“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.

“One was lost” Natalie D. Richards

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published October 4, 2016. Sourcebooks Fire. 304 p.

It was supposed to be a simple three-day senior camping wilderness trip and hike for Jude, Emily, Lonewaslostucas, Sera, Haley, Madison, and their teachers Mr. Walker and Ms. Brighton. After a day spent slogging through rain and mud, the group is separated by a torrential downpour taking out the only bridge across a raging river.

The next morning Sera, Lucas, Emily and Jude groggily awake to find descriptive words inked onto their wrists, camping supplies and phones destroyed, and their teacher too drugged to communicate. When they set out to find the others, Haley, Madison and Ms. Brighton are missing, leaving the remainder to wonder how to complete a three day journey without supplies. With dehydration, hunger and despair setting in, the clock starts ticking down the days set by a mysterious stalker. With no help in sight, the start to turn on one another but will have to learn to band together to find safety before the stalker finds them.

I took away 2 stars because the author had members of the group constantly refer to a time when they listened to stories of a missing girl and a ghost around a campfire, but failed to actually write about this event. She had them circle back to these stories many times, making it feel as if part of the book was missing since I was left to guess at the details. I also didn’t like how Sera always compared herself to her mother, ad nauseam, and was not happy with how the author handled Emily’s story – especially at the end.

However I did like the suspense and cliffhanger endings, which is the only reason I gave it 3 stars.

Recommended, with reservations, for ages 14 and older.

“Every falling star: The true story of how I survived and escaped North Korea” Sungju Lee & Susan McClelland

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Abrams. 316 p. (Includes Glossary as well as a list of Places and proper names.)

everyfallingstarSungju lived with his father and mother in a fine apartment in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. His father held a high office in the army and, as devout followers of esteemed leader Kim Il-sung, Sungju and his parents had a happy, easy life. Expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, Sungju went to a very good school and studied tae kwon do with other future leaders of the military.

In 1997, his father was kicked out of the army for unknown reasons. Forced to move to the slums of the town of Gyeong-Seong, life rapidly deteriorated. With hunger as their constant enemy, his father, soon followed by his mother, left in search of food. At the age of twelve, Sungju was left to fend for himself.

In his own words, Sungju tells how he learned to survive on the streets of various cities for four years with his gang of street “brothers,” despite starvation, beatings, and imprisonment. The story of their friendship and love, along with Sungju’s musings on governmental policy, hope, and Korean legends are woven together to create a powerful story of survival that will tug at reader’s heartstrings.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The girl in the blue coat” Monica Hesse

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. To be published April 5, 2016. Little Brown and Company.

TheGirlInTheBlueCoatDespite assurances to the contrary, Hitler invaded the Netherlands in 1941. Two years have passed since the Dutch accepted the invasion in order to avoid bombings of major cities. During that time, methodically watching the capture and deportation of their Jewish citizens by the Nazis has become a way of life.

Hanneke Baker trades in black market goods with the rich citizens of Amsterdam. Having been dealt a rough blow at the start of the occupation she taught herself to hide her emotions, deal only in cash and have “survival first” as her motto. One of her customers, Mrs. Janssen, had been hiding Mirjam, a young Jewish girl, for a month when Mirjam suddenly disappeared. With nowhere turn Mrs. Janssen offered Hanneke money to locate Mirjam. The only clue she had was Mirjam had been wearing a blue coat and had been reading a Resistance magazine. Intrigued that Mirjam seemed to have disappeared without a trace, Hanneke decided to accept the money.

While seeking clues to Mirjam’s whereabouts Hanneke learned about the work of the Resistance, and began to finally put real faces and feelings onto the thousands of Jews being deported. Despite the circumstances Hanneke holds out hope, but finds herself racing against time hoping to find Mirjam before it’s too late.

“The Girl in the Blue Coat” will keeps readers turning pages until its final, unexpected ending.

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

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Lily and Taylor” Elise Moser

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Groundwood Books. 186 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

LIlyAndTaylorTaylor lives with her older sister Tannis and her son Mason. Tannis is constantly beaten by her boyfriend, but loves him and is sure things will get better. When he winds up killing her in a fit of rage, Taylor moves in with her grandmother and Mason. Little Mason gives Taylor a goal in life as she helps care for him, but she misses Tannis and her boyfriend Devon. Despite the fact that Devon regularly beat her, wouldn’t let her have friends, and made her call him several times a day to “check in” Taylor loved him, and would do anything to make him happy.

Lily has spent years taking care of her brain-injured mother, helping her recover from abusive boyfriends, but has managed to hide her troubles. She and Taylor become fast friends as Taylor gradually becomes a better student, leaving her to think she can live a normal life, but Devon has other plans.

Unhappy with Taylor’s inability to visit due to finances, Devon decides to unexpectedly show up with his friend Conor and insist Taylor go for a ride. After inviting herself along to keep Taylor safe, the girls wind up being held captive in a freezing cabin in the middle of the snow covered woods. As events unfold, readers wonder if Taylor will ever gain the strength to love herself more than she loves her boyfriend and break the cycle of abuse in her family.

“Lily and Taylor” paints a true picture of the ugliness of domestic abuse in teen and adult relationships. To drive this point home the author includes statistics, tips and hotline information, hoping her readers will make the call that will let them out of their own abusive situations. I hold out the same hope as the author.

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).

“Racing California” Janet Nichols Lynch

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Published February 2012. Holiday House. 182 pp.

Evan is in his senior year of high school and has his future all mapped out. He’ll go to college with his girlfriend, become a doctor, and live happily ever after. However his love for bicycling causes his life to take new and unexpected turns.

Bicycling has been in Evan’s blood for years. While working for a summer bicycling tour group he meets his idol Dash Shipley, winner of the Tour de France. Impressed by his riding skills, Evan is signed on as his newest and youngest team member to compete in the Amgen Tour of California and help Dash win. While on tour Evan carves out a place for himself among the veterans, learning about the thrill of victory as well as the agony of defeat.

When Dash is accused of using performance enhancing drugs, Evan feels as if the bottom  has dropped out of his life. Through sheer willpower, and growing maturity, he discovers there’s more to his life than following in the footsteps he’d planned to follow after high school. Realizing it’s time to carve out his own pathway, regardless of what others may think of his plans, Evan is prepared for a brand new future.

“Racing California” has great action sequences of the various stages in this tough race, as well as what goes on in the minds of pro bicyclists, and will be an exciting read for bicycle racing fans aged 12-16, especially boys.