“Wide awake” David Levithan

Rated 5 stars ***** 2006. Knopf Books. 221 p.

WideAwakeDuncan and his boyfriend Jimmy, along with their friends, have been working hard on the campaign of Abraham Stein hoping he will become the first gay, Jewish President of the United States. Stein wins by 1000 votes, and everyone is ecstatic – except for the governor of Kansas who insists there was election tampering and hopes to have him defeated. With his opponent refusing to concede the election, hoping to have Stein lose votes in the recount, Stein invites Americans to join him in Kansas to protest the behind-the-scenes politics working to take away the people’s vote.

Jimmy fiercely believes in action when he spots wrongdoing, while Duncan hopes silence will make bad things disappear. Their differences of opinion begin to rise to the surface with Stein’s election issues, and the trip to Kansas seems to be the match that could set them off in different directions. With a strong belief in America’s founding principles of “liberty and justice for all,” the two embark on a trip that will forever change the views they hold of their country, its citizens and themselves.

Levithan mixes politics, romance, relationships and history to give readers a dystopian story that, though written in 2006, is eerily prescient of the 2016 elections. His descriptions of the Kansas rally reminded me of the Atlanta Women’s March, where I joined millions of other women across the nation to march in solidarity for civil rights and liberties. It’s impossible to not compare the hateful vitriol spewed forth from the opposition party in “Wide awake” to that emitted by supporters of our current administration.

Eleven years have passed since Levithan took pen to paper, and many things have happened politically – including the election of our nation’s first Black president. One can only hope America will have its own Abraham Stein to elect in the years to come. Thank you David for opening our eyes to its possibility.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“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.

“Seven ways we lie” Riley Redgate

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. 2016. Abrams.343 pp.

sevenwayswelieOlivia hates that her mother walked away from her family three years ago. Kat holes up in her room with Internet games. Matt fills his days getting high. Juniper is the perfect queen of Paloma High. Valentine is a loner. Lucas is everyone’s go to guy for beer and weed. Claire wonders why she can’t be like Olivia and Juniper.

When the news breaks that someone is involved in a secret affair with a teacher, everyone is shocked. Each of these students has the power to reveal the truth, yet they all have their own secrets. Are someone else’s secrets more important than your own? As truth and lies blend, this unlikely group of students become bound together in ways they never imagined.

“Seven Ways to Lie” was very thought provoking, with each character having their own chapter to articulate their issues and thought patterns. She challenges her readers to think about the “why” of situations, reminding them that things are not always as they seem.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Three truths and a lie” Brent Hartinger

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published August 2, 2016. Simon Pulse.

ThreeTruthsAndALieRob, his boyfriend Liam, their friend Mia and her boyfriend Galen decide to spend a fun weekend at Mia’s parent’s cabin. Located in the middle of a partly denuded rainforest in Washington State, the four friends expect to have a great time at the cabin’s lake telling truth and lie games and hanging out.

Within just a few short hours of arriving, the satellite phone they need to communicate in case of an emergency winds up missing. It doesn’t take long before a series of other unfortunate events turns the fun they’d anticipated having into terror, as it seems like someone doesn’t want them to leave. As the horror escalates, their reality becomes someone’s lie leaving it up to the reader to distinguish between the two.

I thought “Three truths and a lie” was interesting though some of the events seemed rather far fetched. It reminded me of what always happens to those who don’t pay attention in creepy 1960’s “B” slasher movies, and I will admit that the ending left me very surprised.

It’s because of Hartinger’s ability to deceive that I recommend his book for ages 16 and older.

“Villa America” Liza Klaussmann

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Published August 4, 2015. Little, Brown & Company. 412 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

VillaAmericaGerald and Sara Murphy came of age in the 1920’s, hosting extravagant parties in their Villa America estate on the French Riviera with family friends like Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and many others. After spending their youth as outsiders laced into a form of conventionality by their parents and society, their new way of living freely was a way to recoup those lost years.

Despite outward appearances, all is not as it seems in the Murphy household as secrets are eating away at their foundation. Scott and Ernest create dramas of their own while Owen Chambers, a handsome American pilot with a tragic story, is soon irretrievably mixed in with Gerald and Sara’s confusing lives with unfortunate results.

I found Villa America to be as long on the discussions and short on the action as Owen described it to Gerald. Before I was halfway through reading it I was as tired of the Murphy way of living as was Owen.

The book had its moments but, in general, I wasn’t a fan. Therefore I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“What remains” Helene Dunbar

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Flux. Published May 8, 2015.

WhatRemainsCal, Spencer and Lizzie have been best friends since first grade; knowing each other’s moods, thoughts, likes and dislikes. Spencer and Cal have been protecting Lizzie from her abusive home life since she was a little girl, which has made them inseparable. Love binds them together.

Now juniors, the three of them are starting to get excited about their upcoming senior year. Cal is planning on being the best shortstop the Major Leagues has ever seen, and can’t wait for baseball season to begin, while Spencer is always onstage performing in something with the Drama Department. Lizzie doesn’t think she’s good at anything, but is a wonderful artist.

Life as they knew it ends the day a texting driver crashes into their car, killing Lizzie, almost killing Cal, and injuring Spencer. Cal’s heart was literally broken in the crash, and his baseball dreams died with Lizzie. Certain that he was at fault for the accident, Cal falls into an abyss of guilt, loneliness and despair. As he begins to lose himself, only love can save him.

“What remains” is a heartfelt look at a special kind of love that touches the soul. Dunbar does a wonderful job drawing readers into Cal’s anguish and salvation. The author has also written “These Gentle Wounds,” also from Flux publishers, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

“The Sin-Eater’s Confession” Ilsa J. Bick

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner Publishing Group). 287 pp.

TheSinEater'sConfessionStationed with his Marines unit in Afghanistan, Ben plans to volunteer to infiltrate a Taliban-filled unit in the morning. Knowing that those who volunteer for these assignments usually don’t survive, he has decided to unburden his soul from a deep, dark secret he’s carried for 3 years.

Ben spends all night penning a “To All Whom This Might Concern” letter in which he recounts what happened in his Wisconsin hometown three years ago the summer he was seventeen. Up to that point he’d been living a robot-like life going to school, taking classes at the university, getting high grades and working two jobs trying to please his mother by getting into the college of her dreams. When Del, a classmate, was killed in an accident Ben volunteered to mentor his younger brother Jimmy.

Through a series of events, Jimmy was murdered. Ben was a witness to the events of that fateful night, yet couldn’t be sure of what he’d seen. Through fear he stayed silent but through his letters he questions himself, his actions, and everyone who played a part in Jimmy’s murder. As he struggles to figure out why Jimmy was killed and who did it, he rails against rumors, his cowardice, his inability to make decisions, his parents and life in general.

“The Sin-Eater’s Confession” is full of questions, innuendoes, and half-truths leaving readers scratching their heads while feeling strong empathy towards Ben and Jimmy.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).