Contemporary YA

Subtraction: A "Family Poem" by Cordelia Jensen

As a companion to her marvelous guest post earlier this month, Cordelia Jensen sent me a selection of what she calls her "family poems" that inspired her debut novel, Skyscraping (which I loved). This one really struck a chord with me as capturing the essence of her novel. 

(My apologies for the delay in posting this--it's been a tough couple of weeks around these parts and I haven't been on top of anything.)

Subtraction: A "Family Poem" by Cordelia Jensen

Recommendation Tuesday: Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. Basically, this is my way of making Tuesday a little more awesome. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @SarahSMoon or tag me on Instagram @sarahbethmoon and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

Stephanie Tromly’s first novel, Trouble is a Friend of Mine, packs clever dialog, great characters and a complex mystery into a quick paced and excellent read.

Recommendation Tuesday: Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Recommendation Tuesday: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. Basically, this is my way of making Tuesday a little more awesome. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

Funny how the last thing we want the world to see is almost the first thing to show.

I could have sworn that I featured Courtney Summers' Some Girls Are on Recommendation Tuesday previously, but alas, I had not. Therefore, I'm fixing that today.

Some Girls Are is a book I read a relatively long time ago, when it came out in 2010 (there were a lot of fantastic contemporary YA novels released that year). This is a tough story, I'm warning you, but one that's extremely important.  

Recommendation Tuesday: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Power & the "Tough Enough" Narrative: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley

When listening to the audiobook of Joy Hensley's debut YA novel, I kept recalling a huge news story from my youth: Shannon Faulkner's two year-long fight to be granted admission to The Citadel, South Carolina's public military college. When the court finally forced the college to allow her admission to the Corps of Cadets, she lasted only a week, having spent much of her time in the school's infirmary.

Years later, Faulkner revealed that she was subject to intense abuse, and feared for not only her own life but the lives of her family members, thanks to death threats she received while at the school. 

It was a gut-wrenching thing to watch on the news when I was a teenager. I'd been rooting for Faulkner to succeed, to win for every girl who wanted to smash any number of boys-only clubs (institutional or social) that were inaccessible to us girls.

Power & the "Tough Enough" Narrative: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley

Recommendation Tuesday: Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

I want to reach back into my history with a grade-school pink eraser, scrubbing away my decisions like mistakes on a math test. Too bad I drew my mistakes in ink.

This week I'm happy to recommend a debut contemporary YA novel, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord. If you're looking for a a summer-themed read that offers a bit more than you're expected, this is a great choice.

There are oodles of summer road trip stories and I've gotten pretty particular about them, as much as I enjoy road trip narratives as concept. Open Road Summer is a bit different, however. Instead of a quest sort of story, the narrator, Reagan, is tagging along with her best friend, Dee, on a very structured sort of road trip--Dee's first major tour as emerging country artist Lilah Montgomery. 

Reagan is not only grabbing the opportunity to spend time with her close friend who is rocketing to stardom, but to run away from a bad breakup and make changes in her life: No more partying, drinking or boys that are bad for her. She's a bit surly, and definitely not very forgiving of other people--I found Reagan infinitely relatable. 

Recommendation Tuesday: Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Recommendation Tuesday: Biggest Flirts by Jennifer Echols

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. Basically, this is my way of making Tuesday a little more awesome. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

Jennifer Echols is another relatively well-known author with a book I'm happy to include in my Recommendation Tuesday series. While Jennifer is well-loved by readers, she's generally under-recognized by gatekeeper types, despite having embraced positive depictions of teen girl sexuality and identity in her novels for many years.

Her latest, Biggest Flirts--the first in a new series of connected novels, is no different. 

Tia, the first person narrator of Biggest Flirts, is a senior at her Florida high school, drummer in the marching band and notorious flirt. She unashamedly prefers casual hookups, eschewing boyfriends, and even has a regular hookup buddy (Sawyer, who's going to be a main character in the third book in the Superlatives series).

Recommendation Tuesday: Biggest Flirts by Jennifer Echols

Quick(ish) Thoughts on Four Recent(ish) YA Novels

I've been disinclined to write extensively about young adult titles lately, despite that I've been reading quite a few recent releases. I do have a few I want to be sure to write about more extensively (particularly the final novel in Gabrielle Zevin's spectacular Birthright series), but I wanted to share my thoughts on a few I've read recently.

Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

Admittedly, I was nervous about reading Lauren Morrill's new novel, Being Sloane Jacobs. Lauren is one of the few authors I follow on my personal Twitter account and I enjoy her thoughts on publishing and tweets about being an extra on The Originals but I haven't read her debut, Meant to Be, and was worried that I wouldn't like her book. (I've had this happen before, enjoyed someone's online persona and their book didn't work for me--and I always fell badly about it.) 

Fortunately, my worries were completely needless, as I enjoyed Being Sloane Jacobs a bunch. The premise is essentially The Cutting Edge meets The Parent Trap, except without twins. Instead, we have two points-of-view, both girls named Sloane Jacobs. One is a stressed former competitive figure skater from a high-powered Washington, DC political family. The other Sloane Jacobs is a tough hockey player from Philadelphia with a bit of an anger problem.

 

Quick(ish) Thoughts on Four Recent(ish) YA Novels

Uneven, Yet Compelling - Just Like Fate by Suzanne Young and Cat Patrick

I think about how Simone offered me the choice to stay or go—and how it so easily could have gone the other way. For a moment, I wonder what life would look like had I gone down the other path.

I’m a sucker for “Sliding Doors”-style stories. Even though much of the time, they don’t work for me, the concept of one decision or moment being the tipping point for a series of divergent events intrigues me. I guess, philosophically-speaking, I believe there’s something to that notion. 

Because of that, I was excited to learn that Suzanne Young—who’s novel The Program was a real surprise for me this summer—co-wrote a novel with Cat Patrick, Just Like Fate, examining this very concept. 

The novel introduces Caroline, a teenager who’s beloved grandmother, with whom she lives, is hospitalized with a stroke. She’s been at her bedside, panicky when she discovers that Gram won’t recover. All she can think of is escape, and her best friend provides just the chance by inviting her out to a party. At this point, the story diverges into two paths: “Stay” and “Go.”

Uneven, Yet Compelling - Just Like Fate by Suzanne Young and Cat Patrick

Four Quickie Reviews

I don't review all the books I read--that seems like a daunting, and kind of stressful task, to be frank. However, I wanted to spotlight a few books that I've read recently which I think are worth discussing and recommending, albeit with more brevity than in my usual reviews. 

Because it is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin

Because it is My Blood is the second in Gabrielle Zevin's unusual dystopian mafia series, the first of which is All These Things I've Done. The narrative style of this series is one that will either work for people or not--the memoir-like reflective style is definitely different and I really love it. This second novel in the series sends Anya to Mexico, and this shift from New York makes for a a quieter, slower installment in contrast with the first novel in the series (which I reviewed here and where I detailed the premise of the series). I also really enjoyed the new characters introduced in this installment, especially Anya's new friend Theo, who brings some interesting perspective to her life.

Four Quickie Reviews

It's Not You, It's Me - Dare You To by Katie McGarry

Note: You’ll be amused that this started out as part of a group of mini-reviews. Whoops.

While I wasn't enamored with Katie McGarry’s Pushing the Limits as seemingly everyone else was, the character who intrigued me the most in that novel was Beth. Beth’s surly personality piqued my interest as a side character in that book, and her unusual dynamic with Isaac, another secondary character in that novel, made me curious about her story.

So, despite that Pushing the Limits wasn’t a hit for me, when I learned that Beth would be one of the two points of view in the companion novel, Dare You To, I was tentatively excited.

Unfortunately, I am starting to suspect that with McGarry's novels, it comes down to the fact that these simply aren't the kind of stories I enjoy. They are very dramatic. The characters consistently make poor choices that don't make a lot of sense, which nearly always escalates the drama. There are big mistakes and equally big gestures. All of these elements are trends in contemporary, romance-focused fiction at the moment, encompassing young adult, adult and the enigmatic “new adult” categories. 

When it comes down to it, I prefer quieter, more introspective reading.

Not dry, mind you, but I often find the little missteps and subtle, internal conflicts more compelling than grievous misunderstandings.

It's Not You, It's Me - Dare You To by Katie McGarry

Verse Week Guest Post: Gabrielle Prendergast on Backstory & Writing in Verse

We're halfway through our annual Novel in Verse Week celebration here on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves and today we have verse novelist Gabrielle Prendergast who shares an inside glimpse on the challenges of creating backstory with the verse format. Enjoy! ~Sarah

One of the challenges for any author, particularly one who writes contemporary novels for teens, is the task of revealing backstory. Because I started out as a screenwriter, backstory, as it is frequently revealed in contemporary young adult books, does not come naturally. I tend to still see my stories as screenwriters do, as a series of scenes in a mostly linear narrative, so diversions into reminiscence feel awkward to write.

But backstory is critical, and in contemporary first person narrated young adult novels, it plays a huge role in getting to know the main character through their past actions and experiences. “Show don’t tell” is the mantra. Delving into the past allows us to see how the characters became who they are rather than them having to tell us.

Writing in verse, while it shares the conciseness and imagery of screenwriting, nevertheless is antithetical to screenwriting when it comes to inner life. In screenwriting it is a never ending struggle to reveal a character’s inner life, never mind their past, without resorting to flashback or voiceover. In verse novels techniques that are analogous to flashback and voiceover are essential. 

Verse Week Guest Post: Gabrielle Prendergast on Backstory & Writing in Verse

Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

The Advance Readers Edition of If You Find Me arrived with the words "Beautiful, Wonderful, Powerful, Heart-Breaking, Impressive, Compelling and Emotional" dominating its cover. Emily Murdoch's book captivated me in all those ways and more. The words, "hope-filled, joyous and inspirational" describe my whole-hearted response.

Fifteen-year-old Carey leads you  through the story of herself and her younger sister, Jenessa, who lived in a dilapidated old camper in the depths of a national forest. Their mother, a meth addict, fabricates a reason for the life in the forest. She holds them there to keep them "safe" from Carey's father who she claims will wreak great harm and havoc upon their serene woodland existence if he should find them. 

The mother comes and goes as she desires. Her mission in life is to fulfill her need for meth; to that end, she willingly puts her children in jeopardy to keep herself high. The only people the two girls see is the occasional man coming in search of payment for their mother's drugs. The girls have lived in the forest for ten years with a few books, scant food supplies, a violin and their mother's stories of the horrible fate that awaits them outside their forest home.

Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

Review: Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati

Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati explores the double life of Ditty, a young Haredi Jew, when she discovers the beautiful world of ballet and the passion it invokes in her. Along with this passion the darkness of an invisible wall of fundamentalist religion held together by the rigidity of her family and community.

Bavati breathes life into Ditty's dream of dancing and the depth of deceit she had to descend into to bring her passion for dance into reality.

As a young girl, Ditty happens upon a DVD of The Nutcracker while watching television in a forbidden venue--her dear friend's mother had surreptitiously purchased a television that she hides far back in her closet. Ditty could not turn herself away from the transfixing dance before her.

The movements seemed to ripple through me as my  body flowed to the music, and my spirits lifted. I felt vulnerable and vibrant and intensely alive, bursting with feeling I hadn't know existed, couldn't name.

The  television and DVD player opens a door to another world.  Ditty and her friend become enamored with the life that spread before them. Ditty, at twelve begins to question the dictates of her faith that should, according to her religious parents and community, fill her with all the happiness and joy she could want.

But what, I wondered now, did they actually mean? I knew what I'd been taught – that happiness wasn't something a Jew should strive for, it was a bonus that came from keeping the laws and strictures that had been passed down from one generation to the next.

Review: Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati

Review: The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding

We walk outside to the parking lot. Sunshine and blue skies. Again. I open my mouth to let her know about the name mistake, except that I really like the thought of being Devan Malcolm. And if I tell her, she’ll call up New City, get it fixed, and I’ll have to go back to being Devan Mitchell. And suddenly she’s the last person I want to be.

When just the right book comes along at just the right time, it's a real treat. Such is the case of Amy Spalding's debut, The Reece Malcolm List, which ticked so very many of my want-to-read boxes. 

Devan Mitchell finds herself suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar world when she's shipped to Los Angeles from a small town near St. Louis to live with the mother she never knew following the death of her father. Devan knew very little about her mother, aside from that she's a best-selling novelist who seemingly never had an interest in a relationship with her daughter.

When she arrives in L.A., Devan's world transforms. Always an accomplished singing and hardcore musical theater fan, she's enrolled in a private performing arts high school where rather than being the weird musical girl, she's kind of, well,normal

Devan chronicles the little bits of information she learns about her unusual mother in a notebook, while navigating her new, vibrant world. There's a bit of romance and a lot of unusual and realistic family issues explored in this memorable debut with a knock-out authentic teen voice. 

If I were to make a Devan-style list about The Reece Malcolm List, my review would look something like this...

Things I Love About The Reece Malcolm List

Review: The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding

Early Review: Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook

We gotta be hidden here in this new world we made. Just silence keeping all the shit of the real world away.

I rarely reflect on authorial intent when reading. I figure, once a book's in the wild, it's meaning is up to each reader's interpretation. 

I think readers will find each of those concepts in Nobody But Us, depending on what they want or hope to read, but I'm still unsure as to what the intention of this story may be.

Regardless, what I do know is that Nobody But Us is a strong debut, and a stark depiction of teens facing horrid circumstances which they're ill-equipped to handle.

Nobody But Us is told in alternating (and very distinct) perspectives from the points-of-view of WIll and Zoe. Will has just turned 18 and aged out of the foster care system. Now legally an adult,  Will hopes to escape his dead-end, hard-scrabble, small North Dakota town with his girlfriend. Zoe is younger, 15, and flees with WIll to escape her violent father. The pair sets out on a road trip, destined for Las Vegas where they hope to blend into the anonymity of the city and remake their lives.

Before I knew escape, life was something to be endured, passively. Now I hunger for it.

Except running from the past is a hard thing.

Early Review: Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook

Review: Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Sometimes the idea of a book is ultimately stronger than the story within.

In the case of Erica Lorraine Scheidt's debut novel, Uses for Boys, I found myself distracted by the innovative take on teen sexuality. However, once I was stuck into the story, the execution ultimately did not work. 

Uses for Boys opens when Anna, whose first-person point-of-view is told in a stream-of-consciousness, real-time style, is a child, alone with her mother, never having known her father. She believes that, together, she and her mom can take on anything. But soon, a string of stepfathers and a career mean that Anna rarely sees her mother, she believes she has no family.

I want to go back to the tell-me-again times when I slept in her bed and we were everything together. When I was everything to her. Everything she needed.

She soon discovers that boys can make her feel needed, that they can fill a void for her. The attention makes her feel special, even if it means that the girls shun her and call Anna vicious names. 

The first few chapters of Uses for Boys make for powerful stuff.

The perspective of young Anna as she decides to allow herself to go down the path of allowing boys to use her, to abuse her, is heartbreaking. She eventually starts playing house with a boy every day and they become sexually involved. This makes her feel important and grown up. This boy needs her in a way her real family never did.

Of course, it's all just a fantasy and it doesn't last.

And then he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t say he’ll miss me or that he’s sorry. Does he know he’s leaving me? That I’ll have to ride the bus home alone and come home alone and be home alone? They leave, I think, just like my mom says.
Review: Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Early Review: Hooked by Liz Fichera

Hooked by Liz Fichera - a review on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

It’s been well-documented that I’m on a quest for a quality sports-themed young adult novel, particularly one with a female main character. 

Unfortunately, much of the time my enthusiasm for the newest sports book is immediately tempered by the sports serving as mere window dressing to bring the protagonist together with a Very Attractive Boy. 

But I keep soldiering on, seeking one of these stories that really works. However, I almost passed on Liz Fichera’s debut, Hooked, which features a Native American girl in Arizona who makes a splash with her golf mastery while negotiating a burgeoning relationship with a boy on her team (I haven’t had great luck with Harlequin Teen titles). But, a short interview with Liz on Stacked piqued my interest and I thought I’d give it a try, and despite some flaws, it was a surprisingly compelling read.

Fredricka (Fred) Oday lives on the Gila reservation, which abuts the city of Phoenix, Arizona. Like many kids growing up on the reservation, Fred’s options after graduation are pretty limited. Except she’s got something special going for her: a killer golf game. She learned to play because her father works at the golf course. Over the years, she’s excelled to the point that her high school’s golf coach adds her to the boys varsity team (there isn’t a girls team). 

However, despite her phenomenal skills on the golf course, she’s not welcomed with open arms. A player with a bad attitude and mediocre game, Seth, is removed from the team to make a space for Fred and the boys aren’t happy. They’re furious that a girl is on their team, but they are even more upset about a girl from the reservation on their team that replaced their buddy.

Then my eyes lowered to my seat, the empty one at the front of the row. There was a folded newspaper waiting on my desk, maybe the same one that Ryan had shown me in the library, and my stomach somersaulted all over again. Quickly, I placed my backpack underneath my desk and slipped into the seat. My smile faded when I found the photo on page three of the sports section, the same one where I was holding my driver on the fourth tee. Someone had used a black marker to draw a band around my forehead with feathers on each side. A crude Indian headdress. My nostrils flared and my breathing quickened. The photo turned cloudy the longer I stared at it. I had to swallow back the bile building deep in my throat. I folded and then crumpled the newspaper and stuffed it inside my backpack. I wanted to shred it into a million tiny pieces.

Despite the tensions among teammates, there’s chemistry between Fred and Ryan, the team’s other top golfer with whom she’s paired at tournaments. 

Told in alternating points of view from both Fred and Ryan’s perspective, Hooked explores all of these tensions against a backdrop of the American southwest.

Review: Falling for You by Lisa Schroeder

Falling for You by Lisa Schroeder on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

I hadn’t had many people in my life who made me feel special. You know what happens after awhile? You start to wonder if you matter.

I mean, really and truly matter.

And the more time that goes by, the harder it is to believe that you do.

Lisa Schroeder has quickly become one the select few authors whose books I love to revisit.

The Day Before, her 2011 novel in verse is one of my all-time favorites reads and I often pull it from the shelf in my office (uh, I just realized that “my” of this book is actually Laura’s—whoops!) and read a couple of passages at random. 

Lisa’s books work for me in a way that a lot of contemporary YA novels do not. She talks about families and life and friendship and love in a way that’s universally understandable, regardless of whether you’re 15 or 35 or 55. There’s a thread of goodness that runs through her stories, and each has left me feeling a bit better about the world. None of this is what’s popular and trendy in teen fiction, so her books are a breath of fresh air on the crowded teen fiction shelves. 

With that said, I was admittedly sad when I learned that her 2012 young adult novel, Falling for You, wasn’t a verse novel. I love verse, and Lisa’s verse novels are some of my favorites.

However, after reading Falling for You, I’m actually quite happy that Lisa chose to write this novel in traditional prose because it will allow verse-averse readers to try one of her books and perhaps the numerous poems in Falling for You will be a gateway to her four verse novels. 

Rae is a teen in a small-ish town in Oregon. She works hard at a flower shop, Full Bloom, where her coworkers and the other people who work at the nearby businesses are as much her family as her actual family—perhaps more. She lives in a challenging home environment where money is always tight and made tighter when her stepfather, whose job loss early in the novel creates further financial pressures and tensions in Rae’s household. 

At the same time, Rae quickly becomes involved with Nathan, the new boy at school whose devotion sends off alarms bells for Rae. She quickly realizes that this relationship is too much, too fast and the situation frightens her. Meanwhile, her friend Leo, who’s home schooled and works in his family’s coffee shop near Full Bloom, senses that things are wrong in Rae’s life, and desperately wishes to help her, if only she’ll let him. Leo—whose life has a lot of complications as well—introduces Rae to his hobby of making YouTube videos and his positive outlet seems to subconsciously inspire Rae to take her poetry more seriously. 

These events all happen in the form of extended flashbacks, which make up the bulk of Falling for You. In the present, we know that Rae is injured and in an intensive care unit, clinging to life. Interspersed within both are poems written by Rae which are published in the poetry section of her school newspaper. These poems lend further insight into Rae’s real feelings about her family, her boyfriends, friends and job—through these poems we see the real Rae.

I’m not the floor
to be walked on
or the hammer
to be used.

I’m not the choir
to sing your praises
or the commercials
to be ignored.

I’m the baby bird
wanting to fly
and the orchid
starting to bloom. 

The overarching them in this surprisingly complex and dark story is the tension between darkness and light.

Review: Falling for You by Lisa Schroeder

Review: Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt

He said focus. The word focus. I hear angels singing. Everything goes dark except for a light that beams down on Sean. It is a God-given sign- like when people see the Virgin Mary in their grilled cheese, except this isn’t religious and I’m actually not a big fan of dairy. I stare at the back of his head. His HEAD. Something I see every day but never really see because it’s been there forever. Since the first day of third grade.

I crumple up my web. I don’t need it. Praise be, the Focus Gods have spoken.

I am going to write about Sean Griswold’s Head.

Review: Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt - on Clear Eyes, Full ShelvesAccording to her guidance counselor, fifteen-year-old Payton Gritas needs a focus object-an item to concentrate her emotions on. It’s supposed to be something inanimate, but Payton decides to use the thing she stares at during class: Sean Griswold’s head.

In the first few pages of Lindsey Leavitt’s Sean Griswolds Head, I found myself thinking this was too young and immature for me, but it wasn’t long before I was hooked into a story that has fold upon fold of serious and not-so-serious issues.

Payton, whose point of view the story is from, is a young high school girl who excels at everything she does. There’s nothing she doesn’t do or handle well until she stumbles upon her mother giving her father an injection which they clarify isn’t for recreational purposes—her father has MS. 

They just change. Their body changes. Their abilities - the things they do that make them who they are - leave, sometimes temporarily, sometimes forever. Every day they wake up with that big what if?

And nothing is scarier than a life filled with what ifs - living by day without predictability and control. Some people end up losing feeling. Some have uncontrollable spasms. Some can’t function. Some end up blind or in a wheelchair. Some end up bedridden and paralyzed.

It’s hard to know who “some people” will be.

Review: Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt

Review: Defy the Stars by Stephanie Parent

This is                
warmth all around me.                
a new 

world opening.                
two stars colliding. And I think                
I’m drowning.

The blurb for Stephanie Parent’s self-published novel in verse, Defy the Stars, says that it will appeal to fans of Ellen Hopkins and Lisa Schroeder. While I disagree that this novel will work for fans of Lisa’s gentle style of storytelling, I imagine that the issue-driven, highly-dramatic style of Defy the Stars will appeal to Hopkins’ readers. 

Unfortunately, like Hopkins’ novels, while Defy the Stars was well-written and readable, I never felt engaged with nor sympathetic to the characters. 

Defy the Stars is told from the point-of-view of Julia, a classical piano student headed to a top-notch music conservatory. She meets Reed, whom she describes as a “stoner” in English class where they engage in a debate about Romeo & Juliet and the notion of love at first sight. The two—thanks to a series of coincidental meetings—quickly begin an intense relationship, but like Romeo & Juliet, find that their love is likely impossible.

The biggest obstacle to the couple’s happiness is Reed’s involvement in drug culture and drug abuse.

“Yeah,” I say aloud, “he skulks around like he’s collapsing under the weight of his own personal rain cloud.”

Julia is quickly finds herself drawn into Reed’s world, and experiments with methamphetamines several times. Meanwhile, Reed continues to spiral downward, taking Julia—who’s distracted by the intense relationship—right down with him. As their relationship unfolds, a tragedy changes everything for both teens, leaving them at a crossroads. 

I’m going to say this straight up: I missed that this is a cautionary tale about drug abuse until I was about a quarter into the book.

This isn’t particularly apparent in either the book description or reviews I’ve read. If I had known this, I probably would not have read Defy the Stars, because I don’t care for novels about drug abuse. Hand-in-hand with stories about this subject matter are chapters and chapters of characters making poor decisions, over and over again. Because of Reed’s drug use, I had a very hard time believing in him as a romantic interest, and while I understand the Julia was interesting in him because he’s attractive and a good musician, I just couldn’t root for them, even as Reed appears to make positive changes in his life. 

Review:  Defy the Stars by Stephanie Parent

Review: Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

It’s like a Venn diagram of tragedy.

 

Once Was Lost by Sara ZarrA perfect flower graces the cover of Sara Zarr’s Once Was Lost. Its soft pink petals top a long, graceful stem. One perfect petal drifts from an otherwise unmarred blossom like a tear falling to the ground.

Blemished  perfection symbolized as a lone teardrop perfectly represents Sam’s life.  Samara, Sam to her family and friends, lives in a cushioned and beautiful world of her family’s creation. Her father’s a pastor, her mother’s a lovely woman, active in her church and liked by her peers.


Yet, a darker side coexists within this dubious heaven.

Fifteen-year old Sam’s secure life in small town Pineville shatters following two events. First, her mother’s DUI lands her in rehab for  alcohol addiction. While Sam struggles with the pain of her mother’s illness and absence, she grapples with embarrassment when asked about when her mother will return; worse yet, she’s confused by father’s unwillingness to be forthright with his congregation about the reason for his wife’s absence. Sam’s appalled by what she perceives as an inappropriate relationship between her father and the attractive and lively youth minister, Erin.

Review: Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr