Tuesday, April 30, 2013

INVISIBILITY by Andrea Cremer & David Levithan

Author: Andrea Cremer & David Levithan
Publisher: Philomel (a Penguin imprint)
Release Date: May 7, 2013
Number of Pages: 358
Source of Book: ARC from publisher NCTE
Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.
First Thought: Two powerful writers teaming up created a beautifully written narrative on loneliness, loss, being found, and what we do for love.

New girl and invisible boy meet...and it turns out there's so much more to it in this astonishingly good story. The alternating POVs wove seamlessly together and gave a complete story of an unexpected first love. That continues as the book morphs into a story of an unseen world of magic and curses that is well-developed and deftly explained as to seem completely natural and real.

I appreciated the relationships in this book. Both the romantic, first love relationship, some secondary romances, and the family dynamics relationships. Laurie might just be one of my favorite brother characters I've ever read in a book. I'm a sucker for the good, caring brothers in books - must come from being the only girl with two brothers myself. Another "character" was the setting itself, which was described in a way that becomes a bit of a love story to NYC as well. 

Andrea Cremer and David Levithan move the story forward with brilliant pacing. Just as we get complacent, a wrench is thrown in leading to an unavoidable climax. And in true comic-book style, there is a showdown at the end with the master villain.

Final Thoughts: INVISIBILITY left me contemplating what it really means to be alone or to be lonely...and which would be worse.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

WHEN YOU WERE HERE by Daisy Whitney

This review was also posted on the Nerdy Book Club blog. They're always looking for readers to contribute. Are you a member? If you read, you are.

Author: Daisy Whitney
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Number of Pages: 257
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at NCTE
When You Were Here, Lost in Translation meets Where She Went, is about an American teenager who travels from California to Tokyo to uncover the secrets surrounding the death of his mother, all while trying to both hold onto and let go of the girl he’s been in love with his whole life.

Danny's mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn't know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom's property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother's memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died.
First Thoughts: WHEN YOU WERE HERE is an achingly, heartbreakingly, healingly incredible novel. It ripped me apart and stitched me back together one small piece/scene/conversation at a time.

I adore Daisy Whitney, and I loved her debut, THE MOCKINGBIRDS, and it's follow-up, THE RIVALS, so I was anxiously awaiting her next book. I knew this one would have a different tone than her others, and I was intrigued by her writing in a teen male's voice. I'm so glad to be able to say that I loved this book. In fact, I'm not sure that's even a strong enough emotion for what I feel about this story.

I thought I knew where this book was headed. I thought I knew what Danny's trajectory would be. He's just shredded when we meet him in the beginning. He's grieving. His father's been gone a long time. His mother is just recently gone. He's lost the girl he loves. High school is over. He's aimless and doesn't know which direction to turn. So he heads to Tokyo, his home away from his California home with his family. He needs to discover why his mom didn't make it to his graduation, why the cancer took her too early. He needs to find a way to feel again, something, anything. He needs to find a way to discover if he can ever not be hurting. He finds Kana, a new friend, and rekindles his love of a city he belongs in. Then, nineteen chapters in, a jaw-droppingly unexpected event is revealed that changed my entire perception of the direction this book was headed. Danny's journey becomes about much more, and it's a true discovery of self and life and love and healing and being at peace with death. And I was enamored with every word of it.

There's something about Daisy Whitney's writing style that I feel so comfortable immersing myself in. She's a fantastic contemporary voice with deep emotion and flawed characters and hope. She deftly created a balance between what is happening in the moment, and flashing back to the events in the past that led to Danny and Holland being at this point. My emotions were in turmoil throughout reading Danny's story. I was so caught up in his emotions, I mostly just wanted to give him a big hug throughout, and by the end, I just wanted to hug the book to me and not let it go. WHEN YOU WERE HERE is one of those books that is going to stay with me. I was feeling so many emotions by the end (and, yes, needed kleenex handy); it touched on nerves deep within my soul, and the journey I took with Danny made a lasting impact on me.

Final Thought: Some books are hard to let go of and forget - this one will be with me for a long time because of its sincerity and how it hits just the right notes.

Note for teachers/librarians/parents: Please read this book; however, there are mature scenes so it's probably better for a high school audience. If you work with 8th graders, read it first to determine appropriateness before handing to any students.

Monday, April 15, 2013

IF I LIE by Corrine Jackson

Title: IF I LIE
Author: Corrine Jackson
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Number of Pages: 276
Source of Book:  Hardcover from ALAN Workshop

A powerful debut novel about the gray space between truth and perception.

Quinn’s done the unthinkable: she kissed a guy who is not Carey, her boyfriend. And she got caught. Being branded a cheater would be bad enough, but Quinn is deemed a traitor, and shunned by all of her friends. Because Carey’s not just any guy—he’s serving in Afghanistan and revered by everyone in their small, military town.

Quinn could clear her name, but that would mean revealing secrets that she’s vowed to keep—secrets that aren’t hers to share. And when Carey goes MIA, Quinn must decide how far she’ll go to protect her boyfriend…and her promise.

First Thought: Wow! An amazing debut. Incredibly powerful book. I'm emotionally wrecked after the experience of reading this one.

I so feel for these characters and what they've gone through in trying to love and protect one another and keep each other's secrets. I have no idea how difficult it must be to be the one left behind when a loved one goes to war, but this book creates so much empathy for what they must be going through. Add in a misunderstood situation with high school dynamics and a hero mentality with broken families and it's an emotional roller coaster of a book. There's a definite Scarlet Letter feel to the situation Quinn finds herself in, and with the code of military families ethics at play, she's put in an impossible situation. But the entire time I was just feeling for her and wanting to support her.

There were some very interesting secondary characters in this book. Some of my favorite scenes were those with the veteran, George, at the hospital where Quinn volunteers. It is her safe place away from what all the town thinks of her, and he gets her and helps her survive. His scenes also provide most of the comic relief in this emotional journey, but also some of the most emotional scenes. For one to be able to see past all of the gossip, and really see the person, makes such an impact. This story highlights how one small action can affect so many others around you, and how one small kindness can make a world of difference for one who is in a time of struggle. It also touches on bullying and ostracizing, posting of inappropriate text pictures, death, divorce, cheating, war, soldiers missing in action, veterans struggles, and so much more. It's a heavy book, but done so well that I just felt hopeful at the end. But while going through it, I was feeling so much for what she was having to deal with. I also appreciated that she had realistic ways to escape with her photography and that she had something to keep her going when she felt her world was crumbling around her.

The only bit I had a little bit of trouble following where the parts when the story was flashing back to what had happened before and back to the present, but reading carefully or rereading short passages helped me follow along.

I was struck by the powerful emotions evoked from this story and Corrine Jackson's writing style. It's in your face and blunt and searing, but there are some beautiful lines of figurative language and description in this book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and absolutely recommend it to others. I'm only sorry I waited this long to get to it!

Final Thoughts: I'm inspired to hear the stories of our veterans who have fought for our freedoms and too often come home damaged. I would pair IF I LIE with SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL - if you liked one, I think you'd like the other.

I booktalked IF I LIE as I was devouring it during class and shared the synopsis with 7th & 8th graders today, and the second I finished (with tears in my eyes) it was in the hands of students with a waiting list for those who wanted it next.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

THE PROGRAM by Suzanne Young

Author: Suzanne Young
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: April 30, 2013
Number of Pages: 416
Source of Book: ARC from Publisher
In Sloane’s world, true feelings are forbidden, teen suicide is an epidemic, and the only solution is The Program.

Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone—but so are their memories.

Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in. And The Program is coming for them.

First Thought: I could not stop reading this book. It was engaging and I couldn’t put it down until I had raced to the finish. 

THE PROGRAM is a gripping, suspenseful story set in a realistic dystopic future where you never know who to trust - not even yourself because your own memories may not be real. From the very beginning I was intrigued by the setup for this world where teen suicide is an epidemic and those who are depressed are sent into The Program where any memory related to the experiences or people that made them fall into depression is taken away. This leads to secrecy and bottling up of emotions and a pressure cooker of a high school experience for these teens, especially those who were close to someone who was “infected,” who are constantly watched for any signs of needing to be taken away. This is how we meet Sloane and James, as they try to keep the sadness from her brother’s suicide from overcoming them and leading to them getting “flagged” for treatment. They have only each other to rely on and be honest with because neither one would ever turn in the other. They have to keep up the fa├žade, but when they’re alone together they can let their emotions out. They look out for each other and are madly in love. But when more and more of their friends are being taken away to The Program and returning not remembering them, it boils over into being too much to handle. But after getting the memory treatment, will they remember each other? Will their love surpass all of the memories being taken away?

Suzanne Young skillfully set up this book in three parts: the before, the during, and the after of being put in The Program. Each one building upon the last and to a conclusion that is a game changer. Her writing style has an easy to read contemporary feel and builds the suspense and fear so the reader feels invested in what happens and sympathizes with the characters. The first person narration from Sloane adds an element of feeling all of the emotions as she falls into depression becoming “infected,” the fear of having her memories taken away during her treatment and not knowing who to trust, and the confusion and hope of being “returned” to the outside world having been cured but knowing there are pieces missing. And when she runs into James, will she even know who he is? Will he know her? Or is she better off just forgetting about him like everyone tells her she should? Or, no matter what happened to the memories in their brains, will their hearts scream they are destined to be together? How can you trust yourself when you know your memories aren’t complete and you don’t know what your life was like before?

All of this races toward an inevitable ending that reveals some surprising information. There are little clues along the way, but what is going on with The Program and resistance to it is bigger than Sloane could have imagined, and the information she gets at the end makes for a great setup for where she could head next. I, for one, can't wait to find out how it all works out. 

Final Thought: I'm really hoping this one is a series because Suzanne Young sets it up well to have a whole new perspective on things at the end, and I'm dying to know what will happen to Sloane, James, and Realm next. *Note: The author said it will be two books! Thank goodness!

Monday, April 8, 2013

I'm over on Stacked today!

I'm today's guest poster at STACKED for their "So you want to read YA?" series. 
I love this series and seeing everyone's picks, and am so glad they're running a second round. I'm honored to have been asked to share my thoughts in a guest post. 
So head on over there and check out my personal YA starter kit recommendations.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Student Recommendation: PIVOT POINT by Kasie West

I loved PIVOT POINT myself, and all of my students who have read it this year have loved it also and been passing it on to their friends. One even told me she gave it to one of her friends who doesn't go to our school, and that friend liked it as well. It makes me happy to know students are finding books they love enough to recommend them to their friends!

Author: Kasie West
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: February 12, 2013
Number of Pages: 352
Knowing the outcome doesn’t always make a choice easier . . .

Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without.
From an 8th grader:
The book I have most recently read and was also my favorite book of third quarter is Pivot Point by Kasie West. Pivot Point is my favorite book for third quarter because it was very nerve wracking and I like that in my books because then I can’t predict what would happen next.  I chose Pivot Point because I wanted to read something different and also because I loved the way the cover looked so unique. Pivot Point was different from the books I usually I read because I’ve mostly read books that involve teenage problems and this book was more about decision making. For Pivot Point I’d rate the book 5 stars because when I would read I wouldn’t want to stop reading. I would recommend Pivot Point to mostly just girls because girls can more relate to the main character than boys can. I won’t forget this book and will probably end up reading it again in the future.