Estelle: The Summer of Firsts and Lasts by Terra Elan McVoy

The Summer of Firsts and Lasts by Terra Elan McVoy
Publication Date: May 3, 2011
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 423
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: summer camp, sisters, first love, independence
Format read: Hardcover borrowed from the libary.
How I found out about it: Featured at my B&N this summer.

Summary: Sisters Calla, Violet, and Daisy (yes, all named after flowers) attend the same summer camp but all have very different experiences.

This book is the ultimate as far as light, summery YAs are concerned.

First: the setting. Three glorious weeks at a summer camp where you pick a concentration: writing, running, nature. When I was young I only attended day camps that ran for a few weeks, and McVoy had me secretly hating my parents for never sending me away to an overnight place like this one. (If there are any camps like this for 27-year olds, let me know because I am game!)

Second: the boys. Now, my husband’s name is James so I always feel secretly proud when there is a love interest in a book that shares his name (see: Unbreak My Heart). Middle sister Violet reunites with James after he skips a year of camp… although now he’s a counselor — a big no-no. Campers and counselors can’t date. Or make out. Or stare at each other from across the room and feel all tingley inside? Yum, their story was delicious. Each sister has some kind of boy in their life in some capacity and I really liked seeing the different stages the three were in.

Third: the drama. Now it wouldn’t be summer camp without some bitchy girls, unavailable guys, and a rebellious girl who loves to be the center of attention. Instead of being a counselor, Calla has a paying job in the camp’s office and is thoroughly worried about being perfect, making a good impression, and making the best out of camp even though her job duties take her away from the camp activities she has grown to look forward to year after year. Violet buddies up with a new girl who keeps getting into trouble, and Daisy is dealing with girls who are so jealous of her they will stop at nothing to humilate her. While each sister goes through their own thing, they do overlap with one another and provide support and friction at the same time.

At the core, this book is about the bonds of sisters. And it really made me miss mine. (We’re five years apart and don’t see each other that much because she’s in school and I’m a “grown up”.) I missed the days when I used to come home after school and see my sister or even the days during the summer when we hung out at the beach. It kind of just made me miss home. At the back of the book, McVoy shares that she indeed is part of a trio of sisters and I could tell. They were some very tender, sweet moments as well as those inevitable ragey ones. (By alternating chapters between the three, we were able to find out the inside thoughts each had about the other and I loved being privy to this insight.)

Best of all, McVoy shocked me completely with her ending. Reading it was just as disruptive as what happens to the girls (ohh the suspense) and it fit the situation perfectly. All I could think was “bravo” for taking the road less traveled.

I could see you reading this book on the beach (like I did), in the fall, or even with some hot chocolate in the winter. It doesn’t need to be summer to feel the excitement and freedom that the season and this book radiates.

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Estelle: I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Publication Date: May 3, 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Pages: 392
Target Audience: Young adult
Keywords
: Young love, child neglect, family, music
Source: Hardcover borrowed from library

Summary
: The first day Sam sees Emily she is (badly) singing “I’ll Be There” in front of her church. The words stir something inside of Sam and both of them feel it. After Sam abruptly disappears, Emily can’t stop thinking about him and one night, they are brought together once again. Emily knows that he is thoughtful and a good listener, different than another of the boys she knew, but what she doesn’t know is that he doesn’t go to school, his father has abducted him and his brother, and the chances of him sticking around are not likely…

Every now and then I come across a book that reminds me of young adult books I read in grade school — not a ton of dialogue, filled with a bit of adventure, maybe a small love story. Even the writing style, full of clear, succinct sentences that move at a steady pace and mean a whole lot. With I’ll Be There I was reminded (once again) of Louis Sachar’s Holes and another all-time favorite, Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. Both books deal with families, various trials, and almost come together with a fairy tale like quality.

Emily and Sam come from completely different worlds. Emily has a mom, dad, brother, and a dog. Sam has his brother, Riddle (who doesn’t talk much), a father (Clarence) who abducted them and steals to help himself survive. (Keyword: himself.) For as long as he can remember, Sam has been the one to take care of his brother, while both steer as clear from their father as possible. Sam and Riddle don’t go to school. Riddle draws in phone books and Sam tries to make some pocket change on the side so they can eat. It is absolutely heartbreaking how Clarence neglects his children. In fact, I’m shocked he didn’t leave them on the side of the road long ago.

You can see why Sam keeps his life a secret from Emily. He does a pretty good job of it too. He doesn’t answer a lot of questions, he meets her places, but her parents are concerned when they meet him and Riddle. They believe something isn’t right and when Clarence discovers the cell phone that the Bells give him… he knows they won’t be sticking around much longer.

The story certainly takes a turn from here. A slow and sweet romance between Sam and Emily, the affection the Bells have for Sam and Riddle, and the connection these boys finally have with someone come to a screeching halt and for the rest of the book, the reader is thrust into a suspenseful and frightening story. (I was so nervous I had to eat a snack on the way home to calm my nerves while reading.)

Sloan certainly nailed the feelings of a girl who has had her heart broken and hopes against all hope that Sam will come back to her. Even when she attempts to keep busy with Bobby — a self-righteous fella from her high school who is majorly crushing on her and will do just about anything to get her attention — and going about her life before Sam came into it. The change in her is so apparent. She feels entirely helpless and directionless, and loses her belief in love.

And as for the brothers… I have never read a pair quite like this. Sam has always been the caretaker and Riddle has a developmental disorder (that’s never been treated) yet they understand each other. They have each other’s backs in a way that all siblings should and it chokes me up just thinking about all they’ve been through and all the challenges they face for the remainder of the book. I was rooting for them the entire time.

One thing I loved about Sloan is how she presented a good amount of characters throughout the 400-page book and came back to every single one of them. There is not one storyline left unanswered. (One complaint though… all the descriptions talk about Emily’s awesome best friend when she is practically MIA for the whole book. She didn’t seem to fit into the super friend category at all.) It definitely showed how one moment can change a person, and affect a bunch of others without even meaning to. From the start to the very end, I felt incredibly invested in Emily, Riddle, and Sam and wanted them to find their own happiness, wanted good to triumph over evil.

Will they?

I hope you’ll take the time to dive into this moving novel and find out.

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Estelle: Other Words for Love by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal

Other Words for Love by Lorriane Zago Rosenthal
Publication Date: January 11, 2011
Pages: 368
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format read: Paperback
Why I bought it: The cover, and the title.

Summary: Set in the 1980s in and around New York City, Ari is a girl under a lot of pressure. Her mom wants her to achieve everything she herself did not and that means enrolling Ari into a private school in Manhattan when the family is left a substantial inheritance. Her best (and only) friend is gorgeous and popular and won’t let Ari forget it. But when Ari meets Leigh on her first day of school and is introduced to her handsome and do-gooder cousin, Blake… she finds more than a little distraction.

Lorraine Zago Rosenthal’s debut novel is a beautiful and painful story of love, obligation, finding your own path, and making mistakes. The writing itself is so natural and the development of Ari’s character and the progression of the storyline in general are so well-done it makes me ache. For real. (Warning: the summary on the paperback is nothing like the story. At all.)

As a narrator, Ari is mature and honest. Honest when it comes to having a crush on her brother-in-law, honest when it comes to her qualms about being a good Catholic and still having the urge to have sex. I loved her voice. It was refreshing but strangely quiet, as if we can almost see the wheels turning in her head as she comes to various conclusions.

Most intriguing to me was the female dynamic in this particular book. A mom who is desperate to write a novel but can never seem to finish it, who feels ashamed she never amounted more. A sister who got pregnant very young and suffers from post-partum depression and a rare jealously of her younger sister. And then there is Ari, sort of stuck in the middle. She wants to do what’s right for her mom, for her sister, and for her but she quickly realizes how much she will have to sacrifice to make even just one of those people happy. And she is backed into some very difficult predicaments because of it.

Of course, we have the uber-amazing Summer as the selfish best friend who uses Ari as a constant ego boost. (Yet another trend in YA books. The craptacular best friend you just can’t get rid of.) So as you can imagine that leads to some juicy drama, especially when Summer doesn’t “approve” of Ari being close with Leigh, who has a slew of her own problems as well. It’s sort of like estrogen overload, but it’s done so well and just so real that it just worked.

Then there is the first love aspect. Ari and Blake. We all know how overwhelming and addicting it can be and I haven’t read it so well since Judy Blume’s Forever (which is one of my favorites) and this is better. Blake has his own interesting dynamic and feelings of obligation, and him and Ari wrestle from being so right for one another to so wrong, over and over again. In plenty of YA books, readers are subject to believe in connections that have no depth but the depth, the darkness, the insecurity and the freedom of that addicting love exists here. And without the internet, the text messages, Facebook, whatever. Because it’s the 80s people. And that’s a welcome change to YA settings.

There’s nothing left here to say except read Other Words for Love if you have not already. The writing style is stellar, the plotlines are beyond believable and effective, and you will not be able to put it down or stop thinking about it when you reach the final page. It’s just one of those rare books that stays with you.

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