Image from Amazon.)
So more about what Extraordinary Means is actually about. Seventeen year old Lane has been sent to special school, kind of like a boarding school, kind of like a summer camp – except here there is one link that bonds all the students together, and it’s not s’mores and kumbaya. All the kids at Latham have TB, albeit different strains so different levels of the way this diagnosis takes its toll on their bodies. On their good days the students might seem like normal teenagers, but whether it’s a fitful night of coughing that results in bloody pillowcases, or just the lack of energy and dark circles around their eyes – these kids are no longer able to lead something similar to their pre-TB lives. Away from their family and friends, sports and activities with no cure in sight their futures are uncertain.
Although what they considered “normal” lives are disrupted, and they can’t even continue a regular study path of school work – Lane and his new found friends have found a way to make the most of their time, and add some fun to their days. Who would have thought he’d find a familiar face at Latham? But why does this person seem to be so cold towards him? Even with a rocky start Lane will soon have new relationships develop, friendships evolve, and a spark of romance. The scary thing is no one ever knows how much time they have left – but Lane and his friends are cramming a lot of life in their days. Extraordinary Means is a heartwarming story that’s a reminder of the frailty of life, and the power of friendships in any circumstance in life. Schneider has shown us once again what a gift she has to leave such an impressionable story on the hearts of her readers.
(Image from Goodreads.)