The pen is mightier than the sword…

Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t isn’t easy, but telling something as it is, telling the truth, always seems more beautiful and more poetic than anything else,” says Mr. Graydon — the English teacher in Sarah Crossan’s simultaneously sweet and heartbreaking Apple and Rain. At first, he’s the teacher no one wanted, a replacement, and suddenly he spends the year treating his students with the kind of respect that has them interpreting poems and writing their own pieces in response. As the main character in the story, Apple is a young teenager dealing with the return of her mother who abandoned her years ago on Christmas Eve. She wants so badly to make her a permanent part of her life that she decides to leave the person who has always taken care of her — her grandmother — to live with her mom as she settles in. It’s as surprising for her as it is for the reader when Mr. Graydon’s assignments start to pry so many unspoken feelings out of her. Suddenly this homework doesn’t seem so innocent as she pens her truest feelings and hands in the paper with the easier, more superficial answer. She may be in her early teens, but she already has a grasp at how powerful the truth can be.

Similarly, in the fast-paced and oh-so-good Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, Sam is discovering being vulnerable in her writing and having the courage to share it with others is more of a safe place than a scary one. She’s older than Apple and has a bit more life experience so I like to think of her as the next level Apple, in a way. Sam is struggling under the shadow of her judgmental, popular friends who have no idea who she really is or what she’s all about — a girl dealing with OCD. When the Poet’s Corner pops into her life, she’s forced to look deeply at herself and how she identifies with the world. She learns even more hard lessons, and uses all the energy she channels into poetry to find her happy place — a place she hasn’t seen in a really long time.

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland StoneFor both Apple and Sam, writing and words become a lifeline. Sure, Apple’s relationship with poetry and her English class are kept a secret, but it is the one thing that’s keeping her sane when her life is being turned upside down by selfish people and their secrets. It helps her work through that and realize that her feelings are not invalid. Sam may be opening herself up to a small group of people, but at some point she has to take the courage she finds in that small room and apply it to the rest of her life. She has to find a way to make these two parts of her life click in a way that feels true.

The Mr. Graydons and Poet’s Corners may not be easy to come by in every day life, but they do exist. The gift of expression, of unlocking a whole new piece of yourself and a new strength you had no idea you possessed, is huge. You always remember that first confidence boost, the gift of a blank notebook, that place that becomes the safe haven for all of your ideas and messy feelings. Writing as a hobby in books (especially young adult) might not be anything groundbreaking, but I loved how both of these novels made writing so imperative to a character’s emotional growth — how it was a comfort and an ally when both girls were feeling so alone.

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EVERY LAST WORD by Tamara Ireland Stone: A favorite read of 2015; a touching, addicting, & well-paced tale of old friendship, honesty, and digging deep to find what makes you bravest. – Disney Hyperion; June 16, 2015. (Goodreads | Amazon | B&N)

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APPLE & RAIN by Sarah Crossan: A heartbreaking story about kids forced to act like adults, the messy complications of family, and finding the unexpected that makes us safe and happy. – Bloomsbury Children’s; May 12, 2015. (Goodreads | Amazon | B&N)

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Estelle: Lexapros and Cons by Aaron Karo

Lexapros & Cons by Aaron Karo (website | twitter)
Upcoming Publication Date: April 10, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 240
Target audience: Young adult
Format read: Paperback ARC from ALA (Thanks!)
Summary: Chuck just has to get through a few more months of high school — a place where he was mostly invisible due to his OCD. As his behaviors begin to worsen, his parents convince him to get help before he leaves for college and he is more on his own. But it takes a bit more than his doctor’s advice to steer him in the right direction.

You know what’s exhausting? Reading so many books back-to-back with female protagonists! I’m a girl; I totally get it. We’re complicated. We’re emotional! This is why reading a book like Curveball or Paper Towns and now, Lexapros and Cons, is like splashing cold water on my face ala a Neutrogena commercial. The boys can be just as insecure and misguided as the gals but their voices are so fresh.

Take Chuck Taylor for example. (Named neither for the basketball player or the shoe. A fan of the shoe, and not the sport.) Senior in high school. Total genius. Brother of popular (younger) sister who still won’t accept his friend request on Facebook. Pretty much invisible to everyone except his best friend Steve. And slave to his OCD. He can’t sleep because he can’t stop feeling like he has to pee and he’s always getting up to quadruple check the stove to make sure it’s off. He can’t walk away from his locker without making sure it’s locked at least 18 times. For a kid who is all set to go away to college in a few months, these are definitely behaviors he needs to be able to control. Even the senior trip – the NO CHAPERONES senior trip he has been looking forward to since freshman year – is an issue. It’s camping. How can a kid with OCD go camping? With bugs and dirt? Chuck’s answer: he can’t.

So you can see how this premise has the potential to equal heavy, serious story (i.e. It’s Kind of a Funny Story) but Lexapros and Cons is aware of life. It doesn’t stop because one serious thing is weighing us down. There are still surprises and hilarious moments and friends with their own shit going on. And that’s why this book is just as awesome as its title. Chuck may have real struggles to work through but he’s hilarious. I dare you not to like him. As a reader, I enjoy a book so much more when a character is open and honest about who they really are. With Chuck, nothing is held back. You know how many times he masturbates but at the same time, how swoony he gets over the new girl, Amy. (He also has a shoe collection some of us might die for.)

Amy! She sounds like the coolest girl on the planet (thanks to Chuck). I mean who could wear a camouflage jacket with ballet flats and always say “right on” and get away with it? (Not me.) She’s just a part of the great team of supporting characters, including best friend Steve who is equally funny in his own geeky way. I will admit to liking Chuck’s “courting” of Amy just as much as his friendship with Steve. It’s also interesting how both of these characters each play a role in being a catalyst in Chuck’s attempts to deal with his OCD.

The book also deals with bullying, friendship, and being honest about who you are. It’s about making your own choices. Choices you need to make for yourself and not for others. I’m glad Karo depicted OCD as a disease that cannot be fixed by pills and doctor visits alone. It takes time, patience, support, and sometimes falling on your face.

You know what? I think it’s time to hang out with the boys. Because they say silly and sweet things, have active sex drives, and have just as much trouble working through their own shit as the next girl in your book pile.

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