The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day. But in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from. So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier–even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

honest

Readers are introduced to the story with an author note explaining that the book was written in honor of a friend that passed away from cancer.  A nice gesture of course, but the book just didn’t do it for me.  This quick middle grade read is utterly depressing.  Basically, a suicidal boy diagnosed with cancer runs away from home to climb a mountain with his dog.  His best friend has a good idea of where he is and experiences an internal struggle of whether or not to spill the secret to his family and the police.  Oh, and his dog almost dies.

The phrase ‘that’s the truth’ was so over-used, that it irritated the heck out of me.  Another repetitious section was Jessie’s (the best friend) struggle of whether to maintain her loyalty to Mark or save his life.

My thoughts on the book matched Mark’s viewpoint on dying: “I’d never felt more ready. I’d had enough of everything. I just wanted it all to be over (p.161).”

 

Advertisements

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)

If I Stay by Gayle Forman (If I Stay #1)

In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck…

A sophisticated, layered, and heart-achingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make, and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

if i stay

Seven years ago, I lost a friend to injuries sustained in a car accident. She too, was in a coma and fought her hardest to stay with us. Ultimately, she lost the battle two weeks later. Clearly, this was an emotional read for me.

As the sole survivor in a car accident that killed her parents and brother, Mia now lies in a coma.  In first person narrative, she chronicles her life with retellings of important events  (first recital, meeting her boyfriend, etc.).  She continuously switches between past and present in deciding whether to live or die. In the present, she exists as an invisible observer; a spirit that watches over her body and observes the impact of the accident on her family and friends. There is an extremely heartbreaking scene with Mia and her grandpa where he recognizes her pain and tells her that he understands why it would be okay if she chose to pass on.  I couldn’t imagine being in Mia’s situation and as a reader, I wasn’t sure what her final decision would be.  You have to read the book yourself to find out!

Music has an overwhelming influence on Mia’s life and plays an integral part of the story. Music is the constant thread that ties aspects of Mia’s life together.  Although I don’t play an instrument seriously (I pick up my guitar every now and again), it was interesting to hear how she perceived situations with her musical lens, especially the very intimate scene in which Mia and her boyfriend pretend their bodies are instruments to play.

Overall, If I Stay is a quick, intense and moving book.  There are no chapter headings; instead the story is organized by time.  Mia’s grim diagnosis fluctuates constantly so every second truly counts.   I will definitely be continuing this emotional read with book #2, Where She Went. 

Review: Slammed by Colleen Hoover

Following the unexpected death of her father, 18-year-old Layken is forced to be the rock for both her mother and younger brother. Outwardly, she appears resilient and tenacious, but inwardly, she’s losing hope. Enter Will Cooper: The attractive, 21-year-old new neighbor with an intriguing passion for slam poetry and a unique sense of humor. Within days of their introduction, Will and Layken form an intense emotional connection, leaving Layken with a renewed sense of hope. Not long after an intense, heart-stopping first date, they are slammed to the core when a shocking revelation forces their new relationship to a sudden halt. Daily interactions become impossibly painful as they struggle to find a balance between the feelings that pull them together, and the secret that keeps them apart.

slammed

I’ve been following this trend with ‘new adult’ fiction, and one of the most mentioned books is Slammed. ‘New adult’ often refers to books with content in between teen and adult. My curiosity peaked, I checked out the book.

While I’d really like to write my review as a slam, it’s been way too long of a day for me to even attempt that. Instead, I will give you a one word review – AMAZING. This captivating book has plenty of powerful messages on life, love, and family. It evoked so many emotions, especially the twists I didn’t see coming! I completely devoured the book in less than a day.

I really love words and poetry so this book was a perfect fit. In high school, my teacher actually encouraged me to submit my poems in contests, and two of them ended up getting published in the Canadian Anthology of Verse. Poems are often very private and personal, so I was proud of Lake when she ‘pushed her boundaries’ and performed her slam at the club. Once you read the book, you’ll understand just how clever all the slams are. For a taste, here is a sample of one of Layken’s slams:

I got schooled this year
by
a
Boy.

a boy that I’m seriously,
deeply, madly, incredibly,
and undeniably
in love
with.
And he taught me the most
important thing of all
To put the emphasis
On life.

Regardless of the reader’s age, this book is suitable for anyone with a love of words.  If you enjoyed Slammed, you’ll be happy to know that it is the first in the series. Point of Retreat continues Layken and Will’s relationship.  I haven’t decided if I’ll read it yet because I was really satisfied and happy with the ending of Slammed. Layken and Will both experienced so much hardship and grief that I want to continue imagining them living on as it ended in book one. Most of all, I hope and imagine Layken takes into consideration her mom’s long list of advice. The advice served as a great reminder to us all, especially: “Don’t take life too seriously. Punch it in the face when it needs a good hit. Laugh at it”.

Now go borrow or buy a copy of this fabulous book right now. I’m not kidding– GO! You won’t regret it!

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl By Jesse Andrews

Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.

Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.

Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.

And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.

me earl

This book completed my Goodreads challenge for the year! I met my goal (just barely) with 35 books! Yay! Despite two moves, new job, new city, buying our first house, and getting engaged, I still think next year will be busier as the wedding date approaches. I hope to keep up with my blog in 2013, but if posts aren’t as frequent—you know why.

Ok, back to the review. For my last book of 2012, I was looking for a funny, quick read and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl sure delivered. By the title, you may assume the book is a serious, thought provoking read, but it was actually one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. There was a message about death and dying, but not the typical takeaway message. It was more along the lines of death sucks, and sometimes you don’t learn anything from it. Actually, in Greg’s note at the beginning, he warns readers, ‘this book contains precisely zero Important Life Lessons, or Little-Known Facts about Love, or sappy tear-jerking Moments When We Knew We Had Left Our Childhood Behind for Good, or whatever’.

I must admit, it took me a bit warm to Greg’s voice and the writing style. His teenage frame of mind is quite edgy and in no way G rated. However, I think it’s very realistic of how teenage boys think. Here is a sample of what I mean:

The Greg S.Gaines three step method of seduction

1. lurch into girl’s bedroom pretending to be a zombie

2. go for a fist pound

3. suggest that you habitually masturbate all over pillows

He’s totally awkward and makes sexual references all the time (especially with his friend Earl.) Speaking of Earl, one of favourite parts is when Greg and Earl accidentally ingest marijuana and think it was from their teacher’s soup. It had me laughing out loud!

I can see how the stylistic choices would appeal to reluctant readers. First off, the bright cover art, immediately grabs the reader’s attention. Next, the inclusion of screenplay style, bullet points, and newspaper headlines throughout the book all visually help to break up the text. Also the interesting chapter titles like ‘Earl Betrays Our Entire Creative Partnership While I am Distracted by the Munchies’ are just so much fun! Who wouldn’t want to read that chapter?

Overall, the book was a strange but wonderful contemporary read.  Although nothing really happens, it’s the quirky characters that make the book stand out. This book may not be for everyone but I sure loved it.

–FIN–

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

What if you only had one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last.

The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. Living the last day of her life seven times during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death–and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

Before I fall by Lauren Oliver was one of those books that have forever been on my ‘to-read’ list.  Described by many as a cross between ‘mean girls’ and ‘groundhog day’, I wasn’t super motivated to be transported back to my high school days where popularity was key, and rumours ran rampant. However, I must admit that I was missing out on this wonderful, thought provoking book! It is based on heavier subjects like death, suicide, and bullying, yet also touches on peer pressure, eating disorders and dysfunctional families too.

This is a rather lengthy book (470) pages, with only 7 chapters (1 for each day Sam re-lives). Sam has seven opportunities to understand what went so wrong, and how she can make it right. She fails miserable the first couple of times, but slowly begins to self reflect and understand how her actions can affect other people. Readers follow her path to redemption and along the way experience a wide range of emotions (frustration, anger, hope, etc.). 

I wasn’t sure how Oliver would be able to keep multiple days lived over and over again from being repetitive. Yet, she does this effortlessly.  There are different choices and events to give Sam the opportunity to make a difference.  Sam is by no means a perfect character, so her character growth from the beginning to end is believable.

There were so many lines and quotes that I loved, but my favourite was:

“So many things become beautiful when you really look (p. 344)”.  This book truly reminds us that our actions do affect others and to not take life for granted.  A recommended read for all.

 

 

Review: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

Inspired by the Nickleback song ‘If everyone cared,’’ this heartbreaking, emotional book is an absolute must read.  The book jumps between the past (day of school shooting) and present (the aftermath).  Also included are newspaper style articles that serve to give readers background information about the injured and slain students.

Although based on the school shooting, the book is mainly character driven.  Valerie struggles with her identity after her boyfriend uses their ‘hate list’ to kill classmates. By adding layers of dimension to the characters of Valerie and Nick, Brown made it impossible to classify them.  At some points, I saw them as victims of bullying, other times, as the perpetrator.  I guess that’s the whole point though—everyone has good and bad in them.  Throughout the story, I really felt for Valerie (despite her total selfishness).  Her awful parents made me so angry! The majority of time, Val is so broken and sad that I couldn’t help but wish for healing and recovery.  However, it’s likely that Val will never fully recover after that experience. To me, the open-ended conclusion to the story was a perfect ending.

Although I loved this book, I’m still wondering about Nick’s mysterious friend, Jeremy. Who exactly was Jeremy and did he have any influence on Nick?  Readers are told that they were spending more and more time together before the shooting. However, after the shooting he just disappears. Why bother introducing him at all?

Unfortunately, school shootings are an all too real tragic experience.  I definitely teared up a bit, especially during the graduation ceremony scene. This is not light read, but I would recommend this thought-provoking book to anyone.  No wonder it made multiple award lists, including:  YALSA best books for young adults, and School Library Journal’s Best book of the year.  Check out more reviews below.

 

“[A] riveting debut.” (starred review) (Publishers Weekly )

“Startling, powerful, and poignant.” (starred review) (School Library Journal )

“This novel ought to be the last written about a fictional high school shooting because it is difficult to imagine any capable of handling it better . . . A story that is as sensitive and honest as it is spellbinding.” (starred review) (VOYA)

Review: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

In this twist on Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic short story, a wealthy teenaged girl who can afford a special mask to protect her from the plague that decimated humanity in the mid-1800s, falls in love, becomes caught up in a conspiracy to overthrow an oppressive government, and faces the threat of a new plague. –From Novelist

“….The book’s characters are not the only ones manipulated here. Readers will twist and turn, puzzling out hero from villain, only to be left dangling and anticipating the sequel”— Booklist

I’ve never read Edgar Allen Poe’s Masque of the Red Death, but the premise of a book based on the dark gothic short story really appealed to me.  I’m not really sure why I’ve been reading so many books on death and disease lately, but I just keep picking them up. The beautiful cover didn’t hurt either!

Writing this review is difficult. There were some aspects I didn’t enjoy: the shallow self-medicating characters, the slow moving beginning, and the love triangle. On the flip side, I liked the steampunk elements, storyline surprises, and vivid descriptions. I really thought the concept of the masks was the best part as it adds a unique level of creepiness to this world overrun with plague and death.  However, for some reason I kept picturing the V for Vendetta mask.  How did you imagine the masks?

The difference between the human experience for the wealthy and those living in poverty was unsettling.  I couldn’t imagine living in the crumbling dying lower city, while watching careless, glamorous, fashionable teens, behave scandalously. Since the poor cannot afford the masks, the masks come to symbolize the divide between the wealthy and poor. The underlying theme of science vs. religion also played an important part too.

With the amount of drugs, sexual content, violence and horrific death scenes, I would recommend this book to an older YA crowd.  Check out this book if you’re into: dystopia, steampunk, and death & disease (like me apparently).

Look for Dance of the Red Death (book #2) to be released Spring 2013.

Image

Review: Rotters by Daniel Kraus

Grave-robbing. What kind of monster would do such a thing? It’s true that Leonardo da Vinci did it, Shakespeare wrote about it, and the resurrection men of nineteenth-century Scotland practically made it an art. But none of this matters to Joey Crouch, a sixteen-year-old straight-A student living in Chicago with his single mom. For the most part, Joey’s life is about playing the trumpet and avoiding the daily humiliations of high school.

Everything changes when Joey’s mother dies in a tragic accident and he is sent to rural Iowa to live with the father he has never known, a strange, solitary man with unimaginable secrets. At first, Joey’s father wants nothing to do with him, but once father and son come to terms with each other, Joey’s life takes a turn both macabre and exhilarating.

 <— Love the cover.

This is one heck of a dark, depressing and creepy book. The description of decaying corpses is enough to make your stomach churn (coffin liquor anyone?) However, the intense dark matter it what makes it so unique and original. It is definitely something I’ve never read before.  I especially enjoyed learning about the history and mythology of grave robbing. At the same time, I wondered how exactly Kraus completed his research for the book. It felt like the detailed descriptions stemmed from actual experience-including how to escape being buried alive, and how to rob a grave without being detected.  A less morbidly explaination points to Kraus’ excellent writing ability (which is undeniably evident throughout).

Although it is based on grave robbing and death, there are also many other themes and issues in the book including family relationships and bullying. I don’t understand how his biology teacher could get away with such harassment. I felt sorry for Joey, but also frustrated and angry with him for not seeking help.  In the end, I was satisfied with Joey’s story and the ending. While Joey’s story could be continued in a series, I’m glad it remains a well-written stand-alone title.

Review- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Goodreads:At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting — he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments.

The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.

Inspired by an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd, Ness has succeeded in creating a heartbreakingly dark story about the difficulty of facing your fears and letting go.  Monsters both real and imagined take centre stage as Conor attempts to deal with the many difficulties in his life, including: his mother’s illness, his father’s absence, and being bullied at school. We see Conor go through many emotional states, including confusion, loneliness, sadness and denial. 

Conor only begins to see the importance of truth and acceptance after a monster (in the form of a Yew tree) appears and over time tells him three stories. These stories teach Conor essential truths, including  “There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.”  In the end, the monster exists to push Conor to admit the truth to himself.   The monster itself can be interpreted in different ways.  I’ve read other reviews, and I too believe that Conor’s grief had consumed him (literally) like a monster.

This monster was illustrated in such a unique way throughout the book. Check out this Youtube trailer for a sample of the amazing artwork. My favourite illustrations were of the monster’s first appearance (pg 6) and of the monster and Conor standing in field (pg 100).

Although classified as a YA title, A Monster Calls can definitely appeal to adults too. Since all humans experience grief we are able to empathize with Conor’s experience. In the end, I recognize that not all stories can have happy endings but I’m glad that Conor was finally able to find acceptance in his truth.

Previous Older Entries

Blog Stats

  • 32,090 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 138 other followers

Goodreads

Check out my books on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3608158-brie