Showing posts with label Mental-Health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mental-Health. Show all posts

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review: This Darkness Mine

"All imperfections glare in the spotlight."
-Mindy McGinnis, This Darkness Mine

For all appearances, Sasha Stone's life is perfect: she's first chair clarinet, at the top of her class, and has a loyal boyfriend. Her path to Oberlin is still in place, at least until Isaac Harver comes into her life. When she's around him, she's trouble; when she learns that she absorbed her twin in her mother's womb, she's convinced it's her sister's heart that's in love with him. Sasha quickly begins to lose control on the perfect life that she had--will she be able to get it back?

I'm reviewing this a bit out of order because ever since I read this book, I needed to write something about it. It's....weird. Mindy McGinnis also wrote Female of the Species, which I absolutely loved, but this book was very different from that, for me. While the writing is strong and well-done, the overall effect of this book is odd, which you can definitely see by looking at the other reviews.

Though the plot itself is odd (and at times violently graphic), there's a message underneath the text, showing how terrible people can be to others. In fact, I would argue, the main character has almost no redeeming qualities. As you learn more about Sasha, the more you dislike her. She might be one of the least likable narrators that I have ever read, which most likely contributed to the fact that I feel so mediocre about this book.

The plot of this book is twisty and shocking, and the less you know about it, the better. There were parts, however, where I went back a few pages to re-read, because I thought: "did that really happen?" Every time, it did. It made the plot confusing at times, because some of the twists were jarring, but this didn't take away from the quality of the writing. The writing is extremely well done, I just didn't connect with the characters or the plot, taking away much of my connection to the narrative.

Overall, if you're looking for something weird, dark, and shocking, this book would probably be for you. For me, it's probably not something I'll ever revisit.

3/5 stars

Friday, December 8, 2017

Review: Girl in Pieces

"That's how hearts get broken, you know. When you believe in promises."
-Kathleen Glasgow, Girl in Pieces

Charlie uses pain in order to forget all of the people that she's lost over time. Her father, to the river. Her best friend. Your mother. Each loss pushes Charlie further to the edge, so she learns how to forget. But as she starts to heal from her trauma, forgetting might push her back to where she began.

This is another book that I listened to on audio, and I think the story worked beautifully in that format. The narrator of the audiobook, Julia Whelan, gives a unique voice to Charlie, while still giving unique voices to the other characters. The subject matter didn't make this the easier book to listen to, but it was still beautiful.

Cutting is a topic that is often covered in young adult literature, but this book felt the most realistic to me (of the ones that I've read). Glasgow has crafted realistic, flawed characters struggling through the act of recovery, struggling through their triggers. This is an important book for many teens to read because of how carefully Glasgow tackles the issue of mental illness, and how realistic it truly is for a lot of the teen population.

The author's note at the end of the book makes the book all the more personal, offering support to girls that may be in the same position. Though this book isn't plot heavy, the characters aptly make up for it. Each character has their own challenges to overcome, but they're not defined by their mental illnesses, which is so important for the book's readers. 

The combination of the characters and the delicacy with which the issues are tackled makes this one of the better young adult books on mental illness. I'd recommend also picking it up on audiobook, if you can. It's definitely worth a listen!

4.5/5 stars

Review: They Both Die at the End

"No matter how we choose to live, we both die at the end."
-Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End

Both Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio receive a call from Death-Cast that tells them they're going to die today. They both download the Last Friend app, desperate for a friend on their last day. Together, they're able to conquer their fears and pack a bunch of new adventures into their last day on Earth.

Death was a theme in the books I read this summer, apparently. Adam Silvera is currently the king of writing emotionally devastating books, because every single book he's written makes you feel. He has a way of writing this book that gives you hope that maybe Mateo and Rufus will find a way to defy the Death-Cast call even though you know that that's probably not the case. This is an Adam Silvera book, after all. You often end the book with a lot of different emotions.

The characters in this book are so relatable and well-developed, with characteristics that I think many teens will be drawn to. What's interesting about this book, and connected it to More Happy Than Not, was that we get no explanation as to how we get this technology that predicts death, it's just there. And while that might be frustrating and confusing to some people, I think Silvera's writing allows us to just accept that there's this new technology, and new vocabulary, which allows us to focus on the characters and the story.

Adam Silvera's books are so emotionally driven, and I'll definitely keep reading everything that he puts out. None of his books have disappointed me so far, and I hope that continues to be the case in the future. A beautifully written story about living life to the fullest.

5/5 stars

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Review: More Than This

More Than This Patrick Ness

"A's a world all on its own too. A world made of words where you live for a while."
-Patrick Ness, More Than This

Seth Wearing drowns in the cold ocean coast off of the state of Washington, alone. Suddenly, he's awake, desperately thirsty, but alive. But why? What is the place he has woken up in? As he struggles to figure out where he is, if it's real, hope starts to snake its way in. Hope that Seth hasn't felt in a long time.

All I can say about this book is wow. It's hard to provide a summary for it because doing so would give a lot of the plot away, but it's way more than you expect it to be. Like most Patrick Ness novels, this one transforms as you read it, pulling you into the story and not letting go until the very end. And then you don't even want it to end. Patrick Ness has quickly become one of my favorite YA authors because he has yet to disappoint.

The first thing that blew me away about this novel was Ness's description of Seth's drowning in the beginning. It feels so realistic, the small details all coming together to fully encompass the reader in Seth's death. And what a way to begin the novel. Man. The emotions started there and they never stopped coming. It's a commentary on perception and reality and makes you think and it's everything that I love in a novel.

All in all, this book was an intense emotional journey filled by a cast of vivid characters in an absolutely desolate setting that makes you question the difference between reality and perception. Ness delivers an absolutely strange story that despite its desolate setting presents an ultimate message of hope. Definitely a must-read.

5/5 stars

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Depression Awareness Month: A Book List

Mental illness is still something that is widely stigmatized by society, especially in the United States. People often trivialize mental illness as something that can easily be gotten over with some exercise, proper sleep, and a good dose of nature (like this widely used meme). While these ideas are generally used for all mental illnesses, one of the ones most often considered to be "cured" by these is depression. Most people understand depression as just an inherent sadness all the time, but it is really much more than that.

Depression, or major depressive disorder, at its core causes feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable. It can lead to changes in appetite, troubles sleeping or sleeping too much, increased fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty thinking or concentrating, and even thoughts of suicide or death. Novels that accurately portray these feelings, instead of just feelings of sadness, create mirrors and windows for those to understand the true effects of depression.

Since October is considered Depression Awareness Month, I came up with a list of books that I think have some of the most realistic portrayals of depression. Realistic portrayals in literature help to combat the negative stigma that is presented in the media, and also helps to show readers that they aren't alone.

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Vizzini nails what it's like to be checked in to a mental hospital in this novel, not to mention he gives readers a positive portrayal of someone taking action in order to save their own life. Vizzini himself struggled with depression, and though his story didn't end happily, his works exist to hopefully inspire others and show them that they are not alone.
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

This book deals with a variety of real-life issues, depression just being one of them. Charlie, and his fellow cast of characters, deal with their problems in a realistic way, and eventually end up getting help. This book will always hold a special place in my heart, and I think it's inspiring for a lot of people.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

This book features two teens that are struggling with suicidal thoughts, using each other to pull themselves out of their darkness. The characters in this book are what make it so successful, pulling the reader's quickly into their stories and showing that reaching out to someone might just save your life.

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Told in letters much like Perks of Being a Wallflower, Laurel deals with her issues through writing letters to famous people. Her act of writing is somewhat therapeutic for her, showing readers that there are many different ways to work through their emotions.

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron

This book features James going into therapy to help work through his depression, something not really depicted in the books listed here (except for It's Kind of a Funny Story). Through his therapy sessions, we are able to learn more about his life and what finally drove him to get help.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to realistic portrayals of depression in young adult literature; for more resources, I would check out this list from Buzzfeed and this list from Goodreads. I do think we're at a period of time where young adult literature is becoming stronger than ever, and I'm so happy to be able to read all of these fantastic books are being created.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, seek out these resources and know that you are never alone.

The Trevor Project
Suicide Hotline
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: History Is All You Left Me

History Is All You Left Me Cover
"History is nothing. It can be recycled or thrown away completely. It isn't this sacred treasure chest I mistook it to be. We were something, but history isn't enough to keep something alive forever."
-Adam Silvera, History Is All You Left Me

Griffin doesn't know how to cope with his best friend and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dying in a tragic drowning accident. Though Griffin hasn't seen much of Theo since he moved to California for school and started dating Jackson, he believed that they would one day find their way back to each other. Now, that future has gone far off course and Griffin is quickly falling into a downward spiral. His obsessions are getting worse and he is lashing out at people that truly care. In order for Griffin to finally move passed Theo's death, he must confront their history and everything that's tearing him apart.

Adam Silvera has done it again. Though I didn't review it (apparently), More Happy Than Not was heartbreaking and beautiful and this book was no different. Silvera has a gift in writing raw teenage emotion, fully encompassing pain so well that it makes your heart hurt. The story feels effortless, and Silvera has created characters in Griffin, Theo, Jackson, and Wade that drive it forward, drawing you in deeper and deeper as you go. 

The complexity of the characters and the reality of their stories is what makes this novel, I think. Though none of the characters were particularly likable, with Wade as a possible exception, you still become invested in their stories and want them to turn out okay in the end. This is what makes them the most realistic, adding to the realism of the story as a whole.

All in all, this novel is absolutely heartbreaking, much like Silvera's other work as well. A bonus was the portrayal of OCD in the novel, which felt real to me and was something that Griffin always had to deal with. He couldn't just turn it on and off when he wanted, like is portrayed in some young adult literature. History Is All You Left Me feels real, which is essential for young adult literature.

P.S. What is with the theme of friends dying in young adult lit lately? I feel like I've read quite a few books like that recently, more so than usual. 

5/5 stars

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: Goodbye Days

Goodbye Days Cover

"For the most part, you don't hold the people you love in your heart because they rescued you from drowning or pulled you from a burning house. Mostly you hold them in your heart because they save you, in a million quiet and perfect ways, from being alone."
-Goodbye Days, Jeff Zentner

Carver Briggs believes that he is the cause of the death of his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. He was the one who sent Mars the text that he was responding to when they got into a car accident, after all. And now Mars' father, a judge, is trying to pursue a criminal investigation against him. 

Through it all, Carver does have some allies: his sister, Eli's girlfriend, and even Blake's grandma, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her, honoring Blake's memory. Soon, the other families are asking to do the same, all in the hope of finding some peace within the tragedy of loss.

This is Jeff Zentner's second novel, and I am yet again blown away by his ability to write emotions. The Serpent King (which I read last fall, but apparently didn't write a review for) slowly sunk its claws into you and grabbed hold, one of those books where you keep thinking about it for days after. Goodbye Days was no different. You start in the middle of Carver's tragedy, attending the last of the three funerals for his best friends, and are taken along with Carver as he experiences his grief throughout the novel.

Zentner's writing also realistically encapsulates anxiety and mental illness, especially with his descriptions of panic attacks. The way he introduces Carver to therapy is also a positive experience: Carver is hesitant at first, not believing that therapy will help. As they continue sessions, Carver realizes how helpful therapy can be, perhaps helping readers who might also be hesitant to see how helpful it can be as well.

Overall, I know that anytime Zentner publishes anything new, I will read it ASAP. He's definitely one to watch.

5/5 stars

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Review: At the Edge of the Universe

At the Edge of the Universe Cover

"You can choose to be happy with what life gives you...or spend your life miserable. I choose happiness. It’s really that simple."
-Shaun David Hutchinson, At the Edge of the Universe

Tommy and Ozzie have been basically inseparable since elementary school, always dreaming about their escape from their small town in Florida. Suddenly--Tommy disappears, and is erased from everyone's memories. Everyone's except Ozzie, that is.

When Ozzie is paired with Calvin for a science project, he thinks Calvin might know more about Tommy's disappearance than he's letting on. As the two begin to spend more time together, Ozzie can't deny that he's developing feelings for Calvin, even though he's adamant about still loving Tommy.  And since the universe is shrinking, Ozzie is running out of time to figure out what exactly what happened to Tommy--and where he wants to go with Calvin.

Ever since I read We Are the Ants, Shaun David Hutchinson has been on my radar. Though these are the only two books that I've read by him, he has a knack for creating rounded characters that completely immerse the reader in the story. Hutchinson does the same thing in At the Edge of the Universe. They're unique and diverse, and I became intimately involved in their lives.

Told from the point of view of Ozzie, readers are just as perplexed at things that keep disappearing as Ozzie is; things like the moon, stars, other parts of the United States. While I thought this was an interesting and unique way to tell the story, but the end of the book I felt slightly frustrated. I am one that enjoys open-ended books, but it felt like this one didn't have much resolution. Though I think this was intentional, as we're supposed to wonder what was real and what wasn't (much like We Are the Ants), I didn't think it was as well executed as his previous book. I was left wanting more resolution at the end of the novel.

Despite this flaw, the diversity and execution of the characters made up for the flaws of the plot.

4/5 stars

Friday, February 10, 2017

Review: The Great American Whatever

The Great American Whatever Cover

"That's actually the most confusing part about being alive without knowing the end of your own hero's journey. You never know if it's time to go home or head into battle. You never know if you've already faced your biggest monster." -Tim Federle, The Great American Whatever

Quinn Roberts has spent the last six months in hibernation; after the accident, he didn't think he could ever face the world again. Enter: Geoff. Quinn's best friend. One haircut later and Quinn is on his way to his first ever college party. Where he meets a guy. The week that follows has Quinn imagining all sorts of scenarios until he can finally take the reigns back and control his own life story.

This book was given to me by a friend for Christmas, and it was thoroughly enjoyable! Quinn's witty, sarcastic take on life shines through the text and hooks the reader right from the beginning. But it isn't pushed to the extent that Quinn feels fake--in fact, they almost make Quinn feel more real, using his sarcasm and humor to hide his true feelings. They make him more rounded, and they make the book difficult to put down.

None of the characters in this story are flat--they all have their quirks that together, create a cast of characters that you wish could be your friends. Federle is able to write with such an authentic teen voice that this book will be sure to remain in your thoughts long after you finish it.

For a YA debut, Federle has definitely hit it out of the park.

5/5 stars

Friday, December 30, 2016

Review: A World Without You

A World Without You Cover

"You never know all of a person; you only know them in a specific moment of time."
-Beth Revis, A World Without You

Now that the holiday season is pretty much over, my life as a retail worker has calmed down a bit and I finally have a moment to write! I've still read quite a few books between the last post and now, so I'll do my best to catch up on reviews.

I finished A World Without You by Beth Revis sometime last week, and it's taken me a bit to process it. A World Without You follows the story of Bo, who believes he has the ability to travel through time. He attends Berkshire Academy, which on the outside is a school for troubled youth, but Bo knows that it's really a cover up for the truth: Berkshire is a place for kids who have superpowers.

After Bo's love, Sofia, commits suicide, Bo has difficulty believing that she's really gone. Instead, he believes that she's trapped somewhere in the past, and that only he as the ability to save her. As Bo gets deeper into his mission to save Sofia, Bo's reality gets more and more muddled until he is no longer sure what is real and what isn't.

The premise of this book sounded awesome to me, which is why I picked it up at the library. Revis drops the reader right in the middle of the action at the beginning of the book, which is a bit disorienting but also mimics the way that Bo must be feeling at the death of Sofia. Revis did an excellent job of constructing well-rounded characters, characters that you become attached to by the end. The portrayal of mental illness here was really strong, giving readers a variety in terms of the way it affects different individuals.

While I think this book is important in the way that it deaths with mental illness, I had issues with the structure of the plot itself. I felt as though there were scenes and parts of the story that weren't needed; eliminating these would have created a more immersive experience for me, as the reader. I also wanted Bo's sister, Phoebe, to take a stronger role in Bo's struggle with mental illness. She was given a strong presence in the book, yet I wasn't exactly sure why, or whether or not her chapters were really necessary. I think the book could have gotten along fine without them.

Overall, if you're looking for an immersive read that positively portrays mental illness, I think I would still recommend this book. Despite the plot flaws (in my opinion), it's super important in terms of the YA mental illness genre.

4/5 stars

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: We Are the Ants

"Depression isn't a war you win. It's a battle you fight every day. You never stop, never get to rest."
-Shaun David Hutchinson, We Are the Ants

This is another book that I read with my friend Alyssa for a book club that she's doing for one of her classes. It's also a book that I've had my eye on for a while, and I'm glad that I finally got the chance to read it. It definitely didn't disappoint.

Henry Denton has had a rough year. His grandmother's Alzheimer's keeps getting worse, his brother just dropped out of college because his girlfriend is pregnant, his mother is struggling to keep the family together, and his boyfriend committed suicide. Among all of these things, Henry keeps getting abducted by aliens, who have given him the opportunity to save the world from impending disaster. Henry just doesn't know if its worth saving. Until he meets Diego Vega.

This story is just heart-wrenchingly beautiful. Shaun David Hutchinson has crafted a story that feels so realistic, yet it is intertwined with all of these theories about how the world is going to end, theories that pull the reader from important points in the story. In fact, these interruptions coincide with Henry's own interruptions from his own life, giving the reader a glimpse into Henry's mind and thought process. 

It's just so real. I can't really think of any other way to describe this book. Hutchinson's prose makes you feel so many emotions from beginning to end that by the time you finish the book, you are exhausted. Major book hangover. It was hard for me to get into my next book because I was still feeling all of these emotions from We Are the Ants

Hutchinson also deals with suicide in a very realistic and important way. He not only shows how suicide affects the friends and family left behind, but he shows that the depression that Henry's boyfriend (I think it was Jesse?) was feeling wasn't something that was just going to "go away;" it was a sickness, an illness that Jesse had to deal with, but in the end, he wasn't able to. I can't really think of any other YA books that deal with suicide in this way that I've read, and I think it's incredibly important that this one does.

This is a complex, insightful, all-encompassing book that will leave you thinking long after it's over. And maybe even prompt you to want to read it again.

5/5 stars

Friday, November 18, 2016

Review: None of the Above

None of the Above cover
"The biggest difference between boys and girls is how people treat them." 
-I.W. Gregorio, None of the Above

This particular book was on my to-read list for a long time before I actually read it; school mostly got in the way, and then I forgot about it until I wrote an article about gender non-conforming individuals for The Nerdy Book Club (which will be posted on December 3rd). This might be one of the more important books that I've read recently, mostly because of one thing: it features an intersex individual.

Kristin Lattimer was just voted homecoming queen, and it finally feels like her life is going in the direction that she wants it to. The night of the dance, she feels that she's ready to take it to the next step with her boyfriend--but the moment isn't close to what she wanted it to be. Her experience brings her to the doctor, where she learns she is intersex, meaning that though she looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes and some male features. When her identity is outed to the school, Kristin questions her entire identity. Will she be able to continue on the path she was on before, even with everyone knowing the truth?

Aside from the fact that the plot of this novel is a little high school drama-esque, I think everyone should read this book. Intersex individuals are often left out of conversations discussing LGBTQ+ individuals, so most people are very unfamiliar with the identity. Though at times it leans a little more on the medical side, this book is important for teens who possibly find themselves in a similar situation to Kristin and could help them to explain to others exactly what being intersex means. 

I will say that even though I felt bad for the humiliation that Kristin has to endure, at times, she can be a little annoying and whiny. There were a few points in the book where I just wanted to yell "Get over it! You're just making things more difficult for yourself!" It fit the drama-esque tone of the plot, though. 

Overall, despite the flaws in plot, this book is important and shouldn't be left off high school shelves.

4/5 stars

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: Every Last Word

My good friend Alyssa and I are both bloggers (her blog can be found here), and we decided to read a book together and collaborate on the blog post about it! Alyssa is currently pursuing her Masters at Ohio State in children's/young adult literature, and will eventually earn her PhD and become a professor. We chose Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone because Alyssa is doing research on the way mental illness is portrayed in YA literature, and Every Last Word focuses on a protagonist who struggles with OCD.

Every Last Word cover

A short summary of Every Last Word before I get into my interview with Alyssa: On the surface, Sam seems like all of the other popular girls in her class. However, underneath is a secret that Sam knows none of her popular friends will understand; she struggles with Purely-Obsessional OCD. Though Sam constantly second guesses herself around her friends, she knows that she needs the status associated with them. But when Sam meets Caroline, everything changes. Caroline introduces Sam to a group of misfits who are about to change Sam's life for the good, until she finds a new reason to question her sanity.

For this portion, I'll bold the questions I asked Alyssa, and her responses will appear below.

What aspects did you like best about Every Last Word?

A: I really like how it raised awareness of what OCD can be like for some people. A lot of people associate OCD with the compulsion side (cleaning, frequent washing of hands etc.). Sam's OCD is pure-obessional, which means that it is mostly internal. I think we really see this in the first chapter when she is afraid she'll cut her friend's hair. Also--her room is messy!

We definitely see it more as the novel goes on as well, with her examples of getting obsessed with guys too fast, etc. Going off of that--does Sam's tendancy to over think or over analyze situations make her an unreliable narrator? Why or why not?

A: I definitely thought at the beginning that she was unreliable because she would imagine scenarios and we (readers) wouldn't necessarily know that it was just happening in her head at first. It made me question what was happening at all times. I don't think this unreliability is a fault--it just helps us understand her disorder more.

It reminded me of Challenger Deep in that aspect, because in that book, the hallucinations and reality are woven together, so at times, it's hard to distinguish what is really happening, but it just helps to understand the character better really.

A: I haven't finished Challenger Deep, but I am hoping to soon!

It's so good! But in that vein, how might Every Last Word compare to other YA that features mental illness?

A: I haven't personally seen a lot of books that focus on OCD, so I think that is a unique aspect. Additionally, I really like that we get to see so much of Sam's relationship with her therapist. I think that part is done particularly well. I also think the twist at the end complicates the text in a way that I wasn't anticipating. This book represents mental health in a lot of positive ways, but it also is--at its core--simply a good story.

I agree! I think there's something in this novel for everyone; plus, the writing is done really well.

A: I agree! :)

Okay, final question: did you feel like there was anything missing from the text that should have been included?

A: This is more of something that I wish hadn't been there. There is a romance plot in the book, which is typical of a lot of YA lit. On one hand, I like it because it shows that people with mental health issues are capable and deserving of positive, supportive relationships. On the other hand, I would really like to see more books that feature heterosexual characters of different genders as friends (the reason I say that is because it would be nice for a friendship to exist where the only "reason" it does not evolve into something romance isn't because one of the characters is gay, bi, etc.).

I also wish that we got to hear the stories of the characters in Sam's friend group more. They aren't "evil," but they aren't shed in a good light. I think a lot of people at their school think of Sam the way we think of her friends because of the information given. However, we know that there is much more to Sam than meets the eye--so the same could be for her friends as well.

That's interesting, because we know that one of Sam's other friends is the odd one out too. Having multiple narrators would have definitely added a new perspective!

A: That's true. It might have been a bit much, too. I just always wonder about the other characters.

Especially when they're so one-sided.

A: Indeed!

Our overall consensus was that we would definitely recommend this book, because it brings up so many relevant issues and sheds a positive light on mental illness. Personally, I gave this book 5/5 stars.

You can check out my responses to Alyssa's questions here!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review: Before We Go Extinct

"Memory is a word that slithers away suddenly, darting faster than it should be able to move at all." 
-Karen Rivers, Before We Go Extinct

I picked this book up on a whim one day while I was at the library, because the description sounded promising and I think the cover is spectacular. And I am so glad that I did. This book deals with teenage grief in a way that I haven't seen before; Karen Rivers' use of voice in the novel was really what brought everything together, making this a spectacular novel.

JC, who more commonly goes by Sharky due to his love of sharks, has been struggling ever since the death of his best friend, The King. With the speculation on whether or not the death was an accident and the constant media attention, JC spends hours alone, obsessing over shark documentaries and not talking to anyone. Desperate to help JC, his mom sends him off to a remote island in Canada to visit his dad, where he meets a girl and learns how to come to terms with the death of his best friend.

From the beginning, I could tell that this book was going to be a keeper just by the first line: "My foot is stuck in the toilet bowl in the closet-sized bathroom in the two-bedroom walk-up I live in with my mom on the corner about Alf's Bodega." From this line, we're immediately hit with JC's unique voice, a voice that carries the rest of the story. It accurately portrays JC's grief at the death of his best friend, his confusion at how to live and be happy again when your best friend is no longer there to share it with you. Through JC's character, we can see the five stages of grief, we can see him processing and coping with this tragedy, which would be amazingly powerful for any teenager going through a similar situation. 

In addition to the voice, the plot isn't predictable, and all of the elements of the story work together to create something unforgettable. JC's story is definitely one worth sharing.

4.5/5 stars

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Review: Every Exquisite Thing

"Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic."
-Matthew Quick, Every Exquisite Thing

This is the fourth book I've read by Matthew Quick, and I can definitely say that I've been impressed with each one! Quick has a talent for writing about mental health issues in way that makes them feel so real, and in a world that constantly trivializes mental health, I think that's really important. Really, really important.

Nanette is about to enter her senior year of high school when she reads a book, The Bubblegum Reaper. This book awakens a rebellious spirit in Nanette, allowing her to finally be open with a reckless abandon. After befriending a reclusive author and a troubled poet and fellow fan, she must learn to find a balance between her rebellious side and her life before.

Though I'm not in high school anymore, I think many teens coming to the end of their high school experience would find this book incredibly relatable, especially because Nanette feels like she was pressured into a lot of the activities she participated in, like soccer. Society places this immense pressure on teens to be successful and well-rounded in everything that they do, often driving them into states of anxiety or depression, like depicted in this particular story. And Matthew Quick does a marvelous job putting this exact state of being into words, while still addressing the life of privilege that Nanette comes from.

The other thing that's awesome about this book is that it is a book about the way that books can open up your world view and completely change your life (metafiction, anyone?). This has happened to me personally so often that I love the fact that it is a book that catalysts Nanette's journey toward learning more about herself and breaking free from the cage that she feels trapped in.

That being said, there was one thing that bothered me while reading this, one small instance that made me cringe slightly. Fairly early in the narrative, Nanette says, "I used to worry I was asexual or something." The connotation provided here rubbed me the wrong way, and while I understand that this is the view of the speaker and not necessarily the author, I wasn't sure that it needed to be included in here anyway. The connotation of "worrying," as if being asexual was a bad thing, frustrated me a bit. As someone who is continuously on the lookout for positive portrayals of asexuality (as there are very few, especially in YA), I was a little disheartened by this small instance here.

However, other than that, this is a spectacular book that I think should be included in any high school classroom, to show students that it's okay to not have life completely figured out when you graduate high school.

4/5 stars

Saturday, August 27, 2016


"I swear, the longer I live, the less things make sense."
-David Arnold, Mosquitoland

Recommended to me by a friend, I picked up this book the last time I was at the library, because honestly, who can leave the library without checking out a book? And this book definitely didn't disappoint! Featuring a cast of quirky characters you can't help but love, and an epic road trip where things just don't seem to go right, Mim's story is one that'll have you sucked in until the very end.

After her parents divorce, Mim is dragged from Ohio to Mississippi, where she lives with her dad and new stepmom, Kathy. When Mim learns that her real mom is sick, she begins a journey back to her real home, desperate to get back to the happy memories she has with her mom. Through a series of mishaps and unknown turns, Mim is forced to confront herself, and learning that everything isn't always as it seems.

Let me begin by saying that Mim is quite the unforgettable character. Most of the time, she is unabashedly herself, taking her quirkiness and questions of sanity in stride. Her family has a long history of mental health issues, and at the first inklings, her dad made sure that Mim got the "right" treatments. However, on her journey, Mim learns a lot about sanity and mental health; in fact, I think this book explores mental health in a different way than most YA books that I've read. The majority of books mostly deal with depression or anxiety (that I have personally read, anyway), and this book explores it more deeply, with hallucinations, etc., giving readers a more holistic view of Mim herself.

I think the only downside to this, though minor, was that it took me a little bit to get into it. Mim is a fantastic character, but she comes on really strong and it definitely took me a couple of chapters to get used to her voice as the speaker. But I think once you are able to see Mim interact with other major characters, she gets easier to swallow, and that's when the book started to read at a faster pace for me.

Overall, definitely a fantastic read, and different than a lot of YA that I've been reading recently. If you're look for a philosophically driven road trip novel, you've definitely found it!

4/5 stars

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Symptoms of Being Human

"As for wondering if it's okay to be who you are--that's not a symptom of mental illness. That's a symptom of being a person."
-Jeff Garvin, Symptoms of Being Human

As a scholar interested in the way that gender is represented within young adult books, I'm always on the look out for any book that breaks gender binaries, and this book definitely fit the bill. While browsing at Barnes and Noble one day (a frequent occasion for me), this book caught my eye because it featured a genderfluid protagonist, something that isn't seen often (if at all) in young adult literature. So I obviously had to read it to see if it was any good, right? Right.

Symptoms of Being Human follows the story of Riley, a genderfluid teenager who begins an anonymous blog at the prompting of their therapist, to help deal with anxiety. But the blog takes off in a way that Riley could have never imagined, quickly gaining hundreds of followers overnight, not all of them wishing Riley well. Someone at Riley's new school knows Riley's secret and is threatening to expose them; Riley must decide between shutting down a blog that has become a lifeline for others, or to risk everything and finally come out and take a stand in their ultra-conservative community.

So I loved this book. I absolutely loved it. I thought that Jeff Garvin did a fantastic job writing a realistic account of not only genderfluidity (from my own limited knowledge and perspective), but also realistically portrayed anxiety and panic attacks. Holistically, I think Garvin created a story that many different teens can relate to, one that might be important in showing them that they aren't alone, that others are experiencing the things that they do. Sometimes when authors deal with these kinds of issues it can feel fake or like the book is doing too much, but in this case, I think the elements that Garvin combined worked really well together, not only making the story accurate, but also engaging. I was rooting for Riley throughout the entire book, and I didn't wan to put the book down until I knew Riley's fate.

The other thing I really enjoyed about this book is that Riley is never assigned a gender identity besides genderfluid. There are perhaps a few instances where the reader might be able to deduce the gender that Riley was "assigned," but nothing in Garvin's language actually gives it away, and that's definitely not an easy thing to do. I've tried to write stories where the characters aren't gendered, and there are so many little things that you don't really think about being stereotypically assigned to one gender or another until someone else reads your story and points it out. I applaud Garvin for working to eliminate that within his book, and except for a few small (very, very small) scenes, for instance getting dressed for one of Riley's dad's fundraisers or the ending scene of the book, I think the book 100% sticks to Riley's identity. And I think that makes this book even more deserving of praise.

All in all, a great read that I would highly recommend, and one that I might just read again.

5/5 stars

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I'll Give You the Sun

"Maybe some people are just meant to be in the same story." 
-Jandy Nelson, I'll Give You the Sun

It's definitely been a while since I've updated this blog, but now that I've finished my Master's, I actually have the time to read what I want to read (gasp). And trust me, the list is ever growing. A common side effect of being a book lover.

I've read a lot of new YA stuff this summer that I've been meaning to read, but I'm going to start with the most recent one I finished, as that one is most fresh in my mind, I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

At the age of 13, twins Jude and Noah are almost inseparable; Noah is quiet and isolated, always sketching and following around the neighbor boy, where Jude is daredevil enough for the both of them. Flash forward 3 years, and their relationship has completely disintegrated. As Noah tells the story of the past, and Jude tells the story of the future, the twins learn that the only way they'll be able to move forward is by reconciling their relationship.

The major aspect I think this book gets props for is its use of the multi-narrator. This narrative device has become all the rage in the YA world; looking through this section in any bookstore, a good majority of the books that you pick up are going to have at least 2, if not more, narrators. If done well, this isn't a bad thing, as it allows authors to bring more voices into their stories, maybe include more diversity, etc. This book stands out from those because the two narrators are also from two different points in the narrators' lives: when they are 13 and when they are 16. This device pulls the reader in right from the beginning, sparking curiosity and moving the plot forward at a nice pace.

This wasn't the only strength of this book: there were some really beautiful lines, and the characterization was phenomenal. As you get more and more into Noah and Jude's heads, you keep moving forward because you just want them to get back to where they used to be, to mend their relationship. Their pain, their struggles felt so real, and I think they're relatable, no matter who picks up this book.

I think the only major critique I have is that some of the supernatural stuff threw me off slightly at the beginning, but it didn't take long for me to adjust to it in the narrative. Otherwise, this is phenomenal read, and a story that will linger in your mind once it's over.

4.5/5 stars

Monday, June 23, 2014

Leonard Peacock and Love Letters to the Dead

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick follows the story of Leonard Peacock, who has plans for his 18th birthday. He plans to kill Asher Beal and then commit suicide. Leonard has always been an outcast, where Asher has always been the popular one, the jock, the one that everyone likes. Something happened when they were kids that Leonard can't forget. And he doesn't have anyone to confide in, his father is gone and his mother seems to forget that she has a son. He goes through and gives the four people he cares the most about presents, and no one seems to pick up on the signs. No one seems to care about Leonard Peacock. And he knows about it.

I don't really have anything but good things to say about this book. First, Matthew Quick is known for the way he handles mental illness in his novels, and I don't think this one is any different. The way he deals with depression, and suicide, is very realistic and believable. And he writes about it beautifully. There really are some absolutely gorgeous moments in this novel, and I just couldn't put it down. Not to mention, I think Leonard Peacock is a very complex, well-crafted character. He is relatable, and throughout the novel, you can't help but feel for him. Not to mention the footnotes. Throughout the novel, Leonard interjects his thoughts, or history about some event or person, throughout the novel. I think this was a clever way to provide background information without really bogging down the reader too much. Overall, I think this novel was well-crafted, and definitely one that I would read again.

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira follows the story of Laurel, who falls into a school assignment of "Write a letter to someone who is dead." It becomes a sort of comfort for Laurel, who writes to people like Kurt Cobain, Amelia Earhart, Judy Garland, and River Phoenix, all people whose lives ended as abruptly as her sister's. The letters are a way for Laurel to work through her emotions as she begins high school, makes new friends, falls in love for the first time, deals with family issues, and grieves for her sister. The letters allow her to find some common ground, and eventually work through her issues. 

While I was reading this book, I couldn't help but think of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. While it's not exactly the same story line, and doesn't deal with quite the same issues, Ava Dellaira writes with a similar quality to Chbosky. Not to mention, the novel is formatted like letters. Love Letters to the Dead is beautifully written, and Laurel is a character that a lot of teens could relate to. She deals with depression, her first love, making new friends, not wanting to be completely alone in high school. Once I got into the novel, I couldn't put it down. It was unique, and definitely one worth taking a look at. 

Next, I will be reading Legend by Marie Lu. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Scars by Cheryl Rainfield follows the story of Kendra, a girl who has survived sexual abuse and is currently in therapy to help her cope. Despite the therapy, Kendra feels that she has to cut in order to not feel the pain. Despite her pain, she meets a girl named Meghan and falls in love. But when her abuser seems to be catching up to her, Kendra must face her past in order to overcome it.

So this book was recommended to me by one of my professors, and I have to say, while it deals with issues that are important to address in young adult literature, I wasn't exactly impressed with the writing in this book. A lot of the dialogue seemed forced to me, and the story line seemed like something that has been done many times before. I believe there are better books that deal with this topic available out there, that are better written.

I also didn't really seem to connect with the main character in this book, and I don't think this helped my reading. While I do think there are people who would connect to this character, I think Kendra was too defined by her cutting. To me, she seemed like a flat character, one that needed more complexity as the main character of the book. And while this book can be applauded for it's inclusion of a lesbian couple, I felt it was too closely connected to Kendra's abuse, like that was the reason she liked women more than men, which is problematic when it comes to LGBTQ literature.

While there were a lot of things I didn't like about this book, I do still think it can be a powerful book for someone who can strongly relate to this character. It still deals with issues that teens need to read about in literature, and I still think that's important.

Next, I will be reading Eve & Adam by Michael Grant. Until then, happy reading! :)