book review of Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb • Magan Reviews

book review of Kissing in America by Margo RabbKISSING IN AMERICA by Margo Rabb [web | tweet]
Published by Harper Teen on May 26, 2015
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: first love, parental loss, airplane crash, detached mothers

Summary: Not many things have gone right for Eva, but when she meets Will and they connect over personal losses they’ve both suffered through, she feels like she’s finally piecing herself back together again. Until Will has to move across the country and she’s not sure how or when she’ll ever see him again.

• • •

Kissing in America was my in-flight book of choice a few weeks ago. Usually I do a little bit of reading about the book before I jump right in, but I’d momentarily forgotten to download my review books to my kindle so I quickly did that moments before I was told to temporarily turn off my devices. I hadn’t even read the summary when I began, and I’m pretty sure that made reading this book even more special – I had no expectations.

Eva is a pretty typical teenager — she struggles with fitting in, is angered by how detached her mom can be one moment and how suffocating she feels the next, and has one solid best friend, Annie. But there’s something that sets Eva apart, too. Her father died two years ago in an airplane crash. The piqued curiosity she received when telling people about his death infuriated her so much she began to tell people he died peacefully in his sleep from a heart attack. (Meanwhile her mother never, ever mentions him and discarded any trace of him weeks after he died.)

When she begins tutoring Will by proofing his college essays and English papers, they connect over their personal tragedies. His younger brother died as an infant and his mother has never recovered from the loss. As Eva’s adoration for Will grows, she can’t lie to him anymore about her dad’s death. She spills the truth to him and this bonds them even more; she loves that she can be honest about all of these pieces of her no one except Annie knows: how she secretly reads messages in a forum for the surviving family members of the airplane crash or how she hoarded some of her dad’s belongings before her mother could toss them out. Their love for reading and poetry, their losses, and their easy banter bind Will and Eva together over the course of the school year.

Just when things have hit their stride, Will’s forced to move to California. How will these two ever reunite (especially considering she could never fly there)? Kissing in America is a strong tale about first love, healing, heartbreak, parental struggles, not always seeing eye-to-eye, and best friendship stress when you suck at life and let someone down. Eva and Annie find a way to road trip to CA by entering in a game show competition to find the Smartest Girl in America. Annie is a brilliant girl destined for MIT, but she’s overwhelmed by the cost of it and knows her parents couldn’t afford it. This could be her ticket to her dreams.

With much hesitation and a few embarrassing rules in place, Annie and Eva are allowed to road trip from New York to Los Angeles. This was by far my favorite aspect of the book. They meet a crazy bus thief, a few Texas cowboys (who were severely over-exaggerated, but still so fun), and get some solid advice from Eva’s mom’s best friend Lulu. There were moments of such extreme realness in Kissing in America that made me feel like an eavesdropper/stalker along for the bus trip.

The remainder of Kissing in America needs to be experienced by you and I should stop babbling on. (But believe me I could chat forever about this one.) It made me giggle, brought tears to my eyes, made me think about the type of mother I hope to be, and even frightened me a little bit as the details of her father’s plane crash were revealed. It’s one of those books that gives you a whole lot of story in the best and simplest of ways, with characters you love, and a great sadness when it’s all over.

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An early copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray | Magan Reviews

Book Review of A Thousand Pieces of  You by Claudia Gray


A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird #1) by Claudia Gray (website | twitter)
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 368
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: parallel universes, time travel, death of a parent
Format Read: ARC received from the Publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: Marguerite seeks answers about her father’s death and travels between parallel universes using the Firebird, the device her parent’s created that make such travel possible, in search of his suspected murderer.

Marguerite is the artist in a family of award-winning physicists. When her father dies and her parent’s assistant, Paul, takes off looking like the most obvious suspect, she has no choice but to emerge herself in her parent’s scientific world to find answers. Even if that involves learning how to use the Firebird, the device her parents created that allows her to jump to alternate dimensions. Marguerite has always felt like her parent’s assistants were adopted family members and there were these inexplicable moments she had with Paul that make her wonder how she could have been so fooled.

The strongest component of A Thousand Pieces of You is seeing Marguerite take a crash course in survival and physics to seek answers. Essentially with a turn of the Firebird, Marguerite finds herself in a parallel universe where the people she knows and is familiar with exist, but things can range from being ever-so-slightly altered to feeling centuries behind technologically. When she takes over another Marguerite’s body, she has to quickly adapt to her surroundings so she can cleverly figure out where Paul is located and when the proper time is to move on to the next place.

There are elements of a great chase paired with this very mysterious relationship between Marguerite and Paul. Her search is for more than closure and justice, but it’s a sweet, wild ride to see how Paul and Marguerite’s story morphs through each dimension. It’s a beautiful, tangled mess of cat-and-mouse paired with a confusing “what-if” love story as we flash back to learn about Paul and Marguerite before her father’s death. There’s a huge internal struggle to believe that Paul couldn’t have done something so destructive and devastating, but when all evidence points to him, how can it be denied? I absolutely loved how complex and intelligent the storyline was, but how the majority of the story focused on the simplest question: What lengths will we go to for the people we love? 

A Thousand Pieces of You is my first Claudia Gray book, and I’m incredibly anxious to get my hands on more of her work and to see where the rest of this story goes.

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book review of Confessions of an Angry Girl

Magan: Confessions of an Angry Girl by Louise Rozett

book review of Confessions of an Angry Girl

Confessions of an Angry Girl  by Louise Rozett (website | twitter)
Series: Confessions #1
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 266
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: loss of a parent, first year of high school, comical and angry MC
Format read: Purchased digital version for my kindle.

Summary: Rose’s father died right before her freshman year of high school; she’d like nothing more than to wallow in her sadness, but somehow she keeps doing things that make her noticeable to the popular crowd (so not good).

Rose is pissed off. Her father died and he absolutely shouldn’t have. She’s entering her freshman year of high school and she’s overwhelmed with anger and frustration. Her therapist mom uses her “therapy voice” all the time and can’t be real about how she’s feeling. They don’t talk about her dad. At all. Her brother has flown the coop and gone to college, but conveniently, he’s finding ways of disconnecting from the family by dating a new girl and not coming home for family holidays. Popping up unexpectedly at school is Jamie Forta, the boy Rose has secretly (or maybe not so secretly) been crushing on from afar for years. Rose likes him. They kiss. Except they shouldn’t have. And maybe Jamie didn’t just decide to start hanging around Rose; maybe he was persuaded to?

Complicated doesn’t even begin to describe Rose’s freshman year. She’s trying to find her way and fly under the radar, but just can’t seem to get her footing. Her (non-existent) popularity further plummets when her honest, do-what’s-right-self makes her a target. Even though she wants nothing more than to be unseen, Rose just can’t seem to escape center stage. In many, many ways, Confessions of an Angry Girl reminded me of my good pal Ruby Oliver. In no way were the stories alike, but I think Ruby and Rose would have been quite the duo. Rose was full of spunkiness and blatant honesty. She made no apologies for being sad and needing to deal with her grief. Everything she said and felt was so real and honest to me, even if she (like Ruby) said some hilariously off-the-wall things that gave the impression she had no control over her mouth sometimes. Rose is a very imperfect girl who is simply trying to manage all the change that’s happening in her life.

Rose is trying, desperately, to deal with her grief, but she’s also afraid she’s going to forget her dad. She’s in the midst of losing touch with her best friend Tracy, who wants to make a name for herself in high school and is itching to be a cheerleader. (Rose is even more unsettled by Tracy’s constant contemplation over whether or not she should lose her virginity to her boyfriend, Matt. Personally, Rose thinks he’s a d-bag who just wants to sleep with her.) And then there’s her “relationship” with Jamie. She wants to be with him, but doesn’t understand what’s happening with Regina. Are they really together?

Confessions of an Angry Girl  was an unexpected delight — I breezed through the pages and connected instantaneously with Rose. She’s a little down on life (and sometimes herself), but she’s got a lot of insight and fight in her to push through all the bad. Even though Rose’s story stems from the loss of her father, I felt meeting her was very uplifting and delightful. The story does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, which I absolutely wasn’t certain was necessary, but I suppose you’ll have to wait and see what I thought about Confessions of an Almost Girlfriend soon. (I know — what a tease!)

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book review of When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

Magan: When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

book review of When You Were Here by Daisy WhitneyWhen You Were Here by Daisy Whitney (twitter | website)
Publication Date
: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown
Pages: 264
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: loss of a parent, grief, Tokyo, relationships that don’t end well
Format read: ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley. (Thank you!)
Other Books Read by the Author: The Mockingbirds (a joint review)

Summary: Just a few short years after the loss of his father, Danny’s mom dies a few weeks shy of his high school graduation from the cancer she’s been battling. Danny is lonely and seeking answers; he goes to Tokyo to learn more about his mom’s last few months, treatments, and to seek peace after his unexplained break-up from his girlfriend, Holland.

Very, very thankfully I haven’t had to work through a parental loss. I can’t imagine what Danny must have been feeling when at 18, he finds himself without both parents. His father passed away after a freak accident in Japan a few years prior. Present day he’s reeling from the loss of his mother who passed away after a long battle with cancer, one month shy of his high school graduation. Further complicating his family dynamic, he and his (adopted, older) sister aren’t necessarily on good terms. Understandably, Danny is feeling very alone and lost.

He would turn to his best friend Holland for help and a listening ear, but Danny started dating her last year and then she completely cut off communication shortly after leaving for college. Even though she’s back home for the summer, things just aren’t the same. Danny and Holland can easily slip back into their witty banter, but Danny feels guarded because he’s still deeply in love with Holland. Without answers and a huge helping of honesty, he just can’t let things go back to the way they were.

To clear his mind, let go of Holland, and seek answers to burning questions he’s got about his mom’s passing, Danny takes off for Tokyo. His parents owned a house there and they frequently visited as a family. Danny’s mom visited Tokyo often throughout her last months for treatment and he feels speaking to her doctor will give him peace about why she couldn’t make it one more month to see him walk across the stage. He also must decide what to do with their family condo now that he’s inherited it. Kana, daughter of their property’s landlord, becomes his tour guide as he follows in his mother’s last footsteps.

When You Were Here was full of absolutely all of my favorite things — a deep, emotional story, shocking twists and turns that left me needing to collect my thoughts, and a journey to a new place that made me want to catch the first flight to Tokyo. Whitney’s writing was as beautiful as ever, and Danny’s voice was so spot on. He was full of humor that he used to protect himself from feeling all the pain he was going through. He was confused and in need of someone to protect him from more bad things happening.

There’s a major, major plot twist that made me gasp when I read through the scene. HOLY CRAP! — I was so stunned and silenced. I needed time to walk away and think about how I felt. Guys, that doesn’t happen often. Whitney made me feel like Danny’s life was real and I was being asked to lend a helping hand or offer advice. Hopefully you’ll feel the same protectiveness over Danny that I did; after I closed the book, I felt this spoke volumes for Whitney’s writing — she has an uncanny ability to make me want to take care of all her characters. (I felt the same way when I read The Mockingbirds.)

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BONUS: Daisy Whitney has another book coming out this fall, Starry Nights.
Don’t forget to add it to your TBR shelf on Goodreads!

Book Review for 52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody

Magan: 52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody

Book Review for 52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody
Publication Date: July 3, 2012
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young Adult.
Keywords: A-list celebrities, Inheritance, Daddy Issues
Format read: Borrowed from my local library.

Summary: Lexington is forced to work 52 jobs, assigned by her father, to prove she’s worthy of the inheritance she will be given if she successfully completes each job.



Let’s take a moment to characterize a few Hollywood starlets that have made magazine covers in the last 10-ish years for their terrible choices:

Britney Spears:

She SHAVED HER HEAD. By herself.
She accidentally married someone in Vegas.
Then there was the marriage to KFed. (Oops, she got married again?!)
She had a couple kids.
She flashed her underwear (or lack thereof) a whole lotta times.

And then she made a comeback and has lived a relatively “normal” life.

Linday Lohan:

She’s gotten in more car accidents than one can keep up with. (How does she still have a license?)
Someone could diagram her privates blindfolded because she’s so not careful when getting out of cars.
She’s always in trouble for drinking and drugs. Always. As in, hello, jail time. 

LiLo has not learned her lesson yet. The girl is still gettin’ in trouble.

So why am I giving you a breakdown of two Hollywood troublemakers? Because I need you to relate when I explain that Lexington, the main character in 52 Reasons to Hate My Father, is a Hollywood drama-seeker. She’s Lindsay and Britney’s bookish cousin. She’s spoiled, bratty, and overly obnoxious in the beginning of the book. All she wants is to inherit money from her dad when she turns 18 so she can live a comfortable, posh life and never have to depend on him again.

The problem with this flawless (*eye roll*) plan?

She can’t stay out of trouble. After she crashes her brand new, very expensive car into a convenience store, her dad makes her work 52 jobs – one for each week of the year – in order to gain her inheritance. Oh, poor Lexington.

I greatly admire Brody’s ability to turn unlikeable Lexi into a character I could relate to. She wasn’t someone I would even want to know in the beginning of 52 Reasons. Her attitude was very woe-is-me despite all the amazing things she had in her life. The one downfall was the lack of a relationship she had with her father. All of her magazine headlines were a cry for his attention. I appreciated the complexity of Lexi and her father’s relationship; I mostly thought the book would be a humorous display of Lexi’s failed attempts to work normal jobs.

While Lexi certainly didn’t fail to deliver lighthearted, funny moments, the jobs didn’t outweigh the underlying story of the abandonment Lexi felt after her mother died. Lexi learned to keep most people at a distance, except for her two best friends. While I didn’t trust that they would stick around when things got tough for Lexi, I was happily surprised that they weren’t the shallow girls I anticipated they would be.

There is a bit of a love interest, though I’ll be honest and say the relationship between Luke and Lexi doesn’t take center stage. Luke is hired by Lexi’s father to make sure she actually completes each of the jobs. Immediately, there air is thick between Luke and Lexi because she feels he’s her babysitter and he thinks she’s a spoiled brat. They say opposites attract, and boy, these two are certainly different in every way.

I hope you’ll enjoy 52 Reasons to Hate My Father as much as I did. I’m very much looking forward to checking out more of Brody’s work. (Isn’t that the best feeling when an author you like has more books to keep ya reading?!)

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Estelle: The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando

The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara AltebrandoThe Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando (website | twitter)
Publication Date: March 7, 2006
Publisher: MTV
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: loss of a family member, summer job, New Jersey setting
Format read: Paperback borrowed from library

Summary: After her mom passes away, Betsy challenges herself to get through the stages of grief in one summer. Her family is falling apart and a betrayal makes her suddenly single and best friendless, Betsy embarks on a summer job at a colonial village and begins to make new friends. At the same time, questioning her own self-worth, the memories of her mother, and her own passions.

In a multitude of books I’ve read so far this year, the death of a parent is a major plot point. A lot of the times the book is about the death of a mother (like The Survival Kit and You Have Seven Messages). It’s understandable. A daughter and her mother share an unparalleled connection — whether it’s good or bad. A mother is instrumental in the growth of her daughter, especially when she’s in her teenage years trying to figure out who she is and sort of rebelling against all she’s known. Mothers are supposed to be a constant and when they aren’t… there’s a tremendous amount of clashing emotions.

In Betsy’s case, her dad takes a backseat in the lives of his kids when his wife dies. They don’t talk about her, they feast on fast food; everyone is living in their own bubble, barely co-existing. Betsy is angry about that. She’s upset about it and yet she lacks the solution to this problem. How can she bridge this gap between her and her father? Her and her younger brother? Betsy also thinks she is “damaged goods”. Who could love her? Her boyfriend betrays her, so does her best friend (not in the way you think) and she has no mother. It’s the perfect summer to get a new job with new people and new responsibilities. She needs a fresh start in the worst way.

POH is meant to be taken very slowly. Altebrando’s writing is full of realistic, quotable quips and so much depth and emotion. I can’t pinpoint exactly why but the entire book had an old-school YA vibe while at the same time, felt rather adult. You could feel how Betsy was directionless, and I loved the inclusion of this colonial village she was working in. Every day she could escape to this simplier time, play someone who wasn’t herself (even though she wasn’t so good at it in the beginning), and discover things about herself without even realizing it.

Unlike a bunch of YA characters, Betsy wasn’t great at just one thing. In fact, her mother was always asking her about her passions. What was she passionate about? And Betsy just didn’t have a clue. But she wasn’t obsessively searching for it either. I liked Betsy’s cautiousness. I even liked when she messed up sometimes. She had flaws. She had secrets. She had judgements about people and learned to look past them. It was all about baby steps.

Don’t worry. There is a little romance. But what I love, absolutely love, is that it doesn’t appear because it has to, and it’s not an instant love or anything even close to it. Betsy’s affection for James is eased into, and has a bit of mystery to it. I can honestly say I didn’t know how to feel about him and I really liked that. It felt like I was experiencing the frustration and the sweetness along with her. (Plus this led to a Seaside Heights scene, setting of Jersey Shore — yuck — but where I spent many family vacations as a kid.)

Overall, I loved the characters in this novel. I loved the feel of the story, and the relationship dynamics (great sibling!). There are many layers to POH and it felt like each story received the attention it deserved. It always felt down-to-earth even when life turned into a bit of a drama fest for our main character. I so enjoyed her growth and getting to know her. I hope you do too.

P.S. I’m not normally a fan of Kristen Stewart but for some reason, I could not stop picturing Betsy as KS.

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