Girl Made of Stars

Finished Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“`I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.’

Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex-girlfriend and best friend since childhood, Charlie.

As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.”

YOU GUYS, THIS BOOK. It feels so important and so timely and just underscores the fact that basically every woman and teenage girl has a story to tell.

But what’s specific to this book is the way that Mara’s put in the middle. She knows her twin brother better than anyone else and can’t imagine that he’d ever rape someone. But she also knows Hannah (who’s one of her best friends) and she knows that Hannah would never make up being raped or exaggerate what happened, even if she and Owen got into a fight later.

So who do you believe?

This book is amazing. I love it and it broke my heart and made me furious. I think it’s the best thing she’s written yet (which, incidentally, is really saying something. I’ve read everything but her first—Suffer Love—and they’re all incredible).

Highly recommended, but you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

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Everybody, Always

Finished Everybody, Always by Bob Goff. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

What happens when we stop avoiding difficult people and simply love everyone? 

In his wildly entertaining and inspiring follow-up to the New York Times bestselling phenomenon Love Does, Bob Goff takes readers on a life-altering journey into the secret of living without fear, care, constraint, or worry. The path toward the outsized, unfettered, liberated existence we all long for is found in a truth as simple to say as it is hard to do: love people, even the difficult ones, without distinction and without limits.

Driven by Bob’s trademark hilarious and insightful storytelling, Everybody, Always reveals the lessons Bob learned—often the hard way—about what it means to love without inhibition, insecurity, or restriction. From finding the right friends to discovering the upside of failure, Everybody, Always points the way to embodying love by doing the unexpected, the intimidating, the seemingly impossible. Whether losing his shoes while skydiving solo or befriending a Ugandan witch doctor, Bob steps into life with a no-limits embrace of others that is as infectious as it is extraordinarily ordinary. Everybody, Always reveals how we can do the same.”

This is an area I struggle with. OK, to be fair, I struggle with faith a lot, but I especially struggle with how to love my enemies. If I could love them, they wouldn’t BE my enemies. (Yes, I get that that’s the point. I GET IT, OK? But how do you love Nazis?)

At any rate, this book is a huge encouragement to me. Bob Goff makes it seem so simple, and I actually have questions I’d like to text him. (He literally has his phone number in the book. I can’t even imagine wanting to do that. My number and address are on my business cards and I try not to even think about that.)

This book is seriously incredible. It will make you want to change your life and personality. Highly recommended.

Neverworld Wake

Finished Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Once upon a time, back at Darrow-Harker School, Beatrice Hartley and her six best friends were the cool kids, the beautiful ones. Then the shocking death of Jim—their creative genius and Beatrice’s boyfriend—changed everything.

One year after graduation, Beatrice is returning to Wincroft—the seaside estate where they spent so many nights sharing secrets, crushes, plans to change the world—hoping she’ll get to the bottom of the dark questions gnawing at her about Jim’s death. But as the night plays out in a haze of stilted jokes and unfathomable silence, Beatrice senses she’s never going to know what really happened.

Then a mysterious man knocks on the door. Blithely, he announces the impossible: time for them has become stuck, snagged on a splinter that can only be removed if the former friends make the harshest of decisions. Now Beatrice has one last shot at answers… and at life.

And so begins the Neverworld Wake.”

This is Marisha Pessl’s third novel and all three are remarkably different. The only things they have in common is that they are (a) gorgeously written and (b) incredibly hard to stop reading. This is no exception, and may actually be the best of the three.

Like Bea, I had no idea what was going on and it took me a bit to really understand things. It’s not that the plot is hard to follow; it’s more that there are so many things going on and it’s not as obvious as it seems at first.

This is hard to discuss without spoilers, so let me say that there is a lot to love here. The thing that will stay with me most, though, is the discussion toward the end about life and about friendship. I feel like a lot of lovely paragraphs go toward romantic love, but not as much about friendship. (Can’t we have both?)

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This is her first young adult novel, but I hope there are many more. (I ALSO hope that her fourth book comes out more quickly than this one did—there was a five year gap between Night Film and Neverworld Wake…which is actually better than the seven years between Special Topics in Calamity Physics and Night Film.)

Highly recommended.

 

Chaotic Good

Finished Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Cameron’s cosplay–dressing like a fictional character–is finally starting to earn her attention–attention she hopes to use to get into the CalTech costume department for college. But when she wins a major competition, she inadvertently sets off a firestorm of angry comments from male fans.

When Cameron’s family moves the summer before her senior year, she hopes to complete her costume portfolio in peace and quiet away from the abuse. Unfortunately, the only comic shop in town–her main destination for character reference–is staffed by a dudebro owner who challenges every woman who comes into the shop.

At her twin brother’s suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she’s shocked at how easily she’s accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Soon, Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the jerky shop-owner Brody, friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk Wyatt, handsome Lincoln, and her bro Cooper, dragged along for good measure.

But as her “secret identity” gets more and more entrenched, Cameron’s portfolio falls by the wayside–and her feelings for Lincoln threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious.”

I cannot even tell you how much I love this book. It’s so clever and just an absolute delight to read.

Cameron is fantastic. She’s got talent for days, and is the kind of person I’d want to be. Yes, she’s overwhelmed by the cyberbullying, but anyone would be. I think if anyone had to deal with even a tenth of the hatred aimed at Cam, they’d just end up catatonic. Yes, the pretending to be a guy is a little odd but it’s also really understandable, given her recent experiences.

And I love her relationship with her twin brother, Cooper. They snipe at each other but they’re also so close. (Between this and Save the Date by Morgan Matson, this is probably my summer for wishing I had siblings, because these books make it seem so fantastic.)

This book is exactly what I needed to read. And I cannot wait for whatever Whitney Gardner writes next. I hope it’s out soon.

Highly recommended.

Sunny

Finished Sunny by Jason Reynolds. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Sunny Lancaster is a winner. Wih-winner. When it comes to the 1600 meter, Sunny can beat anyone by, well, a mile. But for Sunny, winning is boring. Buh-boring. Truth is, Sunny doesn’t like running. Never has. What Sunny really loves… is dancing.

The boom-bap bap of his teacher. Aurelia’s dance routines beats the chick chick chick of his track meets any day. Sunny loves his team, though, so he can’t quit, but he also can’t be on a track team not run. And he definitely can’t be on a track team and dance. But it turns out track isn’t just chick chick chick. It’s also whoosh whoosh ahh.

If Sunny lets loose everything he’s been holding inside, will it be his best move ever, or will it be his biggest mistake?”

This is easily my favorite of Jason Reynolds’ Track series so far. While all have been great, this one is actually extraordinary.

Sunny’s mom died almost immediately after giving birth to him, and so he’s felt a lot of pressure his whole life. Because he’s basically responsible for her death (in his mind), he runs. Doing a marathon was his mom’s dream but because he’s great at running, it becomes his thing, too. Except…he really likes dancing.

This is about balancing what your family wants and what you want. And it’s about learning to forgive yourself. (This is phrased badly, because it’s clearly not Sunny’s fault that his mom died. But because he felt guilty and had to learn how to let that go, I’m not sure of a better way to put it.)

Jason Reynolds is writing some of the best and most important books out there now. If you haven’t read him, you need to start. (The Track series is middlegrade, but he really shines as a YA writer.)

You really need these books in your life. Highly recommended.

Screenshot

Finished Screenshot by Donna Cooner. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Skye’s social media game is always on point. Until her best friend, Asha, films an embarrassing video of Skye at a sleepover and posts it online. But Asha quickly deletes the post, so everything’s okay. Right? Then Skye gets an anonymous message. Someone has texted her a screenshot from the video. This person threatens to share the shocking photo online . . . unless Skye does whatever they say. Skye’s perfect image — and privacy — are suddenly in jeopardy. What will Skye do to keep the screenshot under wraps? And who is trying to ruin her life?”

This is an incredibly fast read. The summary makes it seem like it may be a thriller, but it’s more of a contemp YA with elements of suspense. (Skye is only ever in danger of being humiliated online; she’s never in actual peril.)

But this book is about far more than the question of who’s blackmailing Skye. It’s about the idea of social media in general, and how some friends are actually pretty awful for you. These are issues that everyone deals with (teenagers especially but I know that I can sometimes deal with this is an adult…high school doesn’t end in every single category of your life).

I love Donna Cooner’s books because they deal with these really important issues but in a very light way. It never feels preachy or heavy-handed. I think that could make it a lot more palatable to teens, because no one likes feeling lectured.

I’m also happy that it seems like her books are coming more frequently now. I’ve been a fan since Skinny, and was sad to wait years between her books. (But book three was out last year and this one just came out! Yay!)

This book was a complete blast to read. (You will probably guess the culprit, but there are a lot of other fun revelations along the way.) Recommended.

Merciless IV: Last Rites (mini-review)

Finished Merciless IV: Last Rites by Danielle Vega.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The fourth book of the scream-worthy cult series The Merciless combines Stephen King level terror with true crime stories like the Amanda Knox case.

The ropes tighten on Berkley Hubbard’s wrists. Blood drips down her fingers and lands with a smack on the cold floor of the church basement. She’s trapped, bound, and petrified by fear. A knife punctures her fragile skin as Berkley’s captors search for the mark of the devil on her body. They say they want to save her–drive the devil away and cleanse her soul–but will she make it out alive?

When Berkley arrived in Italy a week ago, the last thing she expected was that she’d end up fighting for her life. After spending six months at the Institute, confined to a room with the dangerous-yet-alluring Sofia Flores, Berkley was certain that a vacation in Italy with her two best friends would be the perfect getaway. But Berkley is hiding a terrible secret, one that threatens to undo everything. As she’s forced to face her wicked past, she learns that the devil is always watching, and no one is coming to save her.”

This is the latest installment of an insanely creepy series. I think this may be the weakest one, but ultimately that doesn’t matter. It’s still hard to put down and it’s also incredibly unsettling.

If you’re in the mood for something that will send shivers down your spine (even during a heat wave), this is for you. (But read the other books first. This could probably work as a stand-alone, but you’ll get more out of it if you know who Sofia Flores is first.)

 

See You on a Starry Night

Finished See You on a Starry Night by Lisa Schroeder.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Juliet has just moved to a beachside town with her newly separated mother and her moody older sister. When she meets their new neighbor, Emma, the girls form an instant bond. Emma’s big family takes Juliet in, and the girls have fun together — starting with the night they throw bottles with secret messages into the sea.

Then someone writes back to Juliet’s message. An email arrives, inviting her to join the Starry Beach Club. All she has to do is make someone else’s wish come true.

So Juliet and Emma set off to help as many other people as they can. It’s fun! But as Juliet spends more and more time away from home, enjoying her new town and Emma’s family more than her own mom and sister, she starts feeling lost. It’s been easy to find others to help. But maybe her star would shine a little brighter if she brought it closer to home.”

I am not a huge fan of being in transit. I love being on vacation, but I hate the part where I’m actually traveling. I mention that because I ended up spending my most recent plane ride reading this book, and it was an excellent decision on my part.

Juliet is dealing with a lot of complicated things. Her parents are splitting up, which is hard enough. Her mom is moving (with Juliet and her sister, Miranda) to a new town where she doesn’t know anybody AND it’s in the middle of the school year, so everyone will already have friends. And her sister is constantly busy so Juliet is on her own a lot.

But things start to turn around soon, because Juliet quickly makes a friend. The two girls quickly bond (and seriously, I love Emma and her family SO MUCH). This book is completely sweet but the thing I like most about it is that you can feel Lisa Schroeder’s compassion for her characters. I’m reading this as an adult and it would be easy to dismiss Juliet as being moody and melodramatic but you can really feel that her tendency to get really angry really fast is because she’s confused at her family splintering and the fact that all of a sudden, she only talks to her dad on the phone or via email. Her whole life has completely changed and she didn’t have a say in it. Because of the way it’s written, it’s impossible to have anything but compassion for Juliet.

Like every other book Lisa Schroeder has written, this one is a must-read. Highly recommended.

Luisa: Now and Then

FInished Luisa: Now and Then by Carole Maurel. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Amazon):

“At 32, Luisa encounters her 15-year-old self in this sensitive, bold story about self-acceptance and sexuality. Single, and having left behind her dream to become a renowned photographer, she is struggling to find out who she is and what she wants. In order to help and guide her younger self, she must finally face herself and her past. When Luisa finds herself attracted to a female neighbor, things become even more complicated… Insightful and funny, this is a feel-good coming-of-age story.”

This was the last book I got at ALA and the first one I read. I’m a new fan of graphic novels and this one sounded amazing.

It’s incredibly specific (Luisa—at both ages—is someone who’s not entirely sure who she is or what she wants) but I think it’s also universal. Many of us can probably relate to the idea that we aren’t who we thought we’d be when we became adults. Some of us have better lives, sure, but there are probably also major disappointments that our teenage self would have to cope with.

But more than that, this is also about coming to terms with your sexuality. For a variety of reasons, teenage Luisa couldn’t admit that she liked girls. (There’s no label here, but I’m guessing she’s bi, because Adult Luisa does discuss dating men. Not that it matters, necessarily, but representation matters and I feel like we don’t see much with bi protagonists.)

When I was talking to the woman at the booth, she mentioned that she thought this was exactly what the world needed right now. It’s a bold statement but now that I’ve read Luisa, I agree. We all need to come to terms with who we are. And we also need to try and evolve in the right direction.

This is an amazing story with absolutely gorgeous images. Highly recommended.

Save the Date

Finished Save the Date by Morgan Matson.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait—for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster—all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster.

There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo.

Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractingly…cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.”

There are a few authors whose books automatically feel like summer to me. Morgan Matson’s books are the perfect example. They’re completely fun and always make me feel like I’m on vacation (whether or not I am).

Save the Date is no exception. What IS unusual about this book is that it centers around a family wedding. There are friends and a little bit of a romance, but this book is all about the Grant family. As a result, this book feels completely different than a lot of other YA novels out now.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with Charlie’s family. (We also see a few strips of the comic based on them. The comic is fictional, but it feels real. If you grew up reading the Sunday comics section, you’ll probably swear you actually did see them as a kid.)

This book is completely captivating and I hope for companion novels centered around Charlie’s siblings.

Highly recommended.