The Program by Suzanne Young • Magan Reviews

Book Review of The Program by Suzanne YoungThe Program by Suzanne Young [website • twitter]
Published April 30, 2013 by Simon Pulse
Pages: 405
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: depression, suicide, losing memories, destiny, soul mates

Summary: Life for Sloane isn’t perfect. Her brother committed suicide, her best friend was taken into The Program because she was showing signs of suicidal tendencies, and her boyfriend seems to be slipping away as each day passes. While The Program may have been started with the best of intentions, it seems no one is safe from its grip and erasing all their memories.

• • •

Have you ever wondered if you had to choose again — boyfriend, spouse, college, best friends, etc. — if you’d choose differently? What if you were given the opportunity to try? Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but my hope is that no matter what I’d always be drawn to my husband, Dustyn. He’s the peanut butter to my jelly. He really and truly is my better half. I realize this means I’m saying I believe in soul mates, and I’ve got to be completely honest and say I hadn’t given it a whole lot of thought before.

Since reading The Program by Suzanne Young this has really been on my mind a lot. Sloane is a girl living in a world that’s trying to rid depression because there’s been a suicide epidemic they believe is related to it. Admittedly it isn’t terrible to hope for change, but the treatment involves erasing pieces of the person’s memories to reset them. Sloane’s living in a state of non-existence as she’s afraid to show too much sorrow (over the loss of her brother to suicide and a best friend to The Program) or too much excitement (about her boyfriend James, her one true confidant).

Any sudden shifts in behavior can flag the system and send her to The Program. When a series of events happens that sends James away — after promising he’ll always protect and take care of her — Sloane can’t help but break down. She’s sent away and she desperately tries to hold onto any piece of her memories with James that she can. The Program is manipulative and tricky. They strip everything away. (Note: I thought Young handled the subject of depression really well by tackling how some people assume it just means sadness and exploring that it’s more than just that. The Program was potentially started with the best of intentions, but begins to “fix” people who aren’t broken. This could be so, so interesting to discuss for a book club.)

When’s she’s released back into the real world, she begins to mingle with her peers again at school. She re-meets her former best friend and she clashes heads with James. The strongest draw was seeing whether they would be destined to love each other again. Would their love be strong enough to tie them together despite all the missing information that had been taken from them?

Sloane was a great, strong character who was so determined not to lose herself. She wanted to feel all the good and the bad. Her parents were so overwhelmed with the possibility of losing another child they didn’t really “see” Sloane. They were so broken they’d do anything to make sure she was okay to protect themselves from repeat loss and pain. Destiny, making blind decisions, and fighting against the system for what you believe in are extremely strong elements of The Program that make it such a page-turner and a definite conversation piece.

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book review of Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb • Magan Reviews

book review of Kissing in America by Margo RabbKISSING IN AMERICA by Margo Rabb [web | tweet]
Published by Harper Teen on May 26, 2015
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: first love, parental loss, airplane crash, detached mothers

Summary: Not many things have gone right for Eva, but when she meets Will and they connect over personal losses they’ve both suffered through, she feels like she’s finally piecing herself back together again. Until Will has to move across the country and she’s not sure how or when she’ll ever see him again.

• • •

Kissing in America was my in-flight book of choice a few weeks ago. Usually I do a little bit of reading about the book before I jump right in, but I’d momentarily forgotten to download my review books to my kindle so I quickly did that moments before I was told to temporarily turn off my devices. I hadn’t even read the summary when I began, and I’m pretty sure that made reading this book even more special – I had no expectations.

Eva is a pretty typical teenager — she struggles with fitting in, is angered by how detached her mom can be one moment and how suffocating she feels the next, and has one solid best friend, Annie. But there’s something that sets Eva apart, too. Her father died two years ago in an airplane crash. The piqued curiosity she received when telling people about his death infuriated her so much she began to tell people he died peacefully in his sleep from a heart attack. (Meanwhile her mother never, ever mentions him and discarded any trace of him weeks after he died.)

When she begins tutoring Will by proofing his college essays and English papers, they connect over their personal tragedies. His younger brother died as an infant and his mother has never recovered from the loss. As Eva’s adoration for Will grows, she can’t lie to him anymore about her dad’s death. She spills the truth to him and this bonds them even more; she loves that she can be honest about all of these pieces of her no one except Annie knows: how she secretly reads messages in a forum for the surviving family members of the airplane crash or how she hoarded some of her dad’s belongings before her mother could toss them out. Their love for reading and poetry, their losses, and their easy banter bind Will and Eva together over the course of the school year.

Just when things have hit their stride, Will’s forced to move to California. How will these two ever reunite (especially considering she could never fly there)? Kissing in America is a strong tale about first love, healing, heartbreak, parental struggles, not always seeing eye-to-eye, and best friendship stress when you suck at life and let someone down. Eva and Annie find a way to road trip to CA by entering in a game show competition to find the Smartest Girl in America. Annie is a brilliant girl destined for MIT, but she’s overwhelmed by the cost of it and knows her parents couldn’t afford it. This could be her ticket to her dreams.

With much hesitation and a few embarrassing rules in place, Annie and Eva are allowed to road trip from New York to Los Angeles. This was by far my favorite aspect of the book. They meet a crazy bus thief, a few Texas cowboys (who were severely over-exaggerated, but still so fun), and get some solid advice from Eva’s mom’s best friend Lulu. There were moments of such extreme realness in Kissing in America that made me feel like an eavesdropper/stalker along for the bus trip.

The remainder of Kissing in America needs to be experienced by you and I should stop babbling on. (But believe me I could chat forever about this one.) It made me giggle, brought tears to my eyes, made me think about the type of mother I hope to be, and even frightened me a little bit as the details of her father’s plane crash were revealed. It’s one of those books that gives you a whole lot of story in the best and simplest of ways, with characters you love, and a great sadness when it’s all over.

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An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas • Magan Reviews

book cover for A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas [twitter • website]
First Book in the Series
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s
Pages: 416
Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: Faeries, Magic, Fantasy, Beauty and the Beast Retelling
Reading Challenge: Flights of Fantasy with Alexa + Rachel

Summary: After Feyre unknowingly breaks the treaty between humans and Faeries, she’s faced with the choice of living in Prythian away from her family for the rest of her life with the Faeries or dying to pay penance for the wolf she killed. She doesn’t know that her choice will lead her to love, luxury, danger, and longing.

• • •

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Gardens. Woods. Masks. Meadow. Danger.

This is what Sarah J. Maas’ work does to me: It makes my imagination burst and absolutely come alive. My goal was to find a few images that would maybe scratch the surface of what types of scenes were cinematically running through my mind, but Sarah’s writing is just so, so much more. There’s depth and detail and emotion and clarity. But best and most of all, there’s passion that courses through Sarah’s writing. It’s obvious she doesn’t rush a story for publication purposes; she mulls over all the details and intricacies until everything is so beautifully, wonderfully balanced.

I have a confession though. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t love A Court of Thorns and Roses as much as I love her Throne of Glass series. Well, false. The way this Beauty and the Beast retelling made my inner child resurface and blossom into something new and amazing as an adult (because let’s be honest, the connection between Feyre and Tamlin is …phew, steamy) was incredible. It gave me so much to relate to, even as a person who doesn’t read a ton of fantasy and often has a hard time getting absorbed in the world.

Feyre is a poor, young impoverished woman. Since her family’s fortune disappeared and her mother passed away, Feyre’s been solely responsible for making sure her disabled father and two heads-in-the-clouds sisters have food to eat and clothes on their back. She daily puts herself in danger’s way, but is extremely under-appreciated and often overlooked. One day as she’s hunting in the woods, freezing and exhausted, she has to make the decision to kill a wolf that’s threatening to hunt the deer she’s had her eye on. She’s hunted down by another giant beast because she’s broken a treaty between the humans and the Faeries. Her choice is either to live with the beast in Prythian on the other side of the wall that will forever separate her from her family, or die. She chooses to go.

In Prythian she takes up residence with Tamlin, the beast who claimed her from her home. He’s a shape-shifter, but mostly lives in his Faerie form, not all that unlike humans, but with curved ears, and a very attractive physique. Tamlin’s home (i.e. mansion) is a luxurious, spacious, and peaceful haven from the life Feyre knows back home. She’s torn between leaving her family behind (How will they survive?) and embracing the luxury of Prythian’s Spring Court.

Tamlin is frequently protecting the land, easily disturbed by Feyre’s abrasive attitude, and is extraordinarily giving even though he doesn’t have to be (and often, Feyre doesn’t seem to deserve his generosity). Lucien is Tamlin’s right hand man with a lot of gumption, a hot temper, a crazy sense of humor, and is very protective of Tamlin, leaving him very cautious around Feyre.

Feyre and Tamlin are essentially enemies. They’ve been brought up to hate one another. For nearly 500 years, it’s been Faeries versus humans.

Sarah J. Maas made me love everything about this childhood fairy tale all over again. I loved Feyre’s story — the escape from her depravity and meeting Tamlin, who pulls her out of her miserable fate to something so much more. Knowing what to expect, but with added elements of the scenery, haunting Attor and other creatures, and the brutal separation that leads the two lovebirds back together really gave A Court of Thorns and Roses its own identity.

And plus, how much more fun is it to read a grownup Beauty and the Beast retelling with super hot, steamy, sexy scenes? Sign me up for more of Tamlin and Feyre’s story, please.

• • •

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An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook • Magan Reviews

Book Review of Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook

Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook [twitter • website]
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 288
Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: sexual assault, small town setting, accident, football

Summary: Kayla has never wanted to leave her home town; it’s always been her favorite place, her source of comfort. When something awful happens and she’s sent away for the summer to return to a changed town, she wants so badly to piece it back together, but she’s holding the answers to the secret everyone’s been keeping under wraps.

• • •

In three words, Every Last Promise is heavy, uncomfortable, and courageous. It’s a story about a small-town setting where football rules all and athletes are treated like celebrities, unable to do wrong. (Think Friday Night Lights but heavier.)

Kayla spent the summer after her junior year living in Kansas City with her aunt. All we know is there was an accident and she feels guilty and responsible. When she returns to her home town, she’s no longer friends with her three best friends, Jen, Serena, and Bean. Bean is no longer associating with Jen and Serena. Everyone now thinks of Kayla as an outcast, debunked from her popularity pedestal upon her return. What happened to cause so much change?

This is a story about sexual assault from an observers point of view (as opposed to All the Rage which is told from the victim’s perspective). In Every Last Promise, we see how people are put on pedestals and have to choose what to believe when someone they admire does something that lets them down. How does Kayla know she won’t be cast aside if she fights what everyone believes?

In Kayla’s hometown, there’s an everybody-knows-everybody mindset that I absolutely related to. I grew up in this kind of setting where my mom knew what I’d done wrong at school long before the school day was over and I was able to tell her. I also completely understood the “in or out” best friend situation. Sometime in early high school I had to choose to stand up for myself — even if it meant not being in the popular crowd – and I experienced exactly how harsh and cliquish they were when I didn’t conform. Kayla’s story is no different — her best friends are hiding from the truth, protecting themselves, and aren’t strong enough to stand up for what’s right.

Kayla has a very idealistic mindset about her town; she’s never wanted to leave and go away to college. She fears change. When this life changing event happens, it shatters Kayla’s naivety and rose-colored glasses, but she’s so unwilling to accept an imperfect world. Why can’t things just go back to the way they were? Kayla feels powerless and hopeless because she doesn’t believe that one person can change things.

Because of Kayla’s inactivity through much of the story, especially when we discover she holds a lot of power, she’s a pretty unlikable character. As readers, we want to hope that they’ll make the right decisions, even if they’re the tough ones. Unlikable or not, Kayla works through realistic emotions as the situation weighs on her: How can her confession change anything? Her truths are pretty incriminating, even if what happened was done to protect someone.

Every Last Promise is about doing what’s right, flawed characters, and what happens when the illusion of perfection fades.

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An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth • Magan Reviews

Allegiant (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth [twitter • website]
Previously Reviewed Insurgent (Divergent #2)
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 526
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: dystopia, trilogy, books to movies
Format Read: Hard cover purchased.

Summary: (borrowed from Goodreads) Dual narration by Tris Prior and her beloved Tobias. Their faction-based dystopian society is broken by violence and power struggles, scarred by loss and betrayal. Beyond the fence is even more alarming. Old discoveries are meaningless. Explosive new truths change those she loves. Again she faces impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

• • •

I’m just gonna say right now this is going to be much less of an ordered, typical review (and it’s completely spoiler-free). I need to get out my feelings so maybe then I can move on. But you know what? Moving on after clinging to a series for SO long really hurts.

Allegiant really was the end of an era for me. Roth really opened the flood gate in this last installment of the Divergent series. Of course I knew something big was happening. (In fact, someone spoiled what was going to happen on Instagram (grrr) so I stayed away. My heart was really struggling with finishing the series because I’m so, so bad at goodbyes. They seem so final and I often don’t have enough closure to move on. And if I didn’t read Allegiant, then everything was fine and peachy, right? Wrong.

That’s probably why I had a major, major book hangover after finishing Allegiant. I can’t say that I was absolutely, 100% pleased as punch with how everything wrapped up, but when you invest THAT much in characters and see them fighting so hard, that final page is never going to be enough. I cried and cried (for probably an hour after closing the book). When my husband came home, I tried shoving the book in his hands and told him I needed him to read it immediately. (He couldn’t — stupid grad school.) I was desperate for someone to talk things through with; I felt so isolated!

And that makes me wonder — without being spoilery at all — how Veronica Roth felt having to make some pretty tough decisions in this book. I’m sure there were parts she didn’t want to write, and remembering back to Allegiant’s release date, there was a lot of uproar and disappointment. Going out on a limb here, I applaud Roth for being bold and writing things that absolutely sucked to read about, but ultimately did feel authentic to the story. It can’t be easy to not give your readers what they’re wanting or expecting.

January was the month I wanted to set aside for finishing all of the series I have abandoned. I’m so thankful I didn’t suffer break-up after break-up after break-up. I don’t think I would have ever climbed out of the cavernous valley of depression from saying repeated goodbyes. But hopefully I’ll get around to more of them throughout the year because sometimes goodbyes are necessary.

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book cover for the truth about jack

The Truth About Jack by Jody Gehrman • Magan Reviews

book cover for the truth about jackThe Truth About Jack by Jody Gehrman [twitter • website]
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Pages: 250
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: artist colony, RISD, art school, cheating, message in a bottle
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Dakota’s best friend and boyfriend graduated a year earlier than she did, and while away at close colleges, they begin hooking up. River writes Dakota an email to let her know. An email that Dakota receives shortly after excitedly receiving her acceptance letter to RISD (where she would be close by them).

• • •

In the same day, Dakota finds out she’s been accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and she receives an apologetic, yet somehow defiant, email from her BFF, River, that explains she and Dakota’s boyfriend began hooking up. Dakota’s not sure how she’ll face them in the fall (they’d both be in very close proximity to her) so she begins tossing around the idea of taking a gap year, getting away to travel and be inspired to create her art, and then returning to begin RISD. (And hopefully have a bit of separation from the BFF/boyfriend drama.)

In the whirlwind of Dakota learning this disappointing news, she bypasses a guy, Jack, who finds her so intriguing and magnetic that he follows her to the beach. (I promise it felt less creepy than it sounds.) At the beach, Dakota scribbles furious notes in her journal and finally decides to toss a message in a bottle into the ocean, hoping someone will write her back. The note never makes it far in the ocean because as Dakota leaves, Jack ambles over to pick up the bottle the waves rejected.

Jack is …sweet and timid and shy. He’s dangerously protective and loyal, but so incredibly uncertain of himself. Used and abused in the past, he’s not sure how to approach Dakota so he begins writing to her as Alejandro Torres from Barcelona — flirt and traveller extraordinaire. He thinks the alias is a great idea until he realizes it’s a trap; he begins to get to know her in real life, too, and has no clear way of revealing what he’s done without Dakota feeling slighted again.

Dakota is an artist, free-spirit, child of an artist colony. She’s easily hurt and very distant. She’s been abandoned in the past by her mother and with River’s betrayal, she’s become very wary and distrusting. She’s shaken and really unsure of what to do with her future.

The Truth About Jack is a dual-POV, but I felt so connected to Jack’s sweet spirit. He’s so structured and disciplined that his crush on Dakota felt like the bit of freedom his life severely lacked. It felt mostly like his story as he tried to unwind the knots he wound with his lies. (I did care about Dakota’s future, too, but I’m a firm believer in not making a spontaneous decision with a hurting heart.) A few details could have been shown a little better — i.e. Jack mentioning that his relationship was nonexistent with his dad — because honestly, sometimes young adult books leave out the parents altogether. I would have appreciated seeing his father let him down so I felt a bit of validation when he explained this to Dakota.

It’s been a while since I’ve smiled so much throughout reading a book. The Truth About Jack is so endearing and it was lovely to see Jack come out of his shell, confide in Joaquin (a Hispanic teenager employed by Jack’s parents who brings authenticity to the handwritten letters) and hopeless-romantic-tutor-turned-chauffeur, Atilla, for help getting the girl.

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