The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand • Magan Reviews

book cover the last time we say goodbye cynthia hand, books about suicideThe Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand [twitter • website]
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 400
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: suicide, loss of a brother, life after loss, counseling
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Lex’s brother committed suicide and she’s not entirely sure why. She wants answers she’ll never get; she wants more than his one-line-post-it-note on his bedroom mirror. Lex wants to go back to way things were before.

• • •



The Last Time We Say Goodbye is going to be really difficult for me to review well. I wish I could draw a diagram for you that showed all of the emotions and feelings I experienced while slowly (because it’s like the best, most delicious meal you’ve ever had: it must be savored) worked through Lex’s story.

Lex’s life is divided into befores and afters:

Before when she was happy.
After her brother committed suicide.
Before when she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
After when she’s lost touch with all of her best friends.
Before when she was sure she’d met her soul mate.
After when she broke things off with him because it’s just too much.

Lex’s mom is barely functioning; she goes to work, comes home, cries herself to sleep in Tyler’s room, rinses and repeats. When her mom swears she gets a whiff of his cologne, Lex blows her off. But then a few things start happening to Lex and she’s positive her therapist will prescribe her medication if she tells him she has seen Tyler’s ghost. Or that she’s noticed photographs have been removed from frames throughout the house. Surely this can’t be happening, right?

This was my first of Cynthia’s books and I have to say I’m just so incredibly in love with her storytelling. I’m an “issues” kind of girl when it comes to books so I’ve read a number of books that deal with a similar situation. But man, it felt like Cynthia really forced me into this world. Everything just felt so right with the pacing, the environment, the friendships, and Lex trying to figure out how to move forward. There’s an added element of Lex’s journal entries that her therapist forces her to write, and honestly, sometimes these kinds of things can feel jarring because they break up the story. It worked so, so well here. (Especially when everything really came full circle at the end. Cue the tears.)

The Last Time We Say Goodbye is heartbreaking and takes a good, long look at a family after the surprising loss of a son and brother. There are so many questions and so, so few answers. It’s less of an emphasis, however, on Tyler and the choice he made, and more about accepting his decision and how Lex and her mom move forward. Just in case you’re wondering if this is a ghost book, my answer would be no. It’s a very realistic adaptation of a grieving family with a very logical explanation for why these things are happening to Lex and her mom.

I caution you to prepare a continuous stretch of time for The Last Time We Say Goodbye. You won’t want to move an inch. And quite possibly, if you’re like me, you’ll be angry you haven’t read Cynthia’s work until now. Don’t worry — I’m off to correct this!

• • •

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Promposal by Rhonda Helms • Magan Reviews

Promposal Book Review by Rhonda Helms

Promposal by Rhonda Helms [twitter • website]
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 224
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: promposal, public displays of affection, LGBT, Dive Into Diversity
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: When best friends Camilla and Joshua find themselves in less-than-ideal situations for prom, one of them going with someone she doesn’t want to date and the other lusting after his male best friend who wants to ask someone else to prom, their usual gleeful attitudes become quite glum and they don’t know how to turn things around for themselves.

• • •

In case you’re unfamiliar, a promposal is an often public proposal, in which one person asks another to the prom, eliciting joy or mortification. (Definition was copied from the Goodreads summary.)

Here’s a really sweet example to get you acquainted with the idea:

I’m going to make this a Why in 5 review to keep things short and sweet because I know you’ll get carried away watching more promposals after seeing the one above…

  1. Camilla has a massive crush on a boy named Benjamin. While they’ve spoken very little, she hopes that he’ll pick up on her crush-vibes and ask her to Prom. That isn’t exactly how things pan out; she’s asked to prom on live television by a guy she barely knows. How does she turn him down in order to seek out Benjamin’s potential offer? The answer: she can’t because she refuses to publicly humiliate someone. Camilla is a sweet, smart girl who finds herself in a sucky situation. It’s her senior prom and she’s going with someone that’s annoying the crap out of her. She’s got a huge heart and is so, so kind.
  2. Her best friend, Joshua, is by her side offering his best advice throughout her whole ordeal, but he gets a bit sidelined by his own drama. He’s gay and his second best friend, Ethan, has been his crush for years. Ethan is also gay, but seeks Joshua’s help asking another guy to prom. This entails brainstorming ideas and Joshua trying to disguise all his hurt because he wishes he could be honest with Ethan about his feelings.
  3. Camilla and Joshua’s situations aren’t enviable, but they’re handled really maturely and respectfully. A promposal, to me, is a little silly and I think in many regards it’s unnecessary. But it’s a thing now and I kind of had to get past my adult notions to embrace the concept. Helms did a great job including a current trend and not allowing it to feel extremely cliche and silly. I came to admire Camilla and Joshua as they grew to understand that the only way out of both circumstances was to either suck it up and be a loyal friend or to speak up and be honest. I really appreciated that Helms presented the idea of a Promposal as something a person might not be expecting and how it might feel to be on the receiving end of that; I’d never even considered this before.
  4. Promposal reads easily and was a quick, enjoyable book. The story is about two genuine, innocent characters who want things to finally work out for them. My one issue is that maybe sometimes Camilla and Joshua seemed a bit younger than they were, as in the language didn’t always match the mindset. (But I have to remind myself that I was that naive, happy-go-lucky senior so maybe I’m seeing the characters through my adult microscope.)
  5. The chapters alternate between Camilla and Joshua’s perspectives and neither story outweighs the other. This is a really well-balanced Dive Into Diversity book; we’re given an inside look into Joshua’s divorced family and how his Dad supports his sexuality and nudges him to make a few decisions regarding Ethan. (No, I’m not telling you what happens. 😉

• • •

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Little Kids: A Valentine’s Love-Fest

Valentine's-and-Everett-Little-Kids-Book-Celebration

Graphic found via Pinterest via this source.

As many of you know, a really sweet day is approaching: Valentine’s Day! And my daughter, Everett, just turned one a week and a half ago. I intended to do a big OMG HOW HAS THIS YEAR FLOWN BY POST, but I kind of got wrapped up in the moment and didn’t share that little tribute like I wanted. I decided I’d sort of combine everything into this great big Little Kids post because I want to focus on books that show our love to the kiddos in our lives.

I’ve listed a few new-to-us titles and a few absolute favorites that are often on repeat over here. One thing they all have in common is they let the reader proclaim, share, or discuss love. I hold and tell Everett that I love her no less than a million times a day. I want it to be engrained in the center of her little core that I love her to the ends of the world. But guess what, sometimes she doesn’t want me squeezing her and hugging her. Sometimes she just wants to sit and read a book, but I can still sneak in the same message.

Here are my recommendations to you for our Valentine’s love-fest / (a belated) celebration of my little girl:

  1. Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You: Oh, be prepared to sob while you read this one. I think about Everett growing up and becoming her own person. I used to read it to our foster daughter and wanted to send along the message that she would always have our love. This book has been a treasured one that’s been soaked with lots of tears and read with much emotion.
  2. I Love You Through and Through: My favorite aspect of this book is that I can point out different body parts, i.e.: “I love your hair and eyes,” but I also really appreciate that it talks about how our littles will have good days and bad days, happy days and sad days, but no matter what, we’re still going to love them just the same. That’s a HUGE lesson for a child to learn.
  3. If I Could Keep You Little: This is another extremely sentimental book because it hits home for us parents that we REALLY want to press the pause button and freeze time because RIGHT NOW IS SO AWESOME … but there are going to be other equally awesome, amazing moments that lie ahead.
  4. The Biggest Kiss: This is a new-to-us book we just picked up from a Barnes & Noble visit a week ago. It’s fun to read aloud and has great illustrations, silly rhymes, and focuses on kisses!
  5. I Love You Night and Day: Another new-to-us book, but with the recurring message of unconditional love with cute graphics, and sweet, sweet words.

Bonus recommendations:

  • On the Night You Were Born: Okay, obviously it’s impossible for me to read this one without sobbing.
  • God Found Us You: This was a staple read when we had our foster daughter; it’s a lovely book about how much the child is wanted and was yearned for. This post should really be titled “Books That Turn Magan Into a Blubbering Mess.”
  • God Gave Us You: This is a companion book to God Found Us You for biological children. Also really sweet and special because it talks about patience and waiting for that special little bundle.

♥

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your littles!
Do you have a book you’d recommend we check out to complete our love-fest?

♥

Oh, and who am I kidding? Here’s are two shameless photos of my sweet girl. Happy birthday, Everett!

Magan-and-Everett

Photographs courtesy of Lindsey from The Life You Love Photography

book cover from goodreads for Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson

Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson • Magan Reviews

book cover from goodreads for Cut Me Free by J.R. JohanssonCut Me Free by J.R. Johansson [twitter • website]
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Pages: 304
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: child abuse, changing identities, escaping abuse, thriller
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Though Charlotte is able to escape her abusers (her parents) and relocate to another city, once she begins to settle she begins receiving mysterious boxes with creepy messages inside. Could her parents have possibly tracked her down or has someone else discovered her secrets?

• • •

How does one review a book that was brilliantly written but scared the bejesus out of them? I felt shaky and scared and angry while I was reading Cut Me Free. I tried to skip to the end to give myself some piece of mind; I hovered over the Goodreads app, contemplating whether or not I should look up spoilers because I was soooo anxious.

That’s a lot of emotions, huh?

Well, it’s all true. Charlotte was raised in the attic of her biological parent’s house. She and her brother’s identity was known to no one other than the two people who abused them and held them hostage. They’re sickening and grotesque and some of the worst people I’ve ever met in my reading life. The good news? Charlotte escapes. She weaves a path far, far away from the detestable souls she was unfortunately born to and tries to start over. She hires Cam to change her identity, provide the necessary official paperwork, and erase her past.

But things don’t come easy for Charlotte. She begins to see a young girl out and about with a fatherly figure who is showing obvious signs of abuse. For reasons I won’t go into, Charlotte feels like she has to save this girl. A whole series of events unfolds that really left me feeling unsettled and on guard. This story, Charlotte’s story, is multi-faceted: It’s her journey to begin anew, but interwoven is a thriller story as she begins to receive mysterious boxes.

I admire the way Cut Me Free made me feel, but maybe I walked away a little more paranoid than I began. There were times when, sure, this story really had things that may not have seemed plausible — for instance, how does a girl who has no education and socialization skills logically escape and instinctually know how to flee across the country — but ultimately, knowing whether or not Charlotte was going to be okay far outweighed the practical side of me that questions things. (And I think that’s a pretty big deal.)

As far as thrillers go, I was positively hooked. I really try to focus on my job during the day and taking care of my daughter when she’s awake, but by golly, I wanted to hire a babysitter and play hooky. I feel it’s my responsibility to admit the following to you: If you are really sensitive to abuse and neglect, I caution you to tread lightly with Cut Me Free. My anger was through the roof and Foster Mama Magan wanted to rip someone to shreds for not intervening here. (I actually read a few reviews that said the details weren’t graphic enough and my jaw couldn’t have dropped further because yes, things are told in a careful manner, but you’re quite capable of putting all the details together.)

Cut Me Free was an extremely intense story told quite well; it took me on an emotional, heart-pounding journey. I hope you’ll consider giving it a go, too.

**Sidebar: Have any of you read Room? Those same intense, crazy feelings I had while reading Room are what reappeared while reading Cut Me Free.

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Religion in YA Books • Dive Into Diversity

Dive Into Diversity Reading Challenge

Each Sunday, I found myself driving down the back roads of our small town with my grandparents, headed to our tiny Catholic church. I was baptized there and participated as a reader, attended Sunday school, and in high school was confirmed, too. I didn’t really know anything other than Catholicism until my sophomore year in high school when my best friend began asking me to attend her Wednesday night youth group at her Baptist church. The differences between her church and mine were night and day: there weren’t nearly as many rituals at hers, people talked a lot more openly about things like sin, sexuality, and who God is. It was then that I realized that not all churches are the same. I guess hypothetically I had known that before, but until I saw it in action, I didn’t know there could be something different.

[Full disclosure: I began going with Leslie because there was a cute boy involved.]

The summer after my Sophomore year, I went to a church camp in Glorieta, NM with Leslie’s youth group. I went hoping that I’d sit next to that cute boy on the way there and that sometime over that week he would FINALLY ask me to be his girlfriend. Spoiler alert: his dad was our bus driver to New Mexico and made a bet with him to see how many girls’ phone numbers he could get while he was there. We pulled into the camp and my heart was just crushed. Thank goodness I found out before all the festivities began because I think my sole focus would have remained pursuing him if I hadn’t found out the truth early on. Instead, I tried to ignore him and threw myself into bonding with my group and being active.

And it’s there that my heart really seemed to change and this whole idea of Christianity really became something more. It was more than just a proclamation. It was more than just attending church on Sundays. Sure I had a lot of questions and things I just didn’t know the answer to, but I felt anxious to seek out those answers and to explore religion in a whole new way.

This little piece of my history is something that still impacts my day-to-day life and it’s something I am searching for when I’m reading: What do the characters believe? Are they searching like I was (still am)?

I think at our core we’re curious humans and we like to test the waters. We don’t easily accept things at face value or believe things necessarily because we’re told to. There have been a few standout books for me that really reflected how it felt for me to question and seek those answers:

stealing parker, small town sinners, things i can't forget

Stealing Parker, Small Town Sinners, and Things I Can’t Forget have given me characters that aren’t always right, don’t know all the ins and outs of their beliefs, want to learn more, are flawed and imperfect, and they all struggle. Gosh, even as a nearly 30 year old woman (say WHAT?!) I still feel this way. I don’t always know what’s right or what I’m supposed to do. These books extend this amazing olive branch that say, “IT’S OKAY TO NOT KNOW!”

Perhaps what I’ve felt lately in a lot of my reading has been that there’s either a strong believe or a great nonchalance. In two books I recently read (The Last Time We Say Goodbye and Since You’ve Been Gone), the main characters both admit to having no faith as they’re going through these GIANT life changing events; the conversation stops there and once they’ve said, “I don’t know what to believe” that’s it. But I’ve also noticed that aside from Christianity, I’m not seeing a whole lot of exploration of other religions. Perhaps those with Christianity stand out to me because that’s what I identify with the most, but ideally, I’d really love to be able to update this post with a long list of books that explore other faiths. Religion and beliefs are just one of the multitude of things that make us diverse, and I’d love to see this tackled more in what I’m reading. I want to know my character’s struggles and strongholds.

So here you have it, my great question to you guys: Where is religion in young adult books? What books have you read that have done a really nice job exploring religion? 


 

Thanks for joining the discussion for this month’s Dive Into Diversity! Don’t forget to link-up with you diverse posts below. Rebecca, Estelle, and I cannot wait to read them and check out your blogs! If you haven’t had a chance to join the DID reading challenge, feel free to visit the intro post and use #DiversityDive on Twitter & Instagram!

book cover Perfect Girl by Michele Gorman

Perfect Girl by Michele Gorman • Magan Reviews

book cover Perfect Girl by Michele Gorman

Perfect Girl by Michele Gorman [twitter • website]
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Publisher: Notting Hill Press
Pages: 326
Target Audience: Adult Fiction
Keywords: people pleasing, crappy boyfriends, controlling parents, shady jobs
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Carol is barely able to tread water or find time for herself because she’s constantly attending to everyone else’s needs before her own. Her mom passive aggressively manipulates her into doing what she wants, her best friend and sister don’t see how they’re abusing her, and her boyfriend is selfishly out to have his needs met before hers. What will it take for Carol to learn to say no and stand up for herself?

• • •

The Story: Carol is everyone’s go-to girl: She helps her sister plan her wedding, goes on blind dates for her best friend as a pre-screener (because her BFF has the absolute worst radar ever), books her parents vacations, finds her “adopted” sister a job, works countless hours at a job she loves with men who overlook her talents and demean her with constant sexual innuendos and inappropriate jokes, and has a boyfriend who is throwing all his efforts into his new job with little quality time to spare.

Phew. That’s a lot, right?

The Build-up: Can Carol possibly say NO to anything? How does she ever sleep? What happens when she breaks? When does she EVER have time for herself?

The Breaking Point: Things get so big and bad and messy and uncontrollable for Carol. She is the epitome of a people pleaser. (Anyone who thinks they are a people pleaser will relate and sympathize with this poor girl.) My heart raced and I legit thought I was going to have a panic attack as things all came to a head at once. (Of course. And really — any idea I had about how things could get worse…I was wrong. They got WAY worse.) There were a lot of moments where I found myself nodding my head as I related to this young woman. I highlighted a TON of passages.

Perfect Girl is my second novel by Gorman to read (The Curvy Girls Club was the first, but I’m reviewing them out of order). TCGC was a lot more sensual and sexy, but I found Perfect Girl to have a much more serious undertone that focused primarily on Carol’s journey to stop allowing other people to manipulate her. It was really nice to see that sex wasn’t a device used to hook Gorman’s readers; this really showed me she has a lot of diversity as an author because these two books were in no way formulaic or similar.

If you’re looking for something that feels genuine and authentic with a mid-twenties character who is trying to find her footing in the world, I definitely recommend Perfect Girl. It was really nice to relate to a character and think, “Huh. So not everyone has this growing up thing figured out.”

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