Wildlife by Fiona Wood ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Publisher: Poppy/Little, Brown for Kids
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Australia, friendship, sex, relationships, nature, grief
Format read: Borrowed from the library.
Summary: Sib and Lou are two students living in the wilderness for the semester while dealing with the past, old friends, and new love.
I was tempted to read Wildlife because the reviews have been such a mixed bag. Here are some of my thoughts organized in a pros & cons list:
- The setting. I haven’t read another book where students took a semester to live in the wilderness. It very much felt like a camp (but with grades), and I enjoyed hanging out in a new setting and taking part in all the nature-y and physical activities that were part of their every day routines. (I don’t know if I ever would have survived a semester like this.)
- Lou is dealing with some very heavy grief. She’s also brand new to this school, and is able to shrink in herself as she deals with a tragedy that totally shattered her world. I loved how realistically Fiona Wood handled this storyline. Lou has to come to terms with so much without a familiar shoulder to lean on. She’s independent but hurting, and I liked how her story was broken down in diary entries as a way for her to work through these hefty emotions.
- I felt similarly about the sex in this book. Sib, who is dealing with some new treatment from her classmates because of a modeling gig she has, engages in a secret relationship with one of the most popular guys at school and she has so many questions about deciding to take the next step and what it means to her. This was some of the best inner dialogue I’ve seen about sex in a young adult book, and I wish there was more of it. What do you do when you think sex is a big deal and your partner doesn’t?
- Michael — Sib’s true blue best friend who is sort of pushed to the side while she pursues other interests and also a new friend to Lou. He’s quiet but super solid and I had a lot of love for him throughout the story.
- Short chapters! Again, something I rarely see in the books I’m reading but very welcome when I’m reading during lunch and only have a short amount of time to jump back into the story. It felt like I always had a stopping point. (Plus the chapter number art was beautiful.)
- The pacing was a little slow. Wildlife takes place over a semester and because all of the chapters were so introspective, there was very little action. I kept wondering what was going to break the book wide open, and it took awhile. (Even when it got there, it felt more like a tiny fire than a full on explosion.)
- I was reminded a lot of my reading of Paper Airplanes from a few weeks ago. Two girls become friends, one of them has a toxic best gal pal, and there seems to be only a little bit of time for a full-fledged friendship to develop. It was obvious Sib and Lou could help each other (especially because Sib’s best friend is a piece of work) and I wanted the seed for their friendship to be planted sooner so maybe they could be farther along as I came up to the ending.
Final thoughts: Wildlife is written so beautifully, and I loved the supporting character that nature played in the story. The author did such a commendable job bringing to life two girls going through so much: one dealing with questions of her own limits (in relationships and friendship) and another working to make peace with the past. It was real and emotional but also hopeful. Definitely looking forward to reading more of Wood’s work in the future.
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No Place to Fall by Jaye Robin Brown (website | twitter)
Publication Date: December 9, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: growing up in a small town, auditioning for an art school, family drama
Format Read: ARC received from the Publisher. (Thank you!)
Summary: Amber’s dreams are bigger than her small town; as she slowly lets go of her fear of singing in front of people, she decides auditioning for an arts school might be the answer to getting her away from her cheating father, drug-dealing brother-in-law, and help her move on.
>> Everybody knows everybody.
>> When you do something out-of-character your parents will be told before you can figure out how to bring it up.
>> It can be frowned upon when you so desperately want to escape.
>> Life can feel stifling when you have big dreams, but feel you don’t have the means to achieve them.
Amber Vaughn knows this better than anyone. She wants to escape her small town to pursue a musical career; she is afraid of ending up like her big sister, Whitney, who met the wrong, wrapped-up-in-drugs guy, Sammy, got pregnant, and seems to be backpedaling. Amber’s friends encourage her to apply to an arts school in a bigger city a few hours away. She’s fueled by the desire to escape.
She’s got so much to leave behind, that as I reader, I often felt the heavy weight of her burdens. Her best friend, Devon, is the brother of the guy she watches and observes from afar, Will. When she spontaneously decides to hook up with Will, she doesn’t know how to tell Devon what happened and be around Will, who has taken on the role of helping her prepare for her auditions. Amber’s mother is the kindest, nicest Christian woman who always tries to have a positive outlook. But she’s lost all self-confidence and because she’s too busy taking care of her children and grandson, she cares little for her appearance and is blinded to the affair(s) her husband has on the side.
Brown did a fantastic job of including several tough-subject discussion points (cheating, church, having a gay best friend, drugs, teenage pregnancy, and sex) without trying to persuade the reader to feel or believe something. She wrote in such a way that the reader will gain a 360-degree view of what was happening in Amber’s life, the struggles she faces, and will be able to walk away from No Place to Fall with all of these thoughts and ideas floating through their minds about how they feel. For a topic-heavy book, there’s no preaching or criticism to dissuade a reader.
Amber is such an endearing, flawed character that’s always trying to do the right thing, but often gets caught up in circumstances beyond her control. As I believe most of us can relate to, she finds herself thinking, “How did I get here?” Trying to get from Point A to Point B always seems so direct, but Amber’s story proves that sometimes life has other plans in store for us that involves a zigzagging, bumpy road.
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One of my RBR goals before the end of the year was to get another ATTENTION, ATTENTION post in. I’m so glad I made this a priority because it gave me a chance to 1) read one of the books that Magan really enjoyed last year 2) talk to Amy Spalding, who is one of my absolute favorite YA authors.
INK IS THICKER THAN WATER is about high schooler, Kellie, who is dealing with a ton of changes in her life. Her constant best friend, Kaitlyn, is suddenly someone she doesn’t recognize and it couldn’t have come at a worst time. Her solid older sister is occupied with getting to know her birth parents and isn’t around as much. Kellie’s relationship with her dad isn’t great; she never feels like she can please him plus she wishes her free-spirited mom would parent a bit more than she does. To make Kellie even more confused, Oliver — a boy she has a bit of a past with — comes back in her life and makes her question what she wants even more.
Whew. Sounds like a lot right? Well I am here to tell you that Amy manages to balance each of Kellie’s challenges so well. I loved the big family dynamic, the adorable little brother Finn, the “cool” parents (even if her mom was a bit frustrating at times), and how much Kellie worried about her family life changing. I liked getting to know her friends on the paper, and watching her come out of her shell and embark on her own passions and also reach out to the people she doesn’t want to be detached from. In a short book, Amy jampacks so many great details and real emotions. Spoiler alert: I totally cried.
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Amy was nice enough to chat with me about INK IS THICKER THAN WATER and also give us a small peek at her upcoming April book! Check it out:
What’s the last book you read that made you feel like it was the “right time / right place” kind of thing? (I had this feeling with INK, especially when Kellie was going through so many growing pains with her best friend.)
A couple weeks ago I read Leila Sales’ This Song Will Save Your Life, and it brought back so many feelings straight from my own grade school/middle school/high school years. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that so accurately nailed what it was like to be a misfit in such a similar way that I was (am?). I loved how music was used as something to get you through the worst times and also connect you to others. Music has always been such a vital part of my life, and I’m convinced it’s gotten me through tough things.
There are so many layers to INK. (For RBR readers: Parental conflicts, sex, friendship and sibling drama, etc.) What was the key to keeping the storylines balanced and making sure nothing got lost in the shuffle?
It was important to me that everything was shifting in Kellie’s life, because I feel like that’s often how real life goes. It would be a lot easier if every crisis arrived on its own, but when life changes, often life changes. I’d love to tell you I stayed crazy organized, but really I let Kellie’s emotions guide me. It was important to me that she was affected by all that was going on, and that helped steer the ship, so to speak.
I was a mega fan of The Reese Malcolm List. Do you think in some alternate universe Kellie and Devan would be friends?
Ha! I’ve actually thought about this before myself. I think that Devan would find Kellie super cool, but I think she might be too intimidated to talk to her (even though of course Kellie wouldn’t see herself as cool or intimidating). I’m not sure if Kellie could wrap her head around Devan’s musical theatre/show choir love, so I’m not sure they’re a friendship match!
What song from the High School Musical franchise best describes INK?
“We’re All in This Together”, obviously.
Not enough young adult books truly talk about the fears associated with having sex for the first time. I thought Kellie’s experience of getting wrapped up in attraction and taking a step back was so realistic. I loved all the questions she asked herself, and everything she was worried about. Did you go into INK thinking this would be part of Kellie’s story? Why do you think so many authors shy away from the realism of having sex as a teenager?
I think that in general–not just in YA literature–young women are portrayed as sex’s gatekeepers. I feel like so many books I read growing up featured boys who wanted sex, and girls who had to say no to be “good”, or girls who said yes for either the wrong reasons or because they loved the boys. And yet the stories that I felt resonated the most for me and for girls I knew were also about desire. So I did really want to write about attraction and desire and then also how that plays out in a real world situation.
Also, when I started writing Ink, I’d just read several books where everything was just SO EASY for the girl when the boy really really REALLY liked her. And I kept thinking, what would that REALLY feel like, especially if this was your first real experience? For me I kept thinking how good things can also be scary and overwhelming, and how many things you can want and not want all at once. I also really wanted to write about a guy who wasn’t constantly the one steering that conversation or timeline; I wanted equal power in Kellie’s hands.
Will we ever meet Devan or Kellie again? (Please say yes? Or Maybe?)
I really feel like Kellie’s story is wrapped up, and I feel good where I’ve left her. I have definitely thought more about Devan and gang, so as far as they go…maybe!
Can you give us one EXCLUSIVE amazing fact about your upcoming book: Kissing Ted Callahan (and other guys)?
Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) is about Riley, Reid, Lucy, Nathan; and they are in a band called the Gold Diggers!
Big thanks to Amy for taking the time to answer my questions. The post isn’t over yet.
I’m giving away eBook copies of The Reece Malcolm List and Ink is Thicker Than Water to a lucky winner.
Must be 13 years old to enter and be able to receive Kindle or Nook eBooks. Good luck!
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Steal the North by Heather B. Bergstorm ( facebook )
Publication Date: April 10, 2014
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: family secrets, faith, nature, young love
Format read: Borrowed from library after glowing rec from Leah at The Pretty Good Gatsby.
Summary: Sixteen year old Emmy is shipped off to spend the summer with an aunt and uncle she never knew existed. Her aunt is pregnant, and after a series of miscarriages, the church is performing a ritual on her and they need a family member who is also a virgin. Emmy spends her summer getting to know her delicate aunt, her loving uncle, and the boy next door — Reuben — who becomes the closest friend she has ever had. Time with her aunt means many questions about the secrets her mom kept, who she really is, and affects who she wants to become.
This is hands down one of the best fiction books I’ve picked up in years.
I was nervous about it, too. Leah over at The Pretty Good Gatsby awarded the book such high praise. Wanting to feel the same felt like an added pressure but a chapter in, I was hooked. With Steal the North, you aren’t sucked in in a way where you want to speed read the whole thing. As the book shifts POVs from the big hitters like Emmy, her mom (Kate), her aunt (Beth), and Reuben (the boy next door) to the smaller characters, there is a lot of exposition. Explanations of backgrounds, family trees, and a lot of beautiful description of this Pacific Northwest town. The land is its own character because in all of these stories, it has been a catalyst in the decisions then make and who they are all destined to become.
Emmy is a bit of a conundrum. There are so instances she acts so wise and so much older than she is, but there are others where she can be so naive and so inexperienced in life. She is so tied to her mom because for so long Kate made her believe it was them against the world. No other relatives and a dead father. But imagine the surprise when Emmy finds out that her own story is not what she thought at all. She is quickly sent off to stay with her Aunt Beth and Uncle Matt for the summer, without enough time to deal with the repercussions of her mother’s many lies.
Immediately, Emmy and Beth are like peas and carrots. The intimacy and connection they shared when Emmy was just a baby is back, and they spend much of the summer getting to know each other all over again. I loved their relationship. Beth and Matt are very into the church, but they don’t expect Emmy to believe what they believe and I liked the respect they had for her. Her time alone eventually leads to her spending a lot of time with Reuben, a Native American teenager, who lives in the trailer next door.
It was Beth and Reuben’s belief in much more than what they could see that took Steal the North to a whole new level for me. Beth concocting her antidotes around the house, and Reuben sensing the presence of his dead father, and both of their commitments to the earth fused to create this overpowering spirituality in the whole book. The secrets and the pasts of these characters was haunting every scene, and the fear, the shame, and even the hope was so palpable. It’s overwhelming to think words on a page could be this powerful.
Steal the North is a love story not limited to the feelings between Reuben and Emmy. Mothers and daughters, sisters, husbands and wives, and most importantly how we feel about ourselves. The sense of loyalty, the heartbreaking betrayal, and the tough decisions we make because of our love for others can be found throughout the story. I laughed, I swooned, I cried, and I wondered if this family could ever be whole again. Could Emmy break out of her shell and trust? Could she forgive her mother and forgive herself?
This book is as much about death as it is rebirth. I am totally in awe of Bergstorm’s talents: how well she described the land, her decisions to reveal important information what she did, her pick of what character got to tell what, and most importantly, how she challenged her characters and stretched them beyond their comfort zones. Life could be hard, and it could also be good. Very, very good.
From the writing to the characters to how invested I felt in the smallest detail to the biggest, Steal the North is a book I am going to give a special spot on my bookshelf and buy for others whenever I get the chance.
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Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 6, 2014
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: friendship, 90s, New York City, romance, sickness
Format read: ARC borrowed from Gaby at Book Broads. (Thanks!)
Summary: Althea and Oliver have been best friends since they were kids. Althea realizes she wants something beyond friendship with Oliver around the same time he keeps falling asleep for long periods of time and no one knows what’s causing this to happen. Set in the 90s, the story brings Oliver to New York for a possible treatment while Althea stays in Wilmington. She decides to drive up to New York City to find Oliver, but ends up finding something entirely different.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Althea & Oliver is probably the YA that the naysayers don’t realize exists. It’s literary, it’s layered in its storylines and the emotions build up in all of them, and not even close to fluffy. In fact, I would call the general feeling of this book melancholy.
If you haven’t guessed from the above description, Althea & Oliver is not exactly a story you are going to fly through. I was unsure if I was actually liking what I was reading for a long time. How can you like a girl doting over her best friend? What if that best friend is basically disappearing for weeks out of time because of some mysterious illness? I mean, there’s nothing truly happy here. But I was intrigued by Oliver’s strange health issues and I was hooked by the friendship between the two. Oliver and Althea maintained an intimacy that you don’t find a lot in young adult books. Sure, feelings beyond platonic were swirling around there but you can’t deny their closeness — how their families knew each other so well, how they always seemed to be stuck together, and how they accepted each other, faults and all.
I love how Moracho gave these characters room to grow beyond each other. Things happen, Oliver is off to New York, and Althea is acting out back in North Carolina. She makes the decision to lie to her dad and head to New York and talk to Oliver, and a major detour changes the course of the story. This is a tough one to review, friends, because so much happens that you need to discover for yourself. But what happens when you are so dependent on a friend and they can’t be there for you anymore? Do you continue to push this closeness or do you let the wind take you? Do you take this opportunity to get to know yourself without the other person? Will both of you ever be ready to take your relationship to the next level at the same time?
So much about Althea & Oliver felt more mature than a lot of other young adult books I read. I couldn’t help thinking it was the lack of technology in the story because it was set in the 90s. There was nothing keeping anyone together when they were apart except for some stray phone calls. Both Althea’s dad and Oliver’s mom allowed their kids to be very independent. These details definitely allowed the characters to do their own thing but it also didn’t disqualify their parents from the story either. (Big thumbs up.)
These two characters certainly hit rock bottom in two very different ways, and it was so emotional and heartbreaking and authentic how they climbed out of these holes and figured out next steps. I wouldn’t even say this book is about coming to clear conclusions but making the right decisions for right now, and keeping the future open. It’s so scary to jump into the unknown and this feeling is basically the theme of being a junior in high school. Moracho nailed it, making my heart swell and burst so many times.
I cannot wait to see what she is writing much, and I look forward to more thoughtful, and engulfing young adult books like this one.
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