Magan: Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner

book review for Can't Look Away by Donna CoonerCan’t Look Away by Donna Cooner
See Also: Skinny by Donna Cooner
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Point
Pages: 272
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: beauty and fashion vlogger, loss of a sibling, moving to a new state
Format Read: Arc received from the Publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: Torrey, popular fashion and beauty vlogger, doesn’t know how to deal with the sudden harassment and criticism she receives from her followers after the death of her younger sister. Her family moves from Colorado to Texas to be closer to family, and Torrey has to figure out how to mourn her sister and move on.

Almost exactly two years ago, I raved about Donna Cooner’s Skinny, a book about a girl who undergoes gastric bypass surgery and deals with insecurities and body image issues, even though her physical appearance is changing. I really connected with Ever and felt super pumped to read Donna’s newest book, Can’t Look Away, about Torrey Grey, who is a popular beauty and fashion vlogger. The scenarios are almost completely reversed — Ever is a girl who had zero self-confidence and had to work really hard to accept and love herself. Torrey is popular and extremely well-known, but when her 12-year old sister is killed by a drunk driver, her character is questioned and she’s criticized for detaching and not addressing what’s happening.

But ultimately, the lesson is still the same for both Ever and Torrey: despite fame, beauty, body size, popularity, vlog views, etc., both girls have to learn to love and accept themselves despite any of those other outside factors.

Torrey was a more difficult character for me to relate to because her every move seemed calculated: How do I promote myself? How will everyone react to xyz? What can I do to gain more views and recognition? Believe me when I say I could relate to those feelings because I’ve dealt with that with my businesses and with Rather Be Reading. You pour so much of yourself into these projects and want people to love and appreciate it as much as you do. I think I’m in a personal place of wanting to be a blogger and a business owner, but also not wanting my entire life to be only those things. And that’s what I wanted for Torrey.

I wanted to see her mourn her sister and stop worrying about how to connect to the internet to see what people were saying about her. I wanted her comments to not be so snippy with her cousin, Raylene, who was trying desperately to forge a friendship with her. I wanted Torrey to not care quite so much about sitting at the popular table at her new school. Oh, and that boy she liked, Luis? I wanted to shout, “JUST GO FOR IT! Who cares if he’s “unpopular”!” Torrey had a lot of growing up to do, but I think one thing stands out. Sometimes when we’re in the midst of something deep, hard, and heavy, we find distractions to focus on. We fill our time with the mundane details so we can cast aside all of the hurt we don’t want to deal with.

In a nutshell, that was Torrey. It was easier for her to focus on being the girl she used to be instead of letting it sink in all the ways her life would now be changed without her sister. The growth does happen, but I wanted to see it happen a little less rapidly. And what about her parents? They were on the periphery of the story and we saw how they dealt (or didn’t deal well with their grief), but I felt there should have been a little more involvement with helping Torrey overcome her obstacles. She deals with Internet bullying and moving to a completely new state, and the death of her sister all by herself.

Can’t Look Away is so pertinent and has some really valid points and lessons. I, always the proponent for loose ends to be tied as much as possible, wish there were a few moments that felt a little more ironed out, but overall, this is another great contemporary by Cooner. Definitely looking forward to more!

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Book Review of Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King

Magan: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Book Review of Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. KingPlease Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King [website | twitter]
Publication Date: October 12, 2010
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 336
Target audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: death of a friend, friendships coming to an end, childhood friendship
Format read: Hardback borrowed from my library.

Summary: Vera’s best friend, Charlie, died. He was in an accident and Vera knows some details she should share, but she’s working through the tumultuous relationship they had before his death and the abandonment she felt.

 

Please Ignore Vera Dietz was my second A.S. King read, and definitely my favorite so far. Her writing is so perfectly woven together and the alternating points of view between Vera (the primary storyteller), her father Ken, Charlie, and the Pagoda carefully revealed tidbits of the story that had me furiously flipping through the pages. Vera and Charlie were childhood best friends, sort of the two oddball kids who live next door to one another and immediately bond. Charlie’s got a sketchy home life that Vera and her family are very aware of, but they choose not to intervene. As they grow older, Vera develops a crush on Charlie and at points, he seems well aware of her affection for him. He begins doing this weird push and pull of leering Vera in by making her think he feels the same way, and then completely ignoring her after something happens.

Before Charlie’s death, their relationship can be described as rocky at best. Vera keeps up with his whereabouts, but their friendship is only an inkling of what it used to be. A.S. King provides details from the past leading up to present day, allowing the reader to really grasp the struggles and challenges these two characters have faced. There’s a bit of mature content as Charlie gets mixed up in some pretty sketchy business that makes Vera a bit worrisome. Often I found myself speculating about what might have happened to Charlie, why he and Vera had a falling out, and I desperately wanted to see Vera become her own woman. She was a bit afraid of becoming her father, who is a recovering alcoholic, and her mother, who was a stripper, and the fear of making either of those same life choices debilitates Vera.

I connected so well with Vera’s emotions over losing a friend. When I was in third grade, one of my friends was killed in an accident over spring break. The news was terrifying, even at such a young age. This boy sat behind me at school and would often play with my hair (well, actually, he would pull it out, but I think he was probably just trying to flirt) and tease me. I remember the day of his funeral like it was yesterday. Vera went through a similar experience with Charlie — she felt that when she went to the funeral, he was going to walk out like it was a big joke and say, “GOTCHA!” I knew there was no way my friend could have passed away. That doesn’t happen to someone so young, right? I slept in my parents bedroom for ages because I struggled so much; I felt haunted by his death. Vera is trying to work out all the details of their friendship gone wrong, but she’s also got this information that could possibly shed some light on the events surrounding his death. That’s a ton for one person to carry around, and Vera certainly feels haunted by Charlie.

I could gush forever about the beauty that is Please Ignore Vera Dietz, but I hope that without revealing too much of the story I can convince you to pick this one up as soon as you can. If you’ve never read one of King’s books, I highly suggest this be your first. I’m very much looking forward to her upcoming book, Reality Boy, to be released on October 22nd.

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