Review: Bright Before Sunrise

Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt. Walker Books, an imprint of Bloomsbury. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Is it possible for one night to make a difference in a person’s life?

Jonah and Brighton are about to find out.

The Good: First things first: I loved this book. I loved Jonah and Brighton, separate and apart.

Jonah, a senior, is counting down the days for the school year to end (eleven, if you’re curious.) He hates his snobby new town, Cross Pointe, and just wants to be in his old town, with his friends, his girlfriend, and they way his life used to be. Before. Before his mother met someone new, got pregnant, divorced his father, and took Jonah with her.

His mom now has her perfect new husband, and new baby, and new house, in a new town, and Jonah has — . Well, Jonah has a grudge so big it could have its own zip code. He’s angry, he’s mad, he’s rude, he’s OH SO MANY FEELINGS AND HURT. Jonah has every reason to be hurt and betrayed. Did I mention that the new husband, Paul, was Jonah’s physical therapist? So, yes, it’s because of Jonah that the two met. Jonah’s guilt over this is compounded by the fact that his father agrees; it’s why Jonah isn’t living with him.

Man, I hated Paul and how he treated Jonah. And this is one reason I love Bright Before Sunrise: yes, Paul is a bit brusque with Jonah. (Actually, the word I wrote in my reading journal begins with “a”.) But, but, but. But Schmidt, over the course of the book (so some of this is spoilers), gives enough over the course of the book to help the reader realize that Paul isn’t that bad. That Jonah’s mother may have left her husband, yes, but only because she was human. His mother was only nineteen when Jonah was born; she and Jonah’s husband fought. Jonah’s father is never shown, but that he blames and abandons his son is enough to make me think he wasn’t the nicest. Paul, I think, is both feeling guilty about this but also, quite honestly, is someone not used to what teen boys are like and so isn’t as understanding as he could be.

All this matters because its shaped Jonah, as he is now. Which, basically, is a sulky, broody boy who has reason to be so, but not to be so for so long. Jonah has a lot going for him: he’s smart, he’s going to college, his mother loves him, his baby sister adores him. Bottom line: it’s time for Jonah to “snap out of it”, and that is where Brighton comes in.

Brighton could practically be Miss Cross Pointe. She’s a junior, super involved, under a lot of self-imposed pressure to be perfect. (Truth be told? I pictured her as Tracy Flick like, and I LOVE Tracy Flick, so that’s a compliment.) To Mr. I Hate Cross Pointe, she represents everything he hates. Because it’s not just his mother’s remarriage that makes him hate the town. He hates it because he comes from a blue collar town, and Cross Pointe is privileged and preppy and snobby.

When a classmate sees Jonah’s baby sister’s sock, she asks, “Is it your daughter’s? It’s so cute. She’s smiling, but there’s something off about the question. Besides the fact that it’s none of her business, she looks too eager, almost hungry, for my answer. “You’re from Hamilton, right?

Because in the Cross Pointe world, Hamilton is that scary place with teen parents. Those kids aren’t like Cross Pointe kids. A well meaning teacher, himself a native of Cross Pointe, describes Jonah with “some people are takers,” because Jonah has refused to become involved in any volunteer projects. I love the privilege, the elitism, represented in that simple statement — and I love it all the more because it’s just a fact in the book. It’s not something where there are any great changes in that viewpoint.

There is one person, other than Jonah, who changes, and that is Brighton.

Here’s the thing about Brighton — and Jonah, only five months in town, doesn’t know it — Brighton may have the house, clothes, money like any other Cross Pointe family, but she doesn’t have a father. He died five years ago. His loss, and its impact on her mother and sister, is what has driven Brighton to be the perfect daughter; or, at least, the perfect daughter she thinks he would want her to be. I love Brighton because she’s a bit snobby, but in the way that teens from a town like Cross Pointe may be (and will be, well into college.) I love her because she’s good hearted: part of it is because that is what her father would want, and part of it is because that is just who she is.

Brighton and Jonah spend time together, over the course of twenty four hours. In that time, yes, the fall for each other (of course!). Being with Brighton, and what they share, also helps Jonah realize that he’s been biting off his nose to spite his face; that in freezing out his mother and new town, he’s frozen himself. For Brighton, she realizes that — just like Jonah — she’s painted herself into a corner. She doesn’t quite know herself. One thing she is — and this is why I see her as Tracy Flick — Brighton is angry. She is so angry she doesn’t know what to do with it, so keeps it buried so deep she doesn’t even know she is angry. It’s all internalized, because she’s the “good” girl.

I won’t talk about how Brighton and Jonah get from two people who barely know each other to two people who become something more; or the events of the night they share that bring them closer together. I mean, read the book!

I will add this: I hate, hate, hate — did I say hate? cheating. As much as I sympathize with Jonah’s mother, I wanted to shake her and say, she should have left his father years ago, instead of waiting for a new man to come along — but, some people are like that. They need someone; and they can’t tell when something is over until there is a new someone. So, when I began Bright Before Sunrise, knowing there would be a romance between Jonah and Brighton, and then saw mention of Jonah’s girlfriend, I was like WHAT???? I won’t give details, but I’ll say this: there is no cheating. And it’s very believable that Jonah could start with a girlfriend, yet end up with Brighton, in the course of one night.

This is a Favorite Book Read in 2014. Because I loved Jonah and Brighton, even if at times I didn’t like them. Because I love the flawed parents and adults. Because a good romance is hard to find — especially one that takes place under such a short time frame.

Other reviews: Stacked; Forever Young Adult; Ex Libris.


Happily Ever After?

I like romance novels. When I have time to fit in books that aren’t young adult books, romance tops the list. Well, along with mystery. And non-fiction.

I have to admit, I am very particular about romances. About what is called a “romance.”

What I want is simple: couple meet, stuff happens, happy ending.

I’m not a fan of things that make either part of the couple look stupid or shallow. So, I’m pretty particular about how current or ex boyfriends or girlfriends are depicted, not because of “oh, don’t like cheating” but more because it’s almost impossible for me to read about a horrible partner and not judge the person for not realizing it and moving on.

I’m also not a fan of first love, true love. But, weirdly enough, I am a fan of the “woman moves back to her home town after years away” storyline.

Most important to me, though, is two characters I like and respect and want to see together; a plot that makes sense; and a happy ending.

For a romance, to me, that means only one thing: the couple are together at the end of the book. I don’t need to see marriage and/or babies; but I don’t want to see death and break-ups. End it in death or the couple not together, and what I see is a contemporary book with romantic elements, but NOT a romance. And if someone recommended such a book to me when I asked for a romance, I’d throw the book at them when I got to the end.

Which brings us to teen books and teen readers.

Is a romance for teens different than a romance for adults?

I say that while librarians or publishers say yes, teens say no.

I read romance in high school. Typically, Harlequins, but other ones, also. In the library, frequently, I see teen readers read adult romance. Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason is the lack of happy endings in books that are called teen romances.

Now, I get that a teen romance is not going to have a “happy ever after, marriage and babies” ending. Honestly? I wouldn’t want that, the idea that the teen romance is the One True Love. (See note above about First Love, True Love.) But, on the other hand, to call a book a romance and have the couple not be together at the end — a Happy For Now — annoys me to no end, because I believe, a thousand percent, that when a teen wants romance that includes the couple being together, still, at the end of the book.

So, what do you think?

Does a teen romance have to have the couple together at the end of the book?

What is your favorite teen romance to recommend to readers?

And what title have you seen recommended that leaves you scratching your head, wondering, “does the person suggesting that even know what a romance is?”

Oh, as for favorite teen romance? Right now, I’d have to go with Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.

As for head scratcher: in looking up various lists, I saw Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher come up as a “Love & Romance” book. Admittedly, it was on Amazon. But still. No, just no. I’d say that such online store lists are a reason why librarians will still be in business, but I’ve seen some weird recs on library listservs so librarians aren’t always better.


Review: Dare You To

Dare You To by Katie McGarry. Harlequin Teen. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Ryan Stone is looking forward to his senior year, and why not? He’s the star baseball player, getting scouted by colleges and teams; he has great friends; and an ex-girlfriend that may be more than an ex.

One of his friends dares him to get the phone number of a girl: the girl selected? She’s got black hair, torn clothes, a hardcore Skater Girl.

Needless to say, good boy Ryan doesn’t get the girl’s number. She won’t be played.

The girl is Beth Risk. After an incident with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, her long lost uncle swoops in to save the day, taking Beth back to his perfect little town.

Beth doesn’t want to be saved. She wants to go back to her mother and her friends.

Oh, and guess who else is in this perfect town? That’s right, Ryan.

What starts as a dare turns out to be something more.

The Good: I adored Dare You To. Just loved it.

Why? Because Beth. Her voice is terrific: she’s tough on the outside, yes, because life has made her tough. She’s the child of teenage parents who didn’t get their act together when they had a kid. Drug and alcohol abuse and neglect means that often Beth is the caretaker in the family. Because she has been let down, over and over, she has defenses up. Trusting anyone, getting close to anyone, is a risk she doesn’t take. Also? Beth is funny and wry and smart in her observations. So many times reading this, I started laughing out loud, because of what Beth said.

Ryan — Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. Yes, the popular jock, but his life isn’t quite as perfect as it looks. Being from a good family in a small town means that the family lives it’s life by “what will the neighbors think.” They practice what they preach; and think a lot about whether their neighbors are doing the right thing.

Take Beth’s family. People like Ryan’s parents hold her background against her. It’s all judgment based on her parents’ actions, not her own. Bonus to that, it’s shown it’s mighty hard to overcome that. Beth’s uncle is Mr Respectable, but only because he’s spent the last ten or so years working hard to make something of himself. Do Ryan’s parents care about the fine home he now has? The nice wife he has? The over ten years playing professional baseball? No, because what matters is who his parents were, who is brother was.

Luckily, not everyone is like Ryan’s parents. As for Ryan himself, part of his growth in Dare You To is realizing that his parents’ attitudes are wrong and even hurtful. Yes, it’s in part because he starts to fall for Beth and his parents are “no no no.” But even more important is Ryan’s older brother, Mark. When Mark, now in college, came out to his family they reacted in full “but the neighbors” mode and cut Mark out of their lives. Even Ryan has, thinking “if Mark cared about us, he wouldn’t be doing this. He’d keep it a secret.” (Another reason I like Dare You To? Because the treatment of Mark, and Ryan’s reactions, is all too real for some teens. It’s still tough out there for GLBT teens. Dare You To is being honest in showing what happens for some teens.)

While Beth was my favorite, I also liked Ryan. Good thing, because for a romance you want to root for both! Ryan is a jock, yes, and I love how Dare You To showed the work that goes into playing baseball, as well as the love of the sport, and what it means to practice. Ryan is also a senior and is torn between turning professional or going to college. It turns out, Ryan has a talent for writing. His father is bewildered why there is any choice to be made: turn professional, right? But it’s not that easy.

Beth views her uncle leaving to play baseball as an abandonment. It makes sense; her father also left. But here’s the thing: Scott left to play professional ball right out of high school. Yes, high school. So his leaving her, to her neglectful parents? Was something an eighteen year old kid did.  I understood how he needed to take care of himself before being able to return to help Beth. I’m not saying Scott is always right; he comes across a bit too controlling, a bit to “do everything my way right now,” wanting to be the hero and not listening to what Beth really needs or wants. Even with that, though, keep in mind: Scott is not yet thirty. Not yet thirty, with a teenage niece he loves, who he knows needs help, and he’s not quite sure what to do.

See that complexity in the family and friendships? Delicious!

I hope this next bit is not too spoilery for you. Beth is tough because she has had a tough life. Abandonment, neglect, abuse. But, that does not include sexual assault. Dare You To was refreshing to me because of that, because I’ve read one too many stories where childhood sexual assault is used more to create a backstory than to address such assault. Also, Ryan’s own family secrets did not include physical abuse. Yes, his parents are controlling but they aren’t abusive. Again, refreshing, because I’ve read one too many stories where to illustrate a person’s family problems the issues are heaped up, one after the other. It is, indeed, enough to have a father who drives his son too hard on the baseball field; and for that “too hard” to include the father’s own dreams rather than the son’s.

This is the part where I have to stop myself, because I find myself wanting to say “and what was great was…. and what was terrific was…. and I laughed when….”

After I finished Dare You To, I realized that this is part of a series. And, not even the first book in the series. So, no, they don’t have to be read in order. I’d say more than series, they are books with overlapping characters but no overlapping plot. The other two books, Pushing the Limits (2012) and Crash Into You (2014) are about two of Beth’s friends.

One funny thing. Let me say, I loved Dare You To, loved Beth, and yes, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2013. That said? I have never seen the appeal of the “dare you’ games that Ryan and his friends play. Why? Because it’s playing with people’s feelings. From the start, with the dare being about getting girl’s phone numbers, I thought “this isn’t cute or funny, it’s mean to these girls who have no idea.” I loved that Beth had Ryan’s number on this from the start, figuring out what was going on, and how then this fear (is it just a dare?) appeared every now and then even after the dares had ended. I just wanted to point out that I loved this book, even with the dares! Probably because Beth figures it out early on; and, at least one other character also is all “don’t play with people like that.”

Other reviews: Fikt Shun; Dear Author; plus, an interesting analysis from Romance Novels for Feminists.



Review: This Is What Happy Looks Like

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith. Poppy, an imprint of Little, Brown. 2013. Review from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: An email sent to the wrong person results in an email friendship between two teens. They talk about everything — except their names and who they are. Oh, some stray details are mentioned, like where they live. He lives in California, she lives in Maine.

“He” happens to be teenage actor Graham Larkin. And he’s fallen hard for the girl he knows only through emails. From a few details in her emails, he figures out what small town in Maine she lives in and has managed to arrange for his latest movie to be filmed there. An entire summer with the girl of his dreams.

Ellie doesn’t realize she’s been sharing so much with a movie star. All she knows is the summer is going to be even more crowded, with the combination of tourists and a movie filming. She hates the crowds and the photographers.

Will Graham and Ellie connect in real life, the way they have in email?

The Good: Smith’s earlier book, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, was one of my favorite books from last year so I was looking forward to this one. I won’t keep you in suspense — This is What Happy Looks Like does not disappoint!

This Is What Happy Looks Like is a romance, and (to me at least) the key to romance is a watching the couple fall in love. Of course, it can’t be too easy — that would be boring! So what creates the tension, the “will they or won’t be”? Again, it has to be real, not artificial, and it can’t be something that makes either person look bad.

Graham and Ellie are in two different places in life, and it’s not just that Graham is a Famous! Movie! Star! It’s that, even though at seventeen he is only a year older than Ellie, he’s independent. He’s in a career he loves, he’s finished his schooling, he’s living on his own. Ellie, meanwhile, is going into his senior year at high school. She lives at home, with her mother — her father is out of the picture. Money is tight and her dream is to attend an August program at Harvard so she’s working two jobs.

When Graham shows up at the ice cream place where Ellie works, he asks out the cute girl with the name “Ellie” embroidered on her work shirt. Problem is? It’s Ellie’s shirt, yes, but the person wearing it is Ellie’s’ best friend.

Aha, you may think! This is the tension. He’s asked out Ellie’s friend.

No! One reason I love Smith as an author is she doesn’t do the expected, the easy. So, here, yes there is a mix up but (spoilers) it’s resolved rather easily. The tension that keeps the two apart is that Ellie is a bit overwhelmed by Graham’s celebrity. Remember, he has had time to prepare to meet her in real life. She has not. It also turns out that Ellie is camera-shy and very private, for some very personal reasons. Her secrets don’t just create a problem with Graham. They also end up creating problems with her best friend, Quinn. The intense email correspondence? Something she hadn’t shared with Quinn, and Quinn is hurt by that.

And as for Graham, while he appears to have everything he could ever want, it turns out that he’s lonely. His super fast rise to fame means he is a bit isolated from those around him.

Yes, this is a romance, Ellie’s and Graham’s romance. But it’s also the story of friendship and trust. Graham has to learn to be a friend to Ellie, and Ellie has to learn to trust Graham.

Also — I had so much fun reading all the movie details! Graham’s fame came from playing the second lead in a popular teen trilogy, and I laughed at the parallels to certain current big movie franchises. What I also liked is that those in the industry, those who Graham is working with, are all rather decent people. This is not about learning that making movies isn’t a life to have; it’s not about the people in the industry being shallow or back-stabbing. Rather, they are real: so, yes, one of the movie stars isn’t happy being stuck in a small Maine town all summer. Because it’s a job, some of the people are demanding of Graham, treating him like the adult he is.

Other reviews:  Alexa Reviews Books; Forever Young Adult; A Backwards Story.


Review: Spirit and Dust

Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore. Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House. 2013. Review from ARC from publisher. Companion to Texas Gothic (2011).

The Plot: Daisy Goodnight is seventeen (so, so close to 18!), a college freshman, and a psychic consultant to the FBI.

Yep, that’s right. Daisy, like all the Goodnight women, has a talent. Hers is the ability to communicate with the dead. For real. Which is why this Texas teen is now in Minnesota, talking to the spirit of a recently murdered bodyguard. The good news is, Daisy can tell that the young woman he was guarding, Alexis Maguire, isn’t dead.

The bad news is, Alexis is the daughter of a crime boss, Devlin Maguire, and Devlin Maguire will stop at nothing to get his daughter back.

Including forcing Daisy to use her unique talents. By whatever means necessary. Including threatening her and her family. Including using magic.

The Good: I am such a fan of Rosemary Clement-Moore! Spirit and Dust (like Texas Gothic and The Splendor Falls) is a perfect mix of paranormal mystery and romance.

The mystery: Alexis Maguire has been kidnapped. Since Daisy talks to the dead, she usually isn’t involved in a case involving a live person. Maguire realizes the power of magic; he even has a witch on staff. He uses magic against Daisy to force her to help find Alexis, not realizing (or, more likely, not caring) that Daisy is the type of person who would help find Alexis just because it’s the right thing to do.

So, what does Daisy do? Figure out who amongst the dearly departed may know something about Alexis. As Daisy discovers more and more, she figures out this is not a simple, typical kidnapping. Alexis, a classics scholar, had discovered something long hidden about Ancient Egypt — something that in the wrong hands, could give someone much power. So, yes, this means that not only is there talking to the dead and kidnapping, but there is also magic, a secret brotherhood, research, Egyptian artifacts, and — as promised — romance.

Research — this is the fun type of research. The dashing from museum to museum, looking for clues, stealing a car or two, and avoiding getting blown up type of research.

Spirit and Dust does a tiny bait and switch. One of Daisy’s handlers is a cute, young FBI agent so of course I thought, “aha, the love interest.” Then Daisy got kidnapped by Maguire, and one of Maguire’s henchman, Carson, gets assigned to Daisy, to make sure she does what Maguire wants. Carson is young, cute, funny, and smart. But wait,  you say — he’s the bad guy, right? Let me just say, that yes, Carson becomes what I think of as a “question mark” — is he a good guy or a bad guy? Yes, he works for Maguire, but all his actions seem to indicate he’s a good guy. But is Daisy too trusting?

What else did I love? The mythology of Spirit and Dust. Daisy talks to spirits, and these spirits remnants are a bit fascinating. When someone has just died, they leave an image that only she can see. A remnant also exists at the place of death, which is what Daisy usually sees when she is brought in by the FBI. It also means that visits to places that have seen a lot of death, such as the Alamo (hey, she is a Texan!) can be a brutal experience for her. Yes, her abilities come with physical side affects, such as migraines. Or, if she’s in a museum with, say, a mummy? Yep, that’s a problem, also. Objects, such as jewelry, that have a connection to a person may also have a remnant. It’s just complicated enough that talking to the dead isn’t easy, or simple.

Spirit and Dust is a true companion to Texas Gothic. Texas Gothic was about Daisy’s cousin, Amy; Daisy made an appearance it that book, and Amy appears in this one. You don’t need to read the one to read the other; there is no continuing story arc. That said, there are plenty of Goodnights so I, for one, hope we see more books about this talented mystery solving family.

Other reviews: Clear Eyes, Full Shelves; YAL Book Briefs; A Dream Within A Dream; Page Turners.

Review: Wait For You

Wait For You by J. Lynn (who also writes as Jennifer L. Armentrout). William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins. 2013. Personal copy.

The Plot: Avery Morgansten is starting college away from home, away from family. Not just away; she’s also chosen a college in West Virginia that she knows will have no one from her home town. She’s leaving all that far behind her.

Late to her first class, she runs into Cameron Hamilton, sending pens and notebooks flying. He’s handsome, he’s flirty, he’s nice, so Avery does what anyone would do.

She runs away. “I moved over a thousand miles to start over and I already mucked it up in a matter of minutes.

Except Avery runs into Cam again. And again. Walking home, he’s there. Once back in her apartment building? He lives across the hall. They share a class. Cam likes her.

Starting over isn’t easy. She hadn’t planned on handsome Cam. She hadn’t planned on falling for him. Is she ready for something to happen? Will Cam wait for her?

The Good: As I explained in my review of The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden, as part of my preparation for the ALA Conversation Starter I’m doing with Sophie Brookover and Kelly Jensen, I’m reading a lot about what “New Adult” is or isn’t, what is or isn’t being published, and, of course, reading some of the books that have the “New Adult” designation. Briefly, New Adult is primarily for a readership of ages 18 to 25.

I liked Avery and Cam, even if at times Avery was erratic in what she did or didn’t do. As a character, she didn’t really work for me until the second half of the book. Cam — Cam had the patience of a saint. It’s not just that Avery sent mixed messages; it’s that Avery had secrets, some pretty significant, and those secrets really affected her ability to truly connect with those around her. While the timeline of recovery made sense from Avery’s point of view, how did Cam see it? Especially a Cam who had no idea that recovery was even going on?

Oh, spoilers, by the way. So if you’re like me, looking for a NA book to read? This was a nice quick read; and (as far as I can be a judge after just two books!) contains the emotional impact that readers are looking for. So many feelings! Being honest, even there were certain things with the plot and Avery’s characterization that had me eye-rolling, or didn’t work for the type of reader I am, I really liked Avery, Cam, and their friends; liked the plotting in the last third of the book; and am going to keep my eye out for the sequels that tell the story from Cam’s point of view, as well as a story for Cam’s sister and Avery’s best friend.

Spoilers. As with Callie and Kayden, this had a certain level of hurt/comfort to it, except it wasn’t quite as overblown soap opera. The past that Avery is running away from is that she was raped, wasn’t believed, became the town outcast, was emotionally neglected by her parents, and had a suicide attempt. Cam’s past hurt is more a secret than a hurt: he beat up his sister’s abusive boyfriend and was arrested. Cam is supposed to be a “player,” but in terms of what is in the book, that just seems to mean that he has had lots of sex before he meets Avery. He never appears to be in doubt about wanting a relationship with Avery (at least, not in a “but I’m a PLAYER” type way), and never cheats on her.

As with Callie and Kayden, I kept wanting to yell at Avery, “therapists! they have therapists in West Virginia!” What I liked is that Avery is doing her best without any type of outside counseling; she truly believed, I think, that new place meant new Avery. To a certain extent, yes, that is true. But, as Buckaroo Banzai said, “no matter where you go…. there you are.” Wait For You turns out not be about Cam waiting for Avery to be ready, as Avery waiting for herself to truly deal with and address the rape and the aftermath. Cam ends up being an important part of her support system in this happening, but this is not Cam “fixing” Avery.

Here’s another thing I tend to yell at books that include unreported crimes, especially the type of crime that tends to be repeated by the perpetrator. “Call the police,” I say, “so it doesn’t happen to someone else. This isn’t just about you.” I won’t say how, but Wait For You addresses this point in a way I found satisfying. (It would only be “very” satisfying if there were a fourth book. But that’s as spoilery as I’ll get on that point.)

Other reviews: Interview with the author at Digital Book World; Avery’s Book Nook; Dear Author; Under the Covers Book blog; Babbling About Books.

I know it’s impossible and hardly fair to judge New Adult on two books. With both books, I was struck by the emotional intensity; the desire for reinvention; and finding someone to trust after a lifetime of not being able to trust. Since I’m approaching New Adult not just as a reader, but as someone wondering whether New Adult is a thing and how to meet readers’ needs, I’m glad I read them (and may try a few more) to understand what readers are looking for and what other books may meet those needs.

With the low price point of many of these books, I think “eh, it’s cheap enough, so why not buy it and see whether or not I like it?” From what I understand, that’s not an uncommon approach to these books and is part of the explanation of the high sales. So what if I don’t like it, or don’t read it? It’s just a couple of dollars! For those of you who want to spend even less, that is, nothing, there’s a free ebook sampler of New Adult titles called Between The Covers: The Hottest New Adult Books.

If you have suggestions for other New Adult titles I should try (especially one that doesn’t include recovering from sexual assault), please let me know!

Review: Eleanor and Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. St. Martin’s Griffin. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: August, 1986, and Park Sheridan is sitting on the bus, wanting to be left alone. When Eleanor Douglas gets on the bus, the last thing he wants to do is share his seat with her.

Ignore her, leave her to the bullies in the back of the bus. Better her than him. Despite his best intentions, he moves over, she sits down.

Eleanor & Park.

Slowly, something changes between Eleanor and Park. The comics that Park reads, that he notices Eleanor reading along with him. He listens to the music she’s interested in but never heard, so he makes her a mix tape. And just like that . . . Eleanor & Park.

It’s About: A wonderful, enchanting story of two sixteen-year-olds falling in love.  When Eleanor and Park’s hands touch for the first time — when they realize that what they feel is reciprocated — as they try to work out their feelings for each other against a harsh background — oh, all the highs and lows and first love.

“Harsh background” underplays their situations. Eleanor is the new girl in town, overweight, wearing odd clothes, not belonging. Eleanor’s family is beyond poor. She lives with her mother, stepfather, and four younger siblings. The five children share one room in a house that doesn’t have a bathroom door. Eleanor doesn’t have a toothbrush or toothpaste. It’s poverty, yes, but it’s not “just” the family not having a lot. It’s also that Richie, her stepfather, is a drunk who hits her mother. It’s also that last year, he threw her out. Eleanor has spent a year sleeping on someone else’s couch and has only just now been allowed to return.

I’ll be honest: I hated Eleanor’s mother, Sabrina. I tried to be sympathetic, noting that she got pregnant with Eleanor while in high school. Her first husband, Eleanor’s father, is charming but not good for much else. That first pregnancy would have been in 1970, I figured, and I tried to give Sabrina some slack in the decisions she made that affected her children. But, later in the book, when Sabrina speaks of staying with Richie despite everything, she says, “I haven’t been on my own since eighth grade.” And, I can’t. I just can’t. While I found Eleanor’s mother believable, I also just can’t stand her, that she prefers a man, any man, to being alone; prefers an abusive man to protecting her children because she doesn’t want to be alone. And while, to her credit, Richie is not shown hitting the children, he is emotionally abusive and controlling.

Park is much more fortunate than Eleanor: like her, he lives in the poor area of town. Unlike Eleanor, and unlike many of their neighbors, his parents are together and much in love. Park’s father me this mother while he was stationed in Korea. Min-Dae left her country, her family, her friends, even her name — she is now Mindy. Park lives with his parents and younger brother next door to their grandparents, his father’s parents. He has what Eleanor lacks: love as well as material comforts. Yet he, too, doesn’t quite belong: being part Korean, liking different music and clothes and styles, not being the type of son his father would want.

Together — oh, these two together. “Which means, when I see you on Monday morning, it’s been sixty hours since I’ve taken a breath. That’s probably why I’m so crabby, and why I snap at you. All I do when we’re apart is think about you, and all I do when we’re together is panic. Because every second feels so important. And because I’m so out of control, I can’t help myself. I’m not even mine anymore, I’m yours, and what if you decide that you don’t want me? How could you want me like I want you?” Oh, how could you like me like I want you.

Of course, it’s not easy. And does first love ever last?

I wondered why Eleanor & Park was set, so firmly, in 1986. I was just a handful of years older than Eleanor and Park. Why, I wonder, set this story then? Why not know? (Sorry, this is how I think.) And, for me, the answer was the music. Eleanor and Park bond over very specific bands and songs, all real, and none of them top 40. Music, the type of music one listens to, is something that teens use to define themselves. I listen to this band, so I’m this type of person. Eleanor likes the music even before she hears it, because of what she’s read about it — because of how she wants to see yourself. To convey the importance of this, I think they had to be real bands even if readers aren’t going to know all the bands and songs they listen to. Current bands? Well, are too current. Made up bands? Can’t convey the same depth. So it had to be this time, this music. It’s because of the music that I think of Eleanor and Park as a sideways Pretty in Pink.

Eleanor and Park is told by Eleanor and Park; so it limits the reality of some of what is shown. Park’s father at first seems really tough on his son, maybe too tough, but as the story unfolds it turns out that his father is a very decent, caring man. The bullies on the bus, yes, they treat Eleanor terribly and Park views himself as a target. But later, after something happens, one says to Park that he thought they were friends and it just made me wonder, about what else was going on in people’s lives. Teenaged love can be all consuming, as Eleanor describes, yes; but being a teenager can also be about being consumed so with oneself that one doesn’t see what is going on in others lives. A few sentences to Eleanor reveals things going on in the neighbor’s home that Park never suspects. He’s too wrapped up in his own life.

Other reviews: Clear Eyes, Full Shelves; Stacked; Reading Rants; Guys Lit Wire.



Review: My Life Next Door

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick, Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin. 2012. Copy provided for review.

The Plot: Samantha Reed’s mother explained to her about the family next door: “There’s one in every neighborhood. The family that never mows their lawn. The toys scattered everywhere.” The message to Sam is clear: stay away from the Garretts.

Sam is fascinated by the Garretts: all the children, the noise, the chaos, so unlike her own tidy home, her perfectionist mother, her in charge sister. She secretly watches them — until one day Jase Garrett climbs the trellis.

The boy next door: Jase. The boy her mother cannot know about. Even Sam’s best friend is disapproving. Jase’s family is welcoming and loving — just like she pictured they would be.

Until something terrible happens. Sam has a choice to make.

The Good: Mrs. Reed’s dislike for the Garretts is clear from the start. They don’t live life as she thinks it should be led: they have too messy a house and yard, they have too many children. Apparently, the family gets that a lot; Jase says his mother’s response to the people is “to pity them, feel sorry for anyone who thinks what they think is right should be some universal law.”

To Sam, the Garretts are interesting and exciting: eight children and married parents, a family without as much money, a family that is warm and loving. Sam’s mother is a cold perfectionist, caring about what the family looks like to outsiders even before she ran (and won) the race for state senator.

Aside from the differences in the two families in terms of money, family size, and socioeconomic background (Mrs. Reed lives quite well off a family trust; Mr. Garrett owns a neighborhood store),  both teens — Sam and Jase — are good kids from good families. It’s important to note, because this is not about a bad boy and a good girl, even though Mrs. Reed as well as some of Sam’s friends  see Jase as “bad” because of exterior factors (how he looks, what he drives, what school he goes to, etc.) It’s about two good teens from different families. And there’s nothing wrong with different.

That said, Mrs. Reed is one piece of work. She believes that appearances do reflect the content, so judges based on that. She’s also not as put-together as she likes to pretend, as shown by her romance with the campaign manager for her re-election. She is reserved and  — oh, forget it. I’ll be blunt. I did not like Mrs. Reed, not at all: she was cold, judgmental, and manipulative. While the ending of the book made sense within the context of the characters involved, I didn’t like it.

I think that Sam should go to university on the opposite side of the country as her mother, and send cards at holidays. Or England, England works. Or South America. I’m not as concerned about what happens to Jase, because he has a family he loves who loves him back. Sam, though — with that mother, I’m worried for her beyond the pages of the book.

Topic: despite my personal feelings towards Samantha’s mother, I really, really loved this book! Samantha and Jase, as I said, are two good teens and I loved that. It’s a great romance of two teens trying to fit together, and the big barrier is Sam’s friends and family and their attitude.It’s the summer before Sam and Jase’s senior year; and this is a romance for older teens. Sam and Jase are the type of teens where they talk about sex before having it and go condom shopping together.

Sam choosing to be with Jase, and how she handles it, is as much about Sam falling for Jase as it is about Sam beginning to establish independence from her family. (And as I may have mentioned…. it’s an independence that MUST be done.)

So, what do you think? Am I being too harsh about Senator Grace Reed?

Other reviews: Galleysmith; Clear Eyes Full Shelves; Novel Thoughts.

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith. Poppy, an imprint of Little, Brown. 2012.

The Plot: Hadley is four minutes late for her plane, the plane to London to take her to her father’s wedding. Now she has to wait for the next one, and if she is lucky, she may be able to get to the church on time. Yes, Hadley should have given herself more time, more time to get to the plane, more time before the ceremony, more time — but. Well. It is her father’s second wedding: the wedding that is happening because when he moved to England for a semester as a visiting professor, he never came back.

No, really. Instead of coming home after one semester,  he divorced Hadley’s mother, stayed in England and now is marrying Charlotte. Hadley has never met Charlotte and doesn’t want to go to the wedding. Which may explain why she planned on flying out at the last possible moment . . .  and now that has changed into the last-last possible moment.

While waiting for the next plane to London, Hadley meets Oliver. He’s handsome and funny and it turns out he is in the seat next to her. The missed flight may just be the best thing to happen to Hadley.

The Good: It was post-Hurricane Sandy, four days without power. I had just finished up reading the National Book Award finalists. I looked over the piles of books and saw a sea of dystopia and survival and loss and just couldn’t.

The I saw The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. A romance? Yes, please! Just what the bibliotherapist ordered. Did it deliver exactly what I needed? Yes, and then some! There is so much to love about Hadley, Oliver, and Hadley-and-Oliver, including that they are two smart, funny, bright teens. I love how the two of them were thrown together but it wasn’t sparks from the beginning. Considering half the book is “waiting in an airport” then “sitting in a plane”, a lot depended on the conversation between the two of them, and wow, it worked. And then when the plane landed, and Hadley had to go off to her father’s wedding while Oliver had his own business in London, then what?

Hadley has to go to her father’s wedding; the wedding (and meeting his fiance) that she dreads. Hadley’s anger at her father is even better than deeply felt and wonderfully conveyed. It is entirely justified and pure in its self righteousness. Hadley and her parents were a close family unit before her father left for England; her mother’s own career kept her and Hadley from joining him. He met Charlotte, divorced his wife, stayed in England. Who is in the right here? Who is in the wrong? Simple, right?

No. And yes . . .  Meeting Oliver helps Hadley to come to terms with her family history. He doesn’t help her, he’s not some wise-speaking guru, he’s just a guy who completed his freshman year at an American college, an ocean away from his British family. It’s meeting him, flirting and laughing and talking and listening, and realizing what is important to her, that helps Hadley. OK, this may be a bit spoilerish, but c’mon, you know that a happy ending in all things is guaranteed in this book, right? I won’t explain the specifics; I will say that Hadley learns that sometimes you forgive a past hurt because, well, holding onto a grudge is painful and damaging. I loved that I believed Hadley working out things with her father: it was not simplistic, and it did not ignore or excuse what he had done.

What exactly did her father do? This is where I can’t help my bias as an adult reader who is closer to the ages of the parents than the teen. Statistical Probability gives a nuanced look at what happened with Hadley’s parents while never telling too much, because, frankly, most teen readers wouldn’t care. (That I want the adult book about Hadley’s father is just my own curiosity.) Smith smartly sets this book at over a year since the father left; so while Hadley remembers her heartbroken mother crying, her mother as she is today is a woman with a boyfriend who is supportive of Hadley having a healthy relationship with her father and his new bride. This allows Hadley to work through her own emotions, and what she wants her relationship with her father to be, without having to worry about hurting her mother.

Because this combined a romance with a realistic and beautiful look at family dynamics, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Other reviews: Emily Reads (haiku); BiblioFile; BookEnds at Booklist; Bookshelves of Doom; Jen Robinson’s Book Page; Stacked.

Review: Adaptation

Adaptation by Malinda Lo. Little, Brown. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Reese and David are returning home from nationals for debate  (they lost, don’t ask) when the world seems to go crazy. They are at the airport when birds begin attacking planes; a series of crashes forces the shut down of all air travel. Their teacher manages to rent a car for the long drive home from Phoenix to San Francisco, but panic on the streets has led to traffic, road closures, evacuations, and worse.

The car hits a bird and crashes; twenty-odd days later, Reese wakes up on a military base. She and David are lucky to be alive. They return home, to relieved parents, to a world that is has recovered from the panic but still has some measure, such as curfews, in place.

All seems normal; even Reese’s best friend, Julian, still believes in conspiracy theories. Only thing is now his theories involve birds and what’s been happening after the crashes. Things even start looking up for Reese personally. After a disastrous encounter with her crush, David, before nationals (don’t ask), Reese meets someone new. All seems normal.

Seems normal.

Except, it’s not. What happened with the birds? And what happened to Reese and David in the military hospital? Why did they have to sign confidentiality agreements about their treatment? Reese is noticing strange things, having strange dreams —

It all comes together in a way Reese couldn’t imagine, couldn’t predict, when she saw the first birds die outside a Phoenix airport.

The Good: So many twists and turns! Just when I thought, aha, THIS is what is going on, BAM, twist, BAM, secret, BAM, not what you think. Why would I ruin this roller coaster adventure ride for you by telling those secrets?

As you can imagine, from that, Adaptation has action and adventure and romance and science fiction, along with other things, and it’s all woven together wonderfully. More than wove together; sometimes, those elements are almost red herrings for what is “really” going on. One minute, birds are attacking and Reese and David are in a horror-type movie, taking a road trip from hell to get back home; the next, they are in a hospital wondering just what happened during the previous month. Next thing, Reese is home and adjusting to being back home, and part of that includes meeting Amber Gray, the girl who sets Reese’s heart racing, so things slow down, a bit, to a cute romance.

Or should I say hot romance? “[Amber] pulled at her hand, like a girl tugging on the string of a balloon that has floated nearly all the way up to the sky, and just like that balloon, Reese felt herself drawn downward, half-floating, half-sinking, towards Amber.”

Reese is dating Amber, adjusting to the realization that she likes girls (but she also likes David), but that doesn’t stop Reese’s nightmares or concerns about what went on while she was at that military base.

Reese, Amber, David — let me say this is one of my favorite love triangles in a YA book. Reese is attracted to both Amber and David; there are no good or bad guys. Yes, Reese likes boys and girls (well, at least one boy,  David, and one girl, Amber), and that’s another aspect about Adaptation. It’s multicultural and diverse, in a casual way, meaning it’s no big deal. It’s not a thing. The teens and adults in Adaptation are straight, bi, and gay; they are white, African American, Asian American. Except, it is a big deal to YA readers because too often the “default” for books is all white, all straight.

Because Adaptation is as diverse as our society. Because it kept twisting and turning, from adventure to romance to love triangle to conspiracy theories. Because I didn’t realize just where it was going to go, even though all the clues were there. Because Reese is smart and vulnerable. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.