Estelle: All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin

All You Never Wanted by Adele GriffinAll You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin ( website | tweet )
Publication Date: October 9, 2012
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 240
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: siblings, re-marriage, insecurity
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Sister relationships are never easy, but ever since their mother’s remarriage to a wealthy man… Alex and Thea seem to be at odds. Alex is popular, pretty, and smart and younger sister Thea wants to find her place in Alex’s circle, in any way possible. She’s crushing on Alex’s hot boyfriend, while Alex is crumbling under her own pressure to take care of herself. Secrets,  untruths, and family boundaries come to a shocking finale in this dark novel.

If I wrote down five facts about me  and five facts about my sister, it would probably be hard to believe we are related. We are just so different. But sometimes we make the same facial expressions, we share the same parental frustrations, and she will not let me forget when I tied her to a chair when she was little. (She even mentioned this is her maid-of-honor speech at my wedding.)

Even though she’s the younger one… sometimes I wish I had her wisdom and sense of adventure. Sometimes I wish I never succumbed to academic pressures I threw on myself until college was done. I wish I could pull off a pixie hair cut like she does. And, I’m sure, if someone asked her… there is one or two things about me that she might want for her own.

In the case of Alex and Thea, they formed a close-knit unit with their mother as they struggled to make ends meet with their father left. That solidarity has taken a back seat since their mother remarried a wealthy man who provides them with all the money and leather products and fancy cars they ever imagined. So money doesn’t exactly bring happiness… instead their mother is frequently absent from their lives (without even realizing it), Thea has sewn a complex web of lies to further her status in high school, and an embarrassing moment for Alex causes her to take “control” of her body in a horrific way.

I know, I know. It sounds a lot like a “poor little rich girl” story, doesn’t it?

Craftily, Griffin manages to keep this dark and twisty tale grounded despite Thea’s delusions of grandeur and Alex’s continual meltdown. It seems totally justifiable that a family could be at odds without even knowing it, nostalgic about the way things used to be but ignoring the reality of their current situation. Even this “rivalry” between Alex and Thea has its push and pull moments where Alex needs Thea, Thea comes to her aid (even though it’s half-hearted) but Alex is aware of how Thea looks at her boyfriend and Thea is actively trying to become the queen bee of their school.

It’s a ridiculously complex story where many of these characters could probably use a bit of therapy. The extremes that Thea took and her off-the-wall behavior was embarrassing, bordering on psychotic. And Alex was her direct foil. Her extremes cut her off from everyone (or so she thought) and sent her down a dizzying spiral. I couldn’t help but be an enthusiastic member of Team Alex, and hope that Thea would learn her lesson. Especially when Xander, a boy from her volunteer after-school program, starts to shed a positive light on this entire book.

I don’t want to say he was a savior, but he was certainly a much welcomed character. I was really hoping that Alex would learn to lean on him because she really needed someone to see through her bullshit because, in her own way, she was creating a mask of lies too.

While I had a little trouble adjusting to Griffin’s language in the first chapter, I settled in nicely and was very invested in Thea and Alex and how and when the grand firework finale would break down the rest of novel. I didn’t exactly have faith that these sisters could detangle themselves from one another, and step forward — into a better place. I was definitely holding my breath.

One more thing. There aren’t many books that I want to reread right after finishing them the first time. But Griffin is such a detailed and skilled writer, I wanted to go back immediately and discover all the details she buried within her chapters. She took what could have easily been a superficial premise and gave it such rich layers. I also didn’t waste any time: two more books by Griffin are sitting on my nightstand right now.

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More thoughts on All You Never Wanted:

Kelly at Radiant Shadows: “Complicated, relationship between sisters and a writing style that I enjoyed did make All You Never Wanted a mostly entertaining read.”

Estelle: Death & the Girl Next Door by Darynda Jones

Death and the Girl Next DoorDeath & the Girl Next Door by Darynda Jones
Book 1 of Darklight series (trilogy)
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: paranormal, missing parents, high school, forbidden love
Format read: ARC from Netgalley (Thanks!)

Summary: It’s coming upon the 10th anniversary since Lorelei’s parents vanished without a trace. With her sophomore year of high school underway, things get interesting when the hot and mysterious Jared shows up at school, and she realizes one of her fellow students is stalking her. Lorelei’s life is definitely about to change…

Loreli is pretty much your average teenager. She’s sarcastic, she has two great best friends (Brooklyn and Glitch) who she trades short jokes with and gets much support from, and lives with her adorable grandparents (I like Grandpa best!) who have taken her in since her parents’ disappearance.

But the similarities between Loreli and the reader pretty much end here.

She has a fellow classmate named Cameron following her. Loreli’s “quirk” is sparked when she bumps into Jared, a new kid at her school that she can’t take her eyes off of. Then there’s the fact that Cameron and Jared are like fire and ice when they are thrown into the same room together.

The big question is Why?

Jones has taken on an intriguing premise filled with angels and devils and heaven and hell, but unfortunately she may have been a bit over ambitious. For the most part, the novel is very slow-paced and there is a lack of the breadcrumbs placed throughout the story to move it along and build up to this satisfying climax. Instead big chunks of information are given to readers in various spots and the suspense and feeling of ohh-ahh discovery is lost.

While I did chuckle a few times at the exchanges between Loreli and her friends, their tone seemed mostly juvenile. I know they were only sophmores in high school, but when Jared seemed to embody the older tone and mannerisms of a Harlequin hunk, the difference was amplified even more.

Structurally, I keep wondering if this book would have worked better told from different POVs (Loreli, Jared, and Cameron) so readers could get more of a handle on this “secret” world, their ties to one another, and their individual histories. And character wise, I felt like the friendship between Loreli and her friends always trumped the romantical entanglements, when love was so central to the plot.

Even though paranormal isn’t a genre I frequently visit, I know that I can easily get swept up in a book with strong characters and a well-planned out plot line. I wished that had been the case here, but, instead, I felt like I was going through the motions without being invested in what was happening. And as the first in a three-book series, this doesn’t fare well for me to continue.

It hurts my heart to say it, but not every book can be a winner.

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Estelle: Send Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt

october ya book releases USSend Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt ( website | tweet )
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
Publisher: Walker Children’s
Pages: 384
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: cancer, popularity, secrets, superstitions
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: For a person who is always prepared and fighting to excel in just about everything, Mia is completely caught off guard when she is diagnosed with cancer. Afraid of what her friends might think, she decides to keep it a secret from everyone except her next door neighbor/best friend, Gyver.

I’ve read quite a few books recently with main characters who were popular, rich, smart, and beautiful. (See: The Princesses of Iowa and All You Never Wanted.)  I could have easily not connected with them because they were so unlike the girl I was in high school or the person I am now. But in these novels, I watched girls grow and change and learn in a way I could totally relate to, even though our circumstances were different. Both authors managed to create multi-layered stories with flawed characters who I came to understand and root for.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same experience with Mia and Send Me a Sign. I loved that she was always looking for little signals from the universe to tell her her next move (I’ve totally done this) and her friendship with Gyver was the biggest highlight for me. But otherwise, her life and her decisions and her relationships stayed pretty stagnant in almost 400 pages.

As a character, Mia was the product of two very different parents — a dad who was understanding and needed to know all the facts, and a mother would wanted to pretend her daughter was not suffering from this disease and thought Mia not sharing her diagnosis with her friends would be better for her “privacy.” In the end, this may have been the only area that Mia was able to make some kind of breakthrough in by the end of the story.

I just wish it hadn’t been the end of them.

When I pick up a book, I’m always hoping for more than a happily-ever-after. I want these characters to come to a realization — big or small — and get to the point where you believe they are about to turn a corner or experience them actively engage in some sort of change. Mia’s friends were a big part of her world. She was popular, she had the hottest guy at school at her side (not Gvyer), and she was on her way to an Ivy League college. She “had it all” or did she? I didn’t find many redeeming qualities in her friends so I understand her hestitation in confiding in them (hot guy actually seemed to have the most heart), but even by the end of the book, I still didn’t understand her need to be friends with them.

It felt like Mia’s popularity and dedication to her academics sheltered her, and I would have loved for her to bond with someone other than Gyver. In fact, I was hoping that another schoolmate, Meaghan, might be that person. There were even the injected moments of reality from a male nurse that I came to enjoy as well.

Schmidt does present readers with a unique premise, but in order for it to make an emotional impact, Mia had to be more of an anchor than she was. I felt similarly when Magan and I read Wendy Wunder’s The Probability of Miracles; I was unable to sympatheize with the main character and after completing the book, realized my emotion meter was never raised to where it should have been.

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Need a second opinion?

“Every once in a while you read a book that you’re just completely torn about. Send Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt was that kind of book for me. I liked it but sometimes I felt a little like pulling my hair out.” – Lori from Pure Imagination