The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne â‹… Estelle Reviews

The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie ThorneThe Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 17, 2015
Publisher: Penguin/Dial Books
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: politics, family secrets, step-family, immigration

Summary: After Kate’s mom died in a car accident, she relocated to South Carolina to live with her only blood relatives. That she knows of. A year later, a story breaks that she is the daughter of a politician, a Republican running for president. She’s invited to spend her summer getting to know her father, when, in reality, she’s moving in with strangers (her step-family) and everything about her becomes some sort of strategy to make her father’s campaign a successful one. With this whole new part of her life, can Kate maintain who she has always been?

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with United States Presidents. Obsessed! I could recite any fact; I wrote so many reports about them (just for fun), and I even collected trading cards. (Does anyone remember the cards behind the Little Debbie snack cake boxes?)

So while I would have been just as dumbfounded to find out the father I never knew was running on the Republican ticket, I would have been pretty ecstatic about it too. To be related to someone who might live in the White House? (Who might see Lincoln’s ghost?!) It’s pretty unbelievable, and, honestly, Kate is probably the best kind of kid to have join the campaign trail. She’s smart, she’s focused, she’s loyal, and she wants to make a good impression – not so much on the American people, but with her dad and her extended step-family. Lucky for her, she gets to work on pleasing both.

It’s crazy, having to get to know your dad under these kinds of circumstances. No privacy, no spare moments, and a whole lot of prep and pampering to make Kate look like the ideal American daughter. (If you haven’t read Meghan McCain’s book and you are interested in this kind of behind-the-scenes antics, you should. It’s truly eye opening.) The most interesting transformation is how Kate slowly begins to blend into everything the campaign entails, and starts to lose a little bit of herself along the way. What does she do if she doesn’t agree with all of her father’s policies? Does that threaten their chance at a strong relationship? Discovering your dad is alive is one thing, but “getting to know him” under this kind of microscope is so intense and Jenn Marie Thorne nails this heartbreak, confusion, and need for acceptance so well.

In addition to all the smart political happenings, Kate bonds with her step-mom, Meg, and (mostly) enjoys getting to know her step-siblings. I love how their own reactions to a new person in this family become part of the story too. These relationships have the potential to be so great, but are so difficult too. And as if things couldn’t get any more confusing, Kate starts a secret friendship with Andy, the President’s “bad boy” son. This romance may not have been as much a part of The Wrong Side of Right as I thought it would be, but the parts we did get (the chemistry!) felt like a cherry on top of everything else.

I was unexpectedly taken aback by how consumed I was by this book, especially as Kate morphed into this new version of herself. What would happen when the stakes changed? For anyone looking to read a book with a bright, strong female character, here you go. With a realistic backdrop of what a mixed bag political life can be, Kate’s journey is one of self-discovery as much as it is about family and dealing with the secrets that her mother left behind. It’s a summer of learning about bravery, loyalty, and how acquiescing has little to do with affection and respect.

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

First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano | Estelle Reviews

First There Was Forever by Juliana RomanoFirst There Was Forever by Juliana Romano ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Publisher: Penguin/Dial Books
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: turning 16, best friends, popularity, sex
Format read: ARC from Publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: Total opposites Lima and Hailey have been best friends forever until Hailey finds herself more concerned with popularity and crushing on Nate, a guy who doesn’t give her the time of day. Subsequently, Lima finds herself dealing with Hailey’s absence as she attempts to make new friends — one of these new friends being Hailey’s Nate.

It’s safe to say we’ve all had a friend that seems to outshines us. Sure, sometimes it’s frustrating but most of the time we dismiss it because “it’s just the way they are”.  Even if this is the case in Lima and Hailey’s friendship, they both bring to the table qualities the other needs. They balance each other out. Lima’s life (two well-to-do, supportive parents) brings stability into Hailey’s (divorced, sort of absent). Hailey’s outgoing nature brings Lima out of her shell but also solidifies this intimacy they have with one another because Lima can trust Hailey with her most outrageous, embarrassing questions.

No one is on the same path when they are 15 or 16 years old. In fact, I think it’s probably one of the last times we might be on similar journeys as our friends. Lima might be perfectly content with spending time with her family, swimming at her aunt’s pool, and visiting food markets and gardening. At the same time, Hailey intensely throws herself into the in-crowd and the parties, and is sure she is in love with a quiet yet popular, Nate. Why does one person move ahead when another wants to stand still? Who decides these things? Like Lima, I have no idea. She maybe feel “behind” but she also wants to maintain her own pace. She even puts herself out there to meet some new friends but no one quite fills the space that was once occupied by Hailey. The heartbreak only builds because there are times when Hailey seems to be her old self. Is it possible they can go back to where they used to be? Nothing feels quite as solid as it once did.

I am completely in love with Romano’s writing. First There Was Forever was a debut, and I was in deep — the questions about sex and loyalty; the limits you set for yourself and the times you decide to go beyond them; the trust you have in your friends; the urge to hang on to our parents but to also break away — all against this brilliant, laidback California lifestyle. Romano also throws in a major wrench when Lima finds a friendship with Nate, the guy of Hailey’s dreams (or so she thinks). It’s a complicated and complex relationship but sometimes we can’t explain why these things happen. They just do and we have to go for it, or not. With Hailey acting selfish and out of character, I’m not surprised that Nate became such a big part of Lima’s life. He was simply there when her best friend wasn’t.

There’s truly a laundry list of moments to discuss in this book, but one thing I wanted to point out was how much our parent influence our friends during this time of our life. Lima needed a break from Hailey; it’s understandable she isn’t running to her parents to list Hailey’s “sins” but there’s such guilt when she sees that her mom misses Hailey having around too. The sadness continues to build, and sometimes we are helpless to put a cork in it. One quick reminder: these characters are on the younger side for YA. Romano presents their voices and actions so authentically, despite the “grown-up” questions they are asking themselves and each other.

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Magan: What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Publication Date: April 15th 2014
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Pages: 240 Target Audience: (Maturer) Young Adult
Keywords: summer job, divorced parents, opposites attract, sexually driven female
Format Read: Purchased e-book for my kindle.

Summary: Gwen wants to get away from Seashell after she graduates high school, but she’s got this overwhelming feeling she’ll be stuck there forever. She lusts after the fancy lives of the weekenders while falling for the summer lawn boy, Cass, whose life is completely opposite hers in nearly every way.

â—Š

Tension galore. Some mysterious backstory. Two people who “shouldn’t” be together. That sums up What I Thought Was True in the tiniest nutshell. Gwen lives on a tiny island where her family definitely isn’t the wealthiest. In fact, she lives in a quaint home with her mom, grandfather, cousin, and younger brother (who has something like autism, but it’s never named specifically in the story). Her father owns a restaurant that Gwen chooses not to work at when another opportunity arises; she’s to care for an elderly, wealthy islander who is recovering from an accident. Aside from the pay being better, she’s trying desperately to separate herself from her parent’s destiny. She doesn’t want to be stuck in Seashell forever.

Unbeknownst to Gwen, Cass, the boy she’s severely attracted to but wants to stay far from, gets a job as the island lawn boy for the summer. With her new job, this means she’ll be seeing a lot of Cassidy Summers. Cass and Gwen begin bumping into one another in random locations. She is confused by the boy she begins to get to know because the friends he chooses to hang around seem to contradict the sweet, gentlemanly guy he appears to be. The one thing she can’t quite get past is her reputation and the decisions she’s made. This was the area I really felt could have used a bit more character development; Gwen comes across as a promiscuous girl, but I wanted Fitzpatrick to really make a point and not allude to it. Was Gwen the type of girl who was sexually explorative or had she made decisions because she thought that’s what she was supposed to do?

My thoughts are that Gwen was very sexually driven, but that also caused me to not relate to her as much because it seemed she was hypocritical. It would be okay for her to want to jump Cassidy’s bones, but if he tried to make a move on her, she was ready to bail a split second later. There was always an internal struggle for Cass and Gwen because they were terrible communicators, but for the sake of wanting to relate to Gwen on a deeper level, I needed to understand why she was so finicky. (Cass was more relatable and down-to-earth; I quite possibly would have enjoyed the story more if it had been from his perspective.)

Much, much, much of the story is focused on Cass and Gwen’s tango of a relationship. So much so that the interesting side-stories get watered down and when the big climax happens, things don’t quite click because not enough details were there for things to fall into place. Gwen’s cousin, Nico, and his girlfriend/Gwen’s best friend, Vivian, have pretty significant roles in the story, but like in My Life Next Door when the giant SURPRISE OH MY GOSH moment happens, I felt a little derailed again because I just didn’t see it coming. (In hindsight, I’m wondering if this is a technique Fitzpatrick employs or if it’s from a lack of developing those secondary stories. I’d like to read a story of hers that doesn’t make me feel like I missed all the big clues along the way.)

Don’t get me wrong — there are some wonderful (Cass teaching Gwen’s brother how to swim) and juicy (ahem, that tension builds, y’all) moments, but they felt overshadowed by what seemed to be lacking from the story. I didn’t walk away with a light and happy feeling, nor really feel like Gwen had gone through the major transformation I was expecting. When it comes right down to it, maybe I just really missed all of the rambunctious Garrett family members from My Life Next Door. They’re pretty darn hard to beat.

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Estelle: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg SloanCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: August 29, 2013
Publisher: Dial
Pages: 384
Target audience: Middle grade
Keywords: tragedy, family, adoption, young geniuses
Format read: ARC from TLA. (Thanks!)
Other book reviewed by author: I’ll Be There

Summary: When her adoptive parents die in a car accident, Willow shuts down. The uber smart girl who loves to spend time in her garden no longer exists. Instead, Willow is quiet as her new companions help her to work through this tragedy.

I love Holly Goldberg Sloan’s writing because it instantly transports me back to my younger self and all the reasons I loved books in the first place.

Her themes revolve around unconventional families, tragedy, fate, and how the smallest act of kindness can utterly change someone’s life.

With her succinct writing style, Sloan has written a beautiful book about young Willow, probably the smartest protagonist I have ever encountered, who must deal with the shocking deaths of her parents. She was adopted by them, and now she is surprisingly “adopted” by high schooler Mai, her mom, her brother, and (kind sorta) her school counselor. This group of people couldn’t form a more eclectic family, and together they learn how to evolve individually as they help Willow to grieve and move forward.

At first sight, Willow is a little hard to get a handle on. She knows even the smallest details about the plants in her garden, she can learn to speak Vietnamese in record time, and she’s sort of walks around like she’s a little 50-year old with super complex brain functions. This little lady, even when brought down by absence of her parents, has no idea the effect she has on the people she comes across, and I loved watching that happen. Slowly and meaningfully, I knew Sloan would connect the dots in a way that would make me nod my head and think “all is right in this world.”

For all the serious situations surround the main plot, I promise there are some sweet, funny, and wonderful moments to counterbalance the flow.

Counting by 7s felt like a poetic masterpiece as I got swept into Willow’s story and this cast of colorful and complex characters. (I love that the adults are facing their own demons too.) It really is a team effort to make these people feel whole again, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. My only warning? Have tissues on hand.

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