Category Archives: Young Adult

Review: How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas

Title: How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas
Publisher: Tim Duggan Books
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 338 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

A witty, heartfelt novel that brilliantly evokes the confusions of adolescence and marks the arrival of an extraordinary young talent.

Isidore Mazal is eleven years old, the youngest of six siblings living in a small French town. He doesn’t quite fit in. Berenice, Aurore, and Leonard are on track to have doctorates by age twenty-four. Jeremie performs with a symphony, and Simone, older than Isidore by eighteen months, expects a great career as a novelist–she’s already put Isidore to work on her biography. The only time they leave their rooms is to gather on the old, stained couch and dissect prime-time television dramas in light of Aristotle’s Poetics.

Isidore has never skipped a grade or written a dissertation. But he notices things the others don’t, and asks questions they fear to ask. So when tragedy strikes the Mazal family, Isidore is the only one to recognize how everyone is struggling with their grief, and perhaps the only one who can help them—if he doesn’t run away from home first.

Isidore’s unstinting empathy, combined with his simmering anger, makes for a complex character study, in which the elegiac and comedic build toward a heartbreaking conclusion. With How to Behave in a Crowd, Camille Bordas immerses readers in the interior life of a boy puzzled by adulthood and beginning to realize that the adults around him are just as lost.

Review:

Spanning a couple of years, How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas is a character driven young adult novel about the youngest of six children who is trying to figure out how he fits in with his genius siblings.

Eleven year old Isidore “Dory” Mazal is quite ordinary compared to his highly intelligent, grade skipping brothers and sisters.  While he might not be as smart as his siblings, Dory is much more observant and he is also more social than they are. Despite being more interested in forming friendships, his only friend at school, Denise Galet, is also somewhat of an outcast due to her ongoing depression and anorexia.  Although Dory is close to his mother, his relationship with his business traveling father is somewhat distant.  Despite sharing a room with his sister, Simone, who is also closest in age to him, they are not particularly close since she is a scholastic overachiever like their older siblings. After the family suffers a tragic loss, Dory reacts with kindhearted compassion and empathy unlike his brothers and sisters who quickly return to their normal life.

Life with the Mazal family is somewhat dysfunctional since Dory’s siblings are rather disconnected from the rest of the family. Their interactions with one another are limited to family meals and watching the occasional TV show together.  The siblings’ extremely high IQs alienate them from their peers and they have little patience or tact when dealing with anyone whom they perceive is not their intellectual equal.

Although the concept for How to Behave in a Crowd is unique, the novel is very slow paced. The plot occasionally feels disjointed since Dory’s narration hops from one anecdote to another that are not necessarily connected to each other. Overall, his narration comes across as extremely detached which makes it somewhat difficult to for the reader to feel much of a connection with the various characters. While Dory is an enjoyable lead protagonist, none of his is siblings are particularly sympathetic or likable. Camille Bordas brings the story to a very abrupt and rather unsatisfying conclusion.

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Filed under Camille Bordas, Contemporary, How to Behave in a Crowd, Rated C+, Review, Tim Duggan Books, Young Adult

Review: Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

Title: Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books
Genre: Magical Realism, Young Adult
Length: 366 pages
Book Rating: D

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

The highly anticipated new book from the acclaimed author of The Accident Season is a gorgeous, twisty story about things gone missing, things returned from the past, and a group of teenagers, connected in ways they could never have imagined.

One stormy Irish summer night, Olive and her best friend, Rose, begin to lose things. It starts with simple items like hairclips and jewelry, but soon it’s clear that Rose has lost something much bigger, something she won’t talk about, and Olive thinks her best friend is slipping away.

Then seductive diary pages written by a girl named Laurel begin to appear all over town. And Olive meets three mysterious strangers: Ivy, Hazel, and her twin brother, Rowan, secretly squatting in an abandoned housing estate. The trio are wild and alluring, but they seem lost too—and like Rose, they’re holding tight to painful secrets.

When they discover the spellbook, it changes everything. Damp, tattered and ancient, it’s full of hand-inked charms to conjure back things that have been lost. And it just might be their chance to find what they each need to set everything back to rights.

Unless it’s leading them toward things that were never meant to be found…

Review:

In Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, a small town’s annual bonfire is the catalyst for some very unusual occurrences.

A meandering tale with chapters alternating between three points of view, the novel has a unique premise that, unfortunately, quickly becomes repetitious and lacks any type of forward progress. The many soundalike names (Olive, Rose, Ivy, Hazel, Rowan, Laurel, Holly, Ash, etc) make is virtually impossible to tell the characters apart. The chapters are narrated in first person and with the exception of Olive, the voices are so similar, it is impossible to tell them apart. Much of the supporting cast is also somewhat bland with little to distinguish them from the others.

Olive is one of the few voices that is distinct and easy to follow. Her family is also unique and their interactions are truly delightful and incredibly enjoyable. Olive’s friendship with Rose (who is rather distinctive) is quite heartwarming and their text messages are hysterical. Olive’s sister Emily is also a breath of fresh air and she is wise beyond her years.

Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s does have some unexpected plot twists and a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. However, readers will need plenty of patience as they work their way through this convoluted, incredibly slow-paced young adult novel.

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Filed under Contemporary, Kathy Dawson Books, Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Rated D, Review, Spellbook of the Lost and Found, Young Adult

Title: When I Am Through with You by Stephanie Kuehn
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Suspense
Length: 303 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

A gripping story of survival and the razor’s-edge difference between perfect cruelty and perfect love. 

“This isn’t meant to be a confession. Not in any spiritual sense of the word. Yes, I’m in jail at the moment. I imagine I’ll be here for a long time, considering. But I’m not writing this down for absolution and I’m not seeking forgiveness, not even from myself. Because I’m not sorry for what I did to Rose. I’m just not. Not for any of it.”

Ben Gibson is many things, but he’s not sorry and he’s not a liar. He will tell you exactly about what happened on what started as a simple school camping trip in the mountains. About who lived and who died. About who killed and who had the best of intentions. But he’s going to tell you in his own time. Because after what happened on that mountain, time is the one thing he has plenty of.

Smart, dark, and twisty, When I Am Through With You will leave readers wondering what it really means to do the right thing.

Review:

In Stephanie Kuehn’s young adult novel, When I Am Through with You, a hiking trip with seven teens and a high school teacher takes an unexpectedly dark and tragic turn.

Narrator Ben Gibson has a dark family history which is not fully revealed until late in the novel. His two year relationship with girlfriend Rose Augustine is beginning to feel the strain of his debilitating migraines, his dysfunctional relationship with his mother and his tendency to avoid making decisions. After spending part of the summer apart, Ben is not as excited about their reunion as he feels he should be, but his inertia and desire to avoid conflict keeps them together. Rose is very surprised by Ben’s announcement that he is in charge of the school’s orienteering group and that he, along with teacher Mr. Howe, will be leading the members on an expedition.  The members turn out to a rather diverse yet somewhat troubled mix of young men and women and Ben quickly loses control when Mr. Howe takes a shockingly hands off approach once they embark on their journey.

It is not very surprising when Ben quickly loses control of the students on the expedition since he easily gives in during confrontations.  Although Ben is well aware there could be dangerous repercussions from his classmates poor decisions, he does not make any effort to let Mr. Howe know there is trouble brewing. Mr. Howe is also a large part of the problem since he abdicates a lot of his responsibility to Ben even though he is fully aware of Ben’s shortcomings. Circumstances are ripe for disaster in the face of an unforeseen encounter with a sketchy group of campers, unanticipated bad weather and exceedingly bad decisions by everyone in the group.

When I Am Through with You is well-written but the pacing is excruciatingly  slow.  Ben holds his secrets close and he is not exactly perceptive when it comes reading people.  Outside of his relationship with Rose, he is essentially a loner who is rather clueless about what is going on in his classmates’ lives. With so many unknown variables, Ben is literally and figuratively stumbling around in the dark for much of the expedition. The storyline is rather convoluted and predictable, everyone exhibits poor judgment and Stephanie Kuehn brings the novel to a somewhat unsatisfying and ambiguous conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Dutton Books for Young Readers, Rated C, Review, Stephanie Kuehn, Suspense, When I Am Through with You, Young Adult

Review: Coming Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally

Title: Coming Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally
Hundred Oaks Series
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Swim. Eat. Shower. School. Snack. Swim. Swim. Swim. Dinner. Homework. Bed. Repeat.

All of Maggie’s focus and free time is spent swimming.  She’s not only striving to earn scholarships—she’s training to qualify for the Olympics.  It helps that her best friend, Levi, is also on the team, and cheers her on. But Levi’s already earned an Olympic tryout, so Maggie feels even more pressure to succeed.  And it’s not until Maggie’s away on a college visit that she realizes how much of the “typical” high school experience she’s missed by being in the pool.

No one to shy away from a challenge, Maggie decides to squeeze the most out of her senior year.  First up? Making out with a guy.  And Levi could be the perfect candidate.  After all, they already spend a lot of time together.  But as Maggie slowly starts to uncover new feelings for Levi, how much is she willing to sacrifice in the water to win at love?

Review:

Coming Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally is a sweet contemporary young adult novel of friendship and love.

As high graduation approaches, competitive swimmer Maggie King is quite contemplative as she realizes she might be a bit behind the curve when it comes to relationships and life experience. She spends so much time focused on swimming she has little time for a social life. She has a close knit circle of friends which includes fellow swimmer Levi Lucassen, cheerleader Georgia and baseball player Hunter but she has no dating experience.   Although Maggie has absolutely no regrets about the time she devotes to swimming, she is ready to explore her sexuality. Maggie decides to ask her best friend Levi to teach her how to hook up. While Levi is initially a little hesitant to agree to her suggestion, he finally agrees to her plan.  Their lessons quickly turn steamy and their relationship soon becomes complicated by unexpected emotions just as their respective swim competitions heat up.

Levi and Maggie are well-adjusted teenagers who have families who are incredibly supportive.  Their swimming schedules are pretty grueling so there is not much opportunity for typical teen activities. Levi has already made the cut to try out for the Olympics and Maggie is hoping to secure her cut as well.  Neither of them have the time or desire for a relationship and they are taken off guard when their friendship begins to change after they start making out. Maggie is open to discussing what comes next for them but will Levi be open to taking their relationship to the next level?

Coming Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally is a wonderful coming of age novel with a realistic storyline and a fantastic cast of characters. this latest addition to the Hundred Oaks series can easily be read as a standalone but I highly recommend the other books in the series as well.

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Filed under Coming Up for Air, Contemporary, Hundred Oaks Series, Miranda Kenneally, Rated B, Review, Romance, Sourcebooks Fire, Young Adult

Review: Someone Else’s Summer by Rachel Bateman

Title: Someone Else’s Summer by Rachel Bateman
Publisher: Running Press
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Anna’s always idolized her older sister, Storm. So when Storm dies in a tragic car accident on the night of her high school graduation, Anna is completely lost and her family is torn apart. That is, until she finds Storm’s summer bucket list and decides to honor her sister by having the best summer ever–which includes taking an epic road trip to the coast from her sleepy Iowa town. Setting out to do everything on Storm’s list along with her sisters best friend Cameron–the boy next door–who knew that Storm’s dream summer would eventually lead to Anna’s own self-discovery?

Review:

Someone Else’s Summer by Rachel Bateman is a poignant yet heartwarming young adult novel.

Anna Holloway is absolutely gutted when her much admired older sister Storm unexpectedly dies in a car accident. Going through the motions as she resumes her regular activities within a couple of weeks, Anna is surprised when she finds her sister’s final list of things to do over the summer.  Desperately wanting to complete the list, Anna and her sister’s best (and next door neighbor) Cameron Andrews embark on a road trip in an attempt to feel closer to Storm and hopefully work through their grief over their loss. By journey’s end, Anna is stunned by a final revelation that leaves her feeling like she really did not know Storm as well as she thought.

For much of their childhood, Anna tagged along on Storm and Cameron’s many adventures. However, in recent years, Anna is busy with cheerleading and her best friends Piper and Jovani. Nevertheless, Storm’s death leaves a huge whole in Anna’s life and she is struggling to understand how everyone around her can resume their normal lives after such a devastating loss. In addition to her grief, she also regrets not spending time with her sister and the discovery of Storm’s list provides her the opportunity to feel close to her sister again.

Cameron is struggling to cope with Storm’s death and in addition to his grief, he also harbors a hefty dose of guilt for a few reasons. Anna and her parents are quick to reassure him they harbor no ill feelings for his self perceived role in her loss. He does not hesitate to agree to accompany Anna on the road trip but there are a few tense moments between them along the way. Cameron is just as surprised as Anna when their friendship takes an unanticipated romantic turn.

It is not until they have nearly completed all of the items on Storm’s list that Anna becomes curious about some of  the things her sister wanted to do that summer. When she broaches these topics with Cameron, he is forced to reveal the secrets he has been keeping for the past several months. She is stunned and extremely distraught by these revelations and she is quite angry with Cameron for not telling her the truth about Storm. Will she forgive Storm for the choices she made before she died?  Will Anna forgive Cameron for keeping such important information from her?

While Anna’s friendship and subsequent romance with Cameron is absolutely delightful, her friendship with Piper is a sadly lacking. Piper does not have much empathy for Anna’s loss and while she is more than happy to drag her to parties and out shopping,she does not provide any emotional support. Piper’s attitude when Anna returns home after the road trip is just horrible which makes Anna’s efforts to resume their friendship that much worse.

Fast-paced with a well-written storyline and an endearing cast of characters, Someone Else’s Summer  is an emotional novel of healing. Rachel Bateman perfectly balances the sadder elements of the story with the light-hearted yet meaningful road trip. Anna is a wonderful protagonist whose struggles to deal with Storm’s death are realistic. I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend this bittersweet novel to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Contemporary, Rachel Bateman, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Running Press, Someone Else's Summer, Young Adult

Review: It Started with Goodbye by Christina June

Title: It Started with Goodbye by Christina June
Publisher: Blink
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 272 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Tatum Elsea is bracing for the worst summer of her life. After being falsely accused of a crime, she’s stuck under stepmother-imposed house arrest and her BFF’s gone ghost. Tatum fills her newfound free time with community service by day and working at her covert graphic design business at night (which includes trading emails with a cute cello-playing client).

When Tatum discovers she’s not the only one in the house keeping secrets, she finds she has the chance to make amends with her family and friends. Equipped with a new perspective, and assisted by her feisty step-abuela/fairy-godmother, Tatum is ready to start fresh and maybe even get her happy ending along the way.

A modern play on the Cinderella story arc, IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE shows us that sometimes going after what you want means breaking the rules.

Review:

It Started with Goodbye by Christina June is a wonderful young adult novel that explores the relationships between stepfamilies.

Sixteen year old Tatum Elsea was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people and although she is guilty of nothing more than being loyal to her best friend, Ashlyn Zanotti, she is paying a steep price.  While Tatum completely understands she could have handled the situation differently, her father and stepmother Belén impose a harsh punishment on her and she is essentially under house arrest for the summer. With a lot of free time on her hands, Tatum spends the summer working to pay off her fine and fulfilling her community service hours. At her feisty step-grandmother Blanche’s urging, she also begins a graphic design business which leads to some flirty exchanges with a mysterious new client.  Blanche also teaches her some gentle life lessons that provide her with some much needed insight into her strict stepmother’s behavior.  When Tatum’s father returns home at the end of summer from a business trip, will the family find a way to heal their fractured relationships?

Tatum’s relationship with both her stepmother and stepsister Tilly have always been strained. Stepmom Belén is not exactly the warm and cuddly type and she deals with everyone in a brisk, no nonsense manner. She has extremely high expectations for both Tatum and Tilly but luckily for Tatum, she is able to convince her father to intervene on her behalf when necessary. Which is why it comes as such a complete shock when her father sides with Belén and agrees to the harsh punishment her stepmother has imposed. Down but not out, Tatum creatively devises ways to work around some of the edicts but she still deeply resents her dad and Belén for their unfair treatment over something that really is not her fault.

While the storyline mainly focuses on Tatum’s family relationships, there is a slight romantic element to the plot. Tatum’s e-mail exchange with her new client is light-hearted, fun and flirty.  She has no idea who the young man is but she finds much to admire about him as she gets to know him over the summer. When they do eventually meet in real life, readers won’t be too surprised about who he is, but Tatum sure is!

It Started with Goodbye by Christina June is a terrific novel of healing for Tatum and her family. The characters are multi-dimensional with easy to relate to human frailties and foibles. The storyline is quite engaging and deals with real life issues in a straightforward, realistic manner. A very well-written young adult novel that I absolutely loved and highly recommend to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Blink, Christina June, Contemporary, It Started with Goodbye, Rated B+, Review, Young Adult