we're magan + estelle -- two girls who live miles apart, but connect daily over our love for books. we share thoughtful + honest reviews of the books we read, but enjoy talking about our crazy lives and other interests, too (style! diy! zac efron!). join us!
It isn’t easy, but telling something as it is, telling the truth, always seems more beautiful and more poetic than anything else,” says Mr. Graydon — the English teacher in Sarah Crossan’s simultaneously sweet and heartbreaking Apple and Rain. At first, he’s the teacher no one wanted, a replacement, and suddenly he spends the year treating his students with the kind of respect that has them interpreting poems and writing their own pieces in response. As the main character in the story, Apple is a young teenager dealing with the return of her mother who abandoned her years ago on Christmas Eve. She wants so badly to make her a permanent part of her life that she decides to leave the person who has always taken care of her — her grandmother — to live with her mom as she settles in. It’s as surprising for her as it is for the reader when Mr. Graydon’s assignments start to pry so many unspoken feelings out of her. Suddenly this homework doesn’t seem so innocent as she pens her truest feelings and hands in the paper with the easier, more superficial answer. She may be in her early teens, but she already has a grasp at how powerful the truth can be.
Similarly, in the fast-paced and oh-so-good Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, Sam is discovering being vulnerable in her writing and having the courage to share it with others is more of a safe place than a scary one. She’s older than Apple and has a bit more life experience so I like to think of her as the next level Apple, in a way. Sam is struggling under the shadow of her judgmental, popular friends who have no idea who she really is or what she’s all about — a girl dealing with OCD. When the Poet’s Corner pops into her life, she’s forced to look deeply at herself and how she identifies with the world. She learns even more hard lessons, and uses all the energy she channels into poetry to find her happy place — a place she hasn’t seen in a really long time.
For both Apple and Sam, writing and words become a lifeline. Sure, Apple’s relationship with poetry and her English class are kept a secret, but it is the one thing that’s keeping her sane when her life is being turned upside down by selfish people and their secrets. It helps her work through that and realize that her feelings are not invalid. Sam may be opening herself up to a small group of people, but at some point she has to take the courage she finds in that small room and apply it to the rest of her life. She has to find a way to make these two parts of her life click in a way that feels true.
The Mr. Graydons and Poet’s Corners may not be easy to come by in every day life, but they do exist. The gift of expression, of unlocking a whole new piece of yourself and a new strength you had no idea you possessed, is huge. You always remember that first confidence boost, the gift of a blank notebook, that place that becomes the safe haven for all of your ideas and messy feelings. Writing as a hobby in books (especially young adult) might not be anything groundbreaking, but I loved how both of these novels made writing so imperative to a character’s emotional growth — how it was a comfort and an ally when both girls were feeling so alone.
EVERY LAST WORD by Tamara Ireland Stone: A favorite read of 2015; a touching, addicting, & well-paced tale of old friendship, honesty, and digging deep to find what makes you bravest. – Disney Hyperion; June 16, 2015. (Goodreads | Amazon | B&N)
APPLE & RAIN by Sarah Crossan: A heartbreaking story about kids forced to act like adults, the messy complications of family, and finding the unexpected that makes us safe and happy. – Bloomsbury Children’s; May 12, 2015. (Goodreads | Amazon | B&N)
I’m a big believer that the things you love when you are a kid don’t necessarily have to disappear once you get older. Hello — I’m an adult reading young adult books all the time, I’m a frequent visitor to Disney World and it’s not because I’m a mom, and I’d always prefer to spend money at the movies to support a Pixar or Disney film over an Oscar-nominated drama. (That’s what RedBox is for!)
Since I turned 30 in February, I’ve used the word OLD so much to describe myself and I know it’s a word I need to eliminate from my vocabulary. I shouldn’t care. I still get carded when I buy beer. My desk at work has plenty of Muppet-y knick knacks. I listen to Disney music every single week. But I’m still insecure about my age. I’m not even sure if it’s about the number. It’s more about knowing you are in a different place in life than others, and not knowing how to bridge that gap exactly — worried that they think you are an old lady when you really spent your weekend watching segments from The Muppet Show and comparing your cooking skills to Elmo’s. (For the record, I’m better.)
Anyway, while I work through this unforeseen, totally self-inflicted thing, I’m super in love with the fact that so many pop culture obsessions from my teenage years have survived the test of time and still exist! It’s like that rule about fashion. Style is cyclical. It all comes back around. Isn’t life cozy? It’s so surreal to have the opportunity to revisit these familiar things, and realize — hey it’s totally okay to still love this and you know what — it’s still awesome.
This is EXACTLY how I feel about these three things:
girl meets world: I cried all through the first episode of this Boy Meets World companion series. Cory Matthews is a dad and a teacher and the series follows his daughter with a great dose of nostalgic nods to the original series. It’s been hard for me to keep up with the show in real time but I caught an episode (“Girl Meets Pluto“) last weekend and, if possible, it made me adore the series even more. The new cast is putting together a time capsule, and Cory is determined to dig up the one he, Shaun, and Topanga put together when they were kids. I cried. (Also if you are a “Boy Meets World” fan, you have to follow @BenSavage on social media. He posts some awesome pics.)
hilary duff. It’s been seven years since Hilary Duff came out with a new album, but it’s really been eight since her last original album. I remember rushing over to Target that morning, sitting on my parent’s front porch and writing a review for one of my college classes. This week has been like reliving my college years and then some because HER NEW ALBUM IS AMAZING AND WORTH WAITING FOR. It’s basically the only thing I’ve listened to all week, and then some. (See: “My Kind” and “Breathe In. Breathe Out.”) Hilary is the ultimate life role model. She takes a break, does her thing, and returns stronger than ever. (I’m very tempted to rewatch The Lizzie McGuire Movie soon.)
vanessa hudgens. Another Disney Channel kid. I loved Vanessa in the High School Musical franchise, I shipped her with Zac Efron so so much, and I was obsessed with her first album. (So so good.) This year, she made her Broadway debut in Gigi and I was finally able to catch the show this past week. Despite lackluster reviews (the writing! the writing!), Vanessa was completely charming and her voice sounded amazing. I was sort of overwhelmed with pride afterwards like I was watching a friend I grew up with accomplish something wonderful. Like with Hilary, I was thinking: look how far we’ve come, Vanessa. LOOK HOW FAR WE’VE COME.
Look how far we’ve come indeed. I love when life becomes this mishmash of things I used to love and can learn to love again. Up next: this Full House reboot. Who else is excited?
The Marriage Season by Linda Lael Miller ( web | tweet ) Published May 26, 2015 by Harlequin HQN Pages: 304 | Target: adult Keywords: remarriage, small towns, single parents, best friendship
Summary: Bex is always taking care of someone else; it’s about time she starts paying attention to the good looking single dad she keeps bumping into (whether it’s accidental or because of her best friends).
The Brides of Bliss County series is so fun because it centers around the lifelong friendship of three girls living in Mustang Creek. They all made a pact to find their happily ever afters, and now it’s Bex’s turn. Here’s 5 reasons you should toss this book into your beach bag:
True friendship: Bex might be fiercely independent but she knows when she needs her girls. She also knows to be prepared for hang out time with snacks (can you imagine the darling bakery they probably came from). That’s what I call a friend. These girls know each other so well, and especially know when to call each other out on their crap.
Two people just about/almost kinda ready to move on: Bex’s love, Will, died Afghanistan and Tate is a widow, raising two young boys on their own. There’s more to both of their stories (I love where Miller went with Tate’s) but as the reader, you know from the start these two can help fill the void in each of them — even they were both already established as people who embraced the detours they’ve hit, and lived satisfying lives.
There’s no right way to fall in love. Miller’s a classic romance writer, and I love that familiarity but she also pushed and pulled our characters together in a way that didn’t fulfill some of the more traditional timelines in romance novels. I loved that. Definitely an emphasis on maturity, and less on drama — which fit Bex and Tate’s characters perfectly.
Kids! I never realized quite how much I love having kids a part of a story like this one. You get to watch a character fall in love with more than her partner. She has to click with the kids too. Loved having these rascals (including Bex’s nephew, Josh) involved in the story too.
A log cabin. Normally a log cabin would bring to mind images of Abe Lincoln, but this place was so important to this couple’s story… even if there were a little hiccups along the way.
You know you really enjoyed a trio of characters when you get choked up at the final chapter. I hope you’ll take some time to know this loyal threesome soon!
Allow me to take you back to the days of Tiger Beat and Teen Beat for a revival of Attention, Attention. Estelle reviewed Wild Cards over a year-and-a-half ago on the blog, but I recently had the pleasure of listening to the audio book. I really, really enjoyed my experience and the book, despite how often it made me blush. (So, so much.) My only semi-major complaint is that the narrator did not pronounce Ashtyn’s name correctly 98% of the time. Derek does have a Southern drawl, but he shouldn’t have sounded like he was saying “Ash-jin.”
Hopefully these details will be reason enough for you to hit your local library to check out Wild Cards ASAP!
Celebrity Casting: Wilson Bethel (image source • image source) because he was cocky and arrogant as all get out on Hart of Dixie, but could make absolutely any girl swoon after him.
Celebrity Casting: Jessica Biel – she’s athletic and tough-as-nails (or so I assume), just like Ashtyn.
So what do you think? Wanna give Wild Cards a try?
Did you already read it? What did you think?
Another month, and more time to diversify your bookshelf. We’re thrilled to have debut novelist (a.k.a. that tall guy who used to sell me books at my favorite bookstore) Adam Silvera on the blog today! His highly-praised release, MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, turns ONE WEEK OLD today (aww) and Adam is sharing some thoughts about timing and introducing homosexuality in books. Hope you enjoy Adam’s Dive Into Diversity stop, and add his recent release to your reading lists! (Also, challengers, don’t forget to add your DID) links below!) Take it away, Adam!
I don’t understand why people mistake homosexuality as a choice, but they do. I’m sure a lot of the misconception revolves around wanting the world to spin a certain “normal” way, but let’s dismiss that idiocy for a few minutes (and for the rest of our lives) and take a look at why homosexuality may feel foreign to well-intentioned others.
Teenhood is that time of independence and discovery that can be both exhilarating and frustrating, and for a lot of teens, it’s the first time they’re reading something that may involve gay characters. Homosexuality in middle-grade fiction exists on a very small scale, but you’re always more likely to see a wizard struggling with his magical life than you are a kid pondering his sexuality. Sure, some pre-teens are developing loveless crushes on each other, but for the most part they are chasing each other around the jungle gym, tattle-telling on some little nemesis, or playing Pretend, so you could argue it’s not necessary to roll out homosexual presence just yet. Except I did all these things and still had feelings for boys and knew not to talk about it because it wasn’t being talked about. I’ll admit to being the kind of reader far more interested in Harry Potter dealing with all his problems, both Muggle and magical, but seeing an outed Dumbledore, or even another Hogwarts student who’s gay, could’ve changed the game for me. But we shouldn’t be including homosexual characters just for those who are gay–it should be for EVERYONE.
My point to all of this is I believe we’re introducing homosexuality FAR TOO LATE to people by only addressing it in young adult novels, and it may be why it’s so alien to others who aren’t experiencing these feelings themselves. I would love to see a greater presence of LGBT characters for younger readers, and introducing them as young as the picture book crowd so they aren’t surprised by the different ways to love.
I totally understand more authority comes with teenhood, but we shouldn’t have to be a certain age to declare who we are, even if some of those declarations turn out to be wrong. Sexuality may not always be a choice, but how we define ourselves is.
Thanks for stopping in, Adam!
MORE HAPPY THAN NOT: The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto — miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can’t forget how he’s grown up poor or how his friends aren’t always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.
Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he’s can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is (Soho Teen, June 2, 2015).
Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth ( web | tweet) Published August 26, 2014 by Scholastic Press Pages: 256 | Target: middle grade Keywords: foster siblings, urban settings, summer school, friendship
Eleven year-old Jarrett is pissed off, and it has nothing to do with his mother taking in more foster kids. He’s not too psyched to have to share his room with a 12-year old stranger, Kevon. Why does the newest addition to his family have to be older than him, better looking, great at basketball, and able to make new friends almost immediately?
Jarrett finds out soon enough that Kevon is less than imperfect. He has no trouble raising his voice to Jarrett’s mom when it comes to the best way to care for his younger (special needs) sister. He’s prepared to do whatever it takes to escape this foster home and be back where he belongs — living with his dad on the other side of Newark. This is okay with Jarrett because he just wants his room back.
Both boys learn a lot about patience, because Kevon’s stay is not as short as either of them are prepared for. Soon Kevon is encroaching on his time at the center and with his best friend, Ennis. Jarrett decides to impart his supreme spy skills to find out the real story about Kevon and his little sister but something just isn’t adding up.
I really enjoyed reading about foster care from this angle. Jarrett is proud of what his mom does, but he also feels like she cares a bit more about all the babies coming and going than him. He’s learned to detach himself from the kids the more and more she fosters, because he’s gotten so sad when children have left their home in the past. Like his mother, he’s extremely empathetic and can’t help but feel angry at the parents who mistreat their children.
In addition to the fostering process, Kinda Like Brothers has Jarrett reacting from hearing his teachers talk poorly of his academics. He’s having a lot of trouble concentrating in school, he was absent a lot during the year because of his asthma attacks, and nothing is clicking. He’s totally frustrated because his mom doesn’t seem to be paying enough attention to his, and he’s not sure what the point of applying himself is when everything thinks he’s “dumb” anyway.
All this heaviness is sprinkled with the standard qualms of an 11-year old — the girl he desperately wants to impress, how annoying it is to remember to put on deodorant (and how equally annoying it is to be reminded to wear some by his mom), the recent changes in his best friend, and getting down all the moves for step team. I can’t forget his passion for making movie trailers either. Jarrett may have trouble believing he’s smart but you have to believe he’s going to make it through his school difficulties because the kid is charmingly ambitious. There’s nothing “stupid about that”.
Despite the young audience for this book, I love how we are given some insight into Jarrett’s mother and her own tendencies to push happiness away. There was also the stark (and all too timely) observation that kids in Jarrett’s neighborhood would regularly be targeted by the cops without having done a thing — all because of what they looked like. Certainly a moment that would elicit a ton of discussion in the classroom, in the home, and beyond.
Kinda Like Brothers was funny, smart, and explored the many meanings of family. It touched upon the not so great things we do when we are feeling threatened and how we make up for them; how we protect ourselves and the ones we love; embrace the things we do well and use them to get through the things that are still a work in progress.