Category Archives: Young Adult

Review: Ultimatum by K.M. Walton

Title: Ultimatum by K.M. Walton
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the author of Cracked and Empty comes a gripping, emotional story of two brothers who must make the ultimate decision about what’s more important: family or their differences.

It’s not Oscar’s fault he’s misunderstood. Ever since his mother died, he’s been disrespected by his father and bullied by his self-absorbed older brother, so he withdraws from his fractured family, seeking refuge in his art.

Vance wishes his younger brother would just loosen up and be cool. It was hard enough to deal with their mother’s death without Oscar getting all emotional. At least when Vance pushes himself in lacrosse and parties, he feels alive.

But when their father’s alcoholism sends him into liver failure, the two brothers must come face-to-face with their demons–and each other–if they are going to survive a very uncertain future.

Review:

Ultimatum by K.M. Walton is a poignant young adult novel about two very different brothers who are undergoing a life-altering event.  Will this tragedy help them bridge the gap between them?  Or will it pull them even farther apart?

Ten months apart in age, Vance and Oscar Irving are not at all close and in fact, they are complete opposites.  Older brother Vance may look like the boys’ now deceased mom, but he has much more in common with his hard partying, boisterous father.  Vance is the gregarious, life of the party and he is a hotshot lacrosse who is quite popular.  Oscar, on the hand, is the spitting image of his dad but he is much more introverted and retreats both psychically and emotionally  when things turn adversarial.  Now facing the death of their father who is in the final stages of liver failure, Vance and Oscar are independently realizing they will only have one another to rely on after he passes away.  Will his death be the end of the brothers’ strained relationship?  Or can they find a way to overcome their differences and strengthen their fragile bond?

Ultimatum alternates back and forth between the brothers’ perspectives and weaves back and forth in time.  The present is written from Oscar’s point of view and through his eyes, readers witness his uncertainty about his relationship with Vance.  As he reflects on certain events from the past, it is very easy to feel the pain he has experienced at his brother’s and father’s indifference and their lack of understanding for the things that are important to him.  He is much more introspective than Vance and Oscar is quite reflective as he faces his father’s impending death.

Vance’s chapters go back in time and focus on the events that have gone wrong in both his and his family’s life.  He is quite dismissive of Vance and his interests and he makes absolutely no effort to include his brother in his life.  Instead, he numbs his emotions with drugs and alcohol and concentrates on making his dad proud of him.  Vance is devoted to playing lacrosse and in fact, he is relying on the sport to pave his way to a college scholarship. He is well on his way to success when he makes a decision that has a detrimental impact on his future and in the aftermath, his relationship with his father is extremely tense.  And just like Oscar, Vance is filled with regrets as he watches over his father’s final days.

Ultimatum by K.M. Walton is a deeply affecting and emotional young adult novel that is ultimately uplifting as Vance and Oscar come to terms with the past and make plans for the future.  The characters are richly drawn and imbued with strengths and weaknesses that are easy to relate to.  Oscar is the more sympathetic of the brothers, but Vance undergoes the most growth by novel’s end.  A bittersweet yet hopeful young adult novel that I absolutely loved and highly recommend to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Contemporary, KM Walton, Rated B+, Review, Sourcebooks Fire, Ultimatum, Young Adult

Review: Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick

Title: Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Still mourning the loss of Lucas Nelson, the boy she loved in secret for years, seventeen-year-old Emmy Martin turns to her passion for mountain biking to try to fill the empty void in her life. But just when things start looking up, Emmy discovers her mom has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Confused and angry that her parents didn’t tell her sooner, she throws herself into mountain biking like never before.

When Cole Evans, the rich boy who usually doesn’t care about anything but himself, offers to train her for the biggest mountain biking race of the season, she accepts, determined to beat her nemesis, Whitney, and prove she’s good enough for a sponsor. The more time she spends with Cole, the more she realizes he’s different than she’d expected, and, to her surprise, she’s falling for him. Torn between the deep feelings she still has for Lucas and her growing ones for Cole, she knows she must choose a path: one offers her the chance to love again, while the other is blocked by the overwhelming heartache for the boy she lost.

As she drifts further away from her family and closer to her dream of being sponsored, a terrible accident threatens any semblance of peace and happiness she has left. Instead of closing herself off to the people she loves, Emmy must learn to rely on those she has pushed away if she’s going to have any chance of getting her life back again.

Review:

Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick is a poignant young adult novel about loss, family and unexpected love. This companion piece to Love, Lucas that can be read a standalone.

Following the tragic loss of her best friend and secret love, Lucas Nelson, seventeen year old Emmy Martin’s life is still off kilter.  An avid mountain bike racer, she is disappointed when she comes in second place in a race against her nemesis Whitney.  She is still also smarting over losing her team captain spot to relative newcomer Cole Evans.  So when Cole offers to coach her after she agrees to race against Whitney, Emmy turns him down without hesitation.  However, their paths continue crossing as she trains on her own and she begins to realize there is more to Cole than she previously believed, but is Emmy ready to move on to a new relationship?

Emmy is initially not an easy young woman to like.  She is prickly, closed off and refuses to let anyone except her best friend Kelsie get close to her.  Emmy is extremely close to her mom which is why it is so upsetting when she learns her parents have been keeping secrets from her and her brother Gavin.  After learning the truth about her mother’s recent diagnosis, Emmy refuses to talk to her parents and she begins avoiding spending any time at home.  Instead, she throws herself into training for the upcoming race against Whitney and as she continues running into Cole, she is surprised when she begins to realize she might be falling for him.

Kelsie is a wonderful secondary character and she is extremely loyal to Emmy.  She easily overlooks her friends moodiness and she is quick to agree to anything Emmy asks her to do.  But Kelsie refuses to let her friend wallow in her grief and she gently, but consistently, urges Emmy to consider giving Cole a chance.  Their friendship is refreshingly lacking in angst or drama and Kelsie’s upbeat personality is a nice contrast to Emmy’s numerous issues.

Cole is a fantastic love interest for Emmy and he refuses to give up on her no matter how unpleasant she is to him.  At first he seems like he might be a little too perfect but underneath his clean cut, wholesome facade is a normal teenager dealing with the same issues as other kids his age.  Cole accepts Emmy’s refusal to let him help her train without putting up a fuss but he is not fazed by her attempts to keep him at arms’ length. His persistence pays off and a tentative friendship forms between them which eventually deepens into a real relationship.

Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick is a sweet young adult romance that is fast-paced with engaging characters.  The storyline is well written with realistic problems and issues to overcome.  The ending is a little overly melodramatic but the epilogue is nice.  All in all, an enjoyable young adult novel that readers of all ages will enjoy.

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Filed under Chantele Sedgwick, Contemporary, Rated B, Review, Romance, Sky Pony Press, Switching Gears, Young Adult

Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

Title: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall
Publisher: Clarion Books
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

Readers themselves will fall in love with Norah in this poignant, humorous, and deeply engaging portrait of a teen struggling to find the strength to face her demons.

Review:

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall is a poignant and heartbreakingly realistic portrayal of a teenager with debilitating anxiety, agoraphobia and OCD.

Other than appointments with her therapist, seventeen year old Norah Dean  has not left her house in four years. Stricken with a multitude of inexplicable mental illnesses, she is homeschooled by her mom and relies on social media to keep up with her former friends’ lives.  Constantly struggling against overthinking things, Norah’s mind always goes to the worst case for any given situation. With her life ruled by her crippling anxiety and overwhelming fears, she works hard to avoid succumbing to depression over her inability to live a “normal” life.

When a handsome teenage boy moves in next door, Norah is taken off guard by his interest in her.  She at first tries to hide her problems from him, but when Luke’s interest in her does not wane, she is forced to be honest with her issues.  Luke takes her revelations in stride, but does he truly understand the limitations her mental illnesses will put on a relationship?  And will Norah be able to put aside her fears that Luke will not be able to cope with all of the baggage that comes with dating her?

Narrated strictly from Norah’s perspective,  Under Rose-Tainted Skies is not always an easy book to read since living inside of her head means experiencing Norah’s irrational fears, nearly uncontrollable anxiety and panic attacks right along with her.  This unflinchingly honest look at the various mental illnesses that Norah is forced to live with is quite eye-opening.  Norah is a likable and sympathetic protagonist and watching her open herself to a new relationship is extremely uplifting. This heartfelt young adult novel is a well-written debut by Louise Gornall that I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Contemporary, Louise Gornall, Rated B, Review, Under Rose-Tainted Skies, Young Adult

Review: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti

Title: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Hawthorn wasn’t trying to insert herself into a missing person’s investigation. Or maybe she was. But that’s only because Lizzie Lovett’s disappearance is the one fascinating mystery their sleepy town has ever had. Bad things don’t happen to popular girls like Lizzie Lovett, and Hawthorn is convinced she’ll turn up at any moment-which means the time for speculation is now.

So Hawthorn comes up with her own theory for Lizzie’s disappearance. A theory way too absurd to take seriously…at first. The more Hawthorn talks, the more she believes. And what better way to collect evidence than to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life? Like getting a job at the diner where Lizzie worked and hanging out with Lizzie’s boyfriend. After all, it’s not as if he killed her-or did he?

Told with a unique voice that is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, Hawthorn’s quest for proof may uncover the greatest truth is within herself.

Review:

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti is a unique young adult novel with an intriguing mystery and a flawed but likable main protagonist.

Hawthorn Creely  is initially indifferent to the shocking news that former cheerleader Lizzie Lovett vanished during on a camping trip with her boyfriend, Lorenzo Calvetti. When the numerous searches for Lizzie turn up no new information, Hawthorn becomes obsessed with finding the missing young woman.  With an outrageous theory about the possible reason for Lizzie’s disappearance, she begins waitressing at the diner where Lizzie worked and she quickly befriends Lorenzo.   With surprising ease, Hawthorn convinces Lorenzo to help her look for clues and evidence that will back up her theory about what happened to Lizzie and hopefully find the missing young woman.

Hawthorn is initially a difficult character to like.  She is rather self-absorbed, tactless and immature.  Her insecurities are endearing and as someone who is always on the outside looking in, she is often a target of her mean-spirited classmates.  Hawthorn had a passing acquaintance with Lizzie years earlier that ended in disappointment and she is surprised by her obsession with the seemingly perfect woman’s disappearance. Her quest for proof that her speculation about what happened to Lizzie is correct leads to a startling friendship and romance that provides Hawthorn with unexpected insight about herself and her classmates.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti is a surprising journey of self-discovery for Hawthorn as she tries to uncover the truth about Lizzie’s disappearance.  The storyline is rather unusual and although Hawthorn’s theory about the reason Lizzie vanished is a tad far-fetched, it is quite fun watching her try to find the missing woman.  Her friendship with Lorenzo is enjoyable but their relationship does venture into somewhat uncomfortable territory considering their ages.  Hawthorn grows and matures as the story progresses and she soon turns into a character that is easy to like and root for.  An enjoyable, insightful young adult novel that  I recommend to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Chelsea Sedoti, Contemporary, Rated B, Review, Sourcebooks Fire, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, Young Adult

Review: If You Were Here by Jennie Yabroff

Title: If You Were Here by Jennie Yabroff
Publisher: Merit Press
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Magical Realism, Mystery
Length: 272 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Tess used to be normal–or at least, she knew how to fake it. Then her mother started showing up at her fancy prep school and acting crazy, which turned Tess into social cyanide. Now, her days at school, once almost tolerable, are unbearable. She longs for summers at her grandmother’s lake house, binging on old movies and Oreos, and weekends with her best and only friend, Tabitha. Until then, Tess just tries to survive, with long runs through Central Park to keep the anxiety down by day, although her nights are increasingly haunted by strange, dreamlike visions that fill her with dread. Then Tabitha drops Tess without warning, switching her allegiance to the school’s clone-like popular girls, and leaving Tess without a friend in the world. Before Tess can even cope with losing Tabitha, a horrific tragedy happens one night at school, and Tess is blamed for it. Now, she must fight to find out the truth about that night, and to clear her name, all the while wondering if her visions were really a prophecy, or if she is going to end up in the grip of an uncontrollable mental illness–just like her mother.

Review:

With a cast of realistic characters, a touch of magical realism and an imaginative plot, If You Were Here by Jennie Yabroff is a riveting young adult novel that touches on some sensitive topics such as mental illness, teenage friendships and loss.

Social outcasts at their exclusive private school, Tess Block and Tabitha Smiley have been best friends for the past five years.  The summer before their junior year, Tess goes to visit her grandmother like she usually does but when she returns home, she is puzzled when Tabitha ignores her texts.  When school resumes, Tess’s puzzlement turns to hurt once she realizes that over the summer break, Tabitha has transformed herself into one of the popular girls.  Tess feels more isolated and alone than ever now that Tabitha is best friends with mean girl Amanda Price and perfect Zoe Haley.  When the unthinkable happens, Tess tries to comes terms with a devastating loss while at the same time trying to learn the truth about what happened to Tabitha.

Tess was once popular and well-liked by her classmates but after her mom’s struggle with mental illness  became public knowledge, all of her friendships dwindled away.  Five years later, she and best friend Tabitha spend all of their time together eating contraband snacks while watching their favorite movie, Sixteen Candles.  Tess’s home life is overshadowed by her mother’s bouts with depression and manic episodes and she escapes to Tabitha’s as often as possible.  Although Tess is relatively content with the status quo, Tabitha wants nothing more than to become a part of the popular crowd.

While Tess is spending the summer with her grandmother, Tabitha is busy reinventing herself.  Tess barely recognizes her friend but she is stunned when Tabitha snubs her in favor of Amanda and Zoe. Angry and hurt by Tabitha’s behavior, Tess keeps a vivid and prophetic  dream about her friend to herself.  After a horrible accident, Tess feels guilty and ashamed about keeping the dream to herself and she is haunted by the last bitter and hurtful argument between her and Tabitha.  When questions arise about the circumstances of Tabitha’s accident, Zoe and Amanda’s revelations cast suspicion in Tess’s direction.  Can Tess uncover the truth about what happened to Tabitha?

The subplot that deals with Tess’s mom’s mental illness is a little uncomfortable since Tess is not exactly sensitive when referring to her mom.  While it is a realistic representation of how insensitive and tactless a teenager can be, it is not easy seeing Tess continually refer to her mom as “crazy”.  The portrayal of the effects her mom’s illness have on the family and their home life is absolutely heartbreaking.  Tess’s dad is trying hard to give his daughter as normal a life as possible and while he sometimes falls short, Tess appreciates his efforts.

If You Were Here by is a compelling young adult novel with an intriguing storyline.  Jennie Yabroff’s depiction of teenagers struggling to fit in is poignant yet true to life.  The characters are brilliantly developed with relatable flaws and imperfections.  A clever  story with a hint of mystery and a dash of magical realism that will appeal to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Contemporary, If You Were Here, Jennie Yabroff, Magical Realism, Merit Press, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Young Adult

Review: Snowbirds by Crissa-Jean Chappell

Title: Snowbirds by Crissa-Jean Chappell
Publisher: Merit Press
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 272 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Every year, Lucy waits eagerly for the arrival of the “snowbirds,” the Old Order Amish who come trundling into Florida on buses from the north, bringing Lucy’s best friend Alice, with whom she’s spent every winter she can remember. This winter is different. At sixteen, Alice is in the middle of “Rumspringa,” a season in which Amish teens try out forbidden temptations, in order to get them out of their system. Lucy is part of a different sect, in which teens aren’t allowed such bold experimentation, and she’s fighting to keep up as Alice races from one wild party to the next. Then, one night after just such a party, Alice vanishes. Wracked by guilt, Lucy knows that she should have been watching out for Alice, but instead, she was kissing Faron, an Older Order boy shunned by his society. Now, Lucy plunges into a search for her best friend–while also hiding her own secret, which could put her in even more danger.

Review:

Snowbirds by Crissa-Jean Chappell is an intriguing young adult novel about a teenager’s disappearance following a party on a beach.

Sixteen year old Lucy Zimmer lives with her father in Pinecraft, FL and although they are members of the Mennonite church, she is close friends with Alice Yoder, an Old Order Amish girl from Maine.  Lucy is eagerly awaiting the yearly arrival of Alice, who spends the winter in Pinecraft with her mom.  Lucy is surprised at the differences in Alice whose rebellious behavior coincides with her “Rumspringa”.  Lucy is alarmed at Alice’s plans to run away with her boyfriend Tobias and after the two girls have an argument at a party, Lucy leaves her friend at the party to view the sunrise on another beach with a “shunned” Amish young man, Faron Mast.  The next morning, Lucy learns Alice is missing and she cannot help but blame herself for her friend’s disappearance.

Although Lucy is a member of the less strict Mennonite Church, she and her father lead a fairly simple, technology free life.  While she is aghast at some of Alice’s choices, she is also a little jealous at her friend’s brief period of freedom during Rumspringa.  Lucy is chafing against her dad’s expectations for her future and unable to go against his wishes, she is giving in without fighting for what she wants.  After Alice vanishes without a trace, Lucy is determined to find out the truth about what that night, but will she ruin her relationship with her dad in the process?

The information Lucy uncovers about Alice’s activities in the preceding months is rather shocking and since she has such a sheltered life, she does not fully grasp what her friend has been up to.  This does not stop her from investigating Alice’s disappearance but when she reaches a dead end in Florida, she knows she must go to Maine in order to find out as much as she can about what Alice was doing before she and her mom traveled to Pinecraft.  She turns to Faron for assistance and the two embark on a somewhat perilous journey in order for her to discover what happened to her friend.

While the premise of the novel is quite interesting, some parts of the story are a little disjointed and repetitive. Lucy is somewhat impulsive and considering that she has no idea what happened to Alice, the decisions she makes are risky and lead her into dangerous situations.  The truth about Alice’s disappearance is quite unexpected and just the tiniest bit disappointing.

Snowbirds by Crissa-Jean Chappell offers a fascinating peek into  the differences between the Amish and Mennonite religions.  In spite of the very different worlds they live in, Alice and Lucy are typical teens as they begin to doubt their faith and struggle to escape parental expectations in favor of their choices. An engaging young adult novel that readers of the genre will enjoy.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crissa-Jean Chappell, Merit Press, Rated C+, Review, Snowbirds, Young Adult