Estelle: Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally

Things I Can't Forget by Miranda KenneallyThings I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally ( tweet | web)
Part of the Hundred Oaks series (but can be read as a standalone)
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Publisher: SourceBooks Fire
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: religion, choices, friendship, romance, summer
Format read: ARC won from a contest held by the author. (Thank you!!)

Summary: A counselor at camp this summer, Kate is hoping to use her time in the great outdoors to draw and get over the huge event from the last few months that has changed her life and gone against everything she believes in. When a guy from her past, a fellow camper from childhood who gave her her first kiss, returns to camp as a counselor too… her beliefs are once again tested when she realizes he actually likes her. But what if she doesn’t like herself much?

Ahh, it’s nice to be welcomed back to Hundred Oaks.

Take in the usual scenery (good-looking boys), meet up with some old friends (Jordan and Parker sightings!), and get to know the latest strong female character to take centerstage. In Things I Can’t Forget, our characters have just graduated high school and are jumping into their last summer before college. Kate, armed with her sketchbook, is off to Cumberland Creek Summer Camp as the arts and crafts counselor. While she hoped to be there enjoying the wilderness with her best friend, Emily, the last few months of her high school career have been anything but predictable.

You see, Kate is harboring a secret; a huge secret, something pertaining to Emily that has made her question all the values she has held dear since forever, the very morals that got her called a “Jesus Freak” in school and left her to be very judgmental of other people’s actions when it came to sex, homosexuality, and just about anything. Kate loves her religion; she essentially is her religion.

And her situation with Emily creates a little crack in this foundation. This foundation of goodness that so defines her.

Kate wants to make her time at camp about paying penance to God for all she has done. She wants her illustrious reputation (the one that no one knows is tarnished except for her) returned to her. And then Matt comes into the picture. You know, when there’s a girl who wears her religion like a shield and is able to push a ton of people away, it truly takes a gem of a guy be accepting and attempt to court her. Kate is equally wrapped up in how she feels for Matt — she remembers how nice he was to her as a kid (and vice versa) and suddenly feels herself teetering, on the brink of love, wondering what truly defines the good and evils of this life.

Ladies, just so you know, Matt has biceps, plays the guitar, and writes all of his own songs.

I’m happy to say that Will and Parker have a lot to do with Kate opening up too… even if it is so gradual. Parker is still hurt by her church’s resistance to support her and her family (this includes Kate) when her mom left them to live with her lover last year. She finds it hard to trust and good ol’ Will plays well between the two because he is a friend to Kate, and, Parker’s boyfriend. He wants to smooth the roughness. Unexpectedly, all of these characters have the power to help one another in ways they didn’t even know existed.

Things I Can’t Forget is so much about romance, friendship, and the magic and possibility that summer promises. But for Kate, it is also about asking the big questions, taking risks, and coming into your own. (This means making mistakes!) It’s about finding this balance between what our bodies may want and how far we are willing to go. It’s about the ability to stay connected to people even if their beliefs are different from ours. Even if we can’t understand their actions. Something stronger has to root us together.

See? This is what I love about Miranda Kenneally’s work. After reading each of her Hundred Oaks books in succession, I’ve seen how family, our beliefs, expectations, acceptance, and love play key parts in the actions of her main characters. While fast-paced and totally addicting, Things I Can’t Forget manages to touch upon several discussion worthy subjects without forcing any of the answers and truly shows how Kenneally’s work has grown (in complexity and authenticity) since the series began.

By far, this book feels the most personal of them all.

My one complaint? I would have loved a few more pages. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye just yet.

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Estelle: When Love Comes to Town by Tom Lennon

When Love Comes to Town by Tom LennonLove Comes to Town by Tom Lennon
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen
Pages: 304
Audience: Young adult
Keywords: Dublin, senior year, gay teenager
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Neil is about to turn 18 and graduate from high school in 1990s Dublin. He’s friends with people he’s known since he was a kid, he’s a celebrated rubgy player, and his niece and nephew adore him. But for many years now, he’s been harboring the secret that he is gay. As much as he has tried to ignore it, the truth continues to plague him and he wonders if he can trust those closest to him with his deepest secret.

With a title like this When Love Comes to Town, I was really hoping for a love story. Instead, I received a deep analysis in the very troubled psyche of Neil, a young man who seemed to totally accept himself one minute and be ready to throw in the towel the next.

Who could blame him? He was living in a very close-minded circle of treasured friends and even family who would not accept homosexuals. Neil couldn’t stand the pressure of keeping secrets from everyone he knew, but he was also filled with such fear of how his own truths would affect life as he knew it.

I really felt for Neil, as he dedicated so much of his time watching old family movies and wishing so hard to be that little boy who was close to his parents without the “invisible barriers” created by who he has discovered himself to be. Neil brought to the forefront a very scary concern: the idea that our parents don’t know who we really are and that maybe, just maybe, they know and want to pretend otherwise. Isn’t that one of the loneliest realizations?

Even when dispersed between Neil’s newly discovered friends, ventures into the gay nightclub scene, and affection for a certain boy named Ian, the heavy stuff in When Love Comes to Town only seems to get heavier when the opportunity presents itself: AIDs, rejection, bullying, and loss in many different degrees.

Still Neil cannot experience the lowest of lows without the occasion highs that come in the form of an accepting female best friend, great music lyrics, and even the comfort of knowing that his religion will hold him tight, even when it seems like an impossibility. When Love Comes to Town felt like a prelude to other wonderful books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in the past year like J.H. Trumble’s Don’t Let Me Go + Where You Are, as well as Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. Though the struggles these characters face are along the same lines, have things indeed improved in the years since When Love Comes to Town was released in Ireland?

I’d like to think so, I really would. I’d also like to think, 25 years later, older and wiser, Neil is somewhere happy and warm and wholeheartedly loved.

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