book cover for manicpixiedreamgirl by tom leveen

Magan: manicpixiedreamgirl by Tom Leveen

book cover for manicpixiedreamgirl by tom leveenmanicpixiedreamgirl by Tom Leveen (website | twitter)
Publication Date
: April 23, 2013
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Pages: 256
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: conflicted emotions, male POV, past and present, contemporary fiction
Format read: ARC received via NetGalley (Thank you!)
Other Books Read By Leveen: Zero

Summary: Tyler’s first short story is soon to be published in a literary journal where everyone will find out the truth — that while he’s been dating Sydney, he’s secretly been in love with Becky.

There are a handful of you that will be turned off by the premise of Tom Leveen’s new book, Manicpixiedreamgirl.

You won’t want to read about a boy, Tyler, who is dating one girl, Sydney, but is in love with another, Becky.
You’ll be worried that he’s going to cheat. And cheating isn’t fun to read about.
But you’ll be unnecessarily worried.

Because even though Tyler should let go of Sydney, there’s something so incredibly gripping and magnetic about Leveen’s writing. He lures you into the story with breadcrumbs of information that make your mouth salivate in anticipation for the next bite.

Manicpixiedreamgirl alternates between the past (beginning the first day of freshman year when Tyler first lays eyes on Becky) and the present (when his first short story is being published in a literary journal and he’s in a relationship with Sydney). Tyler’s immediately drawn to Becky; she sits alone at lunch, sorts her animal crackers into interesting piles, and happens to be reading one of his favorite Stephen King books. She’s an enigma. He loves watching her from afar (because he’s too timid to actually talk to her in person).

One day in English class when Sydney mentions that she knows Becky, Tyler bombards her with questions to gather any snippet of information he can. And somehow, weeks later, Tyler finds himself on a non-date with Sydney … which leads to them becoming a couple without an official proclamation ever being made. It just sort of happens.

Tyler’s in an odd position because he never fully intended to date Sydney. He still daydreams about Becky and wants to find ways to spend time with her. Out of respect for Sydney, he’s very cautious when he does interact with Becky and is ever the gentleman.

But in the privacy of his own home, he writes stories. Countless stories are written and revised.

About Becky.

And it just so happens that one of those is being published in the literary journal. Where surely everyone (especially Sydney) will be able to put together that Tyler is in love with Becky.

The only other book I’ve read of Tom Leveen’s is Zero, which I loved so much because of how well Leveen dove into his character’s minds. Tyler’s character was no different. Every struggle he felt seemed so authentic and real. How could he have allowed himself to fall into a relationship with Sydney? How can he love Becky and not hurt Sydney? His best friends were the perfect, humorous balance to the anxiety-ridden Tyler that seemed to always be toeing the line between what he wanted and what he was forced into.

Often I’m frustrated with characters that are pushovers and don’t stand up for themselves. I don’t know how he did it, but Leveen never angered me with Tyler’s passiveness. Tyler was still kind and thoughtful, intelligent, and aware of how all his decisions would affect those around him. I suppose the correct term would be mature. He didn’t make quick, erratic decisions, but instead let things play out naturally.

Leveen’s writing is stimulating and ever so engaging. Just as Tyler was drawn to Becky, so will you be seduced by Manicpixiedreamgirl, desperately hoping to untangle the messy web Tyler finds himself caught in.

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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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book cover for Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Magan: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

book cover for Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (web | tweet)
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 320
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: young love, scary step-parents, biracial characters, curvy female YA characters
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thank you!)

Summary: Eleanor is the new kid at Park’s school; she dresses crazy and has big, red hair that makes her stand out in a crowd. On her first bus ride to school, Eleanor sits by Park who is agitated by having to share his seat. Slowly and beautifully, Eleanor and Park forge a friendship that leads to falling in love for the first time.

Dear Rainbow Rowell,

You forever and always will have me as a lifelong reader and fan of your work. Thank you for writing a book I will declare one of my favorite 2013 reads. Eleanor and Park completely and utterly absorbed me. Your writing is poetic, spot-on-descriptive, and made me want to cry because I could relate to every word you poured out.

From several glowing reviews I read before beginning your book, I was pretty sure it would be something I would love. I saw it described as “a cute love story” and “adorable.” But you see, Rainbow, while those things are accurate, for someone like me your story was so much more than young love. I felt like pieces of your story could have been written (though not nearly as perfectly, of course) by me. I, too, fell in love with my husband at a young age (when I was 16). Your words made me tear up at some of the most innocent scenes because I understood how Eleanor felt about her body — her insecurities about her curves and having to wear the same Goodwill clothes over and over because her family just couldn’t afford more.

I cringed when you made me remember what it was like to grow up in a home where friends weren’t welcome to come over because our living conditions were less than ideal. I understood how it felt to put up a front and to not let people’s comments (like Eleanor from her bullies) bother me because there were bigger, scarier things to worry about where my family was concerned. You explored these details so subtly, but for me, they stood out as if they were bolded and underlined.

What I feel most people will admire about your story is how Eleanor and Park so perfectly fall in love. Their love is sweet and innocent, but not without their fair share of complications to make it believable and realistic. Park has a few best friends who refuse to accept Eleanor. She has to lie about her whereabouts to her mom because her over-protective step-dad would flip if he knew she was spending time with a boy. But you know what I love most? The friendship that developed into more over time. It’s real. It’s not easy. They don’t always understand each other, but they’re gentle and kind and caring toward one another — falling in love despite (or maybe because of) their flaws.

All of this young love stuff? You got it so right. The slow build and trust issues were impeccably flawless. I held my breath for pages as you explored the meaningfulness of what holding hands for the first time with someone you’re falling in love with feels like. The significance of locking eyes and with that  boy when you’re so used to having your eyes glued to the ground, trying to be as invisible as possible, is immeasurable. Eleanor may have thought Park was too good to be true, and Park may have feared that their relationship was temporary because we’re taught that young love is fleeting, but Rainbow, you delivered a message that needs to be heard.

Sometimes, love saves our lives.

Please, please keep doing what you’re doing and sharing your talent with us all. I may go broke pre-ordering copies of your books for all my friends, but for the sake of spreading your stories, I vow to continue doing so.

Your biggest, newest fan,
Magan

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book cover for Hooked by Liz Fichera

Magan: Hooked by Liz Fichera

book cover for Hooked by Liz FicheraHooked by Liz Fichera ( web | tweet )
Publication Date
: January 31, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 368
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: Gender and Racial Discrimination, Golf, Bullying
Format read: ARC received via NetGalley

Summary: When Fredricka (Fred) is recruited to play golf for the men’s varsity team at her high school, team member Seth is kicked off. Seth manipulates and bullies Fred throughout the season, often leaving his best friend and ex-teammate Ryan in quite a predicament… especially when he might just be falling for Fred.

Hooked seemed like the perfect book for me, a girl who has lovingly devoured Miranda Kenneally’s books [see: Catching Jordan and Stealing Parker] which interweave a nice balance of sports and sweet romance. Though I don’t know a thing about golf, I was ready to be swept away by Fichera.

Fred is Native American and very isolated from the rest of her classmates. She has only a few friends because not many are willing to get to know the handful of kids attending the public school from her reservation. When she’s approached by the golf coach, who eyed her all summer while she perfected her swing at the golf club during her dad’s shift as groundskeeper, she’s not unsuspecting of the drama that is sure to follow when Seth is kicked off the team. Fred is a loner, mostly keeping to herself because she has a lot of family secrets she’d rather everyone not know. (Her mom is a drunk, they don’t have much money, live in a shabby trailer house, and drive a van that’s sure to cruise its last mile soon.)

Teammate Ryan has his fair share of drama, too, aside from Seth’s less than acceptable mistreatment of Fred. His doctor mother and lawyer father are rarely home; he suspects his father may be having an affair. Seth and Gwenyth (the clingy girl who can’t really take a hint that she’s being used and isn’t ever going to be promoted to Girlfriend) help soothe Ryan’s pain by partying and drinking with him. While it seems Ryan really is a good guy at heart, he’s left to pick up the pieces when Seth decides to attack Fred, portraying him as a very weak and gullible character . (Did I mention Seth’s father was killed in an accident by a Native American? His anger is immeasurable and he will do anything to make Fred suffer.) For the record, it was much more difficult to see Fred bullied by a boy than it typically is to read about girl v. girl drama.

You might have deduced that there’s no lack of drama with all the bullying and family tension. For a girl who is down with the (book) drama, I would have been more engaged if Fred or Ryan ever took a stand. Both were passive characters that let life take over. Fred was incredibly timid and never once rallied for support with her teammates or confided in her coach (who I wholeheartedly feel would have kicked major booty if he knew what was happening). Resolutions were delayed time and time again and I distanced myself from emotionally connecting with the characters as a result of their pathetic choices.  Ultimately, I would have appreciated a bit more character growth.

With a book full of strong contrasts (white boy versus Native American girl / girl on a boy’s team / rich versus poor / popular versus being a nobody), a lot could have been said about how to overcome these differences. Fred didn’t learn to fight for herself. Ryan didn’t have to change much (and in the end, even Seth’s actions were glossed over). Don’t get me wrong, many elements of Hooked were strong. Reading about a Native American girl and her reservation was fascinating, and Fichera did a great job of exploring discrimination on multiple levels. Unfortunately, I wished for Fred and Ryan to have more backbone than they did, something that quite possibly could have been strengthened if they didn’t have quite so many obstacles to overcome.

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book review for Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Magan: Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

book review for Sweethearts by Sara ZarrSweethearts by Sara Zarr
Publication Date: February 1, 2008
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 217
Target audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: childhood friendships, first love, growing up, emancipation
Format read: Bought a signed copy at TLA.

Summary: Jenna’s life is happily trucking along until her assumed-to-be-dead childhood best friend, Cameron Quick, enrolls at her school and causes memories and unanswered questions to overwhelm her.

 

Every once in a while, a book comes along that’s so different and beautifully written that it sweeps me off my feet and makes me ignore my husband until I’ve completely absorbed it. Sweethearts was just that for me.

If you think back to your childhood, do you have friends that stick out to you that maybe you wish you were still in contact with today? I’m fairly lucky that I’m still friends with a lot from my childhood, but Jenna feels the void of her missing friend Cameron Quick. These two were inseparable as kids – two social outcasts who had no other friends – until one day, when Jenna was nine, Cameron quits showing up to school. He disappears.

Rumors fly around school that Cameron has died. Jenna is forced to believe this is true because her mom does nothing to deny the lie. For eight years, Jenna goes through a transformation: switching schools, moving houses, and becoming a stronger person. Things are going along just fine until Cameron enrolls in her school.

When I imagine the scene where Jenna first sees Cameron, I can’t help but imagine how I would have reacted. I probably would have fallen out of my chair. Jenna and Cameron quietly and privately reconnect. She is filled with lots of questions she wants answered. He’s reluctant to tell her what she wants to hear because there’s something they’re both burying – an event that occurred shortly before his disappearance. Jenna becomes a confused mess – her relationship with Ethan (her boyfriend) becomes disastrous and she withdraws from everyone, needing time to figure things out on her own without the influence of her friends.

Jenna feels as if she’s completely reinvented herself since Cameron left. She never wanted to be called names for being overweight or too sensitive without Cameron by her side. (In fact, Cameron knows her as Jennifer. Jenna is what she calls herself when she switches schools.) She is conflicted because she feels Cameron is the only person who knows the “true” her. Will her friends accept her if they know her secrets and what she used to be like? A sub-plot is Jenna’s relationship with her mother, who for much of her childhood was absent as she worked and put herself through school. Cameron’s appearance forces Jenna to be honest with her mom about the past, about what happened.

My biggest takeaway was from Cameron’s reintroduction into Jenna’s life. Their story is about love and what it can mean to love someone who makes such a profound impact on our lives, even at such a young age. To love even from a distance. To continue to love when the truth surfaces, when life changes us. Jenna and Cameron’s teenage friendship is much more complicated than their childhood one, but I loved seeing two old friends pick back up where they left off.

Sara Zarr is absolutely one of my favorite authors. If you’re looking for a gripping story that is sure to capture your attention, pick up Sweethearts (or any of Sara’s books for that matter).

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My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick 
Publication Date
: June 14, 2012
Publisher: Dial Books
Pages: 395
Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords
: Young love, next door neighbors, traumatic event
Source: eBook received from NetGalley for review.

Summary: Sam has watched the Garrett family from her rooftop for ten years. Her mother has kept her at a distant from the large, chaotic family, but once she begins running for political office, she loosens her tight grip on Samantha. One evening Jase climbs up the trellis to Sam’s rooftop and the two quickly become friends.

I’m going to sound incredibly hypocritical when I admit this to you guys, but here goes nothin’. I have been anxious to read Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door since I saw the cover. I had visions of a great girl falling in love with her swoon-worthy next door neighbor. And oh, did this book deliver one heck of story when it came to that. What I didn’t expect were the million other amazing details that made me fall even more in love with Samantha and Jase.

Ten years ago, Jase’s (rather large) family moved next door to Samantha. For ten years, Sam has listened to her mother harp about how many children the Garrett’s have, how incapable they are of keeping up their house, how atrocious it is that they have toys scattered all over their lawn (and on and on and on). During those years Sam’s secretly watched the family from afar, intrigued by them. One night Jase climbs up the trellis of Sam’s house to keep her company; the two become fast friends and the barrier between Sam and the Garrett family crumbles to pieces.

Sam balances a fine line between making her uptight mother happy and falling in love with the boy next door. Her mother’s overprotectiveness drove me crazy but her outright ignorance for what a d-bag her new political campaign advisor, Clay, (who doubles as her boy toy) was really left me speechless. I often find myself cringing when teens make bad decisions and go against their parents wishes, but in Sam’s case, I was delighted she was finally breaking the mold her mother had so firmly cast around her. Sam is responsible to a fault – it’s summertime and she’s working two jobs and trying to help her friend Tim kick his drug habit and taking an SAT prep class with her friend Nan. Busy much? I think it’s safe to say that Sam needed a little excitement in her life.

One of the most beautiful aspects of My Life Next Door was watching Sam and Jase fall in love. Their relationship was an exploration of honest teenage emotions that relate to sex and experiencing so many things for the first time. Fitzpatrick approached this topic with such authenticity and tenderness. But not without a hefty amount of steaminess, mind you. So many of Sam’s internal dialogues conjured up questions and feelings my seventeen-year-old self also felt or thought.

Add in little side-helpings of Jase’s crazy, enormous, chaotic family and Sam’s friend, Tim, who needs all the help he can get kicking his drug dependency and you’ve got a lot of people to fall in love with. Fitzpatrick doesn’t just make us fall in love with her main characters – she gives us siblings with adorable quirks and unique fears. She makes us laugh when Sam adopts “Super Sailorgirl” as her super hero nickname. We understand the complexities of Tim and how flawed he and his sister Nan are. With so many people swiftly moving in an out of this story, Fitzpatrick does an incredible job of making us understand each and every one of them to grasp the big picture.

Everything in the story progresses beautifully until a very big event occurs. It’s a game changer. A curveball. A punch in the gut.

The best comparison I can offer is Looking for Alaska by John Green. If you’ve read this book, you’re aware that there’s a rather large event that changes the course and tone of the book. It takes the reader by complete surprise. The happy-go-lucky feel of the book suddenly becomes much heavier and depressing. While the event is not the same in My Life Next Door, I did have the same feelings as the result of the turn of events. My emotions became even more wrapped up in the story and I probably appeared more than a little agitated to all the passengers aboard my same flight that day. The pacing intensified as I waited for everything to implode – so many loose ends, so much drama, so much pain.

While I wholeheartedly believe this is a book you must read, there were a couple of details that I wish had been further explored. Perhaps a few more pages would have granted me the peace I was seeking after such a big event. I do recommend that you have a friend on standby who has read My Life Next Door because if I hadn’t had my pals Estelle and Ginger, I think I would’ve gone crazy.

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