“The way back from broken” Amber J. Keyser

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner). 207 p.

TheWayBackFromBrokenFifteen-year-old Rakmen’s baby sister died in his arms from an undiagnosed heart murmur. Awash with grief, his parents blame him and each other. His mother begins attending therapy sessions at Promise House, a place that promises to help grief filled; broken parents recover from the loss of their children.

As the broken brother of a lost sister, Rakmen is forced to attend the children’s sessions where he meets nine (or ten) year-old Jacey. Her baby brother was stillborn, throwing her mother (Rakmen’s teacher, Mrs. Tatlas) into a dangerously fragile mindset, and causing Jacey to wonder why she’d been robbed of the opportunity to become a big sister.

For some unknown reason, and to his eternal displeasure, Jacey becomes very attached to Rakmen. Mrs. Tatlas suggests they travel together to her uncle’s cabin in Canada for some R & R so, without any pushback from his parents, the three of them head to the wilderness. When an accident happens, it is up to Rakmen and Jacey to learn to work together to save all their lives.

I couldn’t really get into this book. I found it strange that Rakmen’s parents would let him go off for the entire summer with a perfect stranger, even though she was his teacher. Also, Jacey was supposed to be nine or ten, yet she acted more like six or seven. There were a few other issues, including grammatical errors scattered throughout so, overall, it wasn’t a win for me.

I’ll leave it up to you 14 and older readers to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Chasing shadows” Swati Avasthi

Rated 3 stars *** 2013. Alfred A. Knopf. 305 p.

ChasingShadowsSavitri, Corey, and his twin sister Holly have been friends for the past eleven years. Their fierce devotion to each other, and shared love for freerunning, have made them inseparable. With just a few months left of school, they plan to go to nearby colleges in Chicago. Though Savi has been accepted to Princeton, she is sure she and Corey can continue dating and that she can remain best friends with Holly. However, the day she gathers her courage to tell them she was accepted at Princeton is the day Corey is shot dead, Holly is put into a coma, and she becomes the lone witness to a crime.

Days turn into weeks as Savi tries to come to grips with Corey’s loss and her guilt for not being able to save him, try to remember details for the police, and help Holly through her recovery. Meanwhile Holly’s will to live comes from the voice inside her head that assures her it knows how to bring Corey back from the Shadowlands where she last saw him being taken captive. All she has to do is to listen to the voice and do what it says. If she does, she can bring Corey back home.

Deeply affected by Corey’s loss, Savi and Holly tell their stories in alternating chapters and through graphic novel inserts. Readers will not only receive an education on freerunning, but will also learn about the love between a brother and sister as well as true friendship and how being loyal to someone might involve making tough, unpopular decisions.

It took me awhile to get into this book as I found the detailed freerunning explanations to be boring. However I liked the graphic novel inserts as it helped frame Holly’s thoughts and made them more understandable. Holly and Savitri’s emotions were raw and real, and the author did an excellent job exploring and detailing how each confronted and dealt with their pain.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Bang” Barry Lyga

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. To be published April 18, 2017. Little Brown. 295 p.

BangFourteen-year-old Sebastian has never forgotten that, when he was four years old, he accidentally shot and killed his four-month-old baby sister. Everyone knows he’s a murderer, and have judged him for it. His best friend’s parents look at him funny, people whisper behind his back, and his father walked out because of what he did. He and his mother can’t seem to talk about it, and part of him is glad they don’t.

Despite what his therapist has said, Sebastian knows it was entirely his fault, but has plans to make it right. When he’s gone his mother can be normal again, and everyone will be happy. He’s been planning this for awhile so, with his best friend away for the summer, the time is ripe – until he meets Aneesa.

Aneesa is a distraction, helping him become a YouTube cook, and allowing him to think of something other than his guilt. However, despite everything, Sebastian knows it’s only a matter of time before he answers the voice that’s always there to remind him he doesn’t deserve to be happy. He knows the voice speaks the truth.

Sebastian’s struggles, along with those of Aneesa, are heart rending and real. Both experience things no one should have to struggle through but which, unfortunately, occur and need to be discussed. This is Lyga at his most brilliant.

At the recent American Library Association (ALA) conference, I refused to pick up any ARC’s (Advance Reading Copies) because I had too many to plow through from past conferences. However the cover and summary caught my eye, and “Bang” became my only ARC from that conference. I’m so glad I picked it up because I could not put this book down. Neither will you.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Holding up the universe” Jennifer Niven

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published October 4, 2016. Alfred A. Knopf. 391 p.

holdinguptheuniverseAfter her mother died when she was 11-years-old, Libby Strout felt so sad and burdened with grief that only food could lessen her pain. Her father used cooking to assuage his own grief, and the combination soon caused her to balloon to 653 pounds.

Jack Masselin spent his life building things from scraps, but nothing could help him build up his own life as everyone, including his own brothers and parents, were strangers.

Libby and Jack meet under unusual circumstances, gradually learning to depend upon each other for mutual support. As high school life threatens to tear them down, the two of them face their worst fears in order to move forward.

Through alternate chapters Libby and Jack tell their stories of feeling different for circumstances out of their control, while learning the importance of unity in the face of diversity.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Everyone we’ve been” Sarah Everett

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Published October 4, 2016. Knopf Books. 391 p.

everyonewevebeenSixteen-year-old Addie is unable to deal with issues. Having an overprotective mother, along with a father and older brother who both ignore her, tend to make her feel like something is missing in her life. She wishes she and her family were as close as they used to be when she was younger, and tries to fill the emptiness in her life with concerts, classical music, and playing the viola.

After a bus accident Addie starts to see a handsome boy no one else can see. Worried she’s going crazy, she finds out she had her memory erased because she couldn’t deal with something that happened. As she begins to cut through the fog in her mind she begins to find out other secrets. Suddenly she starts to get answers about why she feels like something is missing in her life, but she will not like what she finds.

I wondered why Addie had access to a clinic, which allowed people to just walk in to get their memories erased. Isn’t that a bit like a science fiction movie trailer? I googled the idea, and found an article saying scientists can erase your memories AND plant new ideas. I think that’s very scary.

I wasn’t a big fan of this book, finding Addie very whiny and too love struck in such a short time for my taste. I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

 

“Still life with tornado” A.S. King

Rated 1 star * ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Dutton Books. 295 p.

stilllifewithtornadoI really didn’t like this book. I thought it was very disjointed, and the storyline dragged. Weird and strange, sort of like a modern “Man of La Mancha,” I was left confused rather than enlightened. The tornado on the cover described me before, during and after reading it – because I felt nothing was truly resolved but, instead, shoved aside and (supposedly) forgotten. At the end everything was suddenly tied up in a neat bow, and life was now good. Huh?! Really?!

I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not. I wish I had been a “not.”

“The movie version” Emma Wunsch

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Amulet Books. 354 p.

themovieversionSeventeen-year-old Amelia and her older brother Toby have always been more like best friends than brother and sister. They love watching all kinds of movies, and their movie quotes drive everyone crazy. Toby comes up with fun, silly ideas of things to do, is the life of the party, and always has an entourage of friends.

She and Toby have always been there for each other so, when he starts cutting school, smoking pot, staying in his room, and acting strangely, Amelia covers for him. She starts to put her own life on hold for him, getting mad at her boyfriend and best friend for suggesting something might be wrong with him. When Toby is diagnosed with schizophrenia, Amelia has to learn how to deal with his diagnosis and to live her life without her brother by her side.

It took some time before I could really get into this book. I started it, put it down for a few months, and then decided to try again one more time. The constant movie quotes, titles of movies I’d never heard of, and constant references to movies at inopportune times were very off putting. It wasn’t until Toby was diagnosed and Amelia decided to stop living her life like a movie that the book became bearable. Only then was I finally able to read without the constant distraction of movie titles and quotes. I also didn’t think the author needed to be so explicit when describing Amelia and her boyfriend’s sexual antics. I thought it was an unnecessary distraction, and the book could have stood alone without their relationship.

I wasn’t a fan of this book, and the only reason I gave it two stars instead of one was because I thought it important for readers to learn about how mental illness affects teenagers.