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.

book review and cover for All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven | Review + Giveaway

book review and cover for All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven [twitter | website]
Publication Date: January 6, 2015
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 384
Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: depression, opposites attract, senior year, death of a sibling
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (A BIG thank you!)

Summary: After meeting on the top of the school’s bell tower, both contemplating the horror of jumping off, Finch bursts into every aspect of Violet’s life and they’re paired up (at his insistence) for a class project that requires them to spend even more time together.

• • •

Have you ever read a book that was SO GOOD you had to stop reading it so you wouldn’t finish it? I admit that this hasn’t happened many times to me. Usually I get heart palpitations and I dread finishing, but I never completely stop reading. Well, that’s what happened with All the Bright Places. I got to 92% and turned off my kindle, turned out the light, and snuggled in bed. Of course my mind wouldn’t quit racing and I couldn’t stop thinking about Finch and Violet. But at least I had that 8% to finish the next day.

The Meeting Place: On top of the school’s bell tower, both Violet and Finch are contemplating what it would be like to jump. Him: because he fluctuates between being “awake” and “sleeping” and because he’s fascinated with facts about how people have died. Her: because she feels she’s responsible for her sister’s death and can’t grasp why she was allowed to live.

The Story: Finch and Violet are two extremely unlikely characters who after meeting atop the bell tower, are paired together for a class in which they have to discover elements of Indiana over the course of the semester as their major project. This project and Violet’s company — the way she fascinates him and he wants to know more of her story — keeps Finch awake and helps him not to slip into the depths of his depression. He wants to keep Violet safe and alive and make her see she’s going to be okay. He’s known as a freak; she’s part of the popular crowd. He cares what no one thinks and tends to masquerade as different personas whenever he so chooses. Violet envies his ease and intelligence, but she’s also wary of him.

The Charm: Wit. Humor. Laughing out loud at the easy banter between Violet and Finch. Beautiful, gripping writing that really connected me to both characters (especially considering it’s old in alternating POVs). Finch and Violet were ALIVE and unique. The scenery and locations they visited were so “normal” and unspectacular until they arrived and breathed life into them. Meeting Violet and Finch is like taking a deep breath of the most intoxicating scent you’ve ever smelled — it fills you up and makes your lungs burn because you never want to exhale and lose the deliciousness.

The Clincher: There’s this feeling that something’s going to happen as you can feel that they’re both trying to climb out of the long, lonely slumbers they were in before meeting. My emotions were on such a roller coaster as I learned more and more about their stories and who they were. There’s such joy in two polar opposite characters meeting (however tragically that might have been) and seeing their relationship progress to such a beautiful place.

I’ve already marked All the Bright Places as a favorite for 2015. I finished the last pages and immediately pre-ordered a finished copy to be mailed to Estelle. I never, ever spend a lot of time re-reading books, but this book is so strong and remarkable I’ll need to. (I highlighted a bazillion passages and think each time I read it, a million more will stand out.) I guarantee Jennifer Niven will be racking up multiple awards for her incredible work. (She deserves every one of them.)

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• • •

HAPPY NEW YEAR GIVEAWAY!

I loved All the Bright Places so incredibly much that I want to start 2015 off by sharing a copy of it with someone!
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book cover for Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

Magan: Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

book cover for Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot (website | twitter)
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 368
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: boarding school, Nantucket, family death, unlikely friendship
Format Read: ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss. (Thank you!)

Summary: When Julia and Charlotte meet, they become instant friends, always by each other’s side. Though they’re opposites in most every way, Julia and her family embrace Charlie and make her one of their own. Charlie protects Julia from succumbing to her depression when her sister’s death becomes too much to deal with, and she’s by her side when Julia’s planning something outrageous, too.

Charlotte attends St. Anne’s boarding school; she’s befriended her roommate, Rosalie, and two other girls, but she mostly lives in her own little artistic alcove of the school. Late one night, she hears voices stumbling around, drunkenly, outside her dorm window. As she eavesdrops, she realizes one of the girls has been abandoned so she sneaks outside to find Julia. She helps Julia to her dorm room and protects her from the school monitors. A new friendship is begun between these two very unlikely friends after Julia’s drunken debacle.

Charlie, as Julia nicknames her, is on scholarship to St. Anne’s; she’s not one of the privileged girls, doesn’t come from money, comes from a broken family, and she keeps to herself. Julia’s father is a well-known senator, comes from money, has a very close-knit family, and is given a lot of freedom to explore and be a free-spirit. Julia’s family, while so close, hides many secrets; her older sister, Gus, passed away, but no one really discusses it. Charlie realizes Julia needs some closure, but when they take one step forward to learning more about Gus, their friendship soon takes two steps backward.

Charlie becomes Julia’s constant — her support when she’s down and doesn’t want to leave her room, her sidekick when she wants to do something wild. One of the absolutely lovliest aspects of Even in Paradise is how Julia’s family embraces Charlie. They welcome her into their Nantucket beach home, Arcadia, and she easily blends in. Boom, Julia’s dad, becomes a fatherly figure for Charlie; Mummy provides the perfect motherly touch. Nanny sends the girls care packages while they’re at school. Charlotte has such a special bond with each and every family member that really provides so much insight; we see their concern for Julia, how they’re trying to survive after Gus’s death, and how despite all their wealth, they’re so normal and down-to-earth.

Philpot created such unique, rich characters that really popped and came alive, especially through all the ups and downs of Julia and Charlie’s friendship. We see Charlie struggle with being completely absorbed with Julia, but feeling this longing and hurt for the friends she had before. (I was particularly struck by this subtle message of how we don’t have to be just one type of person or friend. We have so many talents and interests and not one singular person will fill all of our needs; we shouldn’t feel like we’re cheating when we explore those other interests with other people. A good friend wouldn’t ask that of us.) She’s scared when she starts to have feelings for Julia’s older brother, Sebastian, but is afraid of what might happen should she act on them. There’s this amazing, lovely balance of Charlotte knowing who she is and where she stands and not lusting after this alternate lifestyle; she is never condemned or asked to separate from who she is to fit the Buchanan mold.

The writing is strong because absolutely every circumstance is handled so maturely. Just as Charlie feels swept away by this family she falls so dearly in love with, so too will Philpot’s readers be longing for every ounce of reading time they can get. One small note is that maybe the cover might lead you to think it’s a summertime book; I kind of wish it were a bit more season-neutral because quite a bit of time is covered throughout the book and doesn’t solely focus on their summer house. (That’s definitely a favorite setting of mine though!)

What a lovely surprise Even in Paradise was. Read it; devour it.

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