Magan: This Summer by Katlyn Duncan

book cover for this summer by katlyn duncan

This Summer by Katlyn Duncan [twitter | website]
Publication Date: July 9, 2014
Publisher: Carina UK
Pages: 240 Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: boy/girl next door neighbors, camp counselors, summer camp
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Two years ago, Hadley’s next door neighbor, Will, fled town on the very same night he and Hadley became “more than friends.” After her high school graduation, Hadley breaks up with her boyfriend, Carter, to have one last free summer with her BFF, Lily. Unexpectedly, Will returns to town and is assigned to be her co-counselor for the summer camp her father is in charge of. So much for an easy-going summer.

♥

Have you ever read a book that made you flashback to a specific moment in your life and felt so authentic it seemed like the author had written about your particular experience? I can’t explain This Summer by Katlyn Duncan in any other way except for HOW DID SHE STEAL MY MEMORIES?

Growing up, I attended a weeklong summer camp where we rode horses, spent countless hours swimming, and did super cheesy arts and crafts projects. I idolized my camp counselors. (And this one time, the lifeguard was Australian and I 100% had the hots for him. I was convinced we’d get married. True story.) When I was old enough to attend an additional leadership camp to become a counselor at my yearly camp, there was no question. Sign me up! Compile all of those memories with the questionable relationship Hadley is experiencing with her former neighbor who returns to town and becomes her co-counselor for the summer, there’s no doubt this all felt almost like an out-of-body experience for me.

Hadley’s last summer as a camp counselor is one she and her BFF, Lily, deem worthy of being wild and single for. No strings attached. Hadley breaks up with her boyfriend, Carter, because she’d rather not delay the inevitable for the end of summer when they head across the country for different colleges. She’s satisfied with her decision until Will returns to town. Will: the boy Hadley was deeply in love with, the one who broke her heart by quickly disappearing from town and never contacting her.

The physical attraction is still there for Will and Hadley, but she doesn’t want him to know how painful his abandonment was, and he’s unable to explain all the reasons why he left so quickly. Every time these two take one step forward to rebuild their relationship, something causes them to take two (giant) steps back. I definitely rooted for their reunification and hoped they’d get past their inability to communicate. My personal summer romances never worked out, but the hopeless romantic in me desperately wanted theirs to. Even though Will is only in town to fix up and sell his father’s home and will be leaving at the end of the summer, maybe, just maybe, they can bypass all the hurt to start something new.

The camp aspects — loving the kids, understanding their quirks, being responsible for tiny humans, and spending time at an overnight camp — were all on point. I loved how Will and Hadley interacted with them. I bear-hug embraced Hadley and Will trying to figure out their feelings, but realistically felt like too much time was spent on the tension and buildup before the climax of the story came. There’s a lot of back and forth, which didn’t annoy me because their story IS complex, but when things finally got to a point I was satisfied with, the timing seemed to have lost its flow.

A few details felt like they could have been finessed; the story is dual-perspective so we know where both main characters stand. Sometimes this was beneficial so I could see how both were feeling, but a few times the details were confusing. One area Duncan certainly didn’t fail to explore was the, um, very mature nature of Will and Hadley’s relationship. Ahem. I’ll just leave it at that. Be prepared.

All-in-all I was taken back to another part of my life that seemed so come alive again as I read This Summer. Despite the few hiccups I experienced in the story, I felt very connected and this felt like the epitome of a summertime read.

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Magan: On the Fence by Kasie West

Book Cover On the Fence by Kasie West

On the Fence by Kasie West (twitter | website)
Previously Reviewed: The Distance Between Us
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 320
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: strong sibling relationships, athletic female, single-parents
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss (Thank you!)

Summary: Super athlete Charlie finds herself having middle-of-the-night conversations with her next door neighbor, Braden, whom she’s always considered to be like a brother. Neither of them can sleep and find solace in discussing things (such as who knows who better) between the fence posts when no one else is around.

 

First impressions and crazy thoughts that went through my head about On the Fence:

  • Holy crap this is so so so so so so so good.
  • I love the relationship between the siblings. There are four of them. Hmm. Would Dustyn want four kids? I want my children to grow up close and protective of one another like them. (Truth: I did talk to Dustyn about this possibility after finishing On the Fence. Second truth: I’ve never considered having four kids before. I’ve always had a “we’ll see what happens” mentality.)
  • Whyyyyyyy did it have to end? I just wanted to keep reading forever and ever.
  • Must. Preorder. Finished. Copy.

Cohesive thoughts to justify my fangirling:

Sitting on a bookshelf in my bedroom is a copy of The Distance Between Us. Estelle loved it last year; she recommended we all buy it. So I did. And I’ve had nothing but the best intentions for wanting to read it since then. Yada yada yada — I was pregnant and a foster mom and blah blah blah — fast forward to now. As we were discussing the review books we had to read, Estelle suggested I be the one to read On the Fence. (I think she knew I needed something REALLY good to pull me out of full-time-mommy-mode so I could enjoy some much needed reading time.)

And crap. Now I’m 100% irritated with myself that I haven’t read TDBU because I feel like I have sincerely missed out on greatness. Kasie’s writing in On the Fence is undeniably fantastic. Within a few paragraphs, I was hooked and completely ignoring all life responsibilities. (Don’t worry; Everett was already in bed for the night.) Charlie is the youngest sister to three older brothers (four brothers if you count their neighbor, Braden, who practically lives at their house); she’s tough and fast and very un-girly. She’s eager to hop into a football or soccer game. She doesn’t expect the boys to take it easy on her because she’s a girl. Charlie’s never had a boyfriend, but her brothers would give any guy she brought around the third degree. Her brothers are her best friends.

When Charlie finds herself with another speeding ticket (oops?), her father forces her to get a job to pay him back for it (and the others). The place she finds unemployment is very un-Charlie-like with clothes she’d never be caught dead wearing in front of her brothers and makeup she doesn’t know how to use. Despite her anxiousness to do her time and pay her dad back, she finds herself becoming friends with girls she never would have expected to and creating outfits she didn’t know she was capable of.

But Charlie also has this other thing: she doesn’t sleep well at night. She stays as active as possible so she is completely worn out when she goes to bed in hopes that she’ll have a good night of sleep. More often than not, she finds herself awake in the wee hours of the morning. Oddly enough, she soon realizes that Braden is up at strange hours too. They find themselves outside on either side of a fence, having candid conversations about things they’d be too shy to discuss in the daylight. (Swoon.)

On the Fence has every element I desire in my books: family background, strong friendships, a believable relationship, a great sense of time and fantastic pacing, and a strong setting. I became so wrapped up in Charlie’s life that I felt they were real. I wanted to know these people. I wished I could visit them and watch Charlie kick ass in a football game. I greatly admired Charlie’s dad and how protective he was of his baby girl, but also how hard he tried to be the parent he needed to be for her, especially with the absence of her mother. Every aspect feels so perfectly authentic and real; I laughed out loud and I really never wanted On the Fence to end. I think it’ll be topping the charts as a 2014 favorite for me.

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book cover for 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen

Why in 5: 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen

book cover for 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen

17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen (twitter | website)
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 352
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: best friendships, dating and kissing, depression
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Netgalley. (Thank you!)

Summary: With a ton of responsibility weighing on her shoulders because of a depressing family situation, Claire turns to her best friend Megan for support. When new-boy Luke enters the picture, he threatens to rip Megan and Claire’s friendship apart by forcing the girls to choose friendship or love.

Note: 17 First Kisses is full of complicated, messy relationships, mistakes, and heartbreak. With so many thoughts running through my mind after finishing, I decided I needed to break this down Estelle-style and do a “Why in 5” post.

1. The beauty of 17 First Kisses is that it’s focused on things that are so realistic and hones in on the complexity of relationships and life. Claire’s home life is less than desirable; her family went through a situation that was new to me in the YA world. It’s left her mother severely can’t-get-out-of-bed depressed and her father has also checked out and disengaged. Claire becomes the glue that holds everything together, but ultimately this means she’s the third parent in her family. That’s a lot of responsibility for her to carry.

2. Without the support of her best friend, Megan, Claire would be treading through her difficult home life all alone. Megan is the person Claire turns to when she needs someone to talk to. The friendships felt extremely authentic. (Even the supporting friendship between Megan and her childhood friend, Sam, who was a nice balance to the catty situations the girls sometimes wound up in. He was calm, steady, and level-headed throughout.) Megan and Claire both screw up. They’re both responsible for hurting one another. In terms of teenage decisions, I felt they were spot on — they’re sometimes too selfish and don’t think things through, but ultimately, I was pleased that their friendship always, always pulled them back together (even after the worst of situations). What two friends have never suffered from saying or doing something awful that hurt?

3. Speaking of hurt, let’s just cut right to the chase and talk about boy trouble. Luke enters the picture as someone new, charming, and automatically draws the attention of both Claire and Megan. His interests perfectly parallel Claire’s, but Megan is the striking, gorgeous, popular girl all the guys fawn over. Though the girls make a pact to stay away from him, he’s persuasive and… how could they stay away?

4. I admit that when I learned we were going to learn about all of Claire’s 17 kisses, it seemed like she’d done an awful lot of kissing. Allen, however, uses a great storytelling tactic and progressively pieces everything together with flashbacks to those middle school spin-the-bottle days. It just worked. Now, I’m not condoning that all of Claire’s kisses were worthwhile (ahem, the band members), but every flashback gives us the opportunity to learn more about Megan and Claire’s friendship, family life, and really gives us the full picture.

5. The ending wasn’t tied in a perfect bow. There’s room left for interpretation and growth and the more time I spend away from 17 First Kisses after finishing, I realize this is exactly what Claire needed. After all the drama and change that occurs throughout the course of the book, she needs some time to heal, become her own person, and not have everything figured out as she leaves for college.

♥

Final thoughts: I’ve seen a few negative reviews for this book, but felt so intrigued by the story as I was reading it. Don’t be deterred by the sometimes messy friendship or the bad decisions the characters make. To me, they were realistic depictions of everyday life. Things aren’t always so perfect, and I was so glad to have felt differently than the reviews I read prior to beginning the book.

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Estelle: The Vow by Jessica Martinez

The Vow by Jessica MartinezThe Vow by Jessica Martinez ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 432
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: immigration, best friends, family
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: When Mo’s father loses his job, he decides the best decision is to move the family back to Jordan. But over-achieving Mo is not ready to leave his school during his senior year, his home, or his friends – especially his best friend Annie. When Annie decides the two should secretly get married to keep Mo in the country, they fail to consider how this decision affects their friendship, their families, and their futures.

How far would you go to help your nearest and dearest friend?

Honestly, when Annie and Mo decide that getting married is the best way to keep him in the United States, I thought they were a little loony. Impulsive. Like maybe there were a few other avenues they two could have taken? Especially with Annie on the cusp of a new relationship with Reed at work, the fact that Mo and Annie’s parents do not like the other, and let’s not forget the consequences of being found out. They could be fined and go to jail; Mo could never return to the United States again.

But when Mo’s mom agrees to consent to the marriage, the two make the decision super quickly. Mr. and Mrs., at seventeen and eighteen.

How, oh how will they make this work?

The Vow may be 400+ pages but Martinez makes the time fly by. Chapters alternate between Mo and Annie’s perspectives, the end of each chapter linking to the next chapter’s beginning. (Such a lovely stylistic touch, even when it flourishes in unexpected ways.) There is such an urgency behind the story as it progresses; as the situation that Annie and Mo throw themselves into becomes harder and harder to handle because in order for them to make their marriage look believable, they have to lie to pretty much everyone in their lives and act like a married couple.

This is the thing. Mo and Annie are truly best friends. One of them doesn’t have secret feelings for the other. They both came into each other’s lives when they needed someone the most. With Annie’s sister’s death and Mo being a total outcast in a new country, they just latch on together and their dependence and loyalty to each other becomes the strongest thing in each other’s lives. This friendship is so rare in young adult (and real life, when you think about it) and I loved how Martinez was able to pinpoint their differences but also make us understand why these two needed each other so badly.

But is all the sacrifice worth it? Is it immaturity or idealism that makes Mo and Annie believe that this “secret” can remain a secret, and also not create a domino effect in other aspects of their lives?

I’ve read Virtuosity by Martinez and I really enjoyed it, but The Vow completely blew me away. The conflicts, the tough choices, memorable supporting characters (including the hard-to-forget, Reed), and this unbelievable friendship — there is absolutely so much at stake in this story and I had no idea how it would all end. Definitely a book that deserves a spot on my top shelf.

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