book cover for Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Magan: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

book cover for Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarryPushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
Publication Date: July 31, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 384
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: counseling, memory loss, foster care
Format read: ARC from NetGalley.

Summary: Echo and Noah are paired up when Mrs. Collins, their counselor, suggests Noah get a tutor to help improve his grades after his downhill slide due to his parent’s death.

 

Does this sounds like a disastrous combination to you:

a girl with repressed memories (Echo) + a good boy turned bad (Noah) + lots of counseling to “fix” them (Mrs. Collins)

I thought it was all kinds of right.

Echo used to be Miss Popularity but a secret event happened that caused her to become a recluse. She and her boyfriend, Jake, broke up and the majority of her friends have ditched her in favor of believing the rumors that circulate her mysterious absence from school after The Event. She’s a fractured girl with repressed memories of what actually happened that left her so badly scarred. She wears long sleeve shirts no matter the outdoor temperature. Her relationship with her father is strained and his remarriage to her pregnant ex-babysitter doesn’t help matters.

Noah is an all-star-athlete-turned-playboy. He lost his parents to a house fire and has bounced from foster home to foster home since then. His younger brothers aren’t allowed to live with him and he’s got limited interaction with them because he’s gotten into a few brawls at his foster homes. His good boy, all-star rapport is thrown out the window in favor of being a pot-smoking, sex machine who lives in the moment.

Echo wants to remember what happened. Noah wants to gain custody of his brothers. Both of them need the help of Mrs. Collins, the new school grief counselor, to work through their issues. She pairs below-average-Noah up with outstanding-student-Echo for tutoring. The two make a pact to help each other get the information they need from Mrs. Collins.

McGarry did a brilliant job of telling Echo and Noah’s story via their dual perspectives. She created two incredibly broken characters with a lot of baggage and very big issues and forced them together. Issues in young adult fiction can be a bit on the fluffy side, but I thoroughly enjoyed that McGarry took the plunge and didn’t take the easy way out with their journey. Echo and Noah were each other’s new beginnings – they were truthful and honest about their pasts – open about things that no one else knew. It only made sense that as they began to trust one another, they would fall in love (though not without a few bumps in the road).

To the reader, Echo and Noah’s pasts are somewhat vague. McGarry chose to use the first person perspective to allow us to experience Echo’s returning memories and all the details of Noah’s parent’s house fires along with them. Just as with counseling, there was a slow revelation of their complete history. I very much enjoyed the quiet progression because I couldn’t anticipate when the next big plot twist was going to happen.

Noah and Echo’s relationship definitely kept me intrigued until we found out more details. In the simplest of terms: their relationship was steamy. Noah had a reputation for having one night stands and never settling down, but Echo falls for him anyway. Noah realizes he’s one of the few people Echo opens up to and the glimpses we have of how incredible and awesome and swoon-worthy he is made me want to shout for Echo to GO FOR IT. McGarry got real — Echo needed someone who would be tender and kind to her in all of the ways her family had neglected to be.

I could continue to go on and on with my love for this beautifully broken love story, but I’m going to stop in favor of you taking a moment to pre-order this book so you can fall in love with Echo and Noah too.

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Sweet Summertime Reads: A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger

Hey-a! It’s Magan with another summer beach read, A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger for our joint feature, Sweet Summertime Reads, hosted with Ginger and Tara!

A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger [website | twitter]
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Poppy
Pages: 304
Keywords: Re-marriages, Step-siblings, Family Drama, Drinking and Hook-ups
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format Read: Paperback from TLA (Thank you!)

When I read The DUFF by Kody Keplinger, I identified. I felt connected to the main character and really felt like I could tap into her emotions as she navigated her way through her life’s troubles. I thought I would feel much the same with Kody’s new book A Midsummer’s Nightmare, but I didn’t. I enjoyed the writing and the craziness of trying to figure out if Whitley would get together with her soon-to-be-stepbrother, Nathan, but overall I could not relate to Whitley in the way I expected to.

Whitley’s parents have been divorced for a long time. She lives with her bitter, self-absorbed mother, but she’s always wanted to live with her father. Since that’s not the case, she spends every summer with him. When she graduates, she is looking forward to her last summer with her dad before college – listening to good music, hanging out in the condo and at the beach, and drinking. That all changes when her dad pulls up to a new house where she’s introduced to the woman her dad is going to marry. The woman, Sylvia, is someone she’s never heard of or met before.

To make everything worse, Sylvia’s son, Nathan, is the boy Whitley randomly slept with at the graduation party she attended. How’s that for awkward?

There is a lot that happens in this story – Whitley deals with her issues by randomly hooking up with guys and drinking to extremes. She can’t talk to her parents – her mom is too focused on her own broken heart to see her daughter is struggling, and her dad is trying so desperately hard to make life appear perfect with his new family. Oh, and then there’s all the tension with Nathan. Should they just give into their feelings for one another even though they’re going to be step-siblings?

I felt at times that while the writing was good and Keplinger could tap into the emotions of an 18-year-old really well, it was lacking in some depth. There was a lot of build up and anticipation, but very few pages were dedicated to the story settling and all the aforementioned issues wrapping up. I don’t need for everything to wrap up in perfect little bows – my imagination can wander – but with so many big things, I just wanted more. Whitley’s feelings of invisibility didn’t really come full circle for me.

While I didn’t feel extremely connected to Whitley because of how she wanted to ruin herself to make her family notice her, I did enjoy Sylvia and Nathan’s characters very much. Sylvia was the antithesis of a terrible step-mother. She saw the destruction happening in Whitley’s life and wanted to step in. It was hard for her to navigate the boundary between caring for Whitley but not getting too overly involved. Though it is a little awkward that they were going to be step-siblings, I appreciated Nathan’s character. He was not one to hold back how he felt. While he had his moments of being a little too honest and come across as hurtful, I always felt his intentions were for the best.

I suppose my last observation is that I always knew what was coming next in A Midsummer’s Nightmare. I felt the overall plot points were fairly similar to The DUFF, and I sincerely hope that Keplinger’s books don’t become formulaic. Estelle went to a signing a few weeks ago in New York and told me about the new book Keplinger is working on. This one pertains to a very big issue, suicide, and I think Keplinger has the ability to really push the boundaries and go deep. I hope she does.

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photograph of zac efron laying on blue plastic chairs

My Nathan = Zac Efron. Who wouldn't want your step-brother to be a cute, hot guy, especially if envisioned to look like SEXY Zac Efron?!

Image borrowed from People.com

Magan: Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
Pages: 416
Release Date: first published in 1998, republished July 25th 2006
Publisher: Dell
Target Audience: Young Adult / Adult Fiction
Format: Own a Hardback copy.
Why I picked it up: Estelle was generous & awesome & gave Summer Sisters to me for Christmas.

Summary: Vix is a lonely 12-year-old girl until popular-girl Caitlin invites her to spend the summer at her Dad’s beach house. Vix and Caitlin become inseparable, go through puberty together, crush on local beach boys, and spend every summer at the beach. The story follows the girls as they grow up, separate, and reconnect over 12 years.

When I received Summer Sisters for Christmas from Estelle, I was thrilled! I couldn’t remember reading Judy Blume books when I was younger, so I was anxious to see why Estelle had sent me this book. This ended up being a book that I didn’t devour in a day, but not because it wasn’t great. It was rich with detail, emotions, and a very dense story was woven throughout. It’s a story about friendship, growing up, life changes, loss, and family.  Told over a 12-ish year period, Summer Sisters begins with a prologue at the climax of the story. It then reverses and we meet shy, insecure Vix at age 12 and we get to see Caitlin and Vix’s friendship blossom from the beginning. Not only do we see the girls grow up over time, but we understand in a very deep way how messy and complicated their friendship is.

Actually, there’s just a lot of mess all throughout Summer Sisters. Vix’s family sucks; her mother takes advantage of her, degrades her, and doesn’t let her think for herself. Caitlin introduces Vix to her family; they see something special in her and completely take her under their wing. I loved how their family loved on Vix – they cared for her well beyond high school graduation and supported her through college. They gave her a life and opportunities she would never have dreamed of. Vix was finally able to understand that family isn’t necessarily about blood relations; it’s about the people you choose to surround yourself with.

As much as Caitlin was a part of Vix’s life, there were times I didn’t understand why they were such close friends. Caitlin was crazed, competitive, and spoiled beyond reason. Just reading about her overwhelmed me at times, and I realized that she wouldn’t have been an ideal best friend for me. For Vix, she was perfect; the girls expected nothing less than the best from one another, but were so compassionate when things didn’t work out that way. No matter where life took them, they were able to remain in contact and shared a deep bond that was much more sisterly.

Summer Sisters opens with the prologue, however, and we see that Vix and Caitlin have been apart for quite some time. Vix is left speechless and shaking when she finds out Caitlin is to marry to Bru. Throughout the remainder of the book, we see how Vix is connected to Bru and things begin to fall into place. Bru, Von, Gus, Sharkey, and Daniel were just a few of the boys that they spent each summer with, and I always felt so intrigued by the dynamics of all these relationships, especially when I began to see how the prologue connected to the rest of the story.

This was a book that made me extremely nostalgic.  Vix’s story was reminiscent of Jessica Darling’s (as in the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty). I felt extremely connected to Vix because she reminded me so much of Jessica. Here are a few quick comparisons and maybe a few things that will lead you to read Summer Sisters.

  • Vix is a lonely girl. She is smart and witty, but no one ever realizes that until she meets Caitlin. I felt like her character was unleashed with the introduction of Caitlin, just like Jessica’s was unveiled when she and Marcus became close friends.
  • Vix has a messy, complicated relationship with Bru. She’s head-over-heels in love with him. In the back of her mind, she’s constantly second-guessing herself. Is she ready to commit? Is she too young to be in such a serious relationship? Bru proposes at some point (I PROMISE I’m not spoiling anything here), and I was overwhelmed with flashbacks of when Marcus proposed to Jessica. Guys, I can’t even explain how much I missed Jessica and Marcus while reading this part.
  • Because of Caitlin’s family, Vix is given the opportunity to go to Harvard. Remember the whole So you think you’re better than us? thing in the Jessica Darling books when she goes to Cambridge? Oh. My. Gosh. Those same emotions were displaced on Vix, too. She was just a girl trying to make ends meet and get a good education while everyone around her (i.e. her low-life family) assumed she was becoming a snob.

Okay, I really hope I’ve made my case for this book. It’s so stinkin’ good. Pick it up. Immerse yourself in the world of Summer Sisters.

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Magan: The Duff by Kody Keplinger

The Duff by Kody Keplinger

Released: September 7, 2010
Pages: 280
Target Audience: Young Adult
How I found out about it: It was on the recent return pile at my local library and I’d considered checking it out 1.5 million times before.
Format
: Hardcover borrowed from the library.
Summary:Bianca is crazy tough and super critical; she has two amazing best friends and life is coasting along as normal until a few things happen. 1) Her Mom files for divorce. 2) The boy who broke her heart returns to town. 3) Wesley (resident hottie) calls her the DUFF – designated ugly fat friend. 4) As a way to escape the chaos of her life, she and Wesley become involved.

Oh, let me count the ways I love Kody Keplinger.  Can I first take a moment to give her major props for being eighteen years old and in her senior year of high school when she wrote this book? Wow to how un-accomplished I felt when I read that on the back flap of the book.

Just by the title of the book I felt certain that I’d be able to connect with the story. Designated Ugly Fat Friend = DUFF.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that in a circle of friends, this term implies that one girl isn’t quite up to par so that everyone else looks prettier by comparison. Did you ever have those moments in high school (and, hello, let’s just be real for a minute – even today) where you felt uglier than your friends? Less than? Substandard?

I did. I got my curves at an early age and begrudgingly welcomed womanhood into my life a lot earlier than I would have liked, all while the rest of my friends remained sticks. Bianca’s two best friends, Casey and Jessica, were characters I admired. Though Bianca did feel like the “ugliest” friend, I didn’t ever feel like she was treated in any way that suggested she was being used by them. I applaud Keplinger for keeping it real and for really bringing out our girly insecurities. In the end, she makes a beautiful point about how we’re all insecure. We all have our baggage and issues.

Bianca chooses deal with her drama in a very physical way. Whereas I go shopping when I’m feeling down and blue, Bianca starts a fling with Wesley – the very boy who calls her out as the DUFF. Their relationship is unhealthy and wrong on so many levels; they’re both using each other and not dealing with any of the issues in real life. Despite their very sexual relationship and Wesley’s womanizer attitude, I admired the boy. He stood up for Bianca at all the right times, he said some of the funniest things that made me belly laugh and want to read through the pages as fast as I could to discover what happened when everything imploded in their lives.

This was my first Keplinger novel, but I’ll definitely be picking up another soon. In fact, Shut Out was released September 5, 2011. Oh, happy day!

*We’re adding something new to all of our reviews. Some of our readers want to know immediately whether they should OWN, BORROW, or SKIP a book if they’re short on time and can’t read the whole review. We’re adding our thoughts to the bottom of every post so you can get a better sense of how we feel at a quick glance.

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