If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, admiring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. In an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left. It is the most important decision she'll ever make.
If I Stay is an incredible book. Its draw isn't in a fast-paced plot or , but in the human aspect of the story. Within the first twenty pages, tragedy strikes, and Mia's life will never be the same again. Instead of focusing on the time days or weeks after, when she'll have to cope, If I Stay takes place in the 24 hours immediately after the crash, when Mia has to decide: will she go, or will she stay?
The story isn't exactly climactic or exciting; it's heart-wrenching instead. Even the flashbacks to Mia's happy past at the end of every chapter were tainted with grief. Forman manages to make Mia's tragedy feel strangely personal. More than anything, If I Stay is a book about grief, and love. It's definitely not a book to read when you're sad.
The book's biggest flaw was its emphasis on music, which went a bit overboard occasionally. I liked that music was such a big part of Mia's life, but at times it almost took away from the real story. The love of music most of the characters had did add depth to them, and it was also one of the many good aspects of the book.
If I Stay was an emotional roller coaster. It was a quick, easy read, but I will remember it for a long time. If you like feeling close to characters or reading stories about people (instead of events), this will be an instant favorite. I was lucky enough to finish it at the library, and I immediately checked out the sequel.
172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad
It's been decades since anyone set foot on the moon. Now three ordinary teenagers, the winners of NASA's unprecedented, worldwide lottery, are about to become the first young people in space--and change their lives forever. Mia, from Norway, hopes this will be her punk band's ticket to fame and fortune. Midori believes it's her way out of her restrained life in Japan. Antoine, from France, just wants to get as far away from his ex-girlfriend as possible.
It's the opportunity of a lifetime, but little do the teenagers know that something sinister is waiting for them on the desolate surface of the moon. And in the black vacuum of space... no one is coming to save them.
I wasn't disappointed by 172 Hours on the Moon, but I wasn't stunned by it, either. It loses points because the entire first part of the book is relatively boring. There are creepy foreshadowing bits, and insight into the characters lives, but I felt kind of disconnected from them for most of the first part. I was also a little bit disappointed that the characters glide over the astronaut training, which would have added a bit more interest (and given a bit more insight into why they, specifically, were chosen).
172 Hours on the Moon more than redeemed itself in its second and third parts, though. Once the astronauts landed on the moon, I was completely engrossed in the book. The characters remained unimpressive and the romance was sloppy, but the plot itself was stellar. Growing unease turned to fear, and then to real terror as I read. My heart was pounding by the time I finished the book. I don't think I'll ever be able to look at the moon the same way again.
A few pictures and diagrams sprinkled in gave the book a freaky feeling of reality. And that's probably the best - and most frightening - part of this book: it's based on an actual radio signal received from God knows where. Not to say that it was in any way realistic. I'm not talking about the monsters when I say that, I'm talking about NASA sending teenagers - who are not American, which is odd since it's NASA - to space just to see if the moon's still as dangerous as it was the last time they were there. To be honest, that and the fairly disappointing characters bumped this book's rating down to three stars. But I picked up 172 Hours on the Moon because I wanted to be scared. On that end, it definitely delivered.
Despite a shaky beginning, 172 Hours on the Moon was everything I expected and more as a horror story. It's not really a sci-fi read; most of the technology dates back to the seventies. It's more of a horror story that happens to take place on the moon. I'm giving 172 Hours on the Moon the rating of three stars because while it's not the pinnacle of literary achievement, I was downright terrified by it.
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Holden Caulfield narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he's been expelled from prep school.
To be completely honest, I hated Catcher in the Rye. It's about as interesting as the summary suggests, and if we hadn't been reading it for school, I would happily have passed this one by. The writing deserves one star at best, but I'm not feeling that generous towards Catcher in the Rye. It gets one star only because of Holden himself.
I spent most of the book wanting to slap some sense into Holden, and he was definitely not likable for me. He was whiny, judgmental, and one of the most annoying narrators I've ever read. Holden is obviously pretty messed up, and the only part of the book I found interesting at all is his internal conflict. I understand that Holden's internal conflict is what the book is all about, but it's shrouded in so much junk it's not worth more than one extra star.
The writing is repetitive, to the point that I wanted to tear my hair out every time I saw the phrases "that killed me" or "I really did." There was little to no plot or character development. Holden isn't writing about anything important, just a basic three days in which he talks constantly about how phony and depressing everything is. Holden is almost exactly the same at the end of the novel as at the beginning. In the words of a friend, "Take a novel, erase the plot, bring it down to a fourth grade reading level, sprinkle it with expletives, and you've got The Catcher in the Rye."
How to Love by Katie Cotugno
Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he's never seemed to notice that Reena even exists until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated - and pregnant - Reena behind.
After: Almost three years have passed, and there's a new love in Reena's life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena's gotten used to being without Sawyer, and she's finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn't want anything to do with him, though she'd be lying if she said Sawyer's being back wasn't stirring something in her. After everything that's happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?
I started How to Love expecting an episode of MTV's Teen Mom in novel form. I was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn't like that at all. Cotugno tackled the topic of teen pregnancy and motherhood with grace and good storytelling - but the love story just didn't work for me.
If you find Sawyer LeGrande charming or pitiful, you probably loved the romance. I concede that it was very well written, but I wasn't charmed by Sawyer. I was hoping Reena would shut the door in his face; even if he'd changed, he was a pretty bad boyfriend before he disappeared. So of course I was disappointed by the absolutely predictable ending. Even now, I haven't totally decided how I feel about Sawyer.
Saying the love story fell flat but I still loved the book sounds kind of strange when the book's called How to Love. It's one of the main reasons I liked this book so much, though; the love story is central, but the story is about so much more. How to Love is a book about love, obviously, but also about grief, second chances, and family. The tensions between Reena and her family, the ways she had to adapt to her new life, that's where How to Love found its magic. I adored the relationships between all the characters, I'm just a little disappointed with how some of them turned out.
How to Love is an excellent read. I personally didn't find Sawyer all that alluring, and the ending disappointed me, but it's sure to delight others. Even with a romance that didn't quite do it for me, this layered, thoughtful, and well-written book earns four stars.
Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
Alexi Littrell hasn't told anyone what happened to her over the summer. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hides in her closet and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does.
When Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in "the Kool-Aid Kid," who has secrets of his own. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally face the truth.
The Hit by Melvin Burgess
Live the ultimate high. Pay the ultimate price.
A new drug is on the street. Everyone's buzzing about it. Take the hit. Live the most intense week of your life. Then die. It's the ultimate high at the ultimate price. Adam thinks it over. He's poor, and doesn't see that changing. Lizzie, his girlfriend, can't make up her mind about sleeping with him, so he can't get laid. His brother Jess is missing. And Manchester is in chaos, controlled by drug dealers and besieged by a group of homegrown terrorists who call themselves the Zealots. Wouldn't one amazing week be better than this endless, penniless misery? After Adam downs one of the Death pills, he's about to find out.
Grim by various - Edited by Christine Johnson
Inspired by classic fairy tales, but with a dark and sinister twist, Grim contains short stories from some of the best voices in young adult literature today, including:
Ellen Hopkins Amanda Hocking
Julie Kagawa Claudia Gray
Rachel Hawkins Kimberly Derting
Myra McEntire Malinda Lo
Jackson Pearce Christine Johnson
Jeri Smith Ready Shaun David Hutchinson
Saundra Mitchell Sonia Gensler
Tessa Gratton Sarah Rees-Brennan
Tin Star (Tin Star #1) by Cecil Castellucci
On their way to start a new life, Tula and her family travel on the Prairie Rose, a colony ship headed to a planet in the outer reaches of the galaxy. All is going well until the ship makes a stop at a remote space station, the Yertina Feray, and the colonist's leader, Brother Blue, beats Tula within an inch of her life. An alien, Heckleck, saves her and teaches her the ways of life on the space station.
When three humans crash land onto the station, Tula's desire for escape becomes irresistible, and her desire for companionship becomes unavoidable. But just as Tula begins to concoct a plan to get off the space station and kill Brother Blue, everything goes awry, and suddenly romance is the farthest thing from her mind.
Boy on the Edge by Fridrik Erlings
Henry has a clubfoot and he is the target of relentless bullying. One day, in a violent fit of anger, Henry lashes out at the only family he has — his mother. Sent to live with other troubled boys at the Home of Lesser Brethren, an isolated farm perched in the craggy lava fields along the unforgiving Icelandic coast, Henry finds a precarious contentment among the cows. But it is the people, including the manic preacher who runs the home, who fuel Henry’s frustration and sometimes rage as he yearns for a life and a home.
Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick
Natalya knows a secret.
A magical Faberge egg glows within the walls of Russia's Winter Palace.
It holds a power rooted in the land and stolen from the mystics.
A power that promises a life of love for her and Alexei Romanov.
Power, that, in the right hands, can save her way of life.
But it's not in the right hands.
Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan
(Available March 1)
Sixteen-year-old Jack, nicknamed "Bones," won't eat. His roommate in the eating disorder ward has the opposite problem and proudly goes by the nickname "Lard." They become friends despite Bones's initial reluctance. When Bones meets Alice, a dangerously thin dancer who loves to break the rules, he lets his guard down even more. Soon Bones is so obsessed with Alice that he's willing to risk everything–even his recovery.
What sets Skin and Bones apart from other books featuring anorexic characters is twofold. First, Jack is a boy, one of a minority of anorexia patients and often overlooked. Second, his story is hilarious. Most books about eating disorders are sorrowful and poignant, and while those elements are more than present in Bones' story, there are plenty of funny moments. I caught myself chuckling at the character's witty banter in between worrying for them. The members of the EDU are interesting, funny, and defined by more than their disorders. Their stories are piercing and through-provoking.
The first half of the book romanticizes anorexia a little bit; Bones is desperate to be skinny, and believes the skinnier the more beautiful. What first draws him to Alice is her tiny, fragile body, the epitome of dancer stereotypes. It's instalove for the pair, but Alice refuses to even think about recovery while Bones wonders just how much longer his body can go on like this. Even so, Bones is obsessed with Alice to Shakespearean proportions. I enjoyed the romance more for the questions it raised (how do you save someone from the very thing that's destroying you, especially if they don't want to be saved?) than for the actual relationship between Alice and Bones.
Shahan balanced a heavy topic with levity and humor, from the perspective of an underdog you can't help but cheer for. While Skin and Bones may not be as finely tuned as some others in its genre, it earns its distinction and a place among the best of them.
The Lake and the Library by S. M. Beiko
Wishing for something more than her adventureless life, 16-year-old Ash eagerly awaits the move she and her mother are taking from their dull, drab life in the prairie town of Treade. But as Ash counts the days, she finds her way into a mysterious, condemned building on the outskirts of town—one that has haunted her entire childhood with secrets and questions. What she finds inside is an untouched library, inhabited by an enchanting mute named Li.
Brightened by Li’s charm and his indulgence in her dreams, Ash becomes locked in a world of dusty books and dying memories, with Li becoming the attachment to Treade she never wanted.
This book has a four-star plot with a two-star writing style. The plot and conflict of the book were engaging and interesting, if a little convoluted at times. The wonder of the library and Li's world was tangible through the pages, and Li himself was as promised - enchanting. He was the most complex character in the book, with the most thorough back story. The other characters were pretty generic and flat, even Ash. Li and his library were what made the book so interesting. The constant blurring of reality and fantasy throughout the book was marvelously done and, if not exactly believable, captivating.
Unfortunately, most of the plot was lost in overly-flowery descriptions and an avalanche of metaphors. Some of the language emphasized the whimsical, dream-like atmosphere of the library, but mostly it got in the way of the story. The overabundance of figurative language and ill-fitting adverbs was at its worst in the first few chapters, but it was just present enough to be annoying in the rest of the book.
Despite the awkward, clunky writing style and a few flat characters, reading The Lake and the Library was like falling down the rabbit hole.
More Than This by Patrick Ness
A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . .
I have absolutely no idea what to write in this review. On one hand, I'm awed by More Than This, but on the other, I'm really disappointed by it. More Than This was a mind game of a book, and I loved that it's so incredibly not a variation on five hundred other books.
The book probably didn't need to be 470 pages long, but I was intrigued by Seth's discoveries and there was a good amount of action, so I wasn't bored. Even when nothing much was happening, in the first part of the book, there was enough mystery to be interesting. The setting was fascinating all by itself, and Seth was a great character. All of the characters were truly great. They were believable and interesting and they had developed background stories. I really loved that when Seth tells Regine and Tomazs that he's gay, they don't make a huge deal out of it and just go on trying to survive. I liked the conflict of the story, their efforts to stay alive and figure out what had happened to them. I liked the "villain." I even liked the philosophy behind the book, even though it got pretty confusing at times. I liked the thought that there's more.
So why do I feel so let down by this book?
The best reason I can come up with is that it's so damn confusing. To a point, I liked that there was an air of mystery around everything that happened in the book, but that should have been resolved in the end. I would've been okay with an ambiguous ending, but we should have been offered undeniable proof of what that abandoned, decayed world was. There was a whole lot of evidence suggesting Regine was right, but Ness kept planting seeds of doubt that maybe, just maybe, Seth really was making it all up. (I realize this paragraph is probably confusing for people who haven't read the book, but I don't want to spoil anything).
I understand that was sort of the point and whether or not the world was real didn't matter. In the beginning, that was part of what kept the book interesting. But towards the end, those seeds of doubt started to feel a little forced. There was so much evidence against the theory that it wasn't all real, I think I would have liked the book more if Ness had just said, yes, this abandoned world is real and moved on. I have no doubt that more philosophic minds than mine will appreciate the uncertainty, but to me, it felt like Ness was trying too hard to tell us that it didn't matter.
Here I am at the end of the review, and I still don't know what to rate it. Ness' writing style was haunting and well done. The characters were great, the plot was interesting. But I didn't like how it was carried out, or how the book ended. I feel like everything wrong with this book is such a matter of opinion, I can't accurately rate it. With that in mind, I'm giving More Than This three stars because, while I don't think it's average, I also didn't like it enough to rate it higher. It was very, very good, but it was missing something.
Forget Me Not (Collective #1) by Stacey Nash
Since her mother vanished nine years ago, Anamae and her father have shared a quiet life. But when Anamae discovers a brooch identical to her mother's favorite pendant, she unknowingly invites a slew of trouble into their world. When the brooch and the pendant are worn together they're no longer pretty pieces of jewelry -- they're part of a highly developed technology capable of cloaking the human form. Triggering the jewelry's power attracts the attention of a secret society determined to confiscate the device -- and silence everyone who is aware of its existence. Anamae knows too much, and now she's Enemy Number One.
She's forced to leave her father behind when she's taken in by a group determined to keep her safe. Here Anamae searches for answers about this hidden world. With her father kidnapped and her own life on the line, Anamae must decide if saving her dad is worth risking her new friends’ lives. No matter what she does, somebody is going to get hurt.
Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt
When Jonah is forced to move from Hamilton to Cross Pointe for the second half of his senior year, "miserable" doesn't even begin to cover it. He feels like the doggy-bag from his mother's first marriage and everything else about her new life—with a new husband, new home and a new baby—is an upgrade. The people at Cross Pointe High School are pretentious and privileged—and worst of all is Brighton Waterford, the embodiment of all things superficial and popular. Jonah’s girlfriend, Carly, is his last tie to what feels real... until she breaks up with him.
For Brighton, every day is a gauntlet of demands and expectations. Since her father died, she’s relied on one coping method: smile big and pretend to be fine. It may have kept her family together, but she has no clue how to handle how she's really feeling. Today is the anniversary of his death and cracks are beginning to show. The last thing she needs is the new kid telling her how much he dislikes her for no reason she can understand. She's determined to change his mind, and when they're stuck together for the night, she finally gets her chance.
Insanity by Susan Vaught
Never, Kentucky is not your average scenic small town. It is a crossways, a place where the dead and the living can find no peace. Not that Forest, an 18-year-old foster kid who works the graveyard shift at Lincoln Hospital, knew this when she applied for the job. Lincoln is a huge state mental institution, a good place for Forest to make some money to pay for college. But along with hundreds of very unstable patients, it also has underground tunnels, bell towers that ring unexpectedly, and a closet that holds more than just donated clothing....When the dead husband of one of Forest's patients makes an appearance late one night, seemingly accompanied by an agent of the Devil, Forest loses all sense of reality and all sense of time. Terrified, she knows she has a part to play, and when she does so, she finds a heritage that she never expected.
Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor
Zoe and her best friend, Olivia, have always had big plans for the future, none of which included Olivia getting sick. Still, Zoe is determined to put on a brave face and be positive for her friend.
Even when she isn't sure what to say.
Even when Olivia misses months of school.
Even when Zoe starts falling for Calvin, Olivia's crush.
The one thing that keeps Zoe moving forward is knowing that Olivia will beat this, and everything will go back to the way it was before. It has to. Because the alternative is too terrifying for her to even imagine.
In this incandescent page-turner, which follows in the tradition of The Fault in Our Stars, Melissa Kantor artfully explores the idea that the worst thing to happen to you might not be something that is actually happening to you.
Perfect Lies (Mind Games #2) by Kiersten White
Annie and Fia are ready to fight back.
The sisters have been manipulated and controlled by the Keane Foundation for years, trapped in a never ending battle for survival. Now they have found allies who can help them truly escape. After faking her own death, Annie has joined a group that is plotting to destroy the Foundation. And Fia is working with James Keane to bring his father down from the inside.
But Annie's visions of the future can't show her who to trust in the present. And though James is Fia's first love, Fia knows he's hiding something. The sisters can rely only on each other - but that may not be enough to save them.
Elevated by Elana Johnson
The last person seventeen-year-old Eleanor Livingston wants to see on the elevator—let alone get stuck with—is her ex-boyfriend Travis, the guy she's been avoiding for five months.
Plagued with the belief that when she speaks the truth, bad things happen, Elly hasn’t told Trav anything. Not why she broke up with him and cut off all contact. Not what happened the day her father returned from his deployment to Afghanistan. And certainly not that she misses him and still thinks about him everyday.
But with nowhere to hide and Travis so close it hurts, Elly’s worried she won’t be able to contain her secrets for long. She’s terrified of finally revealing the truth, because she can’t bear to watch a tragedy befall the boy she still loves.
Runner by Carl Deuker
The weather-beaten sailboat Chance Taylor and his father call home is thirty years old and hasn’t sailed in years. One step from both homelessness and hunger, Chance worries about things other kids his age never give a thought: Where will the money come for the electricity bill, grocery bill, and moorage fees? So when a new job falls his way, Chance jumps at the opportunity, becoming a runner who picks up strange packages on a daily route and delivers them to a shady man at the marina. He knows how much he will earn; what he doesn’t know is how much he will pay.
Runner was an ingeniously plotted book. It starts off innocent enough, as you'd expect, until the sense of imminent danger creeps in and things very quickly turn deadly. At first, it's just a book about a kid who's had to grow up too fast and the relationship between him and his father. After Chance begins smuggling to make ends meet, the suspense builds until the final, epic conclusion. The story was predictable, but there are only so many ways illegal smuggling can end. Even though I expected it, my heart was racing all through the end of the book. The way Chance got tangled up in smuggling and the events after are realistic and frightening, but the resolution of the book is a bit rushed and not as realistic. For all that's beneath the danger - Chance's financial worries, his father's drinking, and their broken family - there's almost no character development. The characters are well thought-out, but Chance is the same at the beginning of the book as he is at the end. As an action story, Runner is superb, but if you're looking for a book with a little more, look elsewhere.
Once Upon a Time...
As a longtime lover of stories and a believer in the power and magic of books, I've spent my life seeking out the best reads. This blog is dedicated to reviewing the books I read - good, bad, or magnificent - to help other readers find their next favorite books.