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 Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo

Magan: Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo

Book Review of Holier Than Thou by Laura BuzoHolier Than Thou by Laura Buzo
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pages: 291
Target audience: New Adult Fiction / Adult Fiction
Keywords: miserable job, death of a parent, grief, friendly coworkers
Format read: Received from Mandee at VeganYANerds (Thank you!)

Summary: Holly doesn’t deal well with change, but everything around her is evolving. She doesn’t love her job, but she pours herself into it so she doesn’t have to focus on the friendships that aren’t the same anymore or her mother who is much closer to her brother.

As a social worker, Holly’s main focus is mental health patients. To get through her long, long days where she often feels overworked and under-appreciated, she has her best work buddy, Nick. He’s clever and understands her, and often they are paired up together to visit patients. At home, Holly lives with her supportive, kind, geeky boyfriend Tim. She’s excited for all the things they get to experience together and enjoys spying on her next door neighbors.

Holly balances present day (as a young 20-something) with flashbacks from the past. It’s a bit difficult at first to figure out what’s happening in her life, but I settled into the rhythm of Buzo’s intelligent writing quickly. Holly’s battling a lot of things. She’s still reeling from the death of her father who died when she was 15 years old. Her mother is difficult and their relationship isn’t the best. She feels more connected to her high school best friends than she does to her own family, especially since her mother tends to favor her younger brother, Patty.

To avoid dealing with the past (in which there’s a vague story about a boy named Liam that Holly was in love with for a long time), she throws herself into her work. All of her attention and effort are focused on her job. She’s a perfectionist and feels like she can “fix” everyone else.

But what she doesn’t realize is that she needs to heal.

She’s never allowed herself time to properly grieve any of the big circumstances that have happened in her life. She’s always pushed forward. She pretends that life will just carry on. She struggles with accepting change, especially when she begins to realize that her friendships are a blurry version of what they used to be. But what she wants is for her friendships and the people in her life to stay the same, for no one to ever change. It throws her off kilter when everything begins to shift.

Holly’s story, while a simplistic one, is very realistic. As a 27 year old lady, I could very much relate to what Holly was going through. In my personal life, I’ve absolutely struggled with severed friendships and moving on. I’ve cried on countless occasions over people that I no longer see or talk to because we’ve just grown apart. Change is evil. I also fear a lot of things for the future; I have personally never lost a parent or grandparent, so anytime someone is sick or hospitalized, I freak out and go crazy. My family is very close and I just shut down. Essentially, Holly was so focused on fixing everyone else that she didn’t even realize she had all these barriers built up around her to protect her from anything bad that could happen.

This was my second read by Laura Buzo and while the writing was sometimes a bit abrupt when I was sorting through changes in scenery or flashbacks, I still felt incredibly connected to Holly. I really, really enjoyed reading about someone I could relate to so well. Holly is just an ordinary girl going through ordinary life things. I felt very involved in her well-being, and had such a good grasp on her friends, family, coworkers, and even clients. Buzo did what she does best in Holier Than Thou — she explored the life of someone who’s extremely relatable and told her story in a way that causes you to step back and examine your own.

Thank you to the lovely Mandee at VeganYANerds for sharing Holier Than Thou with me. Check out Mandee’s review here. I sent my copy on a little mini tour, so I’ll link up those reviews below when they’re published.

  • Ginger at GReads! said, “…[the] story reached out to me and delivered a message I hadn’t known I’d been searching for.”

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