Magan: If I Lie by Corrine Jackson

book cover for if i lie by corrine jackson

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson (website | twitter)
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 276
Target Audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: Military towns, cheating, reputations, bullying
Format Read: eBook purchased for my Kindle.

Summary: Quinn’s boyfriend, Carey, is serving our country in Afghanistan. Shortly after his deployment, a photograph was taken of Quinn and another guy, proving that she was cheating on Carey. She’s trapped in a world of bullying because she’s protecting Carey by not sharing his secret.

I mentioned in my Shelve It vlog on Sunday that I was recently in a deep book slump because I was having a really difficult time making it through a book. (Don’t worry. It wasn’t If I Lie.) I was super hesitant to pick up another book because I really needed something solid, something that was sure to be an absolute win. And guess what? If I Lie was the perfect book for me.

Quinn is in her senior year of high school, shunned by her entire small Military town because they think she’s committed the ultimate crime: She cheated on her boyfriend, Carey, right after he went away to serve our country in Afghanistan. Did you catch what I said? They think she’s done this. There’s photographic proof that she was with another (unidentifiable) guy, but no one except for Quinn knows the absolute truth. Or the secret that Carey’s asked her to keep.

The backlash that Quinn faces from her father who was abandoned by her mother while he was at war, or from her classmates who vandalize her school locker, or from Carey’s parents who want absolutely nothing to do with Quinn will make you feel appropriately uncomfortable. But I fully believe Jackson does a brilliant job of balancing the bullying by showing us how resilient and dedicated Quinn is to Carey. There’s no way someone could face all the turmoil Quinn does without feeling deep, sincere love for another person.

But things only become more complicated for Quinn once Carey goes MIA after being out on a mission. But you know what I found most wonderful about If I Lie? Yes, we’re learning about Quinn, and yes, slowly Carey’s secret is being revealed to us, but there’s just so much more meat to the story. There’s also George, her wonderful elderly companion at the VA Hospital who is teaching her how to become a better photographer and doesn’t succumb to the rumors he has heard about Quinn. And there’s her messy relationship with her father and how desperately Quinn wants to be seen by him again. The speculation about who this other boy is also made my heart pound a little harder, but the final few chapters (our foster daughter can vouch for me as I was reading aloud to her while she played) really tugged on my heart strings and I balled my eyes out. My point: If I Lie is so incredibly well-rounded. The focus isn’t just on this one relationship, but has so many lovely gems that propel the story forward and make it flow effortlessly, especially when the subject matter gets a little tough.

I’m really, really not sure why I waited over a year to read If I Lie. I suppose that’s what happens when you let books pile up on your kindle because you get buy-happy. I sincerely hope that if you haven’t read this book yet that you’ll give it a whirl as soon as you can. Don’t be like me and wait too long to read a really wonderful story.

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Estelle: Where You Are by J.H. Trumble

Where You Are By J.H. TrumbleWhere You Are by J.H. Trumble ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: December 24, 2012
Publisher: Kensington Books
Pages: 316
Target audience: Adult/mature young adult
Keywords:  bullying, social media, LGBT, student/teacher relationships
Format read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Robert may be a star student, a popular addition to the marching band, and absolutely comfortable with his sexuality. But his dad is also deteriorating from cancer, his aunts are taking over his home, and his boyfriend never wants to touch him. At 24, Andrew is Robert’s calculus teacher. He’s a father to a young daughter, and does his best to keep his private life private. But for some reason, he can’t help but reach out to Robert, especially as he sees this bright student fading into the background. Will they both be able to maintain their respected boundaries?

When I wrote my review of J.H. Trumble’s Don’t Let Me Go in March, I wrote about how I kept thinking of the main characters of that story like they were people I had actually known in real life.

Fast forward almost nine months later, and I’m standing in a store parking lot in the freezing cold, on the brink of what is going to be a difficult two days for my family, and I am thinking about Robert and Andrew in the same way. What are they up to? What are they thinking? If they lived in my hometown, would I be calling them to hang out right now?

I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure out how Trumble makes her characters so human — flaws and all — and I come up short every single time. Because it just happens. It is so natural how these characters live and breathe on the page, even when I disagree with their actions and especially when everything becomes right in their worlds.

For many of you, a little red flag is going to pop up when you see “student/teacher” relationship. I’m not here to talk about a moral code or the importance of maintaining boundaries. Because as soon as I started reading about Andrew and Robert, all of their labels seemed to dissipate and I was left with two young men who really cared for each other. Two men who needed each other in different ways, and two people who actively tried to keep themselves at a distance (time and time again).

One of the most fascinating details about these characters is just how differently they deal with their sexuality. Robert was very open, and frustrated with a boyfriend who would rather hang out with “his girls” and not bother to kiss him, while Andrew was very focused on keeping his private life private (those nosey teachers!), even if it meant allowing people to think he was attracted to women. As the novel goes on, this difference created many scenes of role reversal where Robert actually seems to be the older one and Andrew, the more giddy.

On the surface, Where You Are was this kind of epic love story but the author also developed complex and intertwining back stories that allow the reader  to dig deeper into these characters and help us to understand who they really are. I really loved Robert’s relationship with his mother (even the messy parts) and Andrew’s ex-wife, Maya, who always kept me guessing. (This is a good thing.) Trumble also skillfully integrated the influence of social media in our lives — from the accounts Andrew chooses to follow, secret fan pages, and a partner in bullying.

I read this book twice before I wrote the review (and I’ve only done that one other time this year with Marisa Calin’s Between You and Me) because I had to relive it again. I had to make sure I didn’t miss out on any one detail. Trumble has officially spoiled me with rich characters, feelings that make me feel everything, intricate details, the cool balance of family and school life, and a controversial topic that is dealt with so delicately and so passionately.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Trumble is an author to look out for.

(And I apologize in advance because if you react to this book like I did, you will not be able to get much done before you finish it.)

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Estelle: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirsten Cronn-Mills

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirsten Cronn-Mills
Publication Date: October 8, 2012
Publisher: Flux
Pages: 288
Target audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: music, LGBT, bullying, life after high school, acceptance, radio, Elvis
Format read: eBook from NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Gabe is so looking forward to the end of high school and starting fresh. He recently came out to his parents as transgendered and is slowly trying to make his way in the world, one song on the radio at a time.

“Maybe there will be a day when this shit will be over and I can just be a dude with normal regular stuff in his life.” – Gabe

Many of us can agree that music can be a haven, a safe place.

For Gabe, who was born Liz, working the late shift at a public access radio station is a place where he can be himself — sharing the music with a small group of people who are just about as passionate about music and its history as he is. John, Gabe’s next door “grandfather-figure” neighbor, has hooked him up with this gig and also serves as his music guru; the two staying up all hours of the night sifting through his extensive vinyl collection like little kids. Gabe’s on-air discussion of our “A-side/B-sides” becomes a theme woven through the entire story; a theme that is not only true to his whole being, but one that also manages to connect us all.

I applaud Cronn-Mills for welcoming us into Gabe’s story, post-coming out. I thought that was a fresh and bold choice. It’s not surprising that his parents cannot bring themselves to fully accept who their daughter really is. Gabe just wants them to be able to look him in the eye but it is understandably tough and the depiction of their behavior and distance was never over the top, did not monopolize the plot of the book… it was just naturally there. (In many situations, Gabe proves to be impressingly patient, knowing that what he is going through can be difficult and confusing to those around him.)

While Gabe is supported by both his best friend, Paige, and mentor John, he knows that not everyone is going to accept him. He can’t wait to escape his town, move to the city, and work for a radio station. When a contest opportunity pops up (or, rather, John enrolls him), Gabe sees his ticket to the future and even participates under the name Gabe. At the same time, his following is growing on the radio (there’s even a Facebook group!) and a girl he knows from school begins calling in and suggests meeting.

This is where we have a problem. Because 1) Gabe is in love with Paige. This was heartbreakingly sweet for me. They two had such amazing chemistry and I just never knew if it would work. The second problem was that everyone in school thought Gabe was Liz, including his date and he wasn’t sure if agreeing to meet her would blow up in his face. (Whew!) Teenagers worry about dates all the time but it seemed like Gabe always had to triple worry because of other people’s judgements and unwillingness to accept him for who he was. I could tell it was exhausting but it never brought Gabe down.

I’ve read many LBGT books this year, and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children is a moving story full of the ups and downs of life, totally magnified. Each chapter begins with clever quips pertaining to Elvis (i.e. “Harry Potter is the new Elvis because they’re both magic”) and the music knowledge seeping from the book was so impressive (the research must have been extensive!). The music genres featured were so vast that I really wish I had a playlist handy to listen to while Gabe worked his own magic.

I really liked how the author was not focusing on some horrific event and how it affected this character and focused more of an every day account and how certain circumstances affected his thought process, decision making, and also the leaps Gabe had to take to be the person who always knew he was. I really felt for him in his struggles. (And really wanted the boys who were threatening him to be exiled to another planet for their smallmindness and insecurities.) I came to care for him so much, enjoy his humor, and just wish the best for him.

BMFUG is one of those books I wish could’ve gone on forever. It has engaging characters, sheds lights on a subject that is not brought to the forefront enough, and also illustrates the varying degrees of acceptance in this world — our own and the people around us.

Here’s hoping you take a chance on Gabe too. 

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Estelle: The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

book cover for The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. SheinmelThe Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel (Tweet!)
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Pages: 224
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: eating disorders, New York City, friendships, mother/daughter relationships
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Meet Sethie, a high school senior, living in New York City and doing anything she can to maintain her ‘ideal’ weight.

A character like Sethie is one we all know — a straight A student who wants to go to a good college (like Columbia), wants to be able to go up to her boyfriend and kiss him, a girl who looks in the mirror and doesn’t like what she sees.

At 17, Sethie can get in her college applications early but isn’t sure what her relationship with Shaw (her boyfriend?) is all about. It’s simply easier to let him take the lead and make the first move so she doesn’t destroy the delicate balance that is their relationship. She’s just sort of there.

That’s Sethie’s general MO in this novel. She’s not passionate about much more than maintaining her 110 pounds or less. (In fact, she quits yearbook because she doesn’t want to worry about the snacking that goes on.) There are flickers of another girl in there especially when she befriends Janey and they do everyday girl things like buy tight clothing and get all dolled up for frat parties.

From third person, Sethie’s behavior is still worrisome and alarming. There isn’t the same character connection and I felt like I was looking into windows and watching what these people were doing. I could not reach out and help — I was only an observer.

I didn’t know when and if Sethie would reach a breaking point. I feared what that would bring and while most stories regarding eating disorders build to a Broadway style complex, this one did not. It was gradual and calm and ordinary in a good way. The author, who reveals she suffered from an eating disorder in her teens, does present a different perspective which I appreciated. It felt believable and not weighed down by drama.

In fact, Sethie was not about drama at all. She did not like to make ripples and preferred standing in the shadows. One thing I couldn’t grasp was her relationship with her mother. Was I imagining her mom ignoring her daughter? Or was she simply an observer like the reader? Waiting and waiting until the right time to butt in? It wasn’t like her lack of a relationship with her mother or Shaw forced her to seek attention by losing weight. It didn’t seem Sethie had interior motives. She was addicted to this ideal and couldn’t let go.

While this novel focuses on serious subject matter, I did love the chemistry between Sethie and Janey – even though at first I didn’t trust their budding friendship. (Call me a cynic.) And later, I adored a character named Ben who brought a ‘giant’ amount of life into a very gray and stormy story.

Sheinmel’s writing is crisp and edgy and down-to-earth. She taps into a familiar subject matter, not by creating something cataclysmicly new but focusing on the everyday realities of those living with the disease, those who just find themselves in it
and can’t figure out if they want a way out or not. Despite the distance I felt from Sethie, I still liked her and my fondness for her paired with Sheinmel’s fast paced story made this a seamless read for me. (I only put it down twice.) Plus I loved how clearly it was written — every paragraph, every word seemed deliberate and served a purpose and that is something I don’t see nearly enough in young adult books.

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Estelle: Pizza, Love & Other Stuff… by Kathryn Williams

Pizza, Love & Other Stuff That Made Me Famous by Kathryn Williams ( web | tweet)
Publication Date: August 21, 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt
Pages: 240
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: cooking, reality TV
Format read: ARC from ALA (Thanks!)

Summary: Cooking is in Sophie’s blood. Her mother, who died when she was little, was a great cook and her father owns an Italian-Greek restaurant where she works. When her best friend finds out about a reality show for young chefs, he urges her to try out and hopefully win a scholarship to a prestigious cooking school in California. Soon, she is thrust into drama and the spotlight like she never imagined.

You know how they say you shouldn’t go to the grocery store on an empty stomach?

The same belief could be applied to reading this book. With all the talk of grand food preparation and the recipes included after each “reality show” challenge, my stomach was constantly grumbling. (Williams included two of my absolute favorite foods too — pizza and eggs benedict!)

Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff… is a very cute novel featuring Sophie, a 16-year old who comes across as very sheltered due to her work at her family’s restaurant. She doesn’t have much experience with boys and it seems like her boy best friend, Alex, is pretty much the only solid friend in her life. (Not including the employees at her dad’s restaurant.) Instead of following in her father’s footsteps, she dreams of being a well-known chef and though she is self-conscious about her talents, she tries out for the reality show and makes it!

In ways, once Sophie makes it to California, this book reminded me of Lauren Conrad’s L.A. Candy trilogy especially when it uncovered just how “unrealistic” reality TV was. Instead of booze and boys, there’s a burn book and a few competitive moments orchestrated by the producers. Sophie is aware of what the producers of the show are trying to do — make TV worth watching and she manages to steer clear and watch what she says. (Although that doesn’t mean these people don’t twist her words when the show finally airs or she doesn’t question the loyalty of her friends at points.) I was happy to see she made two friends right off the bat — the adorable and funny Stan and the focused Shelby. She even reconnects with her mother’s sister, Mary, who owns an organic restaurant on the west coast. There is even the mysterious and European Luc, who sweeps Sophie away and causes her to question her feelings for her bestie, Alex.

Even though the book is description heavy, the pacing is still quick and I got a good handle on who Sophie was as a character. She had a great passion for cooking and she also loved her family. My one qualm were some moments that I felt were glossed over and I would have liked to have either a) more interaction or b) time not to jump so quickly. There’s some sweet innocent romance going on, for sure, (in fact it feels like these kids are 14 and not 16 much of the time) but it never overpowers the true focus of the book: Sophie venturing out on her own and figuring out how she can make the world a better place with her food.

For a feathery, fun read, perfect for the foodie or a person who enjoys spending time in the kitchen — a subject not spotlighted in many the world of YA. Let’s hear it for the pizza!

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Estelle: Kissing Shakespeare by Pam Mingle

Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle
Publication Date: August 14, 2012
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Pages: 348
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: time travel, plays, Shakespeare, religion, romance, fate, seduction, historical fiction
Format read: ARC from Netgalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: Miranda, a high school senior, is all set to follow in her thespian parents’ footsteps and attend Yale for drama in the fall. Or so she thinks. After (what she believes to be) a weak performance in Taming of the Shrew, she is ready to throw in the towel when out of nowhere, Stephen, another actor in the play, emerges and asks her the most unexpected (and weirdest) question: “How would you like to meet Shakespeare?” Before she knows it, Stephen has whisked her off to England circa 1581 to assist him in saving Shakespeare and the future of theatre and literature as we know it. Can Miranda handle the biggest role of her life?

Full disclosure: in the years since high school, my knowledge of England in the 1500s has slowly dissolved into dust particles. And geez, I could have really used it while reading Kissing Shakespeare. I knew historical fiction might be a challenge but it was the religious conflict in England that really threw me for a loop. From the book description, I had no idea it was going to take such precedence in the story. Religion is so imperative to Shakespeare’s future and while I applaud Mingle for attacking such a storyline, sometimes my lack of understanding on this subject slowed down my enjoyment of the book.

But let’s get to the good stuff. I was first interested in this title because of the theater! I’m a huge fan of plays and I can only imagine what it would be like to be given the opportunity to meet your idol in another century. Stephen could not have “coerced” Miranda to come along at this journey at a better time — Shakespeare needs her help and perhaps Miranda needs a little kick in the butt as well. I’m no expert on time traveling (are you?) but I did wish that Miranda would have been a bit funnier when they switched time periods — she was a dramatic girl (no surprise there) but the bits of sarcasm she does express would have been welcome in earlier parts of the book. (It took me about 138 pages to get into the story.)

As Stephen “casts” Miranda as his sister “Olivia” (anyone get the Shakespeare reference here?) — it is funny to see the cultural clashes between the two, and Miranda and the rest of the supporting characters. William is, of course, utterly charming but conflicted about his future. He wants to be a player but he also feels he should do his duty to the church. Jenett is a mysterious gal, crushing on William, and betrothed to an older man she has no desire to marry.  There are quite a few mini sub-plots swirling around KS and they did the job of softening the religious plot when situations got a bit too intense. That intensity, though, did grip me quite a bit in the second half of the book and I was anxious to see what would become of our characters and the future of Shakespeare’s work.

Not only did the subject matter surprise me, but so did the love story. Stephen is a dapper and intriguing young man, and I enjoyed getting to know him. Although his plan for saving Shakespeare? Don’t think he thought that one through. Ladies and gents, he wanted Miranda to do more than just KISS Shakespeare. He wanted her to sleep with him. I thought that was a tad presumptuous on his part, especially since Miranda was a virgin. (Is this commentary on teenage girls of today?) Again, I was shocked by her reactions to this “order” (and also the fact that protection in this century was not discussed?). I’m not sure if I would have treated it as lightly even if I felt I wanted to prove something (which I get, I’m totally competitive).

Thematically, I love the idea of fate and how one little thing can affect so many people and so many outcomes. How would our world be different if Shakespeare didn’t write his works? His influence goes far behind the stage and the classroom and that is completely evident in this story. In a smaller sense, how will Miranda’s life be shaped by this experience as well? You know her love story is only temporary, which saddened me; I kept hoping for a stroke of magic that would make everything come together… but I’m glad that Mingle decided to end her tale where she did.

Here’s my advice to you: even though Kissing Shakespeare is a longer YA novel, starts out slow, and isn’t the fluff you may be expecting, stick with it. The chemistry is hot, there are some funny and silly moments, and I felt a renewed sense of interest in Shakespeare and his life. (Did anyone remember he married a gal named Anne Hathaway? I had to do a double take when I read that!)

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