Positively Beautiful by Wendy Mills • Estelle Reviews

Positively Beautiful by Wendy MillsPositively Beautiful by Wendy Mills ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury Kids
Pages: 368
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: cancer, best friends, planes
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: As if her mom having breast cancer isn’t hard enough, Erin finds out that she may have inherited a rare gene mutation (like her mom did from her grandmother) and she could have cancer too. Does she find out the truth now or does she forget this is even a possibility for now?

Last Friday, Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, sharing her decision to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. As the carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation, Jolie believed going through with this procedure (and, therefore, speeding along menopause) was the right decision for her — especially knowing that her grandmother, aunt, and mom all died of cancer very young. In her piece, Jolie urges women to know all of their options and emphasizes that everyone needs to choose their own path, but also makes sure we know: “Knowledge in power.”

This leads me to Erin in Positively Beautiful. Not only is she going through the motions of being a normal teenager (a mysterious boy from her class, a great best friend who starts ignoring her for a new boy, missing her dad, learning a new skill), she finds out that her mother has breast cancer and she could be a carrier of the gene mutation. Does she take the test and find out? Or does she forget about it? As you can imagine, it’s difficult to just ignore something this huge, this life altering, and Erin finds herself depending on online support from others in the same boat — most specifically, Ashley, a girl in Florida who is always trying to convince Erin to smell the roses and experience all the beauty there is in the world — especially when life seems so hopeless.

Wendy Mills has crafted a unique story here. I loved that Erin decided to take flying lessons. The late night, abandoned building adventures she took with her best friend and boys from school. Even the growing pains that Erin experienced with Trina, her lifelong best friend, when she landed a guy who finally appreciated her. To be in this position, with her mom sick and a mysterious cloud possibly hanging over her head, Erin is caught between the life of a typical teenager and a girl forced to grow up way too fast, forced to make decisions that could affect her entire life.

Shocker: we don’t always know what to do when life gets this out of hand. I won’t say Erin gets a get out of jail free card but she certainly takes an unexpected detour Survivor-style — granting her a respite — for a little bit anyway. She might be overwhelmed but she’s not silly enough to think she can escape her problems forever. Instead, supports shift and she returns to real life recharged and as ready as she will ever be to face the unknown.

While I personally may have turned down the drama in the high school aspect of this book, I thought it was great how Positively Beautiful shed light on a subject we don’t see much in young adult literature — without being preachy. It’s a book that definitely marches to its own drummer, and that’s exactly why I couldn’t read fast enough and sat in one spot until I reached the end. (Warning: tissues are not an option.)

rather be reading borrow from the library icon

Add POSITIVELY BEAUTIFUL to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy at B&N

Celebrating Release Day with Author Marisa Calin

Twitter has an amazing way of connecting people. Not only have I had the pleasure to make some wonderful friends through 140 characters but a few weeks ago as I was reading an August release, Between You & Me, I sent a tweet to the author to tell her I could not put it down. A few days and direct messages later, we were meeting for lunch at one of my favorite coffee shops in New York City. Despite my extreme nervousness, as soon as I met Marisa, who greeted me with a hug, I suddenly felt like I’ve know her forever and was relieved to finally have someone to talk to about this book that left me so touched, so knocked over by its creativity and tone. (Did I mention she has the cutest English accent in the world?) So today on the release day of Between You & Me, I’m so happy to share a short piece about Marisa. Many heartfelt thanks to the author who blabbered with me in a window seat of the coffee shop for an hour. It was such an extreme pleasure.

an exclusive interview with writer, marisa calin on ratherbereadingblog.com

“I’m somewhat of an imposter,” author Marisa Calin admits with a smile over a cup of tea.

This statement would make any lunch companion nervous but I smile back because Marisa and I have just spent the last 10 minutes chatting like old friends about theater and the unfortunate incident that brought Mike Tyson to the Broadway stage. (True story.)

What she means is that she’s a trained actress-turned-writer; someone who has never had any formal training in writing. But if her young adult debut, Between You & Me (Bloomsbury Kids), set to release August 7, is any indication, she has taken her own passion for acting and injected it into this refreshing addition to the genre. Written in the style of a screenplay, Marisa tells the story of Phyre, an ambitious teenager who wants to be an actress, her best friend only known as You, and the theater teacher, Mia, who Phyre develops a crush on.

“I was inspired by the immediacy of a screenplay. I love to write because there’s a finished product. In theater that changes from night to night because you are bouncing off different people.” Marisa laughs. “I sound like a control freak. But there is something about writing. You can sit down and you imagine a scene, imagine a character. You get to do it all yourself and you get to lay out the way you want someone to experience [the story].”

Unlike a play or a film screenplay, Marisa took the basic format a step further by creating moods (with beautiful references to light) and also honing in on Phyre’s feelings from the first person. Both of these are big no-nos on stage and film; it’s the job of the director and the cast to bring both those avenues to life. But in Between You & Me, Marisa takes the reins and delivers an authentic look at three individuals who have tunnel vision when it comes to their respective lives. “I wanted to use things that I had the right to talk about emotionally. I used a style of something I know about and I love in a way that I would want to express myself.”

And despite her desire to sit in the driver’s seat and totally formulate the reader’s experience, Marisa doesn’t reveal all when it comes to Phyre’s story. Readers are never quite sure of the sex of the character’s best friend, You – a detail that manages to remain intriguing and not distracting. “I had to bank on the fact that whoever was reading it was going to make their own assertions. I took a risk and people might feel too taxed. I know my grandmother won’t like it,” she jokes.

While Phyre wears her (heart-shaped) rose-colored glasses and can be a bit self-centered (and who wasn’t at 16?), ignoring You’s quiet moments of kindness and soaking up any bit of Mia she can get, Marisa is happy to have the opportunity to explain that while she lent her character her own emotions, she was never that self-absorbed. (She promises!) “I balanced my imaginary meandering with real life much better but I wanted to be true to the fact that your teenage years are one of the only times we can be that self-obsessed.”

As coffee beans grind and people rustle in and out of the shop, Marisa and I break off into tangents about moving, Disney, her school in England, and spying out the window for a man wearing a yellow shirt. (Read the book, you’ll get it.) I also learn she hates litterbugs (me too), loves bright colors and water, and only finished 25% of the first Twilight book. (This makes me like her more.)

Our conversation drifts back to books and Marisa talks about her second novel already in progress (“I’m not going to tell a story I have no business telling.”), her writing process (“I don’t write with a plan.”), her best writing advice (“Less is more.”) and grand praise for her editor (“My editor is the most amazing person in the world… She knew what I wanted to do better than I did.”)

We both agree that the best books are the ones that hit us after we’ve closed them, the ones that take us over and leave us wanting to know more – the exact force that has brought us together today. As Marisa ventures into this new world of writing, it is her experience in acting and her ability to connect with her younger self that leaves readers with the best gift and one that sets her work apart from the rest of the genre – challenging her readers to fill in the blanks and dig a little deeper.

For more information on Marisa, please visit her website, Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter.

Between You & Me review | Goodreads | Amazon

 ♥ ♥ ♥

Marisa was also wonderful enough to supply RBR with a signed copy of her book to give away to one reader. This contest is open internationally! Good luck friends!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Estelle: Between You & Me by Marisa Calin

book cover for Between You & Me by Marisa CalinBetween You & Me by Marisa Calin ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: August 7, 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury Kids
Pages: 240
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: LGBT, unrequited love, screenplay format, theater, teacher/student relationships, friendship
Format read: ARC from ALA.

Summary: Told in the form of a screenplay, Phyre is a 16-year old girl who dreams of being an actress. When the beginning of the school year brings a new drama teacher into her life, she is positively smitten and wonders what to make of these new feelings for a female. Meanwhile, most of Phyre’s time is spent with her best friend — only referred to as ‘you’ throughout the novel — until her ‘obsession’ with Mia causes her to ignore You’s constant and adoring presence.

I love when authors take creative chances. When they do it right, the book morphs into more of an experience than just some paper bound together in your purse.

Between You & Me is just that. Written in screenplay style, author Marisa Calin introduces us to Phyre, a 16-year old girl, who loves theater and her best friend – a best friend that garners no name, simply known as ‘You’, with no description whatsoever, just movements and words and perhaps a clothing description every now and then.

It may be disconcerting to be kept in the dark about a character who is very much the heart of this novel, but we do get to see You in Phyre’s eyes and get equally frustrated when You’s actions constitute more than friendship and her friend is utterly blind to it.

So this is the thing. We have no idea if You is a girl or a guy. To be completely honest, during my first read through, I thought You was a girl. Once I (begrudgingly) finished the book, I read the Publishers Weekly review where it was mentioned that it was not divulged if You was a girl or a guy. Did I get amped up or what. It was almost midnight and I literally could not sleep because I found that hard to believe.

It’s funny the tricks your mind plays on you when you are reading. Somehow you are filling in the blanks with words that weren’t even on the page. I could swear I read that You was wearing a dress at one point and instead, You was all dressed up. So I went back, two days later, and reread the entire book again. This time, I pictured You as a boy.

And my conclusion? The book certainly works from both angles. But it made me hyper aware of these categories that I place people in. Yellow shirt, crossed ankles, light enough to lift into a treehouse – oh that must definitely mean You is a girl. But does it? Unconsciously we form all of these stereotypes in our head and cleverly and intricately Calin reminds us to forget them, check them at the door. That is not what matters here.

It is the love. It is the playful, intimate friendship between these two characters. It is how You will come over in the middle of the night to paint Phyre’s room because the color is bothering her. You (as in us) don’t meet people like that every day. And despite You’s silent and sweet attempts to show her these blossoming feelings, Phyre is totally crushing on her new theater teacher – the passionate, smart, cute, and encouraging Mia. The way Phyre bumbles around Mia and chastises herself for saying moronic things in front of her is so spot-on. Don’t misunderstand, Mia is clearly the teacher here; she never eggs Phyre on but still she is absolutely enchanting. Calin brings to the forefront various descriptions of light when it comes to Mia and it is breathtakingly clear why Mia is so worth living in this bubble of fantasy, even when it means Phyre taking You for granted.

The script style is, as it should be, very bare bones but Calin weaves in Phyre’s (uncensored) thoughts within the stage direction but manages to keep them simple, succinct and straightforward. The pacing is quick but the moments remain, bleeding into scene after scene. The format is a challenging experiment, but Calin’s writing is genuine and impactful nevertheless. I probably could have highlighted the entire book.

As a theater fan, I love how Calin incorporated parts of a school play that, in ways, paralleled the moments between Phyre and You. I admired Phyre’s passion and dedication to her craft, and so many of the creative elements incorporated into the production. It might be hard to believe that so much emotion could be alive and kicking in a book that isn’t overflowing with monologues or description but it is so there. So many times I had to close the book because the feelings were overwhelming and oh-so familiar.

Between You & Me has easily become one of my top reads of 2012, whether we are talking strictly about 2012 releases or of all the books I’ve read so far. It’s challenging, it’s thought provoking, and an innovative way of looking at relationships and preconceived notions of love and happiness. It just is.

Goodreads | Pre-Order on Amazon