Estelle: Send Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt

october ya book releases USSend Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt ( website | tweet )
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
Publisher: Walker Children’s
Pages: 384
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: cancer, popularity, secrets, superstitions
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: For a person who is always prepared and fighting to excel in just about everything, Mia is completely caught off guard when she is diagnosed with cancer. Afraid of what her friends might think, she decides to keep it a secret from everyone except her next door neighbor/best friend, Gyver.

I’ve read quite a few books recently with main characters who were popular, rich, smart, and beautiful. (See: The Princesses of Iowa and All You Never Wanted.)  I could have easily not connected with them because they were so unlike the girl I was in high school or the person I am now. But in these novels, I watched girls grow and change and learn in a way I could totally relate to, even though our circumstances were different. Both authors managed to create multi-layered stories with flawed characters who I came to understand and root for.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same experience with Mia and Send Me a Sign. I loved that she was always looking for little signals from the universe to tell her her next move (I’ve totally done this) and her friendship with Gyver was the biggest highlight for me. But otherwise, her life and her decisions and her relationships stayed pretty stagnant in almost 400 pages.

As a character, Mia was the product of two very different parents — a dad who was understanding and needed to know all the facts, and a mother would wanted to pretend her daughter was not suffering from this disease and thought Mia not sharing her diagnosis with her friends would be better for her “privacy.” In the end, this may have been the only area that Mia was able to make some kind of breakthrough in by the end of the story.

I just wish it hadn’t been the end of them.

When I pick up a book, I’m always hoping for more than a happily-ever-after. I want these characters to come to a realization — big or small — and get to the point where you believe they are about to turn a corner or experience them actively engage in some sort of change. Mia’s friends were a big part of her world. She was popular, she had the hottest guy at school at her side (not Gvyer), and she was on her way to an Ivy League college. She “had it all” or did she? I didn’t find many redeeming qualities in her friends so I understand her hestitation in confiding in them (hot guy actually seemed to have the most heart), but even by the end of the book, I still didn’t understand her need to be friends with them.

It felt like Mia’s popularity and dedication to her academics sheltered her, and I would have loved for her to bond with someone other than Gyver. In fact, I was hoping that another schoolmate, Meaghan, might be that person. There were even the injected moments of reality from a male nurse that I came to enjoy as well.

Schmidt does present readers with a unique premise, but in order for it to make an emotional impact, Mia had to be more of an anchor than she was. I felt similarly when Magan and I read Wendy Wunder’s The Probability of Miracles; I was unable to sympatheize with the main character and after completing the book, realized my emotion meter was never raised to where it should have been.

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“Every once in a while you read a book that you’re just completely torn about. Send Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt was that kind of book for me. I liked it but sometimes I felt a little like pulling my hair out.” – Lori from Pure Imagination

Estelle: The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

book cover for The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. SheinmelThe Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel (Tweet!)
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Pages: 224
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: eating disorders, New York City, friendships, mother/daughter relationships
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Meet Sethie, a high school senior, living in New York City and doing anything she can to maintain her ‘ideal’ weight.

A character like Sethie is one we all know — a straight A student who wants to go to a good college (like Columbia), wants to be able to go up to her boyfriend and kiss him, a girl who looks in the mirror and doesn’t like what she sees.

At 17, Sethie can get in her college applications early but isn’t sure what her relationship with Shaw (her boyfriend?) is all about. It’s simply easier to let him take the lead and make the first move so she doesn’t destroy the delicate balance that is their relationship. She’s just sort of there.

That’s Sethie’s general MO in this novel. She’s not passionate about much more than maintaining her 110 pounds or less. (In fact, she quits yearbook because she doesn’t want to worry about the snacking that goes on.) There are flickers of another girl in there especially when she befriends Janey and they do everyday girl things like buy tight clothing and get all dolled up for frat parties.

From third person, Sethie’s behavior is still worrisome and alarming. There isn’t the same character connection and I felt like I was looking into windows and watching what these people were doing. I could not reach out and help — I was only an observer.

I didn’t know when and if Sethie would reach a breaking point. I feared what that would bring and while most stories regarding eating disorders build to a Broadway style complex, this one did not. It was gradual and calm and ordinary in a good way. The author, who reveals she suffered from an eating disorder in her teens, does present a different perspective which I appreciated. It felt believable and not weighed down by drama.

In fact, Sethie was not about drama at all. She did not like to make ripples and preferred standing in the shadows. One thing I couldn’t grasp was her relationship with her mother. Was I imagining her mom ignoring her daughter? Or was she simply an observer like the reader? Waiting and waiting until the right time to butt in? It wasn’t like her lack of a relationship with her mother or Shaw forced her to seek attention by losing weight. It didn’t seem Sethie had interior motives. She was addicted to this ideal and couldn’t let go.

While this novel focuses on serious subject matter, I did love the chemistry between Sethie and Janey – even though at first I didn’t trust their budding friendship. (Call me a cynic.) And later, I adored a character named Ben who brought a ‘giant’ amount of life into a very gray and stormy story.

Sheinmel’s writing is crisp and edgy and down-to-earth. She taps into a familiar subject matter, not by creating something cataclysmicly new but focusing on the everyday realities of those living with the disease, those who just find themselves in it
and can’t figure out if they want a way out or not. Despite the distance I felt from Sethie, I still liked her and my fondness for her paired with Sheinmel’s fast paced story made this a seamless read for me. (I only put it down twice.) Plus I loved how clearly it was written — every paragraph, every word seemed deliberate and served a purpose and that is something I don’t see nearly enough in young adult books.

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