Estelle: Roomies by Tara Altebrando + Sara Zarr

Roomies by Tara Altebrando and Sara ZarrRoomies by Tara Altebrando ( web | tweet ) and Sara Zarr ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: December 24, 2013
Publisher: Little Brown
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: summer before college, California, New Jersey, college roommates, technology
Format read: Paperback ARC from Novel Sounds. (Thanks!)

Summary: The summer before college, two strangers “meet” on separate coasts. Elizabeth from New Jersey and Lauren from San Francisco are going to be roommates when they start college in the fall. Their summers are full of romance, family drama, and tons of change and as the days get closer to their first meeting, they rely more and more on each other.

Five pages into Roomies, I was thanking the book gods for placing it in my hands.

The summer before I left for college was pretty rough. I started dating a new guy (this would lead to a long distance relationship), my mom and I were fighting all the time (there is this one fight over paper towels that I can’t seem to forget), and I was working two jobs. It was a lot. Then there’s that extra layer of all your friends leaving for college one by one, and you are basically the only one left. (Our school started late.)

Your emotions are so jumbled up. On one hand, you are so excited to start a new thing and get out of the town you grew up in and on the other, you are totally terrified to leave the comforts of your friendships, your house, and your parents — scared to leave the past behind. (Ten years later, it’s funny to me that these are the same fears I have now. Scared to move forward, excited to jump ahead. I can never make up my mind.)

Elizabeth (EB) and Lauren are feeling such similar things: tension with their best friends, on the brink of new romances, and then the family stuff. For Elizabeth, she is so ready to get out of the nest and away from her mother, who is too busy dating the wrong men to spend time with her and for Lauren, she’s so used to being a big part in taking care of her big family. Her mom and dad really depend on her to take on a lot of work at home: baby-sitting, cleaning, you name it, she does it. So Lauren’s a little apprehensive: can her parents do this without her? How will her siblings deal with missing her?

Through each of their characters, Altebrando and Zarr hit on so many intriguing conclusions on friendships: the dependence you feel on old friends and the hope that new friendships can become just as meaningful. As these girls get deeper and deeper into the summer and find themselves leaning on one another, you are left to wonder how their relationship will hold up in real time, face to face. While this book is so much about moving forward and growing up, there’s also some interesting commentary on technology: how easy it is to confide in a stranger through email, and how easy it is to doubt the genuineness of the person on the other side. Trust totally comes into play.

Separately, Altebrando and Zarr write books that are memorable, touching, and so quote-worthy I might as well highlight the entire thing. But together? It’s almost out of control how much I felt immediately at home, ready to curl up with hot cocoa until I was done. Elizabeth’s landscape architecture dreams, Lauren’s lack of “real” phone, and then the boys — EB’s Mark and his sweet tasks for the summer and Lauren’s Keyon and how he always asks his dad for advice about her (Keyon’s dad soon becomes synonymous with adult wisdom for both girls). There is absolutely so much to enjoy in Roomies; I couldn’t possibly list it all.

This is definitely a book that is meant to be re-read time and time again and absolutely the best reading experience to end your year.

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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: Rosie and Skate by Beth Ann Bauman

Rosie and Skate by Beth Ann BaumanRosie and Skate by Beth Ann BaumanSparklejollytwinklejingley Holiday Winter Book Reviews
Publication Date: August 11, 2009
Publisher: Wendy Lamb
Pages: 224
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Sisters, alcoholism, winter at the beach, New Jersey
Format read: Bought used hardcover after reading/reviewing Jersey Angel.

Summary: The summer folks have left the Boardwalk, and while Rosie and Skate embrace time without the crowds they are left to deal with an alcoholic dad in jail, first love, long distance relationships, and family.

It wasn’t until Hurricane Sandy hit and I was sitting home watching the devasting pictures of the Jersey Shore I love so much that I remembered I had Rosie and Skate to read. I dug through my bookcase, pulled out my used copy, turned it over and spotted a familar sight: the Ferris Wheel at the center of so many aftermath photos all fine and dandy. It kind of threw me for a loop.

So I started Rosie and Skate in hopes of preserving some of my own memories of Seaside Heights and off-season moments spent at the beach with my family for so many years.

Not only did Bauman succeed with teleporting me back, but she also gave me the complex and flushed out story I was looking for but failed to find in Jersey Angel. Rosie and Skate couldn’t be more different. In fact, it’s hard to believe they are sisters sometimes. Only a year apart, they don’t live in the same house since their father went to jail: Skate lives at her boyfriend’s house with his mom while he is at college and Rosie lives in their home with a cousin who has traveled up from Florida to stay with them.

Rosie takes her dad’s actions to heart, while Skate doesn’t want much to do with him. The tension you would assume to feel between these two because of their beliefs doesn’t divide them; instead it’s the fact that though close in age, they are in two different places in their lives. Skate is dealing with a long distance relationship with her boyfriend, who doubles as her best friend. And Rosie is more of a loner, going to group meetings with other people affected by alcoholism and not really bringing home a ton of friends.

Both girls deal with such raw issues — on top of everything with their dad, there’s the disconnect Skate feels from her college boyfriend and how it feels her world stops spinning because he’s not close by, and Rosie wondering if a boy will ever like her at all. Bauman made these two ladies so real without once overcompensating with language; the cadence of this story is so well-paced and so well-timed.

Somehow the sisters have to meet in the middle to strengthen an unbalanced family unit, and it’s surprising how this happens and how their relationships with others grow and change throughout the process. Skate needs to find some kind of understanding with her father, while Rosie needs to step back and not take responsibility for her father’s failings. Together, without much fanfare and without suffocating each other, the two manage to move forward.

It’s funny. For a book about sisters, Rosie and Skate don’t spend a lot of time together. Their independence from one another was really refreshing. I liked seeing these two sisters interally debate the situation with their father but also have to wade separate issues on their own.

P.S. For you diehard holiday fanatics (me! me!), there’s plenty of merriment to go around as well.

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Estelle: A Long Way From You by Gwendolyn Heasley

A Long Way from You by Gwendolyn Heasley ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 336
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: New York City, art, tourist, summer in the city
Format read: ARC from Little Bird Publicity (thanks!)

Summary: When Kitsy is offered a chance to spend a month in New York City during the summer attending an art program, she jumps at the chance to take a break from all her responsibility in Texas and do something for herself.

Some of my favorite times in college were taking out-of-towners to NYC for the first time and seeing their eyes just bulge out of their head because 1) they had always dreamed of this moment and 2) it’s always bigger, crazier, louder than it seems on TV and in the movies. NYC is fabulous and even after spending years in close proximity to the Big Apple, I still get a huge kick out of reading books set in my city. It’s like discovering it all over again with new eyes.

Kitsy is probably the cutest Texan I’ve met since Magan. She’s friendly, enthusiastic, and considerate; she’s passionate about art and people, especially her little brother, Kiki, her boyfriend, Hands, and her best friend, Corrinne. Corrinne is actually the reason she lands the opportunity to spend a few weeks in NYC. Her parents offer to sponsor Kitsy in an art program at Parsons. (Kitsy and Corrine met in Heasley’s first book, Where I Belong, which I haven’t read yet but is sitting in my Nook library.)

Despite what the cover art leads you to believe, A Long Way From You focuses more on a girl falling in love with the city and discovering great things about herself, than finding a boy. (Even though, there is a cute musician boy…) Heasley is spot-on with Kitsy bumbling through the streets of NYC, catching the wrong PATH train, manuevering around with a huge umbrella (a big no-no), and getting too distracted by the city to go to class. Those pretty much all happened to me when I started going to school here too. (At least I can laugh about those moments now!) Kitsy has a genuine love for the city, and it’s contagious. I was desperately ready to visit the MOMA, take a boat ride in Central Park, or go to a big fancy event.

While things might fall together a bit too perfectly in Kitsy’s world (with some drama thrown in for good measure), A Long Way From You feels like the quintessential New York fairy tale. Kitsy meets new people, visits the landmarks, and tries to find her corner of this big world. I did like how Heasley had her juggle a long distance relationship with Hands back in Texas. I could relate to her struggles to balance everything sparkley and new in NYC with her commitments and feelings of things that she left at home. With Kitsy’s upbeat personality and how deeply she cares and connects with others, you want nothing but the best for her.

A Long Way From You is a delightful, light-hearted read that does show its serious side at times, even if it never dwells on it. By the end of the book, you’ll be ready to hang out with Kitsy during her next trip to New York and buy her a cupcake while seeing the sights.

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Need more convincing?

> Jess from Gone with the Words: “[Kitsy] is just such a genuine, likeable character. She’s sweet and kind and embracing. I just adore her.”
> Sharon from Fictionally Inclined: “In finding her way through this new adventure, Kitsy truly got to know herself for what was perhaps the first time. I really loved watching her develop through her interactions with others and her journey through her art.”

Estelle: Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble

Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble [ twitter | website ]
Release Date: December 27, 2011
Publisher: Kensington Books
Pages: 288
Target: Young adult for mature audiences / Adult fiction
Format read: Paperback borrowed from library
How I heard about it: The fabulous BookChic!

Summary: A lot has happened during Nate and Adam’s short relationship — there’s the bullying at school that escalates into raw humiliation, the acceptance of their parents (or lack there of), and the upcoming challenges of maintaining their closeness when Adam gets a theater job in New York. Even though Nate convinces him to take it while he remains in Texas, jealousy and backlash from Nate’s honest blog and new attitude in school soon come between the two and manage to make them feel even farther apart.

The same day I finished reading this novel, I found myself sitting in the diner with two of my best friend and my husband. I was having a great time but I couldn’t stop thinking about Nate and Adam, the main characters from Don’t Let Me Go. This is all thanks to the remarkable debut novel by J.H. Trumble. She has created characters and a plotline that was so honest and real, it was like I knew these characters personally. Like they were two people I knew in high school.

From page 1, I was completely invested in this story. I know that’s true because I didn’t always like what Nate had to say or the actions he took. I loved him, he annoyed me, and he frustrated me just like any other human in my life. And I don’t blame him. Ever since he decided to come out to his high school, his dad has basically abandoned him, he was brutalized by his peers, and later forced to share the most intimate details of that assault and the relationship with his boyfriend, Adam, during a very public trial. All of this, indeed, would affect a person in a huge way.

This leads us to an epic and imperfect love story. In my mind, that is the best kind. Because it’s authentic. Love is never easy. Love is not without challenge. And we see the inner workings of a deep relationship from the get-go. The most intimate of details and moments are shared, and I felt like I was experiencing their relationship right alongside them. (And reliving the doubts and jealousy I once faced when I was in my own long-distance relationship.)

Don’t Let Me Go isn’t just a romantic love story. Its strength also lies in the friendships. Nate’s friendship with Danial (they have this unreal chemistry) and also Nate’s unhealthy need to help out Luke, a boy who is in the closet but looks to Nate like he is a god. This novel never feels like one character or plotline is getting ignored. Nothing feels under developed and that is a true feat because much goes on, as the time shifts (seamlessly) from past to present.

 This book is every reader’s dream. I felt I was given the ability to create my own relationship with these characters, as well as take something from their challenges, their failures, and their triumphs. I was outwardly yelling at the book near the end like I could make a significant difference in the last couple of pages. The ending could have gone several ways but I think Trumble did a stellar job of wrapping up this heavy, multi-layered story.

 Is it time for me to stop gushing yet? Don’t Let Me Go is an experience. It is hands down the best book I have read so far in 2012, and probably in my top 5 since I started reading like a maniac last year. I guarantee it is going to take a long time before I feel this strongly about another novel. Stop what you are doing and go read it now.

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