book cover for Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

Magan: Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

book cover for Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot (website | twitter)
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 368
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: boarding school, Nantucket, family death, unlikely friendship
Format Read: ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss. (Thank you!)

Summary: When Julia and Charlotte meet, they become instant friends, always by each other’s side. Though they’re opposites in most every way, Julia and her family embrace Charlie and make her one of their own. Charlie protects Julia from succumbing to her depression when her sister’s death becomes too much to deal with, and she’s by her side when Julia’s planning something outrageous, too.

Charlotte attends St. Anne’s boarding school; she’s befriended her roommate, Rosalie, and two other girls, but she mostly lives in her own little artistic alcove of the school. Late one night, she hears voices stumbling around, drunkenly, outside her dorm window. As she eavesdrops, she realizes one of the girls has been abandoned so she sneaks outside to find Julia. She helps Julia to her dorm room and protects her from the school monitors. A new friendship is begun between these two very unlikely friends after Julia’s drunken debacle.

Charlie, as Julia nicknames her, is on scholarship to St. Anne’s; she’s not one of the privileged girls, doesn’t come from money, comes from a broken family, and she keeps to herself. Julia’s father is a well-known senator, comes from money, has a very close-knit family, and is given a lot of freedom to explore and be a free-spirit. Julia’s family, while so close, hides many secrets; her older sister, Gus, passed away, but no one really discusses it. Charlie realizes Julia needs some closure, but when they take one step forward to learning more about Gus, their friendship soon takes two steps backward.

Charlie becomes Julia’s constant — her support when she’s down and doesn’t want to leave her room, her sidekick when she wants to do something wild. One of the absolutely lovliest aspects of Even in Paradise is how Julia’s family embraces Charlie. They welcome her into their Nantucket beach home, Arcadia, and she easily blends in. Boom, Julia’s dad, becomes a fatherly figure for Charlie; Mummy provides the perfect motherly touch. Nanny sends the girls care packages while they’re at school. Charlotte has such a special bond with each and every family member that really provides so much insight; we see their concern for Julia, how they’re trying to survive after Gus’s death, and how despite all their wealth, they’re so normal and down-to-earth.

Philpot created such unique, rich characters that really popped and came alive, especially through all the ups and downs of Julia and Charlie’s friendship. We see Charlie struggle with being completely absorbed with Julia, but feeling this longing and hurt for the friends she had before. (I was particularly struck by this subtle message of how we don’t have to be just one type of person or friend. We have so many talents and interests and not one singular person will fill all of our needs; we shouldn’t feel like we’re cheating when we explore those other interests with other people. A good friend wouldn’t ask that of us.) She’s scared when she starts to have feelings for Julia’s older brother, Sebastian, but is afraid of what might happen should she act on them. There’s this amazing, lovely balance of Charlotte knowing who she is and where she stands and not lusting after this alternate lifestyle; she is never condemned or asked to separate from who she is to fit the Buchanan mold.

The writing is strong because absolutely every circumstance is handled so maturely. Just as Charlie feels swept away by this family she falls so dearly in love with, so too will Philpot’s readers be longing for every ounce of reading time they can get. One small note is that maybe the cover might lead you to think it’s a summertime book; I kind of wish it were a bit more season-neutral because quite a bit of time is covered throughout the book and doesn’t solely focus on their summer house. (That’s definitely a favorite setting of mine though!)

What a lovely surprise Even in Paradise was. Read it; devour it.

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Magan: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

book cover for The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan (twitter)
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 312
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: albino character, boarding school, dual perspective
Format Read: Purchased eBook for my kindle

Summary: Duncan unravels the mystery of Tim’s relationship with Vanessa (and their mysterious tragedy) through a series of recordings left behind for Duncan at the beginning of Duncan’s senior year.

Where, oh where, to begin? I’m full of bumbling thoughts about The Tragedy Paper and quite unsure how to best share them with you guys because I’m uncertain if my words are going to be sufficient enough to describe what an incredible read this was.

*deep breath*

The Tragedy Paper is told, essentially, from two perspectives. Tim is perpetually the misfit at every school he has attended because his skin color and hair were different, so his stepfather recommends that he spend the final semester of his senior year at the Irving School because it was where he”found himself” as a student. Tim’s an incredibly smart guy, but no one really gives him the time of day; he doesn’t believe he fits within the confines of the social norm because he’s albino. An accidental run-in before the semester begins with one of the school’s most popular girls, Vanessa, really affects the effort he puts into making friends and putting himself out there. Instead of doing so, he becomes infatuated with this girl despite feeling like he has zero chance of his affection ever being reciprocated.

Upon graduating from the Irving School, seniors leave behind something special for the next year’s seniors to find in their rooms on move-in day. Tim passes along a set of recordings to Duncan and encourages him to listen to his story about an event that occurred the year before. While we’re mostly in present day with Duncan, learning about him as he begins dating someone he’s had his eye on and figuring out that he, too, is essentially a social outcast, readers spend the majority of the book with Duncan, locked in his room as he listens to Tim tell his story through the recordings.

LaBan did an incredible job balancing the back and forth between Duncan and Tim, though I did find myself shaking my fist at the book a time or two because JUST as I felt a big discovery was to be unveiled, the perspective would switch. (Tricky, tricky — of course this kept me up well past my bedtime a time or two.) The setting felt so incredibly perfect for this time of year, too. I was reading The Tragedy Paper on some of the coldest days Texas has seen and it couldn’t have felt more right to be bundled up in blankets as Tim wandered through the snow with Vanessa.

But maybe most striking was the dialogue about Tim. Tim, the albino guy who won’t take care of himself because he is afraid to stand out even more. Tim, the guy who doesn’t think he’s good enough to have someone fall in love with him. The guy who will forget he has a backbone because he’s receiving a bit of recognition from someone popular. Despite the physical differences that may be between Tim and myself, I felt so connected to him because so many times have I felt unworthy of the attention and love I’ve received, even if my doubts were for different reasons.

All of that is to say, I haven’t even begun to mention how strong The Tragedy Paper is from a literary point of view. There’s this incredible focus on what a tragedy is in the senior English class; the students must write a thesis that unpacks their understanding of tragedy. The way this is woven into Tim and Duncan’s stories was remarkable. Really, it just blew me away.

The Tragedy Paper is full of so many strengths: solid writing, a gripping story, a school I wish I’d attended, and characters I felt so incredibly tied to. SURELY this is reason enough for you to pick up this book immediately.

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Book Cover for Winger by Andrew Smith

Magan: Winger by Andrew Smith

Book Cover for Winger by Andrew Smith

Winger by Andrew Smith (Website | Twitter)
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 448
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: boarding school, rugby, male POV, friendship, love, bullying
Format read: ARC received from S&S (Thank you!)

Summary: Ryan Dean, a 14-year-old rugby-playing high school junior, is determined to make something of himself instead of just being the skinny kid. And he hopes that his friendship with Annie will blossom into more if she can look past their two-year age difference.

I have to be honest. I’ve kind of felt like Debbie Downer around here on the blog. Why? Well, I’ve read a few “meh” books lately that have really just left me feeling a little let down. I’ve been needing something well-written and addictive. A five-star book.

Well, friends, I found it.

Winger by Andrew Smith was all of that and more for me. The story is about a boy, Ryan Dean, who attends a boarding school. He’s a fourteen-year-old junior. Yep, that’s right — he’s smart and was able to skip ahead a few grades. His best friend is sixteen-year-old Annie, and he’s also extremely in love with her. (Will she ever go for the younger guy?!) At the end of last year, Ryan Dean was caught doing something that was against the rules. That means he’s exiled to O-Hall, away from his best friends JP and Seanie, to live with his Rugby teammate, Chas, who is an extreme bully. And somehow, Ryan Dean has decided that junior year will be the year he quits being a skinny nobody. How will things play out for him when his friendships get complicated, he finds himself in trouble (again), and Annie refers to him as a “little boy”?

In a nutshell, that’s all the information I feel you should have going into Winger. So, so, so many things happen, but it wouldn’t have the same effect if I blabbered on and on and ruined all the surprises for you. This was my first Andrew Smith book, and now I feel like an addict who needs to devour absolutely everything else he’s written. He taps into the mind of Ryan Dean so well — he’s funny and a little perverted, but very self-aware and insecure, too. Shamefully, I was a bit nervous about reading from a 14-year-old boy’s perspective. I’m a girl who likes the older, more mature YA books. Never fear! His age didn’t turn out to be a problem for me at all. In fact, I sometimes had to remind myself he was so young.

And for those of you that appreciate books that told in a completely original way, I think you’ll love what you find in Winger. Ryan Dean’s voice will suck you in, but the drawings and illustrations (!!!) done by Sam Bosma add a little something extra to the story that pushed my love for Winger over the edge. Their inclusion seemed so fitting and necessary. I can’t imagine the story without the comics or the bar graphs.

I really try not to make too many book comparisons, but I say the following because I have so much respect for Andrew Smith and Stephen Chbosky. Winger, in many, many ways, reminded me of Perks of Being a Wallflower. Please don’t think I’m saying the stories are the same (because they’re not), but they both consist of characters that you embrace and want to protect, friendships that feel so full and authentic, character growth that makes you proud, moments that simultaneously make you want to laugh out loud and cringe, and the desire for there to be many, many more pages so the story can continue once you’ve reached the end. Winger is an amazing coming-of-age story that made me wish I knew all of the characters in real life and all of the emotions I felt while reading (and watching) Perks came flooding back to me.

Really, friends, you all MUST read this book. Have a friend do a read-along with you because you’ll NEED that person to talk to when you’ve reached the last page. If you need me to be that person, I absolutely will be. Now go… order Winger already so you can meet one of my favorite male MCs ever.

(And hallelujah! My reading drought is over!)

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book cover I'll Tell You Mine by Pip Harry

Magan: I’ll Tell You Mine by Pip Harry

book cover I'll Tell You Mine by Pip HarryI’ll Tell You Mine by Pip Harry
Publication Date: March 28, 2012
Publisher: U.Q.P.
Pages: 264
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: goth, boarding school, friendship, parental problems
Format read: Paperback from Mandee at VeganYANerds

Summary: Kate is sent to boarding school after an unknown event occurs between her and her mother; she begrudgingly goes but has problems connecting with her roommates and conforming to all the rules she must follow.

 

Kate Elliot is a girl who found her identity when she allowed her friend Annie to give her a makeover. Despite her mother’s blatant disapproval over her new gothic look, Kate won’t falter from dressing this way. While nothing ever seems to please her career-driven politician mother, Kate’s behavior and an unknown mishap (the mystery is unraveled throughout the book) eventually lead her to boarding school. She is no longer welcome in her own home and her parents decide she needs more structure; the time away from her family (they hope) will improve Kate’s attitude and allow their broken relationships to mend.

Kate is forced to room with three very different girls — two popular girls and one rule-breaker with a reputation, Mandy. Kate goes through periods of absolute resentment and distances herself completely from the three girls. Mandy eventually breaks the barrier and forces her way into Kate’s life. They’re an odd pair — Kate stands out because she’s got multiple piercings, dies her hair black, and intentionally wears makeup a few shades paler than her skin tone; Mandy wears skimpy clothes and has a reputation for being a bit slutty. Their friendship was one of the most beautiful aspects (other than Harry’s lovely writing) of I’ll Tell You Mine. Their conversations are full of snark and laugh-out-loud funny moments. Their antics (or rather Mandy’s plans) often lead to trouble.

Mandy is honest and upfront about how she’s feeling; she isn’t afraid of the front Kate puts up to dissuade people from befriending her. Mandy seems utterly naive to Kate’s insecurities and solitary ways. As Mandy begins to strip away the walls Kate has built around herself, we get to know Kate in a whole new way. She’s distraught over the events that occurred with her mother. Why does it seem like she’s always messing things up and doing something to irritate her mom? She misses her dad (who understands self-exploration and calls her mother out on her hypocrisy). Her little sister is one of her favorite people in the world; she wants to set a good example for her.

Kate feels stuck between making new friends and maintaining the old friendships; her two best friends (pre-boarding school) Annie and Noah seem to be moving on just fine without her. She’s heartbroken when she learns that Noah is dating someone new. Will he never see that she’s in love with him? Kate goes through many a transformation and the separation from her life outside of school allows everything to shift into focus. She sees what she was doing wrong, how she could be better, and what she could change.

The question is: Will she ever be given the opportunity to prove she’s a different person or will she just continue to mess things up?

I’ll Tell You Mine is a story I didn’t want to end. Pip’s writing is concise and packed with punch, every word very intentional. I connected to Kate on so many levels — struggling to become your own person but feeling like you’re always coloring outside the lines, being a bit insecure about how you look and what you weigh, and wanting that boy you’ve loved for oh-so-long to finally take notice. The friendship and family aspects were so thoroughly explored and impeccably written; I projected more drama into the book by not always trusting Mandy’s intentions or assuming the worst. Time and time again, Pip proved me wrong and restored my faith in her characters.

Pip’s writing is authentic and realistic. She flawlessly developed a story that everyone should devour. There are a few wonderful surprise gems hidden within the pages of I’ll Tell You Mine (possibly including a love story that made my heart go pitter patter). If you’re interested in a story that’s very true-to-life and will sweep you away, definitely take a chance on Pip Harry’s debut novel.

(Thank you very much to Mandee at VeganYANerds for gifting this incredible book to me!)

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Magan: New Girl by Paige Harbison

New Girl by Paige Harbison
Publisher
: Harlequin Teen
Upcoming Release Date
: January 31, 2012
Pages: 304
Target Audience: Young Adult
How I found out about it: I requested it from NetGalley – loved the summary and the cover!
Format
: E-galley received from NetGalley
Summary: An unnamed new girl accepts a position at Manderly Academy boarding school for her senior year of high school. Though she expects a “Hogwarts” experience, she has to face the truth – she has filled the one position open at this institution because popular girl Becca disappeared months prior to the start of school.

So what would you do if the entire school was grieving a girl you’d never met but thought you wanted to replace?

Imagine that you move into a new house. You are trying to settle there, but you also see how everyone else did things before you. How they lived and loved. The people that they surrounded themselves with. It’s like you’re surrounded by their shadows.  Aside from you, the house is empty and abandoned – those people are long gone with absolutely no explanation for their disappearance. All the things and people they loved remain. You’re pushed to be a replacement. You’re constantly reminded of how those other people did things better, bigger, differently than you. You can’t replace them. In fact, you don’t want to.

It sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it?

For the new girl, it was. This new girl, nameless until the end of the book, was given the chance I wish I’d had. A chance to go to boarding school and to break out of the mold of her hometown. As a huge fan of Harry Potter, when she’s finally accepted her senior year, she expects lifelong friendships to be formed just like the ones of Harry, Hermoione, and Ron.

The reality is much different.

She’s constantly compared to a girl she doesn’t know and one she may never know if Becca doesn’t return. She’s not trying to replace Becca and while she doesn’t make an effort to be Miss Popularity, everyone assumes she’s trying to make them forget their lost friend.

The story is told from Becca and the new girl’s perspectives. We go back in time to get the truth about Becca’s life and we learn of the many lies she told to everyone at the school. We see present day from the new girl’s point of view. The stories blend easily and effortlessly together. With subtle hints we’re able to piece together the puzzle of Becca’s disappearance. This book was full of confusing friendships and dating relationships, incredible amounts of animosity, and raging emotions over the loss of Becca.

Speaking of insane emotions – Dana, the new girl’s roommate, was full of them.  This chick was seriously messed up.  She ranged from nice to deceptive to downright aggressive; she seemed extremely bi-polar.  I had no love whatsoever for Dana; she treated everyone with such contempt. There were hints that she knew the truth about what happened to Becca and I just couldn’t wait for her to spill everything. Her behavior was so suspicious, and she seemed extremely protective over the two men that were in Becca’s life.

Max and Johnny were two boys that utterly complicated the entire situation. Somehow Becca was involved with BOTH of these boys. When they would pop in and out of the new girl’s life, I questioned their character and trustworthiness.  I felt extremely protective over this girl who just seemed to be thrown to the wolves.  She had absolutely no one she could talk to, and I just wanted to be there to help her through all the drama. I’m a girl who enjoys a good love story, but things were so mixed up that I actually preferred her staying away from the boys because I didn’t want her heart to be broken. (Or for Dana to go psycho on her.)

This story was meaty and complicated. It moved swiftly and though the story is dense, it never felt overwhelming. With the alternating points of view and flashbacks, this story could have been difficult to follow. There is a lot to take in and Harbison did a great job making sure everything flowed well.  I felt so compelled to read as fast as I could so I would figure out what happened to Becca. (And, if I’m being honest, I wanted to know the new girl’s name.)

New Girl will hit bookshelves on January 31st. Don’t forget to add it to your to-read list and pick up a copy! You’ll anxiously be awaiting answers, but it’s definitely unpredictable and worth the wait.

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