“It’s a wonderful death” Sarah J. Schmitt

Rated 4 stars **** 2015. Sky Pony Press. 306 p.

It'sAWonderfulDeathRJ, Queen Bee and Mean Girl at her high school, never expected life to end at the age of 17. However, the Grim Reaper accidentally takes her soul when a fortuneteller uses her as a shield against him. Highly upset at the consequences of his mistake, RJ refuses to be processed in the afterlife. Instead she insists her soul be returned to her body, and creates a stink about being wrongfully taken to anyone who’ll listen.

A Tribunal of angels is convened to rule on her case, and she is given a task to return to three important occasions in her life that could alter her destiny. IF she manages to change the course of her life, and influence others for the good, they will grant her request. If not, she will be shut away for years until her real death date occurs somewhere in the future.

RJ is determined to ace her tests though the Tribunal doesn’t seem to want her to succeed. Changing the pattern of the selfish life she’d led on Earth is not going to be easy, but if she wants to live in her own body again she’ll have to figure out a way.

Schmitt has a very active imagination, describing Saint Peter, life after death, heaven, hell, and even angels in ways that would never be found in any religious book. Though some conservative types might find her descriptions of RJ’s experiences in the afterlife to be sacrilegious, I found them to be original, highly imaginative and quite humorous.

Recommended for ages 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.

 

“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.

“Openly Straight” by Bill Konigsberg

Rated 4 stars **** 2013. Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic.) 320 pp.

OpenlyStraightRafe came out of the closet when he was in 8th grade. It was surprisingly easy, as Boulder Colorado accepted everyone for everything. His hippie parents had no problem with it and neither did his best friend Claire Olivia, his neighbors, friends, schoolmates or teachers.

By his junior year of high school Rafe began to feel like no one saw the real him because they only saw him as being “the gay guy.” Wanting to live a label free life, Rafe decided to attend an all boys’ school in Natick, Massachusetts and act straight so he could live without a label.

In Natick Rafe guarded his secret, became a jock, and hid his true self. Within a few months, his carefully built house of cards began to crumble when he fell in love with Ben, a jock. Rafe was now faced with a dilemma. If he told Ben his secret, he’d lose him. However, if he didn’t tell would he still lose?

In this humorous look at a serious subject, Konigsberg brings readers into Rafe’s mindset helping them to understand why he would undertake a new life in Natick, the importance of not assigning labels to others, and how to understand if you are running away from yourself to find yourself.

Recommended for readers aged 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)

“Manicpixiedreamgirl” Tom Leveen

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Published April 23, 2013. Random House. 241 pp.

ManicpixiedreamgirlThrough present time and flashbacks, readers are introduced to sixteen-year-old Tyler Darcy. From the moment he first laid eyes on Rebecca in 9th grade, Tyler was in love. He kept all his feelings to himself, writing about her and fantasizing about the ways he’d “wow” her with his brilliance. Unfortunately for Tyler, no brilliance ever surfaced and he spent his high school years unable to let Becky know how he felt.

Despite getting involved with the school’s drama department so he could regularly see Becky, having a steady girlfriend, and being a talented writer, Tyler is fixated on one thing: being with Becky. It’ll take a major alignment of all the planets, stars and a few moons before Tyler gets the nerve to talk to her, but it’s worth the wait to read his story.

“Manicpixiedreamgirl” is filled with guy humor, and thoughts, as it’s told from Tyler’s lovestruck point of view. Being a guy himself, Leveen’s portrayal of Tyler is very realistic, good for plenty of laughs with Tyler and his friends as well as Tyler’s “insight” into female thoughts and behavior. Along with the humor, a dose of heartbreak keeps things on an even keel, and is sure to be enjoyed by readers 14 and older – especially boys.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Greg Heffley’s Journal” Jeff Kinney

2007. Amulet Books. 217 pp.

DiaryofaWimpyKidI know, I’m totally behind the times because practically everyone else has already read this book. However since I’m on vacation and didn’t bring enough books to read, I had to go to the Public Library. Their YA section was sadly lacking in interesting titles so, when I saw this book I figured “why not?” and borrowed it to read. I’m glad I did.

Greg has just started middle school and, through the use of funny cartoon drawings and his “journal” (making sure to insist we don’t think it’s an actual “diary”) tells readers all about the horrors of middle school life. Kinney’s hysterical descriptions and drawings had me in stitches from the first few pages, and it’s easy to see why kids of all ages (especially boys) love this series. Poor Greg can’t catch a break, as all of his various schemes to achieve popularity and notoriety all fade to nothing, leaving him holding the proverbial bag on every occasion.

Boys aged 9 and up will become instant fans, and will devour the rest of the books in the series.