book cover from goodreads for Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson

Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson • Magan Reviews

book cover from goodreads for Cut Me Free by J.R. JohanssonCut Me Free by J.R. Johansson [twitter • website]
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Pages: 304
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: child abuse, changing identities, escaping abuse, thriller
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Though Charlotte is able to escape her abusers (her parents) and relocate to another city, once she begins to settle she begins receiving mysterious boxes with creepy messages inside. Could her parents have possibly tracked her down or has someone else discovered her secrets?

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How does one review a book that was brilliantly written but scared the bejesus out of them? I felt shaky and scared and angry while I was reading Cut Me Free. I tried to skip to the end to give myself some piece of mind; I hovered over the Goodreads app, contemplating whether or not I should look up spoilers because I was soooo anxious.

That’s a lot of emotions, huh?

Well, it’s all true. Charlotte was raised in the attic of her biological parent’s house. She and her brother’s identity was known to no one other than the two people who abused them and held them hostage. They’re sickening and grotesque and some of the worst people I’ve ever met in my reading life. The good news? Charlotte escapes. She weaves a path far, far away from the detestable souls she was unfortunately born to and tries to start over. She hires Cam to change her identity, provide the necessary official paperwork, and erase her past.

But things don’t come easy for Charlotte. She begins to see a young girl out and about with a fatherly figure who is showing obvious signs of abuse. For reasons I won’t go into, Charlotte feels like she has to save this girl. A whole series of events unfolds that really left me feeling unsettled and on guard. This story, Charlotte’s story, is multi-faceted: It’s her journey to begin anew, but interwoven is a thriller story as she begins to receive mysterious boxes.

I admire the way Cut Me Free made me feel, but maybe I walked away a little more paranoid than I began. There were times when, sure, this story really had things that may not have seemed plausible — for instance, how does a girl who has no education and socialization skills logically escape and instinctually know how to flee across the country — but ultimately, knowing whether or not Charlotte was going to be okay far outweighed the practical side of me that questions things. (And I think that’s a pretty big deal.)

As far as thrillers go, I was positively hooked. I really try to focus on my job during the day and taking care of my daughter when she’s awake, but by golly, I wanted to hire a babysitter and play hooky. I feel it’s my responsibility to admit the following to you: If you are really sensitive to abuse and neglect, I caution you to tread lightly with Cut Me Free. My anger was through the roof and Foster Mama Magan wanted to rip someone to shreds for not intervening here. (I actually read a few reviews that said the details weren’t graphic enough and my jaw couldn’t have dropped further because yes, things are told in a careful manner, but you’re quite capable of putting all the details together.)

Cut Me Free was an extremely intense story told quite well; it took me on an emotional, heart-pounding journey. I hope you’ll consider giving it a go, too.

**Sidebar: Have any of you read Room? Those same intense, crazy feelings I had while reading Room are what reappeared while reading Cut Me Free.

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Estelle: Adrenaline Crush by Laurie Boyle Crompton

Adrenaline Crush by Laurie Boyle CromptonAdrenaline Crush by Laurie Boyle Crompton ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 9/23/2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Pages: 192
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: daredevil, therapy, falling in love, family
Format read: ARC paperback from the publisher. (Thanks!)

Summary: Dyna loves how she feels when she takes risks. When she gets seriously hurt in a fall, her mom forces her into a therapy program that she finds totally laughable. She doesn’t plan on doing anything out of her comfort zone ever again, even if the doctors do say her ankle can get better. But meeting the people in her group especially a war vet a few years older than her makes her wonder if she can find a balance in her life.

So 192 pages is short for a young adult book, right?

The size intrigued me because there’s only one other I can think of (Something Like Normal by Trish Doller) that manages to tell a complete story in a compact book. Could Adrenaline Crush do the same?

For the most part, it did. Crompton gave us a great sense of this supportive and unconventional family, Dyna’s thirst for adventure, and how her fall makes her rethink why she loves to do things that give her a crazy rush even if it means risking her health and her life. She’s never thought about consequences before because she’s never had to. So now what?

Her accident not only changes her own way of thinking but it also alters her mom’s usual easy-going nature. Suddenly, Mom is feeling over-protective and wondering if her and her husband have given their kids too much freedom to pursue what they wanted. The lack of boundaries lands one kid in the hospital and Dyna’s older brother is wasting his time smoking up and avoiding decisions about his own future. On the other hand, Dyna’s dad is confused by this change in his wife and urges his daughter to get healthy and get back on the saddle.

Then there’s Jay — a boy from Dyna’s school who ends up at the scene of the accident, saves her, and becomes her boyfriend. Their attachment to one another is based on Dyna’s accident more so than knowing each other well. Don’t get me wrong — he’s totally devoted but at some point, the two were going to have to discuss how they fell for each other so quickly. Was it a real or was it kind of convenient?

See? That’s a lot for 192 pages and I haven’t even talked about the therapy center yet. An oddball group of people of various backgrounds and ages talking in a circle about their fears and what they want to overcome. Dyna thinks it’s a bit hokey but even her cold heart is melted when she starts to get to know these people and takes part in field trips to help them. The instantly good looking Pierce helps a bit with that too. He was injured in the war, helping out friends and he’s returned to the therapy group to assist. But you can tell he is still healing too.

Obviously, Pierce and Dyna already have more in common than her and Jay. I’m not a fan of love triangle scenarios but I truly believe that you cannot help who you fall for and these two develop a friendship before they are talking about “what this all means”. Crompton handled the boys in this story really well. It was respectful and it felt authentic.

Could Adrenaline Crush worked better as a longer book? In some ways, yes. I would have liked to see a better developed resolution, more dialogue with her family (they are just so great), and more of a glimpse into Dyna’s thinking process as she seesawed between being a risk taker and playing it safe. Interference from her parents would have worked well here too. All in all, the book kept me interested and was definitely enjoyable, even if it won’t be a forever favorite.

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Lindsey Lane on Storytelling + Evidence of Things Not Seen

Evidence of Things Unseen by Lindsey Lane

(From Lindsey Lane:) When I go into a school for an author visit, I always tell students that the cool thing about writing is that there are no right or wrong answers. There’s spelling. There’s grammar and punctuation. But really, there is no right way to tell a story. For me, as long as I’m telling a story that is true to a character’s heart then I’m doing my job as a writer.

When I started writing EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN, it was a series of linked short stories, all of which occurred around a patch of dirt by the side of the road, which is called a pull-out. You see, I woke up from a dream and saw a boy standing in a pull out and wondered what the heck he was doing there. Then a lot of different characters showed up at the pull out, each for a different reason, each with a different desire. Eventually I discovered Tommy, a brilliant, socially awkward high school boy who goes missing from that pull out. Once I ‘found’ Tommy, I knew his absence could pull all the stories together. In a weird way, Tommy would be the negative space at the heart of the novel around which all the stories of the people in the town revolved, only their stories would be a bit off course in the way that things go a bit wobbly when someone is missing.

That’s also when I added the fist person sections of the kids talking to the Sheriff about Tommy. I needed the urgency of their voices and their knowledge of Tommy to weave the world of the novel together. I took a risk interjecting first person sections with the third person stories. I mean, in the end, the reader of EVIDENCE steps into the perspective of twenty-one characters. That’s a lot to ask a reader but I think we live in this crazy exciting time as storytellers. Graphic novels. Fan fiction. Flash fiction. Novels in verse. It’s insane. And that’s just the reading format. If you turn on the television or go to the movies and plays, writers are taking big risks with story telling. Leaps in time, point of view shifts, simultaneous realities are all pretty common now. Do they all work? Probably not. But if your story is true to a character’s heart, your reader will go anywhere with you.

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About EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN: When high school junior Tommy Smythe goes missing, everyone has a theory about what happened to him. He was an odd kid, often deeply involved in particle physics, so maybe he just got distracted and wandered off. He was last seen at a pullout off the highway, so maybe someone snatched him. Tommy believes that everything is possible, and that until something can be proven false, it may be true. So as long as Tommy’s whereabouts are undetermined, he could literally be anywhere.

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Lindsey Lane AuthorAbout LINDSEY LANE:  Award-winning author Lindsey Lane is proud to announce her debut YA novel EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN will be published by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers on September 16, 2014. Her picture book SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN (Clarion, 2003) is now available as an iTunes app, which Digital Storytime describes as “heartwarming and adorable with rich illustrations and lyrical text.” In 2010, Lindsey received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Lindsey is a featured presenter at many schools where she gets kids (of all ages) excited about writing. When she is not writing, reading or being a mom, Lindsey loves sweating at Bikkram yoga, seeing movies and plays, and enjoying some of the outrageously good food at Austin restaurants with friends.

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