“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.

“Romancing the dark in the city of light” Ann Jacobus

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Thomas Dunne. (St. Martin’s Griffin). 276 p. (Also includes Suicide Prevention Resources, and Discussion Questions.)

RomancingTheDarkInTheCityOfLightForced to move to Paris to live with her very rich mother after being kicked out of four high schools, eighteen-year-old Summer is not a happy camper. In order to inherit a lot of money, her grandfather’s will mandates that she graduate from a private high school and finish college by the age of twenty-two, but Summer can’t muster up the interest needed to finish the last five weeks of her senior year. She’d rather spend time drinking, and dreaming of the Parisian boyfriend she absolutely MUST find so she could have a purpose for her life.

After a suicide on the Metro she meets the very handsome Kurt, who she soon decides is going to be the boyfriend she’s been seeking. She also feels the same way about Moony, a fellow student at her high school. As time goes on, Summer spends more time getting drunk and hanging out with Kurt than she does with Moony – even though he’s the one who makes her heart flutter. With just a few weeks left before she’s supposed to graduate, Summer makes a decision that will forever change not only her life, but also Moony’s.

I wasn’t a fan of this book. I knew Summer had big problems, but some of what happened to her seemed a bit far fetched as well as fantastical. I also had a problem with her constant neediness and the way she couldn’t handle rejection – even something as simple as someone saying they had to go to a doctor’s appointment when she’d invited them to coffee.

Though I enjoyed the descriptions of Paris, which reminded me of the time I’d spent there many years ago, Moony was the only one that really grabbed my interest as I found Kurt and Summer to be clichés. It is because of Moony that I gave this book two stars instead of one.

I’ll leave it up to those of you in the 16 and older range to decide if you want to read it or not.

“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.

“Because of the sun” Jenny Torres Sanchez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published January 3, 2017. Delacorte Press. 261 p. (Includes “Author Note.”)

BecauseOfTheSunDani grew up with Ruby, a mother who hated and blamed her for everything that went wrong in her life. She was a mom with an itchy foot, constantly moving from place to place, always with a different man on her arm. She wore skimpy clothes and drank a lot, and Dani hated her. She hated herself for hating her until the day Ruby was mauled to death by a bear and Dani was left alone with her mixed up thoughts.

Sent from Florida to live in New Mexico with an aunt she’d never known, Dani falls into the abyss of despair. She is alone, except for her dark thoughts and the bear that killed her mother, who seems to follow her everywhere. Dani must face her own hopelessness and learn to feel the anguish of others, because only through their pain can she live.

I found this book to be dark and full of symbolism, with some fantastical elements as seen through Dani’s Don Quixote-type imagination. As she constantly wanders in the sun and thinks contemplative thoughts about the bear, I felt that this book would be perfect to dissect in an English class. A high school English teacher would ecstatically tear it apart for her students.

Even though it was a little too complex for me, I will recommend it for ages 16 and older.

“Die for you” Amy Fellner Dominy

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published November 8, 2016. Delacorte Press (Random House). 292 p. (Includes “Author’s Note” and “Resources.”)

dieforyouAfter Emma’s mother leaves her father for another man, Emma moves across town to be with her dad and help pick up the pieces of his life. Starting her senior year at a new school is rough, but meeting Dillon helped erase the darkness of hating her mom and seeing her dad’s pain. With Dillon she is able to love and be loved.

Emma and Dillon are so happy. They’ve promised to always be there for each other, to take care of each other, and to be together forever. However, it doesn’t take long before Emma finds that “forever” is more than just a word to Dillon. He always follows through on his promises. Always.

Dominy’s fast paced novel about what happens when relationships turn bad is sure to be an eye opener for many readers. The Author’s Note and Resources sections hold information that could unlock the cages of many relationships, making “Die for you” a book that needs to be on the shelves of every high school and public library.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The nearness of you” Amanda Eyre Ward

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. Ballantine Books. To be published February 14, 2017.

thenearnessofyouSuzette and Hyland had been married for years, and were comfortable in their love. Suzette worked long hours as a heart surgeon, Hyland wandered from job to job, but they were always there for each other. Things were good, until Hyland reneged on their marriage agreement by asking for a child. Suzette had never wanted children because her mother was mentally ill, and she stood a chance of passing on the illness. Despite misgivings, Suzette agrees to allow Hyland to medically impregnate a surrogate but, shortly after learning she was pregnant with his child, the surrogate disappears.

Through multiple viewpoints, Ward tells the story of the young surrogate struggling to raise a child she thought she didn’t want, but loved all the same, contrasted with Suzette’s similar conflict and love. Readers are taken through their years of pain, adaptations and sacrifice, to arrive at the conclusion that love conquers all.

“The nearness of you” was a good read, although the medical jargon was very confusing. I think Ward could have portrayed Suzette’s job in a general manner without resorting to readers having to hunt down a medical dictionary to figure out what was happening.

Recommended for Adults.