My Heart and Other Black Holes • Estelle Reviews

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine WargaMy Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray
Pages: 320
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: depressing, suicide pact, family problems, friendship
Format read: ARC from Alex @ Little Wing Book Reviews. (Thanks!)

Summary: After trolling a website called Smooth Passages, Aysel decides to answer Roman’s ad for a suicide partner. They meet and agree to a “deadline”, yet their new-found “friendship” has Aysel thinking in a way she hasn’t in a long, long time.

Aysel reminded me a little bit of Joey Potter — forced to deal with the aftermath of her father’s sins, the girl “wrong side of the tracks” who can’t go anywhere without whispers following her. Though in Aysel’s case, her father has murdered someone and she is now living with her mother, step-dad, and half-sister in a home where she feels incredibly unwelcome. Aysel is convinced her family and everyone who lives in her small Kentucky town thinks being a murderer is hereditary, and she’s dangerous too. Lonely, she spends her time at a job she doesn’t like, and visiting a website called Smooth Passages. She’s ready to make the ultimate leap and commit suicide.

Smooth Passages opens Aysel up to the idea of a “suicide partner” and upon reading an ad, she meets Roman and decides to commit to his date. It’s an odd relationship because even though they are planning to die together, they are still strangers. Strangers who are trying to trust each other in 24 days. As Aysel gets to know Roman, she can’t help but feel confused. His mom is thoughtful (even if she’s overbearing), he’s been in relationships, he has talents, and people actually want to talk to him. How can this guy want to end his life? The more she gets to know him, spend time with him, and understand his sadness, the more her dark cloud seems to be moving somewhere else. Could they possibly help each other and forget about their end date? Would Roman ever go for it?

My Black and Other Black Holes is a compelling debut. I honestly had no idea how it was all going to end, feeling so anxious as each chapter counted me down until the day. Like Aysel, I was rooting for both of them to take a different path and Warga did a noteworthy job of building up this wall of depression, and the lengths it takes to penetrate it. It is frustrating, scary, heartbreaking, and any reader wants to make life easier for these two, wants to believe that this friendship makes the difference. The writing was great (even if I wanted a bit more development especially when it came to Aysel’s “new” family), I loved the details that made up both of these characters, and, it must be said, I loved how it called itself out for being a little cheesy at times. Tough to read but well-worth the rocky ride.

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Dive into Diversity Reading Challenge

Magan: Tease by Amanda Maciel

books about bullying Tease by Amanda Maciel

Tease by Amanda Maciel (twitter)
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Pages: 336
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: bullying, suicide, lawsuits, book told from bully’s perspective
Format Read: ARC received from the publisher.

Summary: Sara is being tried for the death of former classmate, Emma, whom she and her friends Brielle, Tyler, and Dylan bullied. The story is told from Sara’s perspective as her trial nears and she reflects back on the past leading up to Emma’s death and present day.

Hello again, friends! I’m back with another vlog review, and –wow!– what a book Tease was. I’ve seen a bit of differing opinions about this one because author Amanda Maciel takes you (uncomfortably) inside the bully’s mind. As a reader, you’re going to want to wring Sara’s neck in hopes that she could see that she’s done wrong and made some major mistakes. Does that happen? You’ll just have to find out for yourself. But do know that you’ll feel frustrated with Sara. She thinks her actions are justified; she felt threatened by Emma and had a hard time standing up to her best friend, Brielle, when she suggested something particularly nasty to do/say to Emma because Sara felt like her friendship with Brielle was slipping away.

Simply stated: Tease is complicated. It’s a difficult read, but it’s very relative and important. Read it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHruyZS7ob0

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Estelle: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

Side Effects May Vary by Julie MurphySide Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 3/18/2014
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray
Pages: 336
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: cancer, friendship, romance, parental relationships, revenge
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: Alice and Harvey are two estranged friends who team up to complete her must-do list when Alice is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Her great strides to make things right (even by doing things so wrong) comes back to haunt her when she surprisingly goes through remission and now she must deal with all she’s said and done.

In a perfect world, we would all be wonderful at expressing ourselves (especially during sticky situations) and handle every tough break with positivity, decorum, and acceptance. Instead, humans, despite their best intentions, slip up all the time. They close themselves off from people (even the ones who care the most) and instead of making the best out of a bad situation, kind of make things worse.

I’m happy to say Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy features imperfect characters, especially the main character Alice. She’s diagnosed with cancer and her mom is lying to the family. She has every right to be angry, definitely. So she recruited her old friend, Harvey, to help her out with a to-do list of things she wants to accomplish before she dies. Most of them are over the top, crazy and insane, but the devoted Harvey is on board, even though their history — childhood friends! friends with feelings! a rift! — is still a thing.

It’s true that I’m more of a Harvey than an Alice. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I am loyal to people I care about. Sometimes too loyal. This is probably why I related more to Harvey than I did to Alice. Like her character, she was even written with a certain bit of detachment so it was hard to connect to her, especially when as a reader we are privy to her feelings but continue to watch her not use her words or tell anyone how she really feels.

Cancer is a common ingredient in books, but I loved Murphy’s unique take. In chapters that alternate between Harvey and Alice, we also switch between time periods: THEN (when Alice discovers she has cancer) and NOW (when Alice unexpectedly goes into remission). So basically Alice has to deal with the repercussions of her actions and for someone as guarded and fearful of confrontation like she is… that’s freaking scary.

I absolutely could not wait to find out how all of this would end. Would Alice let Harvey get away? Would her revenge tactics haunt her forever? Could she move forward with her second chance at life? Something so many people in her position would embrace so thankfully? (Alice is pretty much the only character I’ve ever read about who is pissed off about beating cancer.) So many characters are forced to make adjustments after Alice’s diagnosis changes and it’s really interesting to see how those dynamics play off each other.

Murphy’s writing is sharp, I love her dialogue, and even the other situations she folds in (not being ready to have sex yet, “friendly” competition, mother/daughter relationships and even son/mother relationships, bullying) fit in so naturally. I was completely hooked and read most of Side Effects May Vary in a day. (I was also focused on finding some of Julie’s homages to God Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo, a book we both love.) While some of the time transitions were a bit confusing and I would have loved for the ending to be stretched out a bit more, the character growth, the great writing, and creative storytelling made this a winner for me.

I can’t wait to read it again.

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Blog Tour: How to Love by Katie Cotugno

Welcome to the How to Love blog tour hosted by Mundie Moms blog tours / Mundie Girls Tours!

♥

How to Love by Katie CotugnoHow to Love by Katie Cotugno ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 10/1/2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Pages: 389
Target audience: Young adult/Adult
Keywords: teen pregnancy, family friends, romance, friendship
Format read: ARC from Rachel. (Thank you!)

Summary: Reena thought her love for Sawyer would remain unrequited.. until it wasn’t. Nothing is easy about their relationship, especially when Sawyer runs off and Reena gets pregnant. Fast forward three years: Reena and Sawyer have an expected reunion over a slushie and Reena isn’t so sure what to think. After getting him out of her system and embracing her life as a mom, she never thought he would be back or she would feel like she does.

It’s a rare and wonderful feeling to fall so hard and so fast for a book.

I was instantly hooked to How to Love in the first six pages. I knew it would be hard for me to put down. Is it because I understood this kind of uncomfortable reunion between the once love-of-your-life, not looking your best, wanting so badly to push down the familiar butterflies and remember what made you despise this person so much? Maybe.

Sometimes you just can’t control how you feel. Even when you are keeping those feelings very quiet and concealed.

Cotugno gives us a beautiful story of friendship and romance and connection and second chances. I felt so intimately connected to all of the people in Reena’s life. Her closeness with Allie when they were in high school, the support she received from Shelby, the friction between her and her father post-pregnancy, and, of course, that undeniable something with Sawyer. Deliciously flawed, these messy relationships grounded the story. Let’s face it. We don’t always make the right moves in life. There’s a lot of that going around here, and everything felt so real.

And the writing style? To set up a before vs. after story detailing Reena’s life before and after Sawyer leaves and her pregnancy? Cotugno impressively married the two, introducing us to a loner Reena who is anxious to graduate ahead of her class and spend her life writing and traveling and, years later, bringing new light and maturity to both Reena and Sawyer. The pacing remained swift, and I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. Cotugno weaves in description so well (without ever getting flowery), punctuating moments with sound and movement that it was like I was right there in the room.

You know a book is special when you are willing to sacrifice sleep to finish it. I did not want my time with the world of How to Love to end, but I couldn’t press pause that long, not without discovering the next part of Sawyer and Reena’s journey. I haven’t felt quite this overcome with affection for characters in so long, even when I was annoyed with both of their reactions to things or not agreeing with certain decisions. I think that’s the biggest test as a reader. Do you still care when things are at their lowest? If the answer is a yes, you have a winner.

How to Love is a winner. Buy it, gift it, read it, and treasure it. And then read it again. Easily one of my favorite books this year, and, if you can believe it, a new inductee into my most-loved reads collection.

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