“The weight of Zero” Karen Fortunati

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Delacorte Press. 375 p. (Includes “Author’s Note,” and a list of Sources.)

theweightofzeroCatherine, a seventeen-year-old high school junior used to be a dancer, used to have two best friends, and used to have a normal life. Everything changed her freshman year when her grandmother died and she was diagnosed as bipolar. Now life revolves around therapy, counseling, medication and loneliness.

After unsuccessfully trying to commit suicide during an especially bad case of depression, Catherine is sure she can never live a normal life. Depression, which she calls “zero,” will always suck her dry so she has decided it would be best to have an escape plan. Her plan consists of stockpiling pills to use when Zero rears its ugly head.

Catherine thinks being bipolar means she can never drive, go to college, have a boyfriend or live the life she was meant to live. As she prepares for Zero and her pills, she begins to live in ways she’d never thought possible. Should she dare to dream of life beyond Zero, or will Zero continue to erase every one of her hopes and dreams?

Fortunati offers hope to teens suffering from bipolar depression. I hope Catherine’s story  will be a beacon to lead them to safer waters.

Recommended for 14 and older.

“Phantom Limbs” Paula Garner

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Candlewick. 352 p.

phantomlimbsOtis was a scared thirteen-year-old when Dara rescued him from himself. After losing her arm in a shark attack, which ruined her swimming career and killed her Olympic dreams, Dara found new hope in Otis. He helped her forget her father’s disappointment, her mother’s death, and what a one-armed life entailed.

At that time his best friend Meg, the love of his life, had just moved away and his three-year-old brother Mason had just died. Therapy wasn’t helping him come to terms with his grief, until Dara’s fierce coaching and swimming lessons gave him a way out of the drain he’d been circling. Over the years they developed a great relationship, forged through pain and understanding, while he developed into a championship style swimmer.

Though three years had passed, Otis never stopped thinking about what life would have been like if Mason had not died and if Meg had stayed. When she suddenly sent a text saying she was returning to town for a short period, Otis was beside himself with joy, fear, hope and various other emotions. Thinking of her reminded him of Mason, which brought its own kind of pain, while wanting to know why she abandoned him and if she still loved him brought its own heartache.

Through humor, angst, and guy problems, Otis tells his coming-of-age story. As we learn of the death of his hopes and dreams, along with Meg’s and Dara’s, Garner’s title and the definition of phantom limb pain become intermingled. Though only one actually lost a limb, all suffer from this pain, making for a very interesting read. In fact, it was so interesting I read it in one sitting.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

“Someone I wanted to be” Aurelia Wills

Rated 1 star * ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Candlewick. 324 p.

someoneiwantedtobeLeah’s mother is a drunk; her sometime-friends either ignore or pretend to like her, while her classmates call her a variety of fat names. What’s an overweight, insecure, semi-friendless, sometimes drunk 15-year-old smoker to do? Leah’s answer is to eat so she doesn’t have to think, contrast her terrible life with everyone else’s wonderful life, and impersonate her pretty so-called friend Kristy so she could chat with someone who was obviously a pedophile but who she could only see as “handsome.”

“Someone I wanted to be” is a rambling view of Leah’s life, problems (mostly self-imposed) and how she almost wound up as a statistic. I wasn’t a fan, but will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“This is our story” Ashley Elston

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published November 15, 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 312 p.

thisisourstoryJohn Michael, Shep, Henry and Logan are accused of murdering their friend Grant. During a hunting trip he was shot and killed, but none of them will admit to it. Kicked out of their prep school, the four rich boys are now attending public school to finish out their senior year while the district attorney works out the legal details of their case. Everyone expects their case to be dismissed because of their daddies’ money and closeness to the DA.

Kate is devastated, as she and Grant had been texting for weeks and she’d fallen for him. Her mother works for Mr. Stone, the assistant district attorney, where she has a part-time intern position. When the DA recuses himself and gives the case to the ADA, it is with the assumption he will not find the boys guilty. Kate is angry at what happened to Grant, and Mr. Stone is angry at being expected to lose. Together they work hard to find whatever evidence they can to incriminate the boys.

As Kate takes photographs, and sifts through transcripts and testimonials, she begins to realize the five best friends were leading double lives. The more she learns, the more she finds herself mixed into their lives. Soon the real killer decides she knows too much and, as time ticks closer towards a conviction, plots ways to get away with more than one murder.

This murder mystery kept me on the edge of my seat. I thought I knew who killed Grant but, when the truth was revealed, I was completely wrong. Bravo to Elston for crafting not only a very interesting read, but giving readers excellent descriptions of what goes on behind the scenes in a murder case. It was also intriguing to read the killer’s thoughts after almost every chapter, dropping hints about the case.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Gilt Hollow” Lorie Langdon

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published September 27, 2016. Blink. 341 p.

gilthollowWhen Ashton Keller was 14 years old, he was accused of killing his friend by pushing him over a cliff. None of his three friends vouched for him and, despite protesting his innocence, he was sentenced to 4 years in a juvenile detention facility. Abandoned by his parents and his best friend Willow, Ashton was forced to grow up quickly and learn to defend himself in the facility. Released at the age of 18, he is determined to return to Gilt Hollow, where he grew up, to find out who murdered his friend and why he was framed.

Gilt Hollow is full of torturous memories of former good times, but his worst memory is that of Willow. They’d grown up together, and Ashton was crushed when she never contacted him in prison. His bad boy persona and good looks attracts lots of attention from the female set, but Willow is all Ashton can see. For her part, Willow is angry with him for ignoring her when she was the only one in town who believed in his innocence. However she can’t keep her eyes off him.

As Willow and Ashton attempt to reconnect, strange things start happening in Gilt Hollow. Each seems to have been perpetrated by Ashton, making it seem as if someone wants him back in prison for good. With the local police chief and his former best friends seemingly out to get him, Ashton needs Willow’s help before it’s too late. Will they be able to reconcile and get to the bottom of the strange events before it’s too late for Ashton?

I enjoyed the suspense as the mysteries unfolded. I had my suspicions as to who was the instigator, and went down the wrong rabbit hole a few times. Langdon did a good job hiding the truth, but I was not happy with Willow as she seemed a bit too whiny and insecure. I thought she and Ashton made a good couple from the beginning, while she wasted too much time second guessing everything he said or did, as well as her own thoughts and feelings.

I will put a spoiler alert at the bottom because I had some questions about some things that happened which weren’t clear enough for me. Don’t read it if you don’t like to read a Spoiler. These events, as well as Willow’s behavior, made me drop a star in my rating.

Despite my questions and Willow’s annoying behavior, I will recommend this book for ages 14 and older because the suspense was really good.

****SPOILER ALERT!*****SPOILER ALERT!****SPOILER ALERT!*****SPOILER ALERT!

Willow left her solo cup in Cory’s room, and Colin found it. He later told her he knew it was her cup. How did he know? Did he do a fingerprint analysis on it?

Colin said he had a knife from Ashton’s collection in the garage. How did he get into the garage to get it? Earlier Willow told Ashton to come get the key so he could get his motorcycle, thus implying the garage was locked.

When she got the note Ashton supposedly had written, why didn’t she notice it was written “To Willow” and signed “A?” Ashton calls her “Wil” and would’ve signed it by her nickname for him, which is “Ash.” Even I knew it was fake! She later claimed she didn’t know his handwriting, but she should have known their nicknames. Also she had just seen him at the dance. Why would he have slipped her a note when she was standing near him right before she left the party and he could’ve told her in person to meet him?

“One half from the East” Nadia Hashimi

onehalffromtheeastRated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Harper Collins. 256 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

In Afghanistan, there exists a tradition called bacha posh.” If a family doesn’t have a son, and are down on their luck, they are encouraged to change a daughter into a bacha posh, which brings good luck. The daughter must be young enough to not have reached puberty because she is expected to look and act like a boy. Gone are long skirts, headscarves, and all dainty girl behaviors. As a bacha posh, she is free to run, get dirty, and do things girls would never be allowed to do in Afghani society.

Ten-year-old Obayda becomes her family’s bacha posh after her father loses his leg in a car bombing and is unable to work. With only four daughters, the family desperately needs the luck a bacha posh can bring them. At first Obayda is terrified of her new role, not sure how to be a boy. However, with the help of Rahima, a thirteen-year-old bacha posh, Obayda soon comes to love the freedom of being a boy. Unfortunately they can’t remain a bacha posh forever. Soon they must change back into a girl and forget they were ever boys, but how does one go from freedom to shackles?

The world of gender inequality is explored in “One half from the East,” while readers are also introduced to the culture of Afghan people. It is sure to be a conversation starter, and offers great lessons on gender roles and expectations.

Recommended for ages 9-14.

“Girls like me” Lola StVil

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 4, 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 310 p.

girlslikemeUsing a poetic style of writing, along with text messages, St. Vil tells the story of Shay, a lonely, overweight 15-year-old girl. Shay has learned to constantly eat to cope with the pain of bullying and missing her dead father, as it helps her forget she’s fat and alone with her evil stepmother. Her gay best friend Dash, and her dying-of-cancer friend Boots assure her she is beautiful and funny, but even they can’t give her the help and support she finds from eating.

A chance encounter with a boy in a chat room leads to days spent laughing and chatting online. Soon her humor and his wit combine to form love, but is it possible to fall for someone you’ve never met? Shay believes staying online is enough, and resists all attempts for them to meet in person. She is certain that once he meets her he will run away, so is willing to settle for second best. Can she learn to overcome her fear and stand up for herself?

“Girls like me” tells Shay’s, Dash’s and Boot’s stories of loneliness, friendship and heartache, along with the ups and downs that come with being seen as “different” by their peers. It is a story every teen should, hopefully, learn from as they read.

Highly recommended for ages 13 and older.