Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all. With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

 dumplin

Based on the above blurb, I thought the book would center mostly on the pageant. However, I was sadly disappointed that the pageant doesn’t come into play until halfway through this really slow paced book.

I found the main character Willowdean unlikable and cruel. She was constantly judging other people’s bodies! I was really hoping to read about a different kind of YA character: a confident, sassy big girl who embraces her body.  Instead I got an insecure, selfish chick with boy drama (ugh). There was definitely conflicting messages about body positivity.

Despite the hype and praise, I totally felt underwhelmed by Dumplin’. Perhaps if you don’t have expectations of the book and/or a fan of Dolly Parton music, you may enjoy it.

Favourite quote:

“All my life, I’ve had a body worth commenting on. And if living in my skin has taught me anything it’s that if it’s not your body, it’s not yours to comment on. Fat, skinny, short, tall, it doesn’t matter.”

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Panic by Lauren Oliver

panic

This adrenaline-charged, contemporary thriller is my second Lauren Oliver read. The story is told by the alternating perspectives of Heather and Dodge, both desperately competing in the game (Panic) for their own reasons. Panic, is a dangerous high stakes competition of high school seniors to win thousands of dollars; enough money to vastly impact their life and escape their stink hole of a town.

I found the character traits of the main four characters (Heather, Dodge, Natalie and Bishop) really frustrating. For most of the book (likely due to their hopeless situations), they demonstrate really poor judgement. Their family backgrounds include: addiction, poverty, and homelessness. Within the four, there is romance, but the story mostly focuses on the games.

The game itself does require the reader to suspend their belief. Panic has been played for several years, yet teachers, parents, and even police have yet to put a complete stop to it. Teenagers have even died playing the game, but Panic continues. There is no way a game like Panic could continue to exist today. But hey, it sells books.

Overall, Panic is an engaging, fast-paced read. It’s different from the other dangerous game playing YA books  (Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, etc.) because it is a contemporary story.  Since it is a standalone, readers also don’t have to commit to a trilogy! Hurray!  If you are a fan of movies based on books, look for Panic to hit the theatres.  Universal Pictures have secured the film rights.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten

‘A compassionate, funny, heartwarming story about a band of misfit teens. It’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for the YA set’ – Susin Nielson

unlikely

This book came to my attention as a recent recipient of the 2013 Governor General Literacy Award for Children’s Text. This award winning title beautifully captures life for those living with OCD.  Through OCD group therapy, readers learn the many aspects and triggers of OCD.  Their therapist, Chuck encourages them to choose superheroes as alter-egos, and they are referred to by their chosen name the remainder of the book.  There are a few touches of comic book Wham! Pow! type illustrations throughout.

The main character Adam (aka ‘Batman’) identifies his compulsions as ordering, tapping, counting, and magical thinking (threshold issues with entering certain doors).  We watch as Adam gets progressively worse as his family stress begins to take a major toll on him.   Although he falls for fellow group member, Robyn immediately, he painfully recognizes that he is affecting her recovery and breaks it off. His struggles are well documented in his homework lists instructed by Chuck.

Through his councillor Chuck and the group therapy sessions, I learned a lot about OCD.  Toten’s research to portray Adam and mental health issues is evident. Although the right med combination and dosage helps, I can’t imagine daily life for these individuals.  I can only hope that one day, Adam attains his ‘heaven’, “a quiet mind. Quiet. Shh (p.208).”

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A beautiful and distinguished family.

A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE

 

we were liars

We Were Liars  has received so much hype, including the top May 2014 Library Reads choice.  This contemporary, suspense story was an extremely quick read.  The first few pages include a map of Beechwood Island, and The Sinclair Family Tree, which were much appreciated.  There are lots of privileged family members and houses to keep track of, so at the beginning I referred to those pages quite a bit. The story mostly surrounds ‘the liars’ consisting of Cadence (the narrator), her cousins Johnny, Mirren and love interest, Gat.   Cadence and the cousins are from the wealthy and ‘perfect’ Sinclair family, while Gat refers to himself as the Healthcliff of the family.

Summer fifteen is featured heavily because it is during that summer that Cadence has an accident, leaving her with memory loss and terrible migraines. Her migraines are often the subject of some very dramatic imagery “Migraines left my blood spreading across unfamiliar hotel sheets, dripping on the floors, oozing into carpets, soaking through leftover croissants and Italian lace cookies (p. 35)”.  Broken into five parts, the writing also includes Once Upon A Time fairy tale stories that emulate her family’s bickering over money, inheritance and possessions.  Choppy sentences are also used for dramatics:

There was nowhere

nowhere

nowhere

nowhere now to go

but down (p. 207).

Usually I catch on quickly to the surprise twist, but I was genuinely surprised by the ending. For that reason, I would recommend this quick (and fairly short) contemporary mystery to teens.

This One Summer- Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

 

Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It’s their getaway, their refuge. Rosie’s friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It’s a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

 

one summer

Set during summer vacation in a small town, This One Summer is a coming of age graphic novel.  Windy and Rose are growing up and on the verge of becoming teenagers.  Rather than spending time building forts, they become fascinated with older teens, and partake in gossiping, swearing, and watching horror movies to appear cool to their movie-store crush.  I was sad to see the term ‘slut’ tossed around quite a bit by Windy/Rose, even calling girls they don’t know sluts.  Sex is a topic that interests them, but mostly they fixate on what their bodies will look like, repeatedly talking about their breasts, including the last line of the book, “boobs would be cool (p. 319)”  Overall, there isn’t too much of a plot besides the increasing tension between Rose’s parents that has stemmed from a miscarriage.  Rose picks up on the tension- “I thought that things would get back to normal. I guess they sort of are. Except they’re not talking (p.300)”.  Only in the last few pages do readers find out why the water is such a trigger for Rose’s mother. I wonder what Awago Beach will have in store for Windy and Rose next summer as they continue to grow both emotionally and physically.

The whole graphic novel has wonderful art done in shadowed blues. The full spread pages were my absolute favourite, especially the underwater illustrations (p.160) and Windy’s krunking moves (p.174.). I completely enjoyed this alternative format as a treat in between lengthy novels. It’s a quick read, and easy to devour in one sitting.

 

Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for *seeing* a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom.

nate

Better Nate Than Ever has racked up an impressive list of honors and awards. Although targeted at middle graders, readers of all ages will enjoy this hilarious book.  Through Nate’s eyes, readers are given a glimpse of how fabulous New York City can be. It brought back memories of navigating the busy streets, and experiencing the wonder and magic of the bright lights, loud noises and interesting smells!

Nate’s NYC audition adventure reminds us all the have the courage and heart to follow our dreams.  He is quite the comedian, and I found myself laughing a long with him. Although there are plenty of laughs to be had, Federle also covers serious ground through Nate’s questioning sexuality and his mothers’ unresolved family conflict that has hindered Nate’s relationship with his Aunt Heidi. I too have experienced family tension with an estranged aunt, so I could totally connect with Nate and cheer for their reconciliation.

I thought both serious matters were handled perfectly and age appropriately. Although Nate hints at his sexuality, it is never declared. In fact, Nate asserts, “I am undecided… and frankly don’t want to declare anything other than ‘Hey, jerks. I’m thirteen. Leave me alone. Macaroni and cheese is still my favourite food-how would I know who I want to hook up with? (p.27)” YES! I think Federle deserves a BIG round of applause for including that line.

I urge you to pick up this hilarious and inspiring book. I can’t wait to read the sequel- Five, Six, Seven, Nate!  to find out about Nate’s showbiz debut!

 

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

beginning

When I found out the generic title of The Beginning of Everything, was originally Severed Heads, Broken Hearts, I was totally disappointed!  I actually read this book a few months back, and had to re-read the synopsis to remember…oh the one with the theme park decapitation!  The title of Severed Heads would have made it direct and memorable.

So while it does begin with a gruesome death, it ends up being a story about friendships in high school.  Along with that, popularity and individuality issues arise. The story is very character driven, focusing on the once popular Ezra Faulkner as he honestly and painfully explores a new life, with new friends, that help set him on a path of self- acceptance.

Although very little happens plot-wise, some readers may be able to guess the ‘big reveal’ that pieces Cassidy (Ezra’s new love interest) and Ezra together.  I thought it was an overly nice coincidence that wraps everything up. This coincidence leads to the relationship’s demise, and it’s a love or hate ending.   I thought the breakup was honest and real, but I hated the coyote scene. I thought it served absolutely no purpose.

Overall, an OK read with a good take away message for teens.  While I wasn’t super impressed, check out some of the starred reviews, The Beginning of Everything has received:

 

Starred Reviews:

“Here are teens who could easily trade barbs and double-entendres with the characters that fill John Green’s novels…subtle turns of phrase make reading and rereading this novel a delight.”  – Kirkus (Starred Review)

“This thought-provoking novel about smart kids doing interesting things will resonate with the John Green contingent, as it is tinged with sadness, high jinks, wry humor and philosophical pondering in equal measures.”  – Booklist (Starred Review)

“An engrossing romance in which tragedy brings two teens together, then threatens to tear them apart…Schneider shows remarkable skill at getting inside her narrator’s head as his life swings between disaster and recovery.”  – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Better off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

For Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Levi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends. They are platonic and happy that way.

Eventually they realize they’re best friends — which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep getting in each other’s way. Guys won’t ask Macallan out because they think she’s with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can’t help but wonder . . . are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated?

better

My Scholastic Rep knows my reading preferences, and swore I’d LOVE this book. She sent me an advanced reading copy, and I immediately dove in to this sweet, contemporary story.  Throughout high school, I too had a very close male friend and I’m sure our families wondered if, at some point, it would turn romantic. For us, we truly were and ARE better off friends! However, it was still fun reading this fairly predictable (but cute) story about two best friends falling in love.

Every chapter switches between Levi and Macallan’s perspective.  Although they have distinct voices, readers are clued into the change with two visuals.  The first is a greyed out male/female image mirroring the front cover, and the other is a different font.  The start of each chapter begins with Levi and Macallan’s flirty banter as they look back at the progression of their relationship.  Even in the earlier chapters, it’s obvious that crush signs were there.  “If I had only one goal in life, it would be to make her laugh loudly everyday (pg.82)”.  Pretty sure that’s not a typical ‘friend’ statement.

Besides the romance, I loved the emphasis on the family. Both Levi’s and Macallan’s family are consistently involved throughout the book. As Levi and Macallan become inseperable, their welcoming, supportive, and protective families also grow tight. It was refreshing to read about teens that understand and embrace the importance of family.

Overall, I enjoyed this wholesome (no booze, sex, or swearing!), high school romance. Although it was my first Elizabeth Eulberg read, I’m sure it won’t be my last.  Look for Better Off Friends in February 2014.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl

Fangirl follows twins Cather & Wren, as they explore college, the changing nature of relationships, and first love. What differentiates this book from others is the focus on fan fiction.  Cath is obsessed with the fantasy series, “Simon Snow”, and spends most of her time thinking and writing about characters Simon and Baz. However, issues arise when extrovert Wren begins to drift away from fandom to experience all that college life has to offer.

The book opens with a Wikipedia-like entry about the Simon Snow series. Immediately, it is evident that Simon Snow is a reflection of Harry Potter.  Every chapter begin with an excerpt of Gemma T. Leslie’s “Simon Snow”  or a fanfixx.net entry by Magicath. While I could manage snippets of Simon Snow, I completely skipped over the long passages when Cath begins reading it to Levi. I didn’t care to read a story within a story and preferred to read about Cath’s socially awkward life rather than Simon Snow’s fictional characters.

Although Cath’s social anxiety hindered her ability to meet people, she did fall for her roommate’s ex-boyfriend and happy go lucky, Levi.  In all honesty, I found is surprising that Levi would pursue the standoffish, immature and inexperienced Cath.  As their relationship slowly progresses, the intimate scenes are always sweet, not explicit.  Levi is just one of the distinctive characters that play a role in this book. The rest of the supporting cast of characters are well written, and relatable in their own way.  The family dynamics are interesting and mental health issues are evident.

Overall, I thought Fangirl was refreshing for new adult fans.  If you’re looking for a dark story with a tragic bad boy love interest, look elsewhere.  I had a smile on my face reading this book, especially when I picked up on the pop culture references (including Twilight!).  Even if you aren’t a fanfiction enthusiast, I think you will still enjoy this coming of age college tale.

Creeps by Darren Hynes

Fifteen-year-old Wayne Pumphrey wishes he were courageous enough to actually send the heartfelt letters he writes to friends and family. He also wishes his father would drive on the right side of the street, his mother would stop packing her suitcase to leave, and his sister would stop listening to Nickelback. But most of all, he wishes that Pete “The Meat” would let him walk to school in peace. After all, how many times can one person eat yellow snow?

Then one morning, while facing Pete and his posse, Wayne is rescued by Marjorie, the girl with a dead father and a mother who might as well be. Together, the two of them escape Pete’s relentless bullying by rehearsing for the school play, and an unlikely friendship is formed. As they grow ever closer to one another, they begin to dream of escape from their small town and restricted lives. But Pete now has plans for both of them—and after a moment of sudden violence, nothing will ever be the same again for Wayne, Marjorie, or Pete himself.

creeps

Named after a Radiohead song, this Canadian book realistically portrays the affects of bullying on victim, perpetrator, and their families.  Set in Labrador, this story is mostly told in third person narrative, but also includes letter entries from fifteen year old Wayne Pumphrey.  He writes to his family, teachers, bullies, God and his only friend Majorie. I enjoyed this addition as it allowed insight into Wayne’s world, including his nightmare home life. The letter to his bully, Pete the Meat (on pg. 104) was particularly heartbreaking as Wayne tries to understand why he had become the target of their aggressive bullying.

Dear Pete The Meat,

Is it the way I walk? Talk? Is it because I’m small? Is my laugh strange? My voice? Do I smell funny or dress stupid or style my hair the wrong way? Are my eyes too far apart? WHAT?

I found Wayne’s letters to carry more maturity than how he typically acted and spoke, so it’s a real shame that he never found the courage to send them out.  Although, I’m not sure how much of an impact it would have had on his bullies, but maybe, just maybe it could have prevented the awful, terrible, horrific scene involving Wayne and Majorie. I quickly moved from being extremely uncomfortable to utter shock with the surprising ending!

For all the above reasons, I think Creeps is a great conversation starter about bullying for high school students.  For more books on bullying, see: Hate List by Jennifer Brown & 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

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