Young Adult

35604692Title: Twelve Steps to Normal
Author: Farrah Penn
Pages: 384
Year: 2018
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson (Hachette)
Time taken to read: 5 weeks and 5 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsisJames Patterson presents this emotionally resonant novel that shows that while some broken things can’t be put back exactly the way they were, they can be repaired and made even stronger. Kira’s Twelve Steps To A Normal Life: 1. Accept Grams is gone. 2. Learn to forgive Dad. 3. Steal back ex-boyfriend from best friend… And somewhere between 1 and 12, realize that when your parent’s an alcoholic, there’s no such thing as “normal.” When Kira’s father enters rehab, she’s forced to leave everything behind–her home, her best friends, her boyfriend…everything she loves. Now her father’s sober (again) and Kira is returning home, determined to get her life back to normal…exactly as it was before she was sent away. But is that what Kira really wants?

This is one of those classic books where the only problem is, “Too many people like me.” I tried so hard to feel bad for Kira. I really did. But she’s upset that her dad loves her. She’s upset that her dad’s friends like her. She’s upset that her aunt and her social worker care about her well-being. She’s upset that her friends like her and want to be there for her, and she’s upset that not one but TWO boys like her. I get that she’s a teenager, but this is a ridiculous way to act. And the funny thing is, it seems like Kira knows that. Because she says on, like, every other page, that the way she’s acting is “horrible” or some other synonym of the word (but mostly “horrible”). So I’m confused.

And speaking of all these characters who like Kira even though she’s “horrible”…every single one of them was incredibly 2-dimensional. Lin, the Earth Club nerd. Raegan, the overachieving class president. Alex, the theatre kid, and Jay, the jock. And her dad’s friends, Peach, Saylor, and Nonnie–three collections of the strangest qualities the author could come up with. And Kira, who is simply not interesting.

One thing that really bothered me in particular is the scene near the end when Kira picks up a bottle of vodka herself. She does this because of the death of one of her dad’s friends, whom she hated probably a month prior to her death. It’s just hard to buy the idea that that would have that kind of impact on her. Yes, it’s sad. Yes, she should be sad. But to drink your alcoholic father’s hidden alcohol…that’s a big deal. And the author brushed over all of that as if it was pretty much insignificant.

Another thing that bothered me was the lack of development of Kira’s relationship with her father. I thought that was going to be the main focus of the story, but it ended up being more about Kira’s boy drama. And boy drama can be interesting, but it’s not why I picked up this book. I get that the author wanted to show recovery in a more positive light, but it didn’t work for me.


31752165Title: The One Memory of Flora Banks
Author: Emily Barr
Pages: 291
Year: 2017
Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life. With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway—the land of the midnight sun—determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the Arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

This book is a little repetitive. Okay, it’s a lot repetitive, but it only bugged me for a little while. Flora can’t remember anything after she was ten, so she has to reread her notes over and over to remind herself what’s going on in her life. And I found that extremely irritating at first, but I guess I got used to it. At the start of this book, I rolled my eyes so hard they almost came out of my head. I mean, really? A boy cures her amnesia? Too ridiculous. But (spoiler), when it turns out her amnesia was starting to get better anyway, I decided to accept it. I don’t want to include too many spoilers in this review because this book is still fairly new. What I will say is that I never saw a single plot twist coming. The last fourth of the book shocked me over and over again and I loved it. And it leaves off at a great spot, letting the reader imagine their own ending for sweet Flora.

I absolutely adored Flora’s voice. It’s one of the best voices I’ve ever read. She’s got a ten-year-old mind in a seventeen-year-old’s body, just coming to the realization that she’s seventeen. And her childlike tone is so precious. She does a lot of crazy things that she just doesn’t understand, and she has to wake up in her craziness over and over again.

I guess one little thing that really bothered me was the fact that the father didn’t really want her on her medication but went along with it. I kind of felt like, oh, of course the father is the one who’s on their side and the mother is the one who’s crazy and evil. I think mothers are often painted in an extremely negative way in comparison to fathers, and that’s something that I think is rooted in sexism, and it bothers me. Let’s have some nice mothers in literature, people.

And finally, RIP in peace sweet Jacob.

I loved this one, guys. Highly recommend.

30199656Title: What to Say Next
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Pages: 292
Year: 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press (PRH)
Time taken to read: 1 week
Rating: 1/5

Goodreads synopsis: Two struggling teenagers find an unexpected connection just when they need it most. Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world. […] When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?

Yikes…just, yikes. This book had a lot of potential, but I have to say, it was heavily disappointing. And I knew by the second chapter that I was going to be furious at this book. So let’s just dive right in.

  1. Like I said, by the second chapter I knew this was going to be rough. David is a sweet boy and a lovely character, and everything about this book is so unfair to him. Exhibit A: the notebook. Why did the author have to give him this ridiculous notebook? It makes him seem like such a creep. And I know that if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism, but I find it hard to believe that any person like David, autism or not, would care enough about all the people in the school to write down all these things about them. David seems more like the type to just mind his own business and keep his head down while trying to get through high school. I think the notebook is really out of character for him. Like, if he can’t be bothered to remember the football players’ names and calls them Meat Head instead, I don’t see him keeping a detailed notebook on everyone else in the school.
  2. There are so many stereotypes in this book. You get the nerd, the popular bitches, the jocks, and the girl who’s perfect and pretty and popular and kind, or at least kind enough to sit with the nerd. Did this author even go to high school, or did she just watch Mean Girls for four years?
  3. This whole book is a typical “unlikely couple” story, and it’s absurdly predictable. You can guess from the jacket copy how Kit and David’s friendship-turned-romance is going to go.
  4. What I didn’t predict is David’s makeover. What. The. Frick. Of course once he gets a haircut and new clothes, David’s totally hot. What???? Are we incapable of liking David for who he is???? He gets horrifyingly bullied, and suddenly he gets the right clothes that are physically uncomfortable for him, and now every girl is obsessed with him. I just, like, don’t even have words for how messed up that whole concept is for a neurotypical person, and then we add in the fact that David is on the autism spectrum. Just think about it for half a second, like the author apparently did not.

In conclusion, skip this one, my friends.

35504431Title: Turtles All the Way Down
Author: John Green
Pages: 288
Year: 2017
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers (PRH)
Time taken to read: 1 week
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

This was kind of a hard one to rate. I started off with four stars, but when I thought about it some more, I bumped it down to three. I really don’t like John Green as a person. I think he’s said some really problematic things about women, and I have a lot of issues with his books, issues that appear in almost every single one of them. But Turtles All the Way Down has fewer of those issues, I guess. But I still don’t like him. Whatever.

I do feel a lot of sympathy for Aza. I have OCD too, although mine looks very different and is perhaps not as severe. But I get the whole thought spiral thing, and I get the feeling of being trapped in your head and just wanting out. What I don’t get is the whole missing billionaire subplot. Perhaps my number one pet peeve in books, and especially in YA, is when authors give characters a lot of money for the purposes of convenience. What might be even worse is what John Green does in this book, which is that he gives his characters a lot of money…just to be flashy? I don’t even know. Why does there have to be a billionaire in this story? I don’t feel sympathy for wealthy characters. I mean, I did feel bad for Noah. I guess I mean I feel less sympathy for wealthy characters. A lot less. And sympathy is kind of what these books are all about, in a way. Sympathy and empathy. Feeling. I don’t know about you, but I have always read to connect with characters over similar struggles. And I don’t connect with extreme wealth.

Besides all that, there’s the ever-pretentiousness of John Green’s characters. I don’t know a single person who talks the way Aza and Davis do, and I especially don’t know any high schoolers who talk that way. Sometimes I feel like what John Green really wants to do is write poetry, and I wish he would just do that instead of making his characters spew out unrealistically poetic dialogue.

But I didn’t hate reading this I suppose, so three stars it gets. Tell me your thoughts! And don’t forget to follow my bookstagram @katelikesbooks! Happy reading, friends.

24529123Title: This is Where It Ends
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Pages: 288
Year: 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: 10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve. 10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class. 10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won’t open. 10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting. Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

This one was not easy to read.

School shootings are my absolute biggest fear. As a teacher, I face that fear every day, and every day I have to wonder if I will have to give my life for my students that day. So I didn’t get very emotional when I read this, but I think that’s probably because I didn’t let myself get truly enveloped in the story. I couldn’t. It would be too horrifying for me to read this narrative of things that happen all the time all over our country. THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS is barely fiction.

I think because of that, I wasn’t really able to engage with the text enough to really form opinions. I’m reading other reviews now, and I’m realizing how flat most of the characters were. Their voices in each of the perspectives are indistinguishable. However, I have to disagree with what a lot of reviewers are saying about Tyler being an almost cartoonish villain, with no complexity and no clear motivation. Tyler has clearly been abused in multiple ways throughout his life, and he lost his mother. So there’s some motivation. And as Autumn tells us, Tyler is not all bad. He helped her dance in secret when her father forbid it. He was her rock. But if I understand correctly, he snapped when he started to feel like Sylvia was taking Autumn away from him. And he’s apparently homophobic, so that made him angry. He’s a pretty bad dude, but I think he has more complexity than many reviewers give him credit for.

I will say, I was so over Autumn and Sylvia’s relationship by, like, the second page. Holy moly. How many different ways can you say they love each other? It’s exhausting. It’s like the author was trying to be like, “Look, I support the gays!” Congratulations. We get it.

You know, I’m starting to wonder if all that didn’t play a part in my inability to connect fully with this book. But I’m still giving it three stars because I was really hooked on the plot and finding out who survives and who doesn’t.

Now I’m off to a writers’ group meeting. Happy reading and writing, friends!

30971720Title: The Special Ones
Author: Em Bailey
Pages: 304
Year: 2016
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisA mysterious cult leader has complete control over Esther’s life…or does he? Esther is one of the Special Ones: four young spiritual guides who live under his protection in a remote farmhouse. The Special Ones are not allowed to leave, but why would they want to? They are safe from toxic modern life, safe from a meaningless existence, safe in their endless work. He watches them every moment of every day, ready to punish them if they forget who they are—and all the while, broadcasting their lives to eager followers on the outside. Esther knows that if she stops being Special, he will “renew” her. That means being replaced with another Esther. Nobody knows what happens to the Special Ones who are taken away from the farm for renewal, but Esther fears the worst. She also knows she’s a fake. She has no ancient wisdom, and is deeply troubled about her life in captivity. But like an actor caught up in an endless play, she must keep up the performance if she wants to survive long enough to escape.

This book is incredibly satisfyingly creepy for the first half. For that reason, I struggled to rate it. In a lot of my reviews, I talk about the first half of the book being okay and the second half really sucking me in, but I had the opposite experience with this book. The beginning had me hooked right away. I was horrified by but so interested in Esther/Tess’s situation. The way she has to pretend and keep Felicity/Zoe in line for their survival is incredible.

And then they get the new Lucille. She freaks out at first, but she quickly becomes a part of their group and seems weirdly interested in the roles they’re meant to act out. And her change in behavior is never really explained. She doesn’t act anything like I imagine I would act if I were kidnapped and brought to the farm, although I guess I can’t really know what I’d do, and everyone is different. I just didn’t think any of her reactions made any sense.

And things don’t get better. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I can’t stand books that change perspectives. I’m tempted to forgive this book for that since there are things we need to learn about the abductor that would be hard to uncover otherwise. And in Criminal Minds they do jump to the killer’s perspective, and I love Criminal Minds. I’m not really sure about how I feel about the fact that there are no indicators on the page that the perspective is switching–you just have to figure it out from the text. But in the perspective of the abductor, we don’t really learn as much as I think we need to. He talks about the “tragedy” a few times, and maybe this is just me, but I still don’t know what that incident is. Clearly it has something to do with his parents, but what it is exactly, I don’t know. And then there’s the photograph. It’s hard for me to fully accept his motivations. He had no emotional ties to that photo. It all came from a drug-induced hallucination that I suppose the author means to say is strong enough at that moment that it makes him obsessed with the photo. I would have liked the photo to have had more significance to his life.

Ultimately, this is a very cool concept, but I don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been. Still, it was a fun, creepy read. On to the next book!

33843362Title: Genuine Fraud
Author: E. Lockhart
Pages: 264
Year: 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press (PRH)
Time taken to read: 6 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat. Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete. An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two. A bad romance, or maybe three. Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains. A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her. A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

I read WE WERE LIARS a couple years ago, and I was less than thrilled. GENUINE FRAUD didn’t sound terribly interesting to me, but Lockhart’s agent once requested my full manuscript, so I thought, hey, why not? And once again, I was less than thrilled.

I think it is pretty cool how the chapters go backwards. It was confusing at first, but I started to get the hang of it about halfway through. I didn’t suspect any of the plot twists, and Jule was only a little bit irritating. And I was definitely curious about what exactly was going on. The thing is, though, I never really found out just what was going on. And I just can’t figure out why. Why did Jule do any of this? Is she just a psychopath? What was the point? Just to get her money? Is that really worth living in fear of being discovered? Honestly, the question of why should really come after the question of what. As in, what the heck actually happened? I don’t have a clue what was real and what was not. Maybe that was the point. I don’t know. I don’t really know what else to say about this book because the more I think about it, the more confused I get. I will say, overall I liked it better than WE WERE LIARS. I felt at least some sympathy for Jule, even though she’s actually nuts. In conclusion, I’d read another E. Lockhart book, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend this one.