Just Listen
Young Adult / June 19, 2017

Author: Sarah Dessen. Summary: Last year, Annabel was “the girl who has everything” — at least that’s the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf’s Department Store. This year, she’s the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong. Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.   (Goodreads Summary) My Thoughts: Realistic-fic has never been my personal preference, especially not in YA, but I do read it from time to time. And as par for course, Just Listen wasn’t a favorite from the books I’ve read recently, but I did like it. The main arc for Annabel is learning to speak up, to tell the truth but almost as importantly just to say something, anything at all. And I know that’s an important lesson to learn. I know because it’s something I can always stand to hear again, because I have friends who could stand to hear it…

Like the Red Panda
Young Adult / May 22, 2017

Author: Andrea Seigel. Summary: Stella Parrish is seventeen, attractive, smart, deeply alienated, and unable to countenance life’s absurdities. She is not nihilistic; she is prematurely exhausted. Since her parents OD’d on designer drugs when she was eleven, she has lived with well-meaning but inexperienced foster parents, while her grandfather, her only living relative, tries ever more ingenious ways of committing suicide in his retirement home. Here are the last two weeks of Stella’s senior year in Orange County, California: the intensive AP final exams; the childish, celebratory trips; the totemic importance attached to graduation. Beneath Stella’s mordantly funny take on her life is the decisiveness with which she disengages from it, planting clues and providing explanations for those who will try to understand the act she is about to commit. (Published summary.) My Thoughts: As the story of an atheistic girl’s loss of hope for meaning in life, and subsequent slide into clinical depression and suicide, Like a Red Panda is certainly well-written in terms of believability and depression on the reader. It was not the type of story I meant to pick up, and I didn’t enjoy it. Content Review: Sexual content: Young girl asking a neighbor if he…

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between
Young Adult / May 21, 2017

Author: Jennifer E. Smith. Summary: On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan have only one thing left to do: figure out whether they should stay together or break up. Over the course of twelve hours, they retrace the steps of their relationship, trying to find something in their past that might help them decide what their future should be. The night leads them to family and friends, familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations. But as the clock winds down and morning approaches, so does their inevitable goodbye. The question is, will it be goodbye for now or goodbye forever? (Published summary.) Content Review: Sexual Content: Light kissing. “They’d waited more than a year, until they were both ready. And then one night, […] it had happened right here on this couch.” Characters “end up tangled together” – they’re engaging in sex, but it’s no more explicit then that. Language: 6 scatological terms, 3 hell Violence: Two boys fistfight, and a nearby girl gets accidentally hit in the eye. Other: Some under-age drinking.

A List of Cages
Young Adult / May 19, 2017

Author: Robin Roe. Summary: When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian—the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years. Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kindhearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives… (Published summary) My Thoughts: I’m not going to comment on the content. But focusing on the other parts of the book… Chapters go back and forth in viewpoint between the…

Everything, Everything
Young Adult / May 12, 2017

Author: Nicola Yoom. Summary: My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla. But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly. Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster. My Thoughts: I found it pretty fluffy, despite the live vs. living themes, but fun. For the first part, where she’s just messaging back and forth with her new friend. Once they were obviously boyfriend/girlfriend it kind of went downhill for me – I prefer plots that don’t revolve around romance/one special person. I mean, Everything Everything tried not to; the whole “am I living or…

Living Dead Girl
Young Adult / April 29, 2017

Author: Elizabeth Scott. Summary:  Once upon a time, I was a little girl who disappeared. Once upon a time, my name was not Alice. Once upon a time, I didn’t know how lucky I was. When Alice was ten, Ray took her away from her family, her friends — her life. She learned to give up all power, to endure all pain. She waited for the nightmare to be over. Now Alice is fifteen and Ray still has her, but he speaks more and more of her death. He does not know it is what she longs for. She does not know he has something more terrifying than death in mind for her. This is Alice’s story. It is one you have never heard, and one you will never, ever forget. (Published summary). My Thoughts: My own feelings are somewhat mixed. The first person narrative was well-done, pulling us into Alice’s life of monotony and fear: the repetition creates a feeling of inevitability and her often-unemotional descriptions show the reader how she’s been damaged and broken. If the purpose is to draw attention to a specific type of child abuse, this is an amazing work. (But otherwise, truth be told,…

And We Stay
Young Adult / April 20, 2017

Author: Jenny Hubbard. Summary: Senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend, Emily Beam, and then takes his own life. Soon after, angry and guilt-ridden Emily is sent to a boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where two quirky fellow students and the spirit of Emily Dickinson offer helping hands. But it is up to Emily Beam to heal her own damaged self, to find the good behind the bad, hope inside the despair, and springtime under the snow. (Goodreads Summary.) Content Review: Sexual Content: MC notes how she remembers the weather on the day she lost her virginity, but not details. “In the four months they were together they had sex fifteen times.” A few details in a memory of one of those times. Language: 10 scatological terms, 2 hell, 1 d*** Violence: Character remembers hitting a dog while driving. Girl remembers the painful aftermath of abortion.

This Song Will Save Your Life
Young Adult / April 10, 2017

Author: Leila Sales. Summary: Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing. (Goodreads summary) My Thoughts: The theme is one I can relate to: that in the end, fitting in with the rest of the world isn’t worth it, not when it means giving up yourself. The actual story and writing is honestly kind of meh. Too much like all the other YA stories out there. Content Review: Sexual Content: Girl observes a couple of other characters kissing: boy/girl, two boys. School kids gossiping about the popular students wonder “had he (random student) cheated on Laura with Leah before breaking up with her?” One character trying to figure out another two character’s relationship: “So then why did you have sex with her?” “Because she’s hot.” Some kissing. Girl tells boy “You know,…

Speak
Young Adult / January 28, 2017

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson. Summary: Melinda’s place in the high-school hierarchy was set before she ever set foot in the building. Because of the shame of calling the police on a wild summer party, none of her friends will speak to her, and Melinda is alone except for the friendly new girl. Confused by her own thoughts, wounded by past events and despairing of any hope for highschool, Melinda isolates herself further, withdrawing into her mind and becoming more and more silent. Unless she can find new depths of resolution within herself she will vanish into the background for the rest of highschool – or perhaps collapse in on herself under the confusion and depression she fights. My Thoughts: There’s no gorgeous prose or rich-drawn multi-character arcs or exciting action scenes. Nothing I might normally look for. But that’s partly why the power of this painful, plain, and even occasionally funny story caught me. It’s told in a teenage girl’s voice, a girl I can identify with and imagine being, even as she retreats into silence and confusion. By the time it was revealed what had really happened to her, I had already guessed – but this didn’t abate the…

Twisted
Young Adult / January 19, 2017

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson. Summary: High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background—average student, average looks, average dysfunctional family. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn’t believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father’s boss’s daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy—and Tyler’s secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in the school, in his family, and in the world. (Goodreads summary) Content Review: Sexual Content: Boy ogles some girls in bikinis who are conducting a car wash. “I wasn’t supposed to think about that [death], but it was like porn. The idea would sneak in, and then I was off.” Narrator is aroused by a pretty girl. Narrator: ‘Hannah pealed off the shirt Mom made her wear and revealed a scrap of fabric that was just barely keeping her boobs under control.’ Girls all over the highschool dress very scantily one day, and the boys are…