Anything Could Happen by Will Walton | Estelle Reviews

Anything Could Happen by Will WaltonAnything Could Happen by Will Walton ( web | tweet )
Published May 26, 2015 by Scholastic Point
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: coming out, best friends, early high school, family

Summary: Tretch’s life in a small town is filled with family, his best friend, and (secret) dancing. Despite his supportive parents, he has yet to tell them his truth: he’s gay. And in love with his best friend (who is most likely not). During winter break, Tretch deals with changes in all corners of his life from the mundane to the enormous — with hot chocolate and some good tunes.

I’m just going to say it: I’m in love with this book.

The holidays, awesome family characters, and a solid best friendship? Pretty much the perfect combination. Debut writer Will Walton plunks us into the winter break of main character Tretch — a good (tad emotional) guy, a hobby choreographer and Taylor Swift worshiper who gets bullied by the kid of his dad’s work colleague. He’s also gay (a secret to everyone else) and in love with his best friend, Matt. (Who could blame him? He’s pretty great.) It sounds pretty tragic, right? I mean, sure. When you’re in high school and don’t have your license yet and you’re unsure of yourself, parts of this list sound pretty bad but even Tretch knows he has it pretty good. He firmly believes if he decided to tell his parents about being gay, they would be totally cool with it. But still, he resists.

I loved that Tretch wanted to hang out with his family and his older brother, Joe. That he loves holidays spent with his grandparents and family time is so special to him. Anything Could Happen brought me back to my early high school years in a way I haven’t experienced in my reading in a long time… it was the most nostalgic hug. Your parents are still embarrassing and you still have to ask permission to spend the night at your best friend’s house and who can forget the lack of independence because you don’t have a car? It wasn’t always so magical but there’s something about those boundaries that felt comforting like a cocoon too.

When so much in life is uncertain, it was great (and so familiar) how much Tretch depended on music, his dancing, and love of literature to get him through. I can’t forget the hot chocolate either. There’s no way I could not be rooting (against all odds) for Tretch to find so much happiness. I cried with him, I laughed with him, and I sure as hell wished I was hanging out with his family during their traditional viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. Anything Could Happen is as much about weathering the storm with friends and family, as it is about taking the time to understand yourself and sharing that awesome person with people who love and accept you.

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

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.

Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu | Estelle Reviews

Making Pretty by Corey Ann HayduMaking Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu ( web | tweet )
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on May 12, 2015
Pages: 368 | Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: beauty, father/daughter relationships, sisters, NYC, romance

Summary: It’s summer in NYC and Montana is dealing with having her college-aged sister/best friend, her plastic surgeon father and some unexpected news, and the attention of a new boy.

The day I write this is the same day I went and got my face waxed. I’ll spare you the nitty gritty details. It was for more than my eyebrows. I like the salon I go to. Most of the time. It took me three years of living in my neighborhood to find it, and even though it’s been a solid 8 months of walking through its doors, I have to get myself in the mood. Get myself in the mood to get prodded and for someone to ask “are you sure you don’t want this too?” Nothing pumps up your self-esteem like having a total stranger ask you if you want to get your lip waxed. Or telling you your eyebrows are uneven when you only frequent one place so whose fault is that really? Even though I’m paying them for a service, I also walk in with a little bit of shame. What do you think about when someone is pulling hair from your body and spending a lot of time doing so? I try to relax but in the end I’m always thinking I wish I did not have to do this.

That’s sad, isn’t it?

No one is forcing me to go. Right? When I was in sixth grade, someone made fun of my eyebrows once after picture day. They weren’t exactly a unibrow but they weren’t tiny either. I started plucking them myself. My hair has always been dark against my fair skin. I can thank those Spanish genes. My arms, my legs, you get the picture. It’s always been my move to “do something about it”. It wasn’t my mom forcing me to do any of the above. In fact, she was adamant about me not shaving for a long time and keeping my eyebrows thick. (I didn’t listen.) She’s always been incredibly accepting and did nothing to make me feel less than who I was. So in reading a book like Corey Ann Haydu’s Making Pretty I am absolutely aghast about Montana’s father behavior when it came to the looks of his daughters. Part of me thinks he thinks he’s doing “the right thing” and helping his daughters “accept themselves” but as a plastic surgeon who is constantly taking on new female projects and totally transforming them… we know the truth. It’s not as it seems.

Basically we have Montana — about to embark on another summer in New York City. Her best friend (Roxanne) and her sister (Arizona) are back from college. She’s been honored with the friendship of the older, sophisticated Karissa. The boy (Bernardo) she’s been checking out at the park is looking at her back. But nothing is totally clicking except for the last thing. She can’t relate to Roxanne and Arizona the same way since she went to college. Karissa is not what she seemed — or even close. But Bernardo — he is someone she can have for herself. He is someone who is on her side. Alongside him, Montana goes on this journey to reinvent herself but also get down to the naked truth of what she means to people. Her dad has married again and again; all the while, Montana has basically been discarded by these women. I don’t think it was any fault of these ex-wives, I don’t, but I also can’t imagine how Montana feels watching each of these people walk out of her life without turning back and wondering about her.

As much as this book is about beauty — how it is perceived and thrust upon us — Haydu unshockingly (because she always asks the tough questions) explores the complexity of sister relationships, the all-consuming impulsiveness that comes along with first love, and the desire to take control but feeling powerless to actually obtain it. Like in Life By Committee, the author has spun another suspenseful contemporary — where will all of this messy behavior lead these characters? There was no way I could have predicted what would happen.

What exactly do you do when the authority figure in your life makes poor choice after poor choice? That your dad of all people — someone who is supposed to love you unconditionally — thinks he can make you look “better” and thinks he is helpful for offering to help in that area? What do you do when your older sister — one of your best friends — deviates from what she believed in? It’s no wonder that Montana is feeling out of sorts and doesn’t know what she belongs. There is very little that has been stable in her life, and it becomes her own (heavy) responsibility to come to terms with her father and his “well-meaning” abuse and dissect the various meanings of love she’s coming in contact with.

There’s a ton of discussion-worthy layers in Making Pretty and Haydu’s writes both succinctly and honestly, making Montana one of the freshest female voices I’ve read in awhile. She’s also put a reader like me in quite a pickle — how can I have a favorite book of hers when all of them are so wonderful and address so many relevant and pertinent issues we are so careful to hide? Her books may be categorized as young adult but I hope that’s taken as more of a suggestion than a universal rule by thirsty readers searching for unputdownable and thoughtful fiction because her work deserves a wider audience.

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Also by Corey Ann Haydu: OCD Love Story | RBR “Befriended” Interview

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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Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge

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.

The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne â‹… Estelle Reviews

The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie ThorneThe Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 17, 2015
Publisher: Penguin/Dial Books
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: politics, family secrets, step-family, immigration

Summary: After Kate’s mom died in a car accident, she relocated to South Carolina to live with her only blood relatives. That she knows of. A year later, a story breaks that she is the daughter of a politician, a Republican running for president. She’s invited to spend her summer getting to know her father, when, in reality, she’s moving in with strangers (her step-family) and everything about her becomes some sort of strategy to make her father’s campaign a successful one. With this whole new part of her life, can Kate maintain who she has always been?

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with United States Presidents. Obsessed! I could recite any fact; I wrote so many reports about them (just for fun), and I even collected trading cards. (Does anyone remember the cards behind the Little Debbie snack cake boxes?)

So while I would have been just as dumbfounded to find out the father I never knew was running on the Republican ticket, I would have been pretty ecstatic about it too. To be related to someone who might live in the White House? (Who might see Lincoln’s ghost?!) It’s pretty unbelievable, and, honestly, Kate is probably the best kind of kid to have join the campaign trail. She’s smart, she’s focused, she’s loyal, and she wants to make a good impression – not so much on the American people, but with her dad and her extended step-family. Lucky for her, she gets to work on pleasing both.

It’s crazy, having to get to know your dad under these kinds of circumstances. No privacy, no spare moments, and a whole lot of prep and pampering to make Kate look like the ideal American daughter. (If you haven’t read Meghan McCain’s book and you are interested in this kind of behind-the-scenes antics, you should. It’s truly eye opening.) The most interesting transformation is how Kate slowly begins to blend into everything the campaign entails, and starts to lose a little bit of herself along the way. What does she do if she doesn’t agree with all of her father’s policies? Does that threaten their chance at a strong relationship? Discovering your dad is alive is one thing, but “getting to know him” under this kind of microscope is so intense and Jenn Marie Thorne nails this heartbreak, confusion, and need for acceptance so well.

In addition to all the smart political happenings, Kate bonds with her step-mom, Meg, and (mostly) enjoys getting to know her step-siblings. I love how their own reactions to a new person in this family become part of the story too. These relationships have the potential to be so great, but are so difficult too. And as if things couldn’t get any more confusing, Kate starts a secret friendship with Andy, the President’s “bad boy” son. This romance may not have been as much a part of The Wrong Side of Right as I thought it would be, but the parts we did get (the chemistry!) felt like a cherry on top of everything else.

I was unexpectedly taken aback by how consumed I was by this book, especially as Kate morphed into this new version of herself. What would happen when the stakes changed? For anyone looking to read a book with a bright, strong female character, here you go. With a realistic backdrop of what a mixed bag political life can be, Kate’s journey is one of self-discovery as much as it is about family and dealing with the secrets that her mother left behind. It’s a summer of learning about bravery, loyalty, and how acquiescing has little to do with affection and respect.

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