“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.

“Journey’s end” Renee Ryan

Rated 2 stars ** 2016. Waterfall Press. 324 p.

Journey'sEndSet in 1901 New York, “Journey’s end” is the story of Caroline St. James, a young woman who grew up poor and hungry on the streets of London. After her mother died, Caroline gambled to get the money to come to America where she planned to confront her wealthy grandfather to find out why he allowed her mother to die in poverty. Her plan takes on a different twist when she meets Jackson Montgomery, a very handsome man who also seems to be hiding something from his past.

I was annoyed at the number of ways the author found to call Jackson “masculine,” as well as the constant references to him as “the man.” The way Caroline responded to him, one would have thought that men existed just so all women could feel happy and secure. I also felt the constant references to sundry Bible verses didn’t belong in the storyline because, from the beginning, Caroline admitted to not having any interest in God. All of a sudden she becomes religious, seeking wisdom from above for every move. It doesn’t feel believable.

The book ended abruptly without revealing why Lucian had left town unexpectedly, why Sally left her past employer, and why Elizabeth and Lucian seemed to be interested in each other. Is a sequel planned? I hope not, because I won’t be reading it.

I wasn’t a fan, but will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“From where I watch you” Shannon Grogan

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Soho Teen. 291 p.

FromWhereIWatchYouSixteen-year-old Kara is angry with her dead sister and with her mother. When Kellen died, her father left home and her mother retreated into a shell until she found religion. Her newfound faith changed her into a Holy Roller, offering advice and words of hope to strangers in her new cafe, while ignoring her own daughter. Kara doesn’t mourn Kellen because she hated her, hinting at something Kellen did which was unforgivable.

Kara bakes all sorts of baked goods to forget her problems, spending time alternately hurting and loving Charlie, the only boy who’s ever been nice to her, and trying to ignore scary notes randomly left on a daily basis by a stalker. Despite numerous opportunities to take others into her confidence, she continually assures herself she could handle the situation. By the time she realizes she’s in over her head, it’s almost too late.

In alternating chapters readers take a very slow ride through Kara’s memories growing up with Kellen, leading up to the unveiling of her stalker. However, I was not impressed. I found Kara to be annoying because of the countless excuses she gave for not seeking help as the notes got progressively worse. Always second-guessing herself, she also didn’t have any self-confidence. The most interesting character in the book was Charlie.

Thus I will leave it up to you readers ages 14 and older to decide if you want to read it or not. I seem to be on a bad roll, as this is the fourth book in a row that didn’t thrill me.

“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.

“Watched” Marina Budhos

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Wendy Lamb Books. (Random House.) 264 p.

watchedNaeem was 5 years old when his mother died and his father moved from Bangladesh to New York. He waited for his father to send for him, but it took another 6 years before he found himself on a plane to Queens, New York. There, he was reunited with his father and met his new little brother and stepmother.

He loved New York, spending years hanging out and roaming the streets instead of helping his parents in their little store. It’s now his senior year of high school and he expects to go to college, but is told he can’t graduate due to low grades. His future is staring at him bleakly until he gets arrested.

To avoid jail time he agreed to work undercover with cops, as they were sure terrorist attacks were being planned. They felt he could blend in and pick up information at mosques. Naeem thought by working with them he could prove Muslims were regular law-abiding citizens but, the deeper he got into play acting, the more he realized he enjoyed learning about his culture.

As time passed Naeem became more and more anxious. Who was he? Was he a traitor to his people, or was he helping them be seen in a better light? Would his work make the world a better place for his little brother, and for his parents, or would he incriminate innocent people?

“Watched” takes readers into the life of a Muslim family and into Muslim neighborhoods, describing an insider’s view of what it feels like to always be watched and judged by others. It will cause readers to think about their own prejudices and, perhaps, make them think twice before passing judgment on others.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

“Orhan’s Inheritance” Aline Ohanesian

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. 2015. Algonquin Books.

Orhan'sInheritanceForced to return to his tiny village in Turkey from the big city of Istanbul for the reading of the will after his beloved grandfather Kemal dies, Orhan is shocked when his ancestral home is left to a stranger named Seda. Knowing his father and aunt would be displaced if this happens, he is determined to travel to the United States and confront the mysterious woman named in the will.

Orhan finds 90 year old Seda living in an Armenian nursing home, stubbornly refusing to reveal her ties to Kemal. Through persistence and an invisible bond that seems to draw them together, Orhan slowly learns the painful secrets hidden in Kemal and Seda’s pasts which forever changed both of their lives.

Kemal and Seda’s hopes and dreams, often reminding me of the famous star crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet, is intermingled with the horrors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The more I read the more I could see its sad comparison to the events of the Trail of Tears, and how similar warped thinking by people in leadership led to the Holocaust.

These awful lessons from the past should never be repeated, and should serve as a reminder to beware of those who execrate others based on race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation – especially those in leadership or those seeking to become a leader. Thank you Aline for educating us, and for reminding your readers to never forget crimes committed against humanity. As George Santayana wrote in 1905, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We need to remember.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“The Cresswell Plot” Eliza Wass

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. To be published June 7, 2016. Disney-Hyperion.

TheCresswellPlotCastley Cresswell and her 5 brothers and sisters live with their father and invalid mother in a rundown shack in the middle of the woods. Their father is convinced he is a prophet of God, and that his children need to marry each other because they are the only ones who will make it to heaven. Everyone has spent their lives praying, reading Father’s religious writings, shunning everything from “the outside,” and allowing him to punish them in ways that redeem their souls.

Now a junior, Castley is looking forward to taking Advanced Drama with her sister which is a release from her life. When their schedules clash her teacher partners her with George, a local boy. Knowing Father has expressly forbidden her to be with boys, Castley decides to overlook the rule so she can enjoy class.

Over time Castley begins to enjoy normalcy, as George helps her see she could be more than a Cresswell. She begins to question her life, but her brothers and sisters believe she is the devil. They don’t want to leave their Father’s grip, even when he announces they have to go to Heaven. With time running out Castley will have to put on the biggest performance of her life to save her family from the man she once loved.

“The Cresswell Plot” is an interesting read, but started out very slowly. It took me a little while to get “into it” but, when I did, it sucked me in.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.