First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano | Estelle Reviews

First There Was Forever by Juliana RomanoFirst There Was Forever by Juliana Romano ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Publisher: Penguin/Dial Books
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: turning 16, best friends, popularity, sex
Format read: ARC from Publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: Total opposites Lima and Hailey have been best friends forever until Hailey finds herself more concerned with popularity and crushing on Nate, a guy who doesn’t give her the time of day. Subsequently, Lima finds herself dealing with Hailey’s absence as she attempts to make new friends — one of these new friends being Hailey’s Nate.

It’s safe to say we’ve all had a friend that seems to outshines us. Sure, sometimes it’s frustrating but most of the time we dismiss it because “it’s just the way they are”.  Even if this is the case in Lima and Hailey’s friendship, they both bring to the table qualities the other needs. They balance each other out. Lima’s life (two well-to-do, supportive parents) brings stability into Hailey’s (divorced, sort of absent). Hailey’s outgoing nature brings Lima out of her shell but also solidifies this intimacy they have with one another because Lima can trust Hailey with her most outrageous, embarrassing questions.

No one is on the same path when they are 15 or 16 years old. In fact, I think it’s probably one of the last times we might be on similar journeys as our friends. Lima might be perfectly content with spending time with her family, swimming at her aunt’s pool, and visiting food markets and gardening. At the same time, Hailey intensely throws herself into the in-crowd and the parties, and is sure she is in love with a quiet yet popular, Nate. Why does one person move ahead when another wants to stand still? Who decides these things? Like Lima, I have no idea. She maybe feel “behind” but she also wants to maintain her own pace. She even puts herself out there to meet some new friends but no one quite fills the space that was once occupied by Hailey. The heartbreak only builds because there are times when Hailey seems to be her old self. Is it possible they can go back to where they used to be? Nothing feels quite as solid as it once did.

I am completely in love with Romano’s writing. First There Was Forever was a debut, and I was in deep — the questions about sex and loyalty; the limits you set for yourself and the times you decide to go beyond them; the trust you have in your friends; the urge to hang on to our parents but to also break away — all against this brilliant, laidback California lifestyle. Romano also throws in a major wrench when Lima finds a friendship with Nate, the guy of Hailey’s dreams (or so she thinks). It’s a complicated and complex relationship but sometimes we can’t explain why these things happen. They just do and we have to go for it, or not. With Hailey acting selfish and out of character, I’m not surprised that Nate became such a big part of Lima’s life. He was simply there when her best friend wasn’t.

There’s truly a laundry list of moments to discuss in this book, but one thing I wanted to point out was how much our parent influence our friends during this time of our life. Lima needed a break from Hailey; it’s understandable she isn’t running to her parents to list Hailey’s “sins” but there’s such guilt when she sees that her mom misses Hailey having around too. The sadness continues to build, and sometimes we are helpless to put a cork in it. One quick reminder: these characters are on the younger side for YA. Romano presents their voices and actions so authentically, despite the “grown-up” questions they are asking themselves and each other.

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Steal the North by Heather B. Bergstrom | Estelle Reviews

Steal the North by Heather BergstromSteal the North by Heather B. Bergstorm ( facebook )
Publication Date: April 10, 2014
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 336
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: family secrets, faith, nature, young love
Format read: Borrowed from library after glowing rec from Leah at The Pretty Good Gatsby.

Summary: Sixteen year old Emmy is shipped off to spend the summer with an aunt and uncle she never knew existed. Her aunt is pregnant, and after a series of miscarriages, the church is performing a ritual on her and they need a family member who is also a virgin. Emmy spends her summer getting to know her delicate aunt, her loving uncle, and the boy next door — Reuben — who becomes the closest friend she has ever had. Time with her aunt means many questions about the secrets her mom kept, who she really is, and affects who she wants to become.

This is hands down one of the best fiction books I’ve picked up in years.

I was nervous about it, too. Leah over at The Pretty Good Gatsby awarded the book such high praise. Wanting to feel the same felt like an added pressure but a chapter in, I was hooked. With Steal the North, you aren’t sucked in in a way where you want to speed read the whole thing. As the book shifts POVs from the big hitters like Emmy, her mom (Kate), her aunt (Beth), and Reuben (the boy next door) to the smaller characters, there is a lot of exposition. Explanations of backgrounds, family trees, and a lot of beautiful description of this Pacific Northwest town. The land is its own character because in all of these stories, it has been a catalyst in the decisions then make and who they are all destined to become.

Emmy is a bit of a conundrum. There are so instances she acts so wise and so much older than she is, but there are others where she can be so naive and so inexperienced in life. She is so tied to her mom because for so long Kate made her believe it was them against the world. No other relatives and a dead father. But imagine the surprise when Emmy finds out that her own story is not what she thought at all. She is quickly sent off to stay with her Aunt Beth and Uncle Matt for the summer, without enough time to deal with the repercussions of her mother’s many lies.

Immediately, Emmy and Beth are like peas and carrots. The intimacy and connection they shared when Emmy was just a baby is back, and they spend much of the summer getting to know each other all over again. I loved their relationship. Beth and Matt are very into the church, but they don’t expect Emmy to believe what they believe and I liked the respect they had for her. Her time alone eventually leads to her spending a lot of time with Reuben, a Native American teenager, who lives in the trailer next door.

It was Beth and Reuben’s belief in much more than what they could see that took Steal the North to a whole new level for me. Beth concocting her antidotes around the house, and Reuben sensing the presence of his dead father, and both of their commitments to the earth fused to create this overpowering spirituality in the whole book. The secrets and the pasts of these characters was haunting every scene, and the fear, the shame, and even the hope was so palpable. It’s overwhelming to think words on a page could be this powerful.

Steal the North is a love story not limited to the feelings between Reuben and Emmy. Mothers and daughters, sisters, husbands and wives, and most importantly how we feel about ourselves. The sense of loyalty, the heartbreaking betrayal, and the tough decisions we make because of our love for others can be found throughout the story. I laughed, I swooned, I cried, and I wondered if this family could ever be whole again. Could Emmy break out of her shell and trust? Could she forgive her mother and forgive herself?

This book is as much about death as it is rebirth. I am totally in awe of Bergstorm’s talents: how well she described the land, her decisions to reveal important information what she did, her pick of what character got to tell what, and most importantly, how she challenged her characters and stretched them beyond their comfort zones. Life could be hard, and it could also be good. Very, very good.

From the writing to the characters to how invested I felt in the smallest detail to the biggest, Steal the North is a book I am going to give a special spot on my bookshelf and buy for others whenever I get the chance.

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Why in 5: Far from You by Tess Sharpe

Far From You by Tess SharpeFar From You by Tess Sharpe ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Publisher: Disney/Hyperion
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: investigation, mystery, friendship, secrets, LGBTQ
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: Back from an unnecessary stint in rehab after her best friend’s murder is labeled “a drug bust gone wrong”, Sophie is determined to find out WHO killed Mina no matter what. Her parents no longer trust her, Trev (Mina’s brother and her best friend) can’t figure out whether to hug her or push her away, and Sophie discovers depths to her relationship with Mina that she never expected.

1. Back in January, I made a shelf on Goodreads called “Top Notch Female Leads” so I could keep better track of, well, top notch female leads. Sophie fits the bill. Not only is she working hard to maintain her sobriety (made especially difficult because no one believes her that rehab worked the first time) but she is bravely crossing into unknown places (having to access painful memories) to get to the bottom of Mina’s murder. Sophie is gutsy, smart, unrelenting, focused, and also allows herself to go through all the motions of grief.

2. I very much enjoy books that shift back between past and present, and Sharpe does a sharp (ha) job here. In books like How to Love by Katie Cotugno and Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas (two very different picks, I realize), the timeline is carefully crafted to reveal little by little as you move forward in the book. Things gradually begin to click and it makes for an effective read. Sharpe’s backtracking spans a few years but I thought the scenes worked not only placement wise but also emotionally. As we were roped in to Sophie and Mina’s story, I felt Sophie’s loss even more and just how traumatic all of this has been for her.

3. After I fell long and hard for Dangerous Girls, I’ve been more focused on finding a YA thriller that throws me into a reading tizzy. Far from You is the ONLY one I’ve read that comes close. The mystery of Mina’s death, which morphed into a whole other story, kept me guessing until the very, very end. It was totally suspenseful, without being overly dramatic, and explained very well.

4. At the core, Far from You is a love story — but it’s a complicated one. Sophie has been in love with Mina forever. Not only did she lose her best friend, she lost the possibility of what they could be in the future. It was heartbreaking to watch Sophie come to terms with this, but I’m glad we were also given an opportunity to meet Mina through the flashbacks. She was a caring and fun friend who wasn’t afraid to be honest (especially when Sophie’s drug addiction was at its worst). There was also a lot of fear here too. Mina wasn’t sure she could commit herself to a relationship with Sophie and continually paraded boyfriends around and tried to set Sophie up with her brother, Trev. This was a tough one for me because as much as I loved Mina and Sophie, I was rooting for Trev a lot of the time. He was obviously devoted to Sophie, though unaware of her secrets, and their chemistry was so apparent. Was it a love triangle? Maybe, kind of? (You’ll have to read to find out…) Bravo to Sharpe, who impressively and honestly tackled the layers of these relationships.

5. This last one goes out to the supporting characters. An aunt who goes out on a limb for you and a new friend who believes in you when no one else does — having characters like these folded into the story makes Sophie’s journey more than a solo trip. No matter what she had to work through herself, she still needed people to lean on and Sharpe’s commitment to a solid supporting cast only made Far From You that much better.

↔

Final thoughts: In addition to all the above, I loved that Far From You contained two elements I haven’t seen much in YA: a recovering addict + bisexual main character. Those two qualities might seem too much for one story but Sharpe balanced out each part of Far From You so well; the book was well-paced, dark, suspenseful, and a really strong tale of friendship, learning to believe in yourself, and what it takes to move on.

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Superlatives: The Ring and The Crown by Melissa De La Cruz

The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la CruzThe Ring and The Crown by Melissa De La Cruz ( web | tweet )
Book 1 of a series.
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Disney/Hyperion
Pages: 384
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: royalty, marriage, friendship, obligation, magic
Format read: Copy sent to me by Small Girls PR. (Thanks!)

Summary: Bal du Drap d’Or is on the horizon — the biggest social event of the season where girls travel to London in their finest frocks to find not necessarily the man of their dreams but a man to marry. (For some, this courtship could make or break their family.) An engagement announcement, one that will unite two feuding kingdoms even if it means ruining the personal lives of these two individuals and those around them.

The Ring and The Crown by Melissa De La Cruz is not a book I would normally pick up — queens, princesses, arranged marriages, and magic? But this cover! It’s beautiful and after finishing The Winner’s Curse a few months ago, I felt like I could do anything! So here I am.

Basically a huge gala is coming up — Bal du Drap d’Or — socialite ladies from around the world are heading to London to toast the engagement of the princess and prince. It’s an unexpected pairing because the two are from feuding kingdoms so it’s basically a strategy to create harmony between the two. Marie is in love with someone else, and Leopold is engaged to another but these two details don’t matter. Whatever is best for the kingdom is what is done.

There are a lot of characters in The Ring and The Crown; the POVs switch between all of them and it mostly worked. I got mildly confused in the beginning but as I got more invested in these layered stories, it was manageable. The cast made me think so much of people in high school classes that it might be best to describe them in superlative form. Enjoy!

biggest flirt

Leopold may be the next king BUT his focus is on more than the kingdom. Oh the ladies. He’s kind of like that bad boy you really want to tame because it would feel so good to know YOU were the one who did it. (Just ask Isabelle, the gal who thinks she will be his wife.)

most loyal friend

Aelwyn returns to the kingdom for the first time in forever, and reconnects with her old friend, Marie. Despite some hurdles to walk through, their friendship picks up right where it used to be. (Loved this!) In a world full of so much dishonesty, it’s nice the two have each other. Especially when Marie asks Aelwyn the absolutely biggest favor in the world. ABSOLUTE. (Hint: I’m not telling you what it is.)

most likely to succeed

My absolute favorite character was Ronan (and it’s not only because she was from NYC). She’s an Astor and her family is struggling to make ends meet; securing a ticket to this great event is a huge deal for her but more for her family. If she can meet and get engaged to a wealthy guy, her parents’ debts can be cleared and all this crazy pressure will finally disappear. She studies the guys attending like it’s her job, and even when A HOT ADORABLE SWEET FUNNY GUY (with great taste with champagne) catches her attention, her eye is still on the prize and her obligation to her parents. If anyone is going to land a guy, IT IS THIS GIRL. (She is also “the luckiest” out of any of those characters because awesome little things keep falling into her lap.)

class clown

Wolf is totally a Pacey. Kind of like you fall in love with Dawson first (Leo) and then notice Wolf and are kind of smitten and can’t stop staring at him. Definitely like that. I loved his smirky, rebellious nature from the very beginning. He has a lot of insecurities because he’s the brother of the future king and he wants to create his own path in life, no matter how hard that is. He tricks some people, yes, but he has a good heart. A heart I always wanted to see more of. Yum.

best sidekicks

Perry and Archer. Two guys Ronan meets at a fancy dinner who are hilarious and just jump off the page personality wise. They were bubbly and fun, and were brought into the book at the exact right time. I needed their comic relief and Ronan needed their knowledge of these people, their support, and their friendship. Too cute.

the one who needs a break

Okay, you aren’t going to see this in any yearbook (can you imagine) but I have to mention Isabelle. She thinks she is going to marry Leo but he believes it is his duty to marry Marie (the princess) so there goes that? Not to mention the creepy creepy caretaker who feels so proprietary over her, her future, and whatever fortune her deceased parents left her. I wanted to be hopeful that things would work out for Isabelle but, oh man, she was one of those characters who drew the short stick time and time again.

♥

Secrets, lies, hidden identities, gorgeous wardrobes and romance? The Ring and The Crown definitely reeled me in and totally spit me out with the ending — so shocked! Where will this series go? I have no idea. But I’m looking forward to finding out! (All I can say is more Wolf, please.)

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Estelle: The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando

The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara AltebrandoThe Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 22, 2014
Publisher: Perseus Books
Pages: 208
Target audience: Middle grade
Keywords: summer, friendships, camp, cicadas
Format read: ARC paperback from Publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: It’s summertime and Julia is planning on spending the warm weather with her best friend, Taylor. That’s until the new girl moves in. Alyssa is competitive and gets to watch the shows that Julia isn’t allowed to, and soon Taylor is ditching all their plans to spend more time with Alyssa. Despite Alyssa’s unfriendliness toward her, Julia still tries to get in her good graces but instead finds herself preparing for a “Russia” (it’s a ball game) showdown in front of the entire neighborhood.

When I was in first grade, a new girl moved in (I still remember her full name) and stole my best friend. I remember how sad I was when I found out my BFF was hanging out with the new girl (instead of me) and even more so when the new girl was just NOT nice to me.

This is something you never ever forget. It’s traumatic for a kid (and adult, for that matter) when the friend you love the most in the world is suddenly gone and you have no control over making it better. Or even understand why it’s happening in the first place when all you’ve been is nice. Don’t those best friend necklaces mean anything?

I digress.

Julia’s original dreams for her summer are shattered when Alyssa moves on her block. She acts like a jerk, and for some reason, Julia’s BFF, Taylor, thinks that’s an attractive quality in a friend because she starts secretly and not so secretly hanging out with Alyssa instead of Julia. As you can imagine, it sucks. For Julia, obviously but also for the reader because she keeps trying to make a threesome out of the twosome, to get her friend back, and to try to get Alyssa to like her.

Why why why do some people just not like you? This is such a horrible lesson to learn because sometimes there’s no answer to that question.

So a summer that was supposed to be filled with days at the pool, the occasional trip to the city, and awaiting the arrival of the cicadas is spent with her (ultra cool) parents, convincing them to let her switch rooms and redecorate with more “grown up” decor, and attending music camp with her friend (and crush) Peter. She’s also perfecting her skills at the ball game (“Russia”) that Alyssa introduced to the neighborhood as the two are set to compete in a major showdown to become “Russia” champion of Darcy Lane. (Julia’s commitment to “Russia” was super commendable.)

Throughout the book, I loved Julia’s observations on her parent’s relationship, the meaning of life, and also her great passion for music. (It reflected so much of what I felt during those early days of band in middle school — the triumph of people coming together!) These were the parts of the story that really made me smile and fall in love with her character.

The Battle of Darcy Lane is so charming, bringing me back to those awesome, fun-filled days of summer from my childhood but also reminded me of some of the more difficult parts of being a kid. (I wish I could have told Julia her situation with Alyssa and Taylor would make her stronger but she had to learn that on her own.) Altebrando transitions from YA to middle grade so well, bringing along so many of the reasons why I love her work: the humor and the heartbreaks of life, honesty, and a full picture of Julia’s family and this neighborhood.

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Bonus: This book trailer was made by 11- and 12- year old filmmakers! How cool is that? It definitely portrays The Battle of Darcy Lane perfectly:

Estelle: Don’t Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn Heasley

Don't Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn HeasleyDon’t Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn Heasley ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult
Key audience: parental relationships, the internet, friendship
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss (Thanks!)

Summary: Imogene has been the subject of her mother’s popular blog, Mommylicious, since forever. As she starts 9th grade, she’s losing her patience with the staged outings, the products her mom wants her to review, and the people who recognize her when she’s out. So when her new English teacher assigns the entire class to starting up their own blogs, Imogene and her best friend, Sage, are determined to get back at their mothers with THE MOMMY BLOGGERS’ DAUGHTERS plan.

Reading Don’t Call Me Baby was an ironic experience. On one hand, I could totally understand where Imogene was coming from. She wanted her privacy; she didn’t want her mom to tell the world about every little thing going on with her. But on the other, as a blogger myself, I know there are so many positives experiences to come out of writing in your corner of the internet.

But Imogene’s mom definitely took blogging to a whole new level. I didn’t entirely blame her because she made a living by running her blog and had built quite a following. But she was distracted by her Mommylicious brand. She wasn’t sensitive to her daughter’s needs or even the needs of her mother (Grandma Hope) or her husband. She had a one track mind.

I’ll admit it, though. I can totally lose myself in my computer screen, and on my phone. To the point where I don’t even hear what the person next to me is saying. It’s not good. And it’s not something I’m proud of. But I have tried to put a cork in it, and be more conscious of how much time I’m spending around technology. That was one of the main themes of the Don’t Call Me Baby and in our internet-driven world, I appreciated it. Balance is so important when it comes to screen time vs. real life time. Imogene’s acting out had so much to do that, and her mother needed to take the time to realize this and do something about it.

Since Imogene was in ninth grade (and not yet officially in high school), the novel read a little young at points but I loved the friendship between Imogene and Sage (her mom also had a blog) and how their conspiring to take down their moms brings up a few conflicts between the two of them. They had a supportive, honest relationship and could lean on each other, but like any other friendship, they didn’t always agree with one another. And then there was Grandma Hope — a bright light and energetic gal who loved golf and didn’t understand the internet. She’s also gave Imogene the support she needed to be more honest with her mother.

From the authentic family dynamics to the commentary on the internet age, I had a great time reading Don’t Call Me Baby. While I had a few concerns about the logistics of the ending, the entire reading experience had me thinking about overexposure of children on the internet, the pros and cons of blogging (how dangerously easy it is to make your life look perfect), creating boundaries to ensure your life is about more than social media, and, most importantly, the delicate and tumultuous relationships between mothers and daughters.

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