After Ever After
Young Adult / October 6, 2016

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie #2. Author: Jordan Sonnenblick. Summary: Jeffrey isn’t a little boy with cancer anymore. He’s a teen who’s in remission, but life still feels fragile. The aftereffects of treatment have left Jeffrey with an inability to be a great student or to walk without limping. His parents still worry about him. His older brother, Steven, lost it and took off to Africa to be in a drumming circle and “find himself.” Jeffrey has a little soul searching to do, too, which begins with his escalating anger at Steven, an old friend who is keeping something secret, and a girl who is way out of his league but who thinks he’s cute. My Thoughts: Eh. The subjects were YA but the writing style felt aimed toward middle grade, a characteristic I’m beginning to associate with this author. Also, I didn’t find out this was a sequel until after I read it, which may explain why I didn’t get it very well. Content Review: Sexual content: Some implied kissing, off screen. Two friends, boys, seem to make a running joke of talking about dating each other’s mothers. (Yeah, I didn’t get it either.) Multiple instances of a boy…

Zen and the Art of Faking It
Young Adult / October 3, 2016

Author: Jordan Sonnenblick. Summary: When eighth-grader San Lee moves to a new town and a new school for the umpteenth time, he doesn’t try to make new friends or be a loner or play cool. Instead he sits back and devises a plan to be totally different. When he accidentally answers too many questions in World History on Zen (only because he just had Ancient Religions two schools ago) all heads turn and San has his answer: he’s a Zen Master. And just when he thinks everyone (including the cute girl he can’t stop thinking about) is on to him, everyone believes him . . . in a major Zen way. My Thoughts: Silly, light-hearted, with a few morals tossed in for good measure. When San Lee is mistaken for a Zen Master, he decides to run with it – and despite the fact he’s a massive fake, this Zen thing is beginning to get to him. His approach to the problem was also interesting, not something you see a lot – a flagrant admittance of the fact that everybody tries to fit in. He was just going to choose where he fit in. Content Review: Sexual content: Boy thinks…

The Long Game
Young Adult / October 1, 2016

The Fixer #2. Author: Jennifer Lyn Barnes. Summary: For Tess Kendrick, a junior at the elite Hardwicke School in Washington, D.C., fixing runs in the family. But Tess has another legacy, too, one that involves power and the making of political dynasties. When Tess is asked to run a classmate’s campaign for student council, she agrees. But when the candidates are children of politicians, even a high school election can involve life-shattering secrets. Meanwhile, Tess’s guardian has also taken on an impossible case, as a terrorist attack calls into doubt who can—and cannot—be trusted on Capitol Hill. Tess knows better than most that power is currency in D.C., but she’s about to discover firsthand that power always comes with a price.(Published summary) My Thoughts: I wish the over-arcing plot hadn’t come on quite so fast – it would be fun to see more of Tess in the normal school environment, fixing the everyday (or not so every-day considering her classmates!) problems people bring to her. A little more real development between Tess and her mother in the next book would also be nice, but it was good to see them interacting, and see the natural tensions playing out. Fast-paced as…

Wintergirls
Young Adult / September 6, 2016

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson. Summary: “Dead girl walking”, the boys say in the halls. “Tell us your secret”, the girls whisper, one toilet to another. I am that girl. I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through. I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame. Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit. Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery. (Published summary) My Thoughts: This was an odd read. I didn’t like it. Not really. It’s painful, and jarring, and even confusing. It’s supposed to be. Told in the first person, Wintergirls is one teenager’s story of fighting a life-threatening eating disorder, and perhaps mental illness. The world view she drags us into is unbalanced and spiraling downward. The story is well-written. I found it compelling, and Lia a sympathetic character, even when she admits to making the wrong choices. The writing…

Shiny Broken Pieces
Young Adult / September 2, 2016

Tiny Pretty Things #2. Author: Sona Charaipotra, Dhonielle Clayton. Summary: June, Bette, and Gigi are competing one final time for a spot at the prestigious American Ballet Company. With the stakes higher than ever, these girls have everything to lose…and no one is playing nice. June is starting to finally see herself as a prima ballerina. But being the best could mean sacrificing the love of her life. Legacy dancer Bette is determined to clear her name after she was suspended and accused of hurting her rival, Gigi. And Gigi is not going to let Bette—or the other dancers who bullied her—go unpunished. It all comes down to this last dance. Who will make the cut? And who will lose her dream forever? (Published summary.) My Thoughts: This is such a fluffy drama it almost deserves one or two stars. Certainly, the first book was one star. Yet I’m drawn to the vivid portrayal of the girls – petty, obsessed, vengeful, but only human in the end. And they’re driven, focused teen girls who know where they’re going and won’t let anything stand in the way. I have to admire this. Yes, it’s horrifying how they turn against each other,…

Every Last Word
Young Adult / August 24, 2016

Author: Tamara Ireland Stone. Summary: Words have destroyed Samantha’s life. Black, spiraling thoughts that she can’t always control bind her into an OCD prison that she hides from her popular friends and goes to weekly therapy to keep under control. Now, words may build her life back up again. After making a new friend and finding the secret Poet’s Corner, things seem to be taking a turn for the better. And writing nightly poetry is helping Samantha open up and stop walling herself in. But if her friends, the popular group, found out – they’d kick her out for sure. And how can she keep the secret from her therapist? Life may at last be looking up, but Sam still has plenty of problems. My Thoughts: I wasn’t sure about this book at first, for Sam seemed irritatingly stupid – why would anyone hang out with the girls she calls friends? But as I got into the book, it became engrossing, and I was loving it by the half-way mark. Every Last Word is a carefully researched story that shows vividly what it’s like to suffer from Pure-O OCD. It also deals with the topics of peer pressure, fitting in,…

First & Then
Young Adult / August 22, 2016

Author: Emma Mills. Summary: Devon Tennyson wouldn’t change a thing. She’s happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon’s cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn’t want them first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life. (Published summary.) My Thoughts: I didn’t really enjoy it, but that wasn’t a problem with the writing style. The setting was fairly classic public high school, and the characters fairly rounded. I just had problems with some of the content, on my own account. Neither did the story strike me as very original – just ye YA story set in highschool, with a handsome love interest and tragic problem. Content Review: Sexual content: Five kisses. In a locker room, a character wonders when freshmen girls started “wearing thongs and showing deep cleavage”. Characters wear short shirts to expose skin. One teenage character is pregnant. One hug. Kid says he overhead a guy and girl talking about…

Calvin
Young Adult / August 18, 2016

Author: Martine Leavitt. Summary: As a child, Calvin felt an affinity with the comic book character from Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes. He was born on the day the last strip was published; his grandpa left a stuffed tiger named Hobbes in his crib; and he even had a best friend named Susie. Then Calvin’s mom washed Hobbes to death, Susie grew up beautiful and stopped talking to him, and Calvin pretty much forgot about the strip—until now. Now he is seventeen years old and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Hobbes is back, as a delusion, and Calvin can’t control him. Calvin decides that Watterson is the key to everything—if he would just make one more comic strip, but without Hobbes, Calvin would be cured. Calvin and Susie (is she real?) and Hobbes (he can’t be real, can he?) set out on a dangerous trek across frozen Lake Erie to track down Watterson. (Goodreads summary.) Content Review: Sexual content: Low. Two kisses, a boy and girl sleep in the same tent alone through necessity, one mention during a (compliment? Discussion? Hard to tell) of the part of the brain that stimulates sexual impulses. Language: Very low. Violence: Some school-boys steal…

Swing Sideways
Middle Grade / Juvenile / July 12, 2016

Author: Nanci Turner Steveson. Summary: Annie has always wanted to be a country girl, and now she finally has her chance. The doctor has prescribed a summer of freedom. Out go the spreadsheets, the schedules, the rules that bind Annie’s life – she’s ready for adventure. California lives right down the road, and she seems to be everything Annie has ever wanted to be. More, she wants Annie’s help; she’s hatched a plan to bring her own mother back to the farm, by finding her mother’s old horses and returning the farm to its old state. Annie is delighted by this chance for adventure, but she’ll have to lie to her mother – California’s family is looked down upon in Annie’s family. The truth comes out in unexpected ways and from unexpected places, and this will be a summer Annie’ll never forget. My Thoughts: A well-told, tender story. The friendship between Annie and California, misunderstandings and reconciliations and all, was believable and interesting, the back-and-forth friendship more true to life than many. The relationship between Annie and her parents was also fine-tuned and tender as Annie learns to understand both her mother’s love and need for control and safety. Too…

We Are All Made of Molecules
Young Adult / June 7, 2016

Author: Susin Nielsen. Summary: Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless. Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink. Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder. They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules. My Thoughts: The viewpoints were grating – Ashley may be going through a lot, but that doesn’t completely excuse her being the complete stereotype of the popular mean girl, down to her shallow thoughts and back-stabbing habits. Stewart was more interesting, but seemed much younger than his given age. The book tried to tackle difficult topics, but overall it was a letdown. Content Review: Sexual content: Character threatens to tell school classmates that her friend “stuffs her bra”. Smaller boy in gym class has to strip and shower with other boys, and worries about being teased because…