I’m pretty drawn to tough subject books. I scoured my Goodreads lists and narrowed it down to these FIFTEEN tough subject books instead of ten. (Bonus reads!) Obviously I didn’t follow the rules very well. Some of these were harder than others, but they all have aspects of them that really open your eyes to some difficult-to-discuss topics. If you have recommendations for me, I’d love to know what you suggest I add to my TBR.
I broke these down into a few topics and added brief notes for why they were difficult. No spoilers included. All links go to either a review on Rather Be Reading or Goodreads so you can check out the summaries.
- Rites of Passage — bullying, sexism, hazing
- Tease — teen suicide, bullying
- If I Lie — knowing the secret truth about characters, bullying, ass-hat father
- Some Girls Are — bullying. bullying. bullying. stupid high school.
CIRCUMSTANCES & RELATIONSHIPS:
- The Tragedy Paper — albino character, seclusion, longing after an unavailable girl
- Ketchup Clouds — written to a prisoner, hidden identity of main character
- The Lucy Variations — uncomfortable relationship with an adult, parents dictating every move
- When You Were Here — loss of a parent, misuse of prescription pills, loss of sense of self
- Small Town Sinners — discovering one’s own religious beliefs apart from what parents have taught you to believe
- Room — being held hostage, abuse, kidnap, written from the POV of a 5 year old
SEX / ABUSE / PREGNANCY:
- Where the Stars Still Shine — mental/emotional abuse MC suffered from mother’s instability
- Please Ignore Vera Dietz — implicit sexual fetish, death of a friend, crumbling friendship
- Me, Him, Them, & It — teen pregnancy + working through the decision to keep, abort, or give up the baby for adoption
- Uses for Boys — language + actual way it was written, but also sexually explicit, borderline uncomfortable for me — sex isn’t described as overly poetic and is raw and often very in-your-face
- Live Through This — sexual abuse by a relative, mental instability of the MC who questions right from wrong
Which of these books was most difficult for you to read?
What tough subject book recommendations do you have for me?
Complete Nothing by Kieran Scott ( web | tweet )
Book 2 of the True Love series.
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Kids
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Greek mythology, pressures of senior year, family secrets
Format read: ARC paperback from S&S. (Thanks!)
Summary: Cupid a.k.a. True is still dealing with her banishment from Mount Olympus to a high school in New Jersey but now with an added complication: her true love, Orion, just enrolled in the same high school and has no idea who she is. It’s not easy to have the distraction of her boyfriend not being her boyfriend at school, but her latest project is proving to be a difficult one. Peter and Claudia, high school sweethearts, break up out of nowhere and she is determined to get them back together. Will it work? Will she be closer to going home?
It was so great to be back experience the antics of True as she tries to make another love connection in Complete Nothing. (She is too funny.) Kieran Scott took a way different approach with couple #2 (True has to make three connections before she’s allowed to return to Mount Olympus) and I thought it was fantastic: a totally over-the-moon for each other couple dealing with the stresses of graduation, college applications, and a possible future apart. Claudia is already a shoe-in for Princeton while star football player Peter is pretty much allergic to talking about next steps.
Early on, you can see that Claudia and Peter have such a comfortable relationship. Some of their friends tease them for acting “married” but it’s Claudia’s determination to help Peter that causes him to irrationally dump her in front of the whole school. It’s completely out of character, and while Peter regrets it immediately, he doesn’t act quickly on fixing anything. Enter: True. She can see how much Claudia and Peter care about each other so she is going to help them find their way back to one another. Bonus? Orion is also on the football team now. Yay for proximity!
Of course, there would be no story if things didn’t go smoothly. True decides to use jealousy as the weapon of choice to get Claudia and Peter back together. Add in a rival football player, a confident cheerleader, True’s tendency to rush into things and you’ve got trouble. As we switch POVs between Peter, Claudia, and True, I wasn’t sure if things would end up working out. What I did like was how Peter and Claudia’s relationship was never perfect, even when they were happy. They never rushed to say “I love you” and they definitely had some kinks to work out. I wondered if they would get the chance to work through those together.
In the meantime, Scott folds in a plotline with True’s life back at home. There’s some impending danger when the wrong people find out about her relationship with Orion, and then there’s a matter of trust due to her good friend Hephaestus (who is on Earth to help her out) and a few family secrets. I like that we never lose sight of that ticking clock True is up against, and how her past actions are still affecting those on Mt. Olympus. I also can’t forget a few of the kids from the high school who come to her aid (especially the adorable and thoughtful Wallace) as she tries to get her “assignment” done.
I’ve enjoyed this True Love series more than I ever thought. The Greek details are interesting, I love watching True acclimate to a new world, and it’s also fun to experience these different love stories and see how they unfold. I can barely wait to see how Scott wraps up the series because I want our girl to get her own true love back. (Is it possible she decides to stay in New Jersey instead of return to her home? Hm… with this series, the possibilities seem limitless.)
Add Complete Nothing to Goodreads | Buy on B&N | Buy on Amazon | My Interview with True
Psst. For those of you who haven’t read Only Everything yet, there’s only a few mentions of the couple True befriends in the first book but you never get the complete story. So if you do have to read these out of order, it’s not the end of the world. Although, it’s definitely more satisfying to read them in the order they were published.
Hello, reading buddies! It’s been awhile — I skipped last month, eek — but don’t worry, I’m back and even better I’m back with a huge book enthusiast who reviews “big kid” books all the time on her blog: The Pretty Good Gatsby. Leah is better than “pretty good”. Magnificent? Enthusiastic? Smart, awesome, lovely, and always inspiring me to pick up hidden gems? Yep. Pretty much all the above. I love her blog + I can’t think of anyone better to be a part of Big Kids’ Table.
Note: this is Leah but not her cat.
This month, Leah is taking charge and giving us some amazing suggestions. Enjoy!
Hi guys! I’ve been a huge fan of Big Kids Table since Day 1 and I’m so excited to be here with you today! Here’s the deal – instead of choosing my books, we’re switching it up a bit: I’m having them chosen for me. Back in July, I made a super easy Book Jar. If you’re anything like me, staring at a giant mountain of books can be a little overwhelming. This takes all the stress out of it. Whenever I’m in the mood for a book and can’t decide, I pull out a star and I’m set.
For this edition of Big Kids’ Table I’m letting the jar pick for me – fingers crossed!
BOOK ONE: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Okay, confession time: I miiight have squealed a little when this was the first pick. Yes, I’ve had this book on my shelves for ages and yes, I’ve heard how super fantastic awesome it is! So many bloggers I adore and trust absolutely love this novel: an orderly, socially awkward professor is on a quest to find a wife. I’m all about quirky, charming novels and even better – a sequel is coming out in December!
BOOK TWO: The Venetian Bargain by Marina Fiorato
Venice, 1576. A passenger aboard a cargo ship sends the Bubonic Plague tearing through the city. Don’t judge me, but I love reading about deadly plagues and diseases. The Venetian Bargain seems to have a little bit of everything: romance, mystery, real-life events. Although I love Historical Fiction, I’ve noticed I tend to stick to certain time periods, but I think coming out of my comfort zone won’t be too difficult with this one!
BOOK THREE: Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy
OMG CAN WE DISCUSS THAT SECOND SEASON CLIFFHANGER?! If you’re not watching this show you should probably fix that. It’s campy and ridiculous and a ton of fun! A Gypsy boy who turns into a werewolf, a fabulously wealthy vampire with a Frankenstein-esque little sister. Seriously, what’s not to love? I immediately bought a copy of this book after watching the first season but never got around to reading it. I made the horrible mistake of binging on the second season (thanks a lot, Netflix) and the withdrawal is torture. With season three not coming back until next summer I’ll need to get my fix with the novel!
BOOK FOUR: Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen
So now that I had my book jar pick some books for me, I think it’s time I highlighted one I’ve actually read! You know a book is special when you still think about it eight months later. Raise your hand if you grew up reading Little House on the Prairie! Looking for an adult version? I’ve got you covered. Pioneer Girl tells the story of a Vietnamese-American woman and the family heirloom that sends her on a cross-country journey. I love dual narratives and Lee’s story was just as fascinating as Rose Wilder’s and when the pieces finally came together…perfection.
My reading list is going to hate me, but ahh — I love the sound of these. Thanks for sharing, Leah!
To make sure you get great book recs from Leah ALL the time, follow her blog and tweet her!
Be sure to leave any awesome reading suggestions below too!
Paper Airplanes by Dawn O’Porter ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: friendship, parents, school
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley.
Summary: Even though they are students at the same school, Renee and Flo meet at a party. Kind of. Flo saves Renee from an already embarrassing situation, and soon they find themselves stealing away to have an open friendship with one another. Both are at a place in their lives where they are feeling cast aside and nothing is truly in their hands. Together, they form an honest and undeniable bond but secrets force to break it all open.
Female friendship as the focal point in young adult books? We all know it does not happen a lot, and this is why I was so anxious to read Paper Airplanes by Dawn O’Porter. (Added bonus: all the British-isms since the book takes places there.) Unfortunately, this book (deemed gritty and powerful) did not win me over as much as I wanted it to. I’m breaking this one down with a list.
- This book truly depicts what it is like to fall in love with a friend. Even though Renee and Flo keep their friendship under wraps at first, I loved how they were able to be so honest with one another even when it sucked and especially because they didn’t have many people in their lives they could count on. The adventures, the notes, the encouragement: it was real and it was fantastic. I adored the way they loved each other.
- The author conveys a very normal teenage life filled with tests, drinking, parties, and yes, sex. I thought it was great but because of other books I’ve read that have done it just as well, it did not feel quite as groundbreaking to me. (Though Renee’s “relationship” with a guy who obviously adores her and she can’t figure out why she doesn’t feel the same way? Great, great addition; happens so much and it’s difficult to explain to others and to ourselves.)
- The time period. Hello, 1990s. Adios cellphones and the internet. So refreshing not to have an interruptions from texts and emails and focus more on how we communicated back then. Calling people on landlines, writing notes on paper airplanes, and sometimes having to wait to talk to someone because you never got their number. Ah, the joys of radio silence.
What didn’t work for me as much:
- Something in the book truly irked me. It’s a big deal and I don’t want to reveal it here but it was so serious and I thought, not dealt with the way that it should have, especially as readers see how the book is wrapped up. I was so angry on behalf of one of our characters, and while I know not everything is going to be resolved completely, it seemed like it wasn’t taken as seriously as it should. Now maybe that’s just a reflection of our culture today? But still. Bothered. Angry.
- The pacing. The action in the book truly picks up in the last third of the book, and, by then, it felt way too late. The middle dragged a bit and by the end, when things revved up, I wanted the book to be longer. It felt a off balance and didn’t keep my attention as much as I would have wanted it to.
In the end, Paper Airplanes was a toss up as far as a rating goes. I did get emotional when it came to these characters, and if you want to meet some of the most infuriating families in the history of literature, you will find it in this book. Not to mention one of the shittiest best friends ever. Oh gosh. I wanted to punch her in the face multiple times. I was so relieved Renee and Flo found each other, despite all the complications, because they needed someone on their side badly.
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Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: historical fiction, 1950s, segregation, LGBT, family
Format read: Paperback ARC from HarlequinTeen. (Thanks!)
Summary: Sarah is one of the first African American students to enter a predominately white Virginia high school in 1959. The other students are not happy about it and are determined to make the black students feel as uncomfortable and unwanted as they can. When Sarah is paired with Linda and her best friend, Judy, on a French project, they are not expecting to become friends and Sarah is increasingly enraged by Linda’s close-minded proclamations. While it’s not so surprising being that Linda’s dad is one of the town’s most prolific supporters of segregation, Sarah sees little hints that Linda might not be like the other students in school; perhaps she can get why this treatment is not okay. As if things aren’t difficult enough, Sarah finds herself thinking about Linda in a way she doesn’t think God will approve of…
Imagine starting a brand new school with no welcome committee. Instead people are calling you names, telling you that you smell bad, not wanting to sit next to you, automatically thinking you are dumb because of what you look like, and even going a step farther than verbal abuse. They want to hurt you and they want to hurt you bad.
This is exactly the situation that Sarah and her friends are walking into as they step in Jefferson High School for the first time in 1959 Virginia. There is very little support from the administration a.k.a. the adults of the school, and even keeping your head down doesn’t stop them from singling you out. Sarah is miserable. She loved her old school, enjoyed her classes, got to sing in the choir, and now she’s stuck in remedial classes, doesn’t have any friends, and can’t participate in extracurricular anything. It’s hard to think she is “making a difference” like her parents remind her when she is dealing with this crap every single day. Scared for herself, her sister, and her friends. Instead, she feels lost and she’s not sure she will survive the few months until graduation.
Linda, a white girl in a few of Sarah’s classes and the daughter of someone who isn’t quiet about how these changes make him feel, feels like Sarah and the other African Americans have ruined her senior year. No prom, so much distraction. She can’t stand it. But so many of her opinions are formed from her father’s. A very busy man who has no time for his daughter and her opinions. Despite Linda not wanting Sarah and her friends in the school, she finds herself standing up for them a few times. When she is assigned a French project with her best friend (Judy) and Sarah, Linda acts like she has all the answers when it comes to Sarah returning to her old school and even why that school couldn’t afford enough books or equipment for all students. Calmly though passionately (most of the time), Sarah tries to explain why things are the way they are, and you can practically see the little cracks starting to affect Linda’s beliefs.
It was fascinating to watch Linda process what was happening around her and what was right vs. what she has always been told. So many times, I could see how close she was to realizing that her school’s treatment of Sarah and her friends was completely wrong. Then another wall would appear and we would move a few steps backward again. As much as people in this town and at Jefferson High did not want integration, it’s interesting to think how much of that was because they truly felt that way or because they were just listening to the arguments of others, believing that people with different skin type were actually lesser beings. Lies We Tell Ourselves does not shy away from how truly ugly people can get in the face of change and the unknown, and I had to close the book so much as I was reading because I was utterly disgusted. But by Linda’s character raising questions and asking why, we are able to gain more insight into this treatment without excusing it.
There is absolutely so much to discuss in this novel (book clubs and schools, take note!) but I wanted to say how nervous I was when I saw this book would also include a lesbian storyline. Conflicts because of integration is a lot to take on in the first place but to add in a plotline where Sarah and Linda fall for each other? Would it be too much? I shouldn’t have doubted Robin Talley and I won’t ever again; the feelings growing between the two never overpower the book and I thought that was a good move. It’s hard enough for the two to be seen in the same classroom, much less pursue a relationship but it was authentic and great to see each of their thought processes (was something wrong with them? were they going to hell?) and how the time period reflected their hopes for the future.
For all the pain and all the judgement in this book, there are also beautiful moments which shocked me with how much they affected me. (I would be crying and not even notice.) From the wonderful first moment Sarah shares her voice with two strangers, the bond between Sarah and her lil sister, Ruth, how Linda found strength in her own words, and the bravery that both girls had to tap into to move forward in ways I never would have predicted. Lies We Tell Ourselves is an important book and not only for the treatment of this sensitive and confusing time in our history but for how well it manages to fold in the conflicts and changes between family, friends, and how we see ourselves.
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