Book Cover for Trinkets by Kirsten Smith

Magan: Trinkets by Kirsten Smith

Book Cover for Trinkets by Kirsten SmithTrinkets by Kirsten Smith <website • twitter>
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: shoplifting, unlikely friendships, cheating parent, alcoholic mother
Format read: ARC received via NetGalley (Thank you!)

Summary: Moe, Tabitha and Elodie are three girls very unlikely to ever form a friendship — that is, until they meet in a Shopaholics Anonymous meeting and bond over their one similarity: they’re all thieves.

 

Elodie, Moe, and Tabitha have one thing in common.

They’re shoplifters.

Aside from this (ginormous) fact, their lives couldn’t be more different. Elodie lives with her father and step-mother (whom she can’t stand) in Portland, where they’ve just relocated after her father’s remarriage and her mother’s death. She’s the new girl no one knows with one friend she doesn’t have much in common with. Moe and her older brother, Marc, live with their aunt who gained custody of them after their parents died when she was seven. Moe dyes her hair cherry-red and hangs out with a bunch of druggies. And then there’s Tabitha — the legendary popular girl who dates the boy everyone fawns over. But underneath her perfect exterior, she’s going crazy that her dad has endless affairs and how everyone (her mother, her friends, everyone) is always faking their way through life.

How do these three very different girls connect with one another? Through Shopaholics Anonymous.

Because they’re in such vulnerable positions and have to open up about their lives in SA, they let down their guards and speak truthfully and openly with one another about their home lives. (This is a big deal since none of their “BFFs” know any of this personal information.) While SA is supposed to lead them to understand why they want to steal and how to stop doing it, they band together and try to make the best steal after each meeting. Most weeks, after they’ve compared their loot, they spend time hanging out (in inconspicuous places where classmates won’t notice them together).

Tabitha, Elodie, and Moe’s stories are knitted together from each of their points of view. Elodie writes in verse, while Moe jots her entries down in a journal-like format, and Tabitha’s are more structured and formal. The different POVs move the story forward at a quick, enjoyable pace that makes the timing and new friendships seem plausible and realistic. One of the highlights is seeing three very outwardly different girls bond together, especially since many of their interior struggles are so much the same, each having faced abandonment or loss in some way.

The struggle is finding a way out of the cycle of their routine bad behavior. How do you stop doing something that fills the gap in your life? That makes you feel better? That gives you a high like nothing else? And what happens to this unlikely trio’s friendship when the twelve week program has come to an end?

Trinkets handles some pretty serious subject matter (death of a parent, a demanding boyfriend, remarriage, and scandalous affairs) in a manner that didn’t feel overwhelming, heavy, or overly dramatic. Smith maintained a light-hearted feel by placing the emphasis on friendship and letting the heavier issues play more of a secondary role. A huge takeaway for me was realizing that we all have “bad stuff” going on in our lives, but we can choose how we move forward and deal with those situations.

So the question is: does their unlikely friendship help these girls move past the negative circumstances in their lives or do they continue to be lured into thievery to seek attention? Guess you’ll just have to read it for yourself to find out!

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book cover for Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Magan: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

book cover for Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (web | tweet)
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 320
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: young love, scary step-parents, biracial characters, curvy female YA characters
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thank you!)

Summary: Eleanor is the new kid at Park’s school; she dresses crazy and has big, red hair that makes her stand out in a crowd. On her first bus ride to school, Eleanor sits by Park who is agitated by having to share his seat. Slowly and beautifully, Eleanor and Park forge a friendship that leads to falling in love for the first time.

Dear Rainbow Rowell,

You forever and always will have me as a lifelong reader and fan of your work. Thank you for writing a book I will declare one of my favorite 2013 reads. Eleanor and Park completely and utterly absorbed me. Your writing is poetic, spot-on-descriptive, and made me want to cry because I could relate to every word you poured out.

From several glowing reviews I read before beginning your book, I was pretty sure it would be something I would love. I saw it described as “a cute love story” and “adorable.” But you see, Rainbow, while those things are accurate, for someone like me your story was so much more than young love. I felt like pieces of your story could have been written (though not nearly as perfectly, of course) by me. I, too, fell in love with my husband at a young age (when I was 16). Your words made me tear up at some of the most innocent scenes because I understood how Eleanor felt about her body — her insecurities about her curves and having to wear the same Goodwill clothes over and over because her family just couldn’t afford more.

I cringed when you made me remember what it was like to grow up in a home where friends weren’t welcome to come over because our living conditions were less than ideal. I understood how it felt to put up a front and to not let people’s comments (like Eleanor from her bullies) bother me because there were bigger, scarier things to worry about where my family was concerned. You explored these details so subtly, but for me, they stood out as if they were bolded and underlined.

What I feel most people will admire about your story is how Eleanor and Park so perfectly fall in love. Their love is sweet and innocent, but not without their fair share of complications to make it believable and realistic. Park has a few best friends who refuse to accept Eleanor. She has to lie about her whereabouts to her mom because her over-protective step-dad would flip if he knew she was spending time with a boy. But you know what I love most? The friendship that developed into more over time. It’s real. It’s not easy. They don’t always understand each other, but they’re gentle and kind and caring toward one another — falling in love despite (or maybe because of) their flaws.

All of this young love stuff? You got it so right. The slow build and trust issues were impeccably flawless. I held my breath for pages as you explored the meaningfulness of what holding hands for the first time with someone you’re falling in love with feels like. The significance of locking eyes and with that  boy when you’re so used to having your eyes glued to the ground, trying to be as invisible as possible, is immeasurable. Eleanor may have thought Park was too good to be true, and Park may have feared that their relationship was temporary because we’re taught that young love is fleeting, but Rainbow, you delivered a message that needs to be heard.

Sometimes, love saves our lives.

Please, please keep doing what you’re doing and sharing your talent with us all. I may go broke pre-ordering copies of your books for all my friends, but for the sake of spreading your stories, I vow to continue doing so.

Your biggest, newest fan,
Magan

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book cover for Blaze by Laurie Boyle Crompton

Magan: Blaze (or Love in the Time of …) by Laurie Crompton

book cover for Blaze by Laurie Boyle Crompton

Blaze (or Love in the Time of Supervillains) by Laurie Boyle Crompton (web | tweet)
Publication Date: February 1, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Pages: 309
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: superheroes, sexting, comic books, divorced parents
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thank you!)

Summary: Blaze retaliates against the boy, Mark, who uses her for sex by drawing and publishing a comic about their brief entanglement. Mark leaks a photo of Blaze in lingerie that ruins her reputation and causes her classmates to bully her.

Once upon a time, I was mere high school freshman. I had a crush on an older boy (Travis). My brother played pee-wee football on a team with Travis’ younger brother (whose name I cannot remember — odd, I know). I attended every practice and football game I could once this good-looking boy with perfect pearly white teeth, dimples, and a great laugh was introduced into my life. We talked. We flirted.

Fantasies looped through my mind about this gorgeous boy becoming my boyfriend. I thought about how I’d tell my friends when we started dating, what it would be like to kiss him, and my parents would tease me about my sudden interest in football.

Guys, I asked this boy to a dance. (Unfortunately, he was going with someone else by the time I struck up the nerve to ask. Can you say devastated? This was probably the first and last bold boy-move I ever made.)

Travis consumed my life…much like Blaze’s fascination with her younger brother’s soccer coach, Mark, who is a classmate of hers. Blaze is the offical chauffeur to and from practices and games for her brother and his best friends. Her mom is incredibly busy working long hours since their father skipped town to chase after a career as an actor. For a teenager, Blaze carries a ton of responsibility and often doubles as a secondary mother-figure. She doesn’t really mind sitting at the games because she works on her comics and admires Mark from behind her mirrored sunglasses.

She, too, makes up fantasies about this boy and wonders what it would be like to date him. (Reading this snapped me back to all my Travis fantasy days and oddly enough, I ran into his mother in the grocery store.) Blaze’s daydreams tended to be a bit more crude and sexually-charged than mine ever were — at one point pondering what Mark’s boy parts were like as she sees him running across the field. While I thought she would be a relatable character for me, there were a handful of these times that I really couldn’t connect with her. She is most definitely not a girly-girl — her interests lie in geeking out over superheroes and comics, both by creating/drawing her own and being a connoisseur of all things Marvel. She’s a bit nerdy and has a small social sphere.

When Blaze catches Mark’s attention, her obsession reaches a whole new level. She mentally inflates their relationship to be more than it is and things progress rapidly. Without so much as a real date, Blaze finds herself in the back of her minivan with Mark. (Which is where I must mention I was extremely put-off. While I know unprotected sex happens, I feel Crompton could have used this platform to address Mark’s “reputation” and the possibility of pregnancy and STDs when he is coaxing Blaze into having sex without a condom. Blaze was more concerned with him fondling her boobs.)

After their minivan tango, Mark refuses to reply to her texts, IMs, and barely makes eye contact with her. Blaze is forced to realize she’s been used, just as she’d been warned by her little brother. She seeks revenge by publishing a comic in which she outs Mark the Shark. In reply, Mark leaks a photo that goes viral of Blaze in barely-there pink lingerie. The story shifted gears here. There was bullying and how the kids at school were responding to the photo, a side story about her father, a spontaneous road trip, Blaze’s two best friends who were pretty crappy after the photo went public, and a new boy at the comic book store. There was so much to wrap up in such a short amount of time.

Ultimately, Blaze handled the whole bullying situation with a lot of grace; she said some things at the end that made me really proud. But, I needed more resolution with Mark and the viral photograph when unnecessary emphasis was placed on her father. Throughout the story, there were definite times I found Blaze’s character refreshing and she made me laugh out loud, but overall I wish there had been a bit more balance that undoubtedly would have made me feel more invested in her well-being and all the intermingled story lines.

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<<< Extra, Extra>>>

For those of you who may love comics, you’ll be excited to see some original artwork by Anne Cain within the pages of Blaze!  Below is a gorgeous example of some of the Blazing Goddess sketches you’ll see!

blaze by laurie boyle crompton - blazing godess sketches

© 2012 Anne Cain

Thank you to Sourcebooks for sharing Anne’s amazing sketches with us!

book review for Empty by K.M. Walton

Magan: Empty by K.M. Walton

book review for Empty by K.M. Walton

Empty by K.M. Walton
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 256
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: depression, obesity, divorce, bullying
Format read: ARC from S&S via Edelweiss (Thank you!)
Previously read book by K.M. Walton: Cracked

Summary: Dell is kicked off her softball team for continuing to gain too much weight and no longer being able to perform athletically; her best friend, Cara, is distancing herself to get in with the popular crowd and uses Dell to make them laugh.

Adelle (Dell) is an obese girl who has lost everything – her father (to an affair), her softball team (she’s been cut because she can no longer play well due to her continuously increasing weight), her mother (to working too much and having a pill addiction), and is soon to lose her best friend, Cara (to the popular crowd). The only light amidst all the darkness is her baby sister, Meggie, who she helps care for after school, and the food she continues to sneak behind her mother’s back.

Dell is bullied at school and neglected by both parents. No one listens to her or asks how she is. She tries to deflect the ridicule of her peers and join in on the laughter, but inside she’s a girl breaking into a million pieces. She makes self-depricating jokes to make people laugh with her instead of at her, but she continues to turn to food to take the focus away from her pain. Many, many times I just wanted to say Put the food down. Don’t make jokes about yourself. Don’t care what they think. She needed someone to let her guard down with.

Dell has a crush on popular boy, Brandon, and there’s a very awkward (and disturbing) situation that happens with him. This was the point that I began to realize that Dell’s story wasn’t going to be a happy one. With no one to turn to and gossip spreading like wildfire about her, Dell’s downward spiral begins. No one ever takes the time to uncover her side of the story — not even Cara, who chooses to believe what the popular girls say about Dell. (There were bits of this twist in the story that sometimes had me wondering how they could believe the rumors, but I think it’s important to remember that people will believe what they want to hear. And teenagers don’t always make the most logical, sensible decisions.)

Empty is a fast-paced, absorbing story. It was a very difficult read for me because it’s most certainly not about a girl who learns how to cope and seek out help. I feel I must emphasize that this is not a happy story. (If you want a realistic, happy-ending story about an obese girl, read Skinny.) I feel, however, that my expectations for Empty were a bit skewed upon reading the summary of the book, or maybe I assumed this would be about a girl with anorexia or bulemia, but that wasn’t it at all. It’s full of sadness and grief, and ultimately, loss. It’s about being unloved, depression, and the affects of bullying.

K.M. did a phenomenal job tapping into the mind of a very lonely, dejected girl. So many people are facing different forms of bullying each day and we’re allowed to witness the huge risk K.M. takes by showing us the detrimental effects of that on a person’s life.

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Rather Be Reading Review of Return to Me by Justina Chen

Magan: Return to Me by Justina Chen

Rather Be Reading Review of Return to Me by Justina ChenReturn to Me by Justina Chen
Publication Date
: January 15, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: Divorce, College, Sixth Sense, Long-Distance Relationships
Format read: ARC received at ALA

Summary: Rebecca is on the brink of beginning her architectural education at Columbia; her parents have packed up their belongings to move from Seattle to New Jersey (yay?). Days after their relocation, Reb’s father announces that he’s been seeing another woman and abandons his family.

For those of you that loved North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, I am so hesitant to write this review. I, too, loved that book and had extremely high expectations of Return to Me. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the same deep emotional connection with the characters, nor did I feel as rooted in the story.

My expectations for Return to Me were much different than the story that unfolded in the pages. I assumed Reb would be struggling to put her life back together while maintaining a long distance relationship and college. Much of the story is internal as Reb tries to answer the “What will I do with my life now?” question. Her father’s deception causes her to second guess every aspect of her life, which was often frustrating because she realizes how many of her decisions were made to make him happy. She begins distrusting Jackson, her boyfriend, as if her father’s affair has flipped a switch in her. She plays a game of cat and mouse with him as she tries to sort through all of her emotions. Reb’s uneasiness made me dislike her character and hate how she was toying with someone else’s life, much like her father had been manipulating hers.

One of my biggest dilemmas with Return to Me was the quick and abrupt decision-making on behalf of Reb, the main character. One moment she’s completely invested in making her relationship work long distance with Jackson, and the next page, she’s withdrawn and has a completely different outlook. Her actions weren’t always easy to understand, weren’t explained well, and were extremely contradictory. I do understand that a girl reeling from her father’s abandonment would be imbalanced and uncertain, but minimizing the amount of back-and-forth action would have made Reb a more relatable character.

There is also a psychic/intuition/sixth sense element that really detached me from the story. Reb had disturbing visions when she thought about her family’s move, as if she knew something terrible was going to happen. Reb and the women in her family have a way of getting glimpses of the future; her negative feelings were a warning for her father’s unfaithfulness. Oftentimes, Reb would have a vision or a back story would be told that had no context to support the story; this element seemed to justify information that wasn’t necessary and, as a reader, I only felt more confused.

Overall, the story could have been more focused. If the sixth sense aspect of the story had been disregarded, the story would have flowed better and negated some of the unnecessary confusion and complexity. The timing and pacing could have benefitted from more fine tuning and made the story more believable. Though I desperately wanted to love another of Chen’s book, Return to Me sadly wasn’t a hit for me and left me feeling like I should not finished it and, instead, moved on to something I would have enjoyed more.

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Estelle: Not Exactly a Love Story by Audrey Couloumbis

Not Exactly a Love StoryNot Exactly a Love Story by Audrey Couloumbis
Publication Date: December 11, 2012
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: moving, divorce, secret admirers, 70s
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Things aren’t looking so great for Vinnie when his parents announce their divorce, his mom remarries quickly, and he is suddenly moving from Queens to Long Island. New school, new house, and new girl next door… oh wait, maybe this won’t be as bad as he thinks.

Oh man. Oh man. Or should I say: oh boy. Oh boy. Because I have been spoiled with some great titles with refreshing male voices this year. (See: Lexapros and Cons, Curveball, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children.)

Vinnie is just your normal guy wearing leather pants on his first day of school, in the late 70s. (For the record: not the best fashion choice.) He’s kind of the guy that girls realize they want after they date the bad ones that trample all over their hearts. You know the one I mean. He’s funny, he’s sweet, and he likes to take care of fish in aquariums.

Don’t you love him already?

Couloumbis does a great job of shaping a story around a typical family. Parents who decide to separate. No big blow out fight, just a decision they come to. Each of them off and starting their own separate lives and Vinnie is just sort of in the middle, watching all of this happen. Vinnie’s observations during this time are the most interesting. He’s very perceptive, and he knows exactly where his boundaries are too.

Then in sort of this whirlwind You’ve Got Mail-like situation, Vinnie starts calling his gorgeous and popular next door neighbor, Patsy, every night at midnight. She has no idea who he is, and he keeps his identity a secret because he’s pretty sure she would never go for him. It sounds pretty creeptastic, doesn’t it? I mean, the reader knows that Vinnie means well (even if he comically messes this up time after time) but for some reason Patsy is hooked and keeps picking up the phone. She does, though, know when it’s time to hang up.

The great thing about this phone relationship is that I’m pretty sure Vinnie and Patsy wouldn’t have gotten to know each other quite as well if they just met in gym class or something. There’s something about that mysteriousness and, in Vinnie’s case, the darkness, that gives both of them courage.

It was giddily romantic, even when the two would bicker and shoot straight with one another. I couldn’t wait to know how they would eventually collide in real life. If the possibility of their friendship surviving the real world even existed.

(While the 70s backdrop is delightfully subtle with a few references to music and fashion, I wondered if it also served a purpose. I don’t believe there would have been the same charge with an online relationship.)

The author does tackle some heavy subjects, but manages to maintain a certain lightness. There’s such a calculated balance between Vinnie’s situation at home (new stepfather; embracing his inner athlete; juggling his time with both parents) and the version of himself that talks to Patsy late into the night. And the author does a great job of highlighting each of those intertwining plotlines as they come to a fulfilling end.

In a world full of books about revenge, car accidents, and post-apocalyptic challenges, it feels so right (and so refreshing!) to settle down with a genuine book about real people dealing with every day problems, bumbling around to find their own happiness.

Did I mention there was dancing?

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