The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf (website | twitter)
Publication Date: April 18, 2013
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: sick parent, best friend trouble, boy drama, chaotic teenage life
Format read: ARC received via NetGalley (Thank you!)
Summary: Izzy has a lot going on in her life — family, friend, and romance-wise — so much that she doesn’t really know how to handle it. She’s also a hypochondriac who looks up all the symptoms she feels. The problem is, in real life, there’s no easy, curable way to put all the dramatic pieces of her life back together.
Izzy looks up every symptom she feels to determine whether or not she’s sick. She’s a hypochondriac.
But, really, beneath the surface of all the pretend illnesses Izzy could possibly maybe have, she’s got a whole lot going on in her life:
- a mother who refuses to accept she’s sick and needs help
- a potential new boyfriend who wants to sprint around the bases faster than Izzy feels comfortable with
- three art pieces to start/finish for a chance to study in Italy
- a best friend who is acting completely out of character
- an ex-best friend who seems to want to be friends again
Friends, there was a lot to absorb in The Symptoms of My Insanity. Izzy was under so much pressure and her passiveness didn’t help to sort through any of the tasks that were building up in her life. As an outsider, I wanted to scream at Izzy to run in the other direction when her best friend, Jenna, throws her into the midst of set design for the drama club. After all I’ve listed above, don’t you agree Izzy has enough going on? Sure, Izzy is definitely a pushover and should have stood up for herself (countless times), but it was painful to see the tornado of disaster that was about to sweep through Izzy’s life. Especially when she was trying to balance so much she couldn’t see the destruction heading her way.
Ultimately, I walked away feeling glad that I had finished Mindy Raf’s book, but I still wish she hadn’t put Izzy through quite so much. Reflecting on the story, I wish Raf would have left out the entire Izzy-starts-dating-Blake storyline (in which he’s a jerk with zero backbone and does something pretty craptastic to Izzy). I wasn’t entirely happy with the resolution here and it seemed unnecessarily dramatic (especially when there was a kind, nerdy boy patiently waiting for Izzy to recognize him as more than a friend). The subtle side romance would have been so much sweeter without the hasty relationship with Blake thrown into the mix.
In real life it seems when one terrible thing happens, a ton of others seem to follow. True as that may be, Izzy probably would have had a nervous breakdown if her story were real. And though things did end well, after so much negative buildup I would have liked to have reveled in the ending a bit more to see how things played out long-term in Izzy’s life. (I felt like I closed the book with a heavy heart.)
Sure, I definitely enjoy drama in books, but I am a firm believer that enough is enough for there to be a sense of realism. Raf’s writing was meticulous, but a ‘less is more’ approach would have helped me relate to Izzy in a more meaningful way instead of feeling like I was approaching a train wreck.
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Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 1, 2013
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: surfing, college, best friends, family secrets, immigration
Format read: ARC on NetGalley via Publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: Ford and Grace are best friends, but best friends who aren’t so secretly in love with each other. While Ford makes moves, Grace pushes him away. She can only focus on one thing this summer: winning the surfing competition to hopefully ensure her admittance to the college of her choice. In the meantime, Ford trades his wet suit for a suit suit at his law internship at Grace’s dad’s firm. His focus? Make a difference with immigration reform.
This is the second time in a row that a vibrant book cover oozing with the feel of summer ended up taking on a much more serious tone than I imagined.
Riptide is told from the alternating perspectives of Ford and Grace, two best friends/surfing buddies, who are so in love with each other but for various reasons cannot get it together. Ford is all for being upfront with his feelings, but Grace’s avoidance makes him question if she likes him like that at all. Of course, we know that she does and the foundation for some mega-tension between the two is set.
But this is more than a romance. Grace has many secrets at home, and her trust for people is pretty non-existant. Her parents pile on the pressure for her to go to an Ivy League school and her mom is constantly worried about appearances. (There’s a certain irony in that detail.) Since forever, Grace’s main escape and passion has been hitting the waves. She’s pretty damn good at it too, and would rather pass up her Ivy League chances to stay close by and be part of an awesome college surf team.
When Ford signs her up for a big-time competition, Grace hones in all her energy (or as much as she can) into succeeding and hopefully finding the courage to stand up to her parents about what she really wants. In the meantime, Ford is embracing his own future by interning at Grace’s dad’s law firm and hoping to learn more about immigration return, after an unfortunate incident that hit close to home.
Scheibe does a great job of injecting diversity into this cast of characters from Ford’s new friends at work to the Spanish frequently spoken at his home. I never see this enough in the young adult genre, and it’s always refreshing when it pops up in my reading.
Unfortunately, at some point, Riptide becomes more of Grace’s story (for good reason) and we lose a lot of Ford’s perspective, weakening the second half of the book considerably. His story was worth fleshing out too, and I wish more balance had been achieved. His friends were intriguing and so were his ambitions. As the book went on, I continued to question whether the book as a whole would have been stronger if Grace had been the only voice we had been introduced to.
Even as the book winds down, despite real change coming to all the characters, everything was sewn up a bit too perfectly for me. Too much emphasis was placed on how surfing related to real life, and, while yeah, that makes a ton of sense… I don’t think the reader needed it spelt out quite the way that it was.
While Scheibe did bring a rare family dynamic to the forefront and forced Grace to make necessary but tough choices, a fair amount of tweaking and buffing up the thinner plotlines would have made Riptide a more impactful, well-rounded story.
Goodreads | Amazon
Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy ( web | tweet )
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: dependent relationships, crime, secrets
Format read: ARC via Edelweiss from Publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: The morning after what was supposed to be the best date of her life, Nikki watches Dee leave to be questioned by the police department. He assures her everything is going to be fine, makes sure their story is straight, and promises to get in touch with her when he can. Even though Nikki knows she was roped into something terrible, hears the gunshots in her head, she trusts Dee when he says everything is going to be alright. Because love conquers all, right?
Criminal was one of those books I had to hide in another room so I wouldn’t be tempted to keep picking it up way way past my bedtime.
Terra Elan McVoy, queen of summer camp and girls being friends with boys, has created such a tense, horrifying, addicting read in 288 short pages. Nikki is a down on her luck teenager with an unstable home life, finally finding a sense of home with her best friend, Bird, and her baby daughter. But her whole life changes when she meets Dee and falls desperately in love. The desperate kind of love that makes you forget everything else, leaves you so undone, where everything else seems unimportant.
Dee is passionate when he’s sexy and when he’s angry, and makes Nikki feel worthwhile and safe. He’s the kind of guy that really knows how to manipulate a situation, knows how to use sex to his advantage and gets Nikki involved in a heartless crime. Before she even knows what’s happening he gives her a disguise, tells her where to drive and when to wait for him. Nikki is scared but not sure what to do, and when she hears the gunshots and sees Dee’s face afterwards, she’s still not sure what to feel.
The next morning Dee is questioned by the cops and promises to contact Nikki when he can. Nikki goes nuts trying to say the right things to the cops when they come to question her, and keeping everything from Bird is really hard. When she realizes the murder Dee has committed may get Bird in big trouble, Nikki confesses just enough to clear Bird from the crime but not enough to keep herself out of jail.
Does this sound like your typical YA?
McVoy has branched out so much; it’s like Criminal is from a different planetary system. Her succinct writing style, the oodles of research that had to be done, and the fact that as a reader, I couldn’t decide if Nikki was incredibly weak for not standing up to Dee before he killed someone or just totally helpless in the heat of the moment, or if she was really at fault or not when she had no idea what he was planning. Every time she texted him (and wasn’t supposed to), my brain was screaming “Nooo Nikki! Don’t you know they will have a record of those texts to use against you?” (Cue everything I learned from the Casey Anthony trial.)
It’s amazing — even though Nikki is now IN jail, obviously strained her friendship with Bird and lost her job, she still can’t believe anything bad about Dee. She’s afraid FOR him. I kept wondering when she would finally break, when she would finally start to feel angry because she still felt attached to him after the “foundation” of their relationship started to crack. After the authorities let a few of his lies loose. It’s kind of like watching someone wind down from the biggest high of their life and finally be forced to make make do with truth.
In the jail, with this group of girls, and having the opportunity to incarcerate Dee by spilling every detail she can think of, Nikki grows and changes in ways I didn’t fathom. For awhile, she’s detached, guilty, bored, obsessed, apprehensive, difficult. But jail is kind of this blessing; it’s a controlled environment, something she is not used to with her addict mom’s antics, or the disdain she felt from Bird when she was dating Dee. Even when things start to click for Nikki, her life is not without consequence and big unfortunate changes.
Criminal is such a tight, well-written story yet still leaves a lot of room for discussion. I really appreciated the leaps that McVoy took with her writing this go-around; this story about power, lust, and love never felt over-dramatized or black and white. And the fact that I was able to discuss the details at length with my husband just proved to me how versatile a book it was for readers, with the ability to satisfy a larger audience.
Goodreads | Amazon
Art Girls Are Easy by Julie Klausner (website | twitter)
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Target audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: young artist, summer camp, crushing on an older guy, friendships
Format read: ARC from NetGalley via the publisher. (Thanks!)
Summer: Indigo is plunging into her last summer at the Silver Springs Academy for Fine and Performing Arts for Girls. She’s a talented, young artist who perfects her craft at the Academy each summer by training with professionals. Her best friend, Lucy, will be a counselor-in-training this year, resulting in less time together and a lot of time for Indy to brood over whether Lucy is secretly dating her long-time crush, Nick (who happens to be a teacher at the Academy).
I’m writing this review after reading two back-to-back books about teenagers with incredible talents. I can’t imagine the pressure of being 15 years old and knowing exactly what I want to do with my life and worrying about how to get there. When I was 15, I was focused on boys and discussing teachers that assigned too much homework.
Indigo’s life is much different. She’s a very well-known teenage artist.
As she enters her last summer as a camper at the Silver Springs Academy, she’s focused on how to connect with Nick even though he’s a teacher, and Lucy, her BFF who is now a counselor. Indy finished the previous summer with an incredible piece that she’s afraid she’ll never be able to top and struggles to come up with something fresh. Especially since she keeps catching Lucy and Nick together and begins to doubt her friendship with Lucy. (Eleanor, Indy’s roommate, offers unsolicited advice and spreads rumors that further fuel the fire.) Her focus completely falters and despite advice from her counselors, she’s unable to create anything. She’s uninspired.
There was so much I wanted to love about Art Girls Are Easy. While I did enjoy Klausner’s writing style and the flow of the story, I didn’t connect with Indy as much as I like to with main characters. She was a roller coaster of emotions that at times led her to make decisions (one very big one in particular) that were hasty. I would have enjoyed her character much more if only she learned and grew from her mistakes.
Indy’s decisions were conditional — as long as everything was going her way, she was fine; but should things go astray, Indy reacted in the most immature and selfish of ways. For instance, when Lucy seems to be betraying her, Indy chooses to inflict bodily harm upon herself. Each choice is made because of something that occurs and what she would gain from the situation. (After she’s hurt herself, she suddenly gets a streak of inspiration and begins creating something like a madwoman. I’m positive this is a message we shouldn’t be sending.) Instead of approaching Lucy directly and asking what’s going on, she makes quick judgments, bad assumptions, and blames Lucy instead of seeking the truth. (I was crazy frustrated that she would be so quick to anger at Lucy, but completely neglect to think Nick did anything wrong. Since when is friendship negated so easily?)
Indy’s consequences for all of her bad actions (for which there are many as she grapples with not making art and being mad at Lucy) didn’t seem appropriate. Some pretty big things were glossed over and should have been dealt with more specifically. I couldn’t help but think When times get hard again, how will Indy react? Will the behavior continue? I never like finishing a book and worrying that a character won’t be okay. (I need closure.) There were mentions of a therapist pre-summer camp, but no discussion of why Indy was seeing one or if she’d continue to do so when she returned home.
In the end there was tons of build up and drama, but a lot fell flat for me. Most things were (too) neatly wrapped up, aside from a few threads I wish had been given a bit more attention. I wish a bit more consideration had been given to the subtle messages being sent through Indy’s story — act out and you can get whatever you want — and that her character matured and didn’t end up with everything she wanted. Life just doesn’t work that way.
Goodreads | Amazon
Hi, hello! I’m so excited to kick off this new series today; with so much chatter about BEA on blogs and all over Twitter, a little lightbulb popped up a few weeks ago. I’ve always loved to show people New York City (I discovered this in college when many of my roommates were from the West Coast and never visited before) so why not share some choice spots and helpful hints for BEA attendees?
I contacted some trusted New Yorkers (and a few bonus pals) to make this series a reality! So all this week, a lovely person will be showcasing a particular part of New York on their blog and hopefully a ) get you super excited about your upcoming trip and b) and give you a little guidance when it comes to what’s worthwhile and amazing. I don’t know about you but whenever I travel a great recommendation goes a long way. (Just like reading!)
Please don’t be shy in the comments, either! If you are a local or have been to New York multiple times before, I’d love to hear the places you can’t miss. I’m always looking for recommendations myself. That’s the best part about this city: endless possibilities.
More than concerts, more than going to the movies, I love Broadway! Off-Broadway! Live theater of any kind!
(A few weeks ago, I chatted about that obsession here.)
When I hear that people are visiting New York, one of the first questions I always ask: ARE YOU SEEING ANY SHOWS?
So I’m asking YOU:
ARE YOU SEEING ANY SHOWS?
I do hope you’ll find time between BEA and hanging out with your book buddies to make the most out of one of my favorite parts of New York City. The audience, the rush, the fact that you are seeing a one-of-a-kind performance unfold right in front of you? Nothing can compare.
First things first, price! My top tip when it comes to buy tickets to a show is to check BroadwayBox.com. This website collects every single discount available for every single show and it’s the best way to know what you can afford. Be sure to check the dates with each discount! There’s also Rush or Lotto opportunities (which means less money for tickets but for many of them you need to be a student or wake up SUPER early) that are well documented here. There’s also the TKTS line in Times Square. I don’t find the prices are better than buying discounts tix beforehand but it is fun for the experience.
And now, for a few recommendations:
As lovers of literature, I’m sure you are not surprised I included this one. Matilda just opened on Thursday night (April 11) to rave reviews, after having a successful run in England. Based on the Roald Dahl book, Matilda is a musical and tells the story of a little girl with crap parents, a sweet relationship with her teacher, and her magical powers. [ Official website ]
Once the Musical
This musical (which came out last in 2012) is based on the 2006 movie musical of the same name — the one starring the singers of The Swell Season. I watched this movie when it first came out and totally fell in love, and then last year, saw this musical twice in one week because it moved me so so much. It makes me choke up just thinking about it. Two people, both taken in their own way, meet over their love of music. First? The set is an actual working bar and you can get drinks up there before the show and during intermission. Second? The entire cast plays their own instruments and it adds such a spark to the entire show. It’s a beautiful story with music I cannot stop listening to. (Cast recording is always playing on my iPod.) [ Official website ]
Peter and the Starcatcher
Another stage experience based on a book series by Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry but this time a play! This is by far one of the most creative theater experiences I have ever had EVER. I never read the books but I was turned on to the play by a good friend, and I fell in love so much I’ve seen it 3 times. The play recently moved off-Broadway to New World Stages — the perfect home for such a cozy and innovative production. It basically tells the story of how a boy becomes Peter Pan and how that famous pirate becomes a villain. It is hilarious and extremely heartfelt (even after 3 viewings, I cry and laugh every time). [ Official website | Current Discount ]
I’m going for a classic with this last choice. I haven’t seen it in many years, but it’s sexy, funny, sad — all the emotions. Plus one of my Broadway crushes is currently starring at Billy Flynn (Adam Pascal). It’s different than the movie (of course) but it’s still nice to see both and compare, and maybe even hear a familiar song or two! [ Official website | Current discount ]
» Newsies: The 1990s cult movie comes to life with cute boys, awesome dancing and a ton of energy (the audience gives it total rock star treatment!)
» Avenue Q: Another show that moved from Broadway to Off, but if you are looking for something a tad inappropriate, sexy, and super funny WITH PUPPETS. This is the musical for you.
» Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella: If you are looking for classic musical, this is another great place to start. I saw it for my birthday and while it wasn’t perfect, I still loved hearing some of my favorite tunes LIVE. Plus the gal who plays Cinderella is a Broadway bombshell. (This is actually the first time R+H’s Cinderella has been put up on Broadway… you may remember the “recent” TV version with Brandy?)
Oh! I could really go on about this forever!
If anyone else has any show suggestions or Broadway tips, please do leave them in the comments! And if you have questions about any shows at all, please feel free to ask me! If I don’t know, I will try to point you in the right direction of the answer!
» Food recommendations from Hello, Chelly
» NYC Bookstore Stops from Alexa Loves Books