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.

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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.

Twisted Fate by Norah Olson | Magan Reviews

book cover for Twisted Fate by Norah Olson

Twisted Fate by Norah Olson [twitter]
Publication Date: January 20, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 272
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: YA mystery, boy next door, sisters, online privacy
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: When a new boy, Graham, moves in next door, sisters Ally and Syd both develop crushes on him. But things don’t add up: Why did Graham move to town? Why’s he always videoing people? Why’s he sporadically in school? One sister only falls harder while the other begins to piece together a few disturbing clues.

•••

Sisters Sydney and Ally are picking blueberries when their new neighbors pull into the driveway next door. Out steps Graham, a boy Syd immediately thinks is a little weird but Ally finds attractive. They make small talk and both girls walk away with crushes blooming in their hearts. As the days tick by (and the multiple-point-of-view chapters), Ally falls head over heels for Graham; he flatters her and pays attention in a way no one else does. But Sydney becomes wary. Things just aren’t adding up and his story just doesn’t quite make sense.

Of course when Sydney attempts to discuss her hesitations with her sister, Ally assumes Syd is jealous.

Ally is the good girl — the people pleaser, always doing something for everyone else, never stepping out of line. Syd is wild, adventurous, constantly getting called to the counselor’s office, and is Ally’s opposite in nearly every way. Graham plays both girls, making them feel like they’re the most interesting person in the world. Though Syd is nervous about him, she can’t help but also fall under his spell when he compliments her.

Because of the different POVs — Syd, Ally, Graham, Graham’s step-mother, a cop — there’s this sinking feeling Syd is right and you’re just waiting for all the little clues to add up and make sense. (I was also really hesitant for them to. My suspicions and the truth were pretty heavy.) There’s something to be on alert for, but what?

From the mysterious, “whodunnit” stand point, I really enjoyed trying to figure out where Olson was going with Twisted Fate. I didn’t want to stop reading because I just knew the clue I was looking for would be on the next page. But on the flip side, the way the story was infiltrated with so many different perspectives, I found myself flipping back and forth between chapters a lot, particularly between Syd and Ally. (This later made sense why, but I kept thinking I’d missed something along the way.)

Twisted Fate has an ending that left me feeling uncomfortable (because it really made my mama-bear come alive) and scratching my head. Weeks after finishing, I’m still left wondering how everything would have tied up the way it did: Was that really possible? Huh? In comparison to a book such as We Were Liars, I felt everything tied up in a way I could accept even though it blew my mind. Olson delivers an extraordinarily creepy story that really had me hooked and made me have several “Aha!” moments pertaining to personal safety.

How’s that for making you wonder what happens?

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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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Blog Tour: How to Love by Katie Cotugno

Welcome to the How to Love blog tour hosted by Mundie Moms blog tours / Mundie Girls Tours!

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How to Love by Katie CotugnoHow to Love by Katie Cotugno ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 10/1/2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Pages: 389
Target audience: Young adult/Adult
Keywords: teen pregnancy, family friends, romance, friendship
Format read: ARC from Rachel. (Thank you!)

Summary: Reena thought her love for Sawyer would remain unrequited.. until it wasn’t. Nothing is easy about their relationship, especially when Sawyer runs off and Reena gets pregnant. Fast forward three years: Reena and Sawyer have an expected reunion over a slushie and Reena isn’t so sure what to think. After getting him out of her system and embracing her life as a mom, she never thought he would be back or she would feel like she does.

It’s a rare and wonderful feeling to fall so hard and so fast for a book.

I was instantly hooked to How to Love in the first six pages. I knew it would be hard for me to put down. Is it because I understood this kind of uncomfortable reunion between the once love-of-your-life, not looking your best, wanting so badly to push down the familiar butterflies and remember what made you despise this person so much? Maybe.

Sometimes you just can’t control how you feel. Even when you are keeping those feelings very quiet and concealed.

Cotugno gives us a beautiful story of friendship and romance and connection and second chances. I felt so intimately connected to all of the people in Reena’s life. Her closeness with Allie when they were in high school, the support she received from Shelby, the friction between her and her father post-pregnancy, and, of course, that undeniable something with Sawyer. Deliciously flawed, these messy relationships grounded the story. Let’s face it. We don’t always make the right moves in life. There’s a lot of that going around here, and everything felt so real.

And the writing style? To set up a before vs. after story detailing Reena’s life before and after Sawyer leaves and her pregnancy? Cotugno impressively married the two, introducing us to a loner Reena who is anxious to graduate ahead of her class and spend her life writing and traveling and, years later, bringing new light and maturity to both Reena and Sawyer. The pacing remained swift, and I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. Cotugno weaves in description so well (without ever getting flowery), punctuating moments with sound and movement that it was like I was right there in the room.

You know a book is special when you are willing to sacrifice sleep to finish it. I did not want my time with the world of How to Love to end, but I couldn’t press pause that long, not without discovering the next part of Sawyer and Reena’s journey. I haven’t felt quite this overcome with affection for characters in so long, even when I was annoyed with both of their reactions to things or not agreeing with certain decisions. I think that’s the biggest test as a reader. Do you still care when things are at their lowest? If the answer is a yes, you have a winner.

How to Love is a winner. Buy it, gift it, read it, and treasure it. And then read it again. Easily one of my favorite books this year, and, if you can believe it, a new inductee into my most-loved reads collection.

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