Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho | Estelle Reviews

Althea and Oliver by Cristina MorachoAlthea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 6, 2014
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Pages: 384
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: friendship, 90s, New York City, romance, sickness
Format read: ARC borrowed from Gaby at Book Broads. (Thanks!)

Summary: Althea and Oliver have been best friends since they were kids. Althea realizes she wants something beyond friendship with Oliver around the same time he keeps falling asleep for long periods of time and no one knows what’s causing this to happen. Set in the 90s, the story brings Oliver to New York for a possible treatment while Althea stays in Wilmington. She decides to drive up to New York City to find Oliver, but ends up finding something entirely different.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Althea & Oliver is probably the YA that the naysayers don’t realize exists. It’s literary, it’s layered in its storylines and the emotions build up in all of them, and not even close to fluffy. In fact, I would call the general feeling of this book melancholy.

If you haven’t guessed from the above description, Althea & Oliver is not exactly a story you are going to fly through. I was unsure if I was actually liking what I was reading for a long time. How can you like a girl doting over her best friend? What if that best friend is basically disappearing for weeks out of time because of some mysterious illness? I mean, there’s nothing truly happy here. But I was intrigued by Oliver’s strange health issues and I was hooked by the friendship between the two. Oliver and Althea maintained an intimacy that you don’t find a lot in young adult books. Sure, feelings beyond platonic were swirling around there but you can’t deny their closeness — how their families knew each other so well, how they always seemed to be stuck together, and how they accepted each other, faults and all.

I love how Moracho gave these characters room to grow beyond each other. Things happen, Oliver is off to New York, and Althea is acting out back in North Carolina. She makes the decision to lie to her dad and head to New York and talk to Oliver, and a major detour changes the course of the story. This is a tough one to review, friends, because so much happens that you need to discover for yourself. But what happens when you are so dependent on a friend and they can’t be there for you anymore? Do you continue to push this closeness or do you let the wind take you? Do you take this opportunity to get to know yourself without the other person? Will both of you ever be ready to take your relationship to the next level at the same time?

So much about Althea & Oliver felt more mature than a lot of other young adult books I read. I couldn’t help thinking it was the lack of technology in the story because it was set in the 90s. There was nothing keeping anyone together when they were apart except for some stray phone calls. Both Althea’s dad and Oliver’s mom allowed their kids to be very independent. These details definitely allowed the characters to do their own thing but it also didn’t disqualify their parents from the story either. (Big thumbs up.)

These two characters certainly hit rock bottom in two very different ways, and it was so emotional and heartbreaking and authentic how they climbed out of these holes and figured out next steps. I wouldn’t even say this book is about coming to clear conclusions but making the right decisions for right now, and keeping the future open. It’s so scary to jump into the unknown and this feeling is basically the theme of being a junior in high school. Moracho nailed it, making my heart swell and burst so many times.

I cannot wait to see what she is writing much, and I look forward to more thoughtful, and engulfing young adult books like this one.

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The Fragile World by Paula Treick DeBoard | Estelle Reviews

The Fragile World by Paula Treick DeBoardThe Fragile World by Paula Treick DeBoard ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Pages: 432
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: family, death, revenge, effects of traumatic events
Format read: Finished copy provided by Harlequin. (Thanks!)

Summary: When Daniel dies in a freak accident, his parents and sister have no way to predict the changes that will come to their family as the years go on.

Over a year later, I’m still recommending The Mourning Hours, Paula DeBoard’s debut, to people. It’s had a lasting effect on me; what can I say? Obviously, I’ve been looking forward to her second book since I finished the first, and yet again, DeBoard has written an engrossing and heartbreaking tale of a family dealing (or not dealing) with the impossible.

It’s been 5 years since Daniel’s death. The musical prodigy away at Oberlin College, struck down and killed in an accident. No one (except the driver) could have stopped this from happening but the logistics of a statement like that are kind of lost on Curtis (husband and dad) and Olivia (daughter and sister). Curtis completely detaches from his wife, his work (he’s a physics teacher), and basically his entire life, while Olivia is scared of everything. She records all of her fears (from the mundane to the ridiculous) in a Fear Journal, starts wearing all black, and steps away from her friends. Kathleen (wife and mom) tries her darnedest to push Curtis and Olivia to move forward but after giving it all she has, decides to move back to her hometown. Instead of deciding to go with her mom, Olivia stays with Curtis. So a family of four becomes three; becomes two and one.

Grief is a powerful emotion, and it’s difficult to see how much it steers the lives of Curtis and Olivia. Sure, they are getting through day-to-day together but they are not talking about the past, not bringing up Daniel, and certainly not making strides when it comes to living fulfilling lives. It’s not until Curtis has an episode at school that he decides the only thing he can do is kill Daniel’s killer, disguising his revenge road trip as a fun vacation with Olivia that will eventually lead back to Kathleen.

A majority of the book is told in the heads of Olivia and Curtis, as the chapters swap between the two. This tactic definitely made the book move a bit slower, but it only showcased DeBoard’s knack for dialogue because when it popped up, it was good. Despite their hurt, Curtis and Olivia do have this adorable father / daughter friendship and I enjoyed Olivia’s quips. In ways, I’m not sure what would have happened if Curtis didn’t decide to take this trip. I picture both of them living like Big Edie and Little Edie at Grey Gardens. But, sweet readers, things can only get worse especially when you aren’t communicating and your mind is just not functioning the way it should.

Yet again, DeBoard had me at the edge of my seat with The Fragile World but in a totally different way. Was there any way this family could be repaired? Could they move on? Would Curtis go through with his revenge plan? I truly had no idea until I reached the final page, and it left me totally shocked and surprised and even a little bit angry. But perhaps the most shocking thing is that I felt hopeful too. Maybe not a lot, but just enough that I was thinking a lot about what hitting rock bottom truly means, and also the different avenues that love and devotion can take us and bring us back.

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12 Lessons from MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME

While everyone is planning their Halloween costume and picking out what candy they want to hand out to trick or treaters, I’m the person who is impatiently staring at the calendar, giddily awaiting the start of the holiday season. Heck, I heard two commercials for holiday music stations on Spotify this week and I almost had a heart attack. (The good kind. I felt all fluttery and spacey.) I swear I’m not a fan of the seasonal creep but it’s Christmas and it’s happy and there are twinkly lights! How can you not look forward to that time of year… just about every single day of your life?

Anyway…

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories (edited by Stephanie Perkins), which features an amazing lineup of young adult writers, was released on the 14th of October (St. Martin’s Press). A little early, I know, but these books must come out so people can prepare their holidays lists with all the good stuff!

My True Love Gave To Me Edited by Stephanie Perkins

 

This is my official review:

MY TRUE LOVE GAME TO ME never feels like 12 authors set off to write 12 holiday-themed stories; instead, they created very realistic, dimensional stories that took on a life of their own with a sprinkle of holiday magic thrown in. Sure, there were a few I loved more than others but all in all it’s the quintessential holiday short story collection I’ve been waiting for and I’m about ready to buy it for everyone I know. – Estelle a.k.a. Santa (Sometimes)/Perpetual Elf, Rather Be Reading Holidaying

Understandably, there are major life lessons that come along with a story collection that boasts romance, Christmas trees, holiday meals, dysfunctional families, holiday plays, and more. Because it’s (almost) Christmas and I like to think of myself as a generous individual minus the bowl of jelly tummy (I do have rosy cheeks) I am going to share a few of those with you today. Enjoy! (Santa is watching you…)

12 Lessons from MY TRUE LOVE GAME TO ME↔

Have I convinced you?

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How about now? 🙂

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Tip: The UK version is just as beautiful as the United States release. I need both. (Santa, are you listening?)

Oh Yeah, Audrey by Tucker Shaw | Estelle Reviews

Oh Yeah, Audrey by Tucker ShawOh Yeah, Audrey by Tucker Shaw ( tweet )
Release Date: 10/14/2014
Publisher: Amulet Books
Pages: 256
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Audrey Hepburn, New York City, Tumblr, Internet Friends
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Gemma runs away from her home in Philly for an Audrey Hepburn meetup she organized through her themed Tumblr page. She has an itinerary for following Audrey’s footsteps through her film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and finally meeting some of her internet friends face to face.

As someone who runs two blogs and meets people from the internet a lot, I could totally relate to Gemma, who decides to start a Tumblr page about Audrey Hepburn to help her get through a hard time. Through the Tumblr, she meets two friends, Bryan and Trina, who she talks to all the time but she doesn’t find herself really confiding in just yet. But they all plan to meet for the first time to see a monumental movie screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in New York City.

Sure, Gemma lies to her dad about where she is going but at this point, she needs a little space to do something on her own. And so their city adventure begins but never according to Gemma’s original schedule. There’s a shopping trip, a fancy auction, and the surprise visits of two other internet personalities she was not expecting. So instead of hitting all the Holly Golightley spots in Manhattan, Gemma is swept up in a magical evening with Dusty, a boy she also met on the internet. Does she make a choice to hang out with her friends or go on a once in a lifetime date with Dusty?

Well, you’ll see.

In a span of 24 hours, Gemma is forced to face a lot of truths: why she feels so close to Holly Golightley and Audrey Hepburn, how important these friendships are to her, and also coming to terms with the changes in her family life. While the strict timeline did cause me to feel a bit of suspense, I really wish there had been more time to learn about Gemma’s relationship with her father and spend time with Bryan and Triana, her friends who lived far, far away. When would they see each other again?! On the other hand, I liked how Shaw was not prejudiced over internet friendships being REAL because, in so many instances, they are and they blossom into these wonderful real life things.

Oh Yeah, Audrey! was a great New York City adventure, and I could imagine it as a really fun Disney Channel/ABC Family movie. It definitely inspired me to watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s again, too. All in all, it was a fast-paced read that made me think a lot about fandom and making pals and what we flock to when we are feeling alone. I hope Shaw has another young adult book up his sleeve.

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Estelle: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara FarizanTell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 10/7/2014
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Pages: 304
Target audience: YA
Keywords: LGBT, theatre, culture, identity, friendship, family
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley.

Summary: New friends, old friends, secret feelings, sister “rivalry” and fitting in are all on the mind of high school junior Leila.

Sara Farizan’s latest is just another reminder of all the books I say I want to read, and never get to because after all this time, I still have not read her debut. (Don’t worry; I have it out from the library right now.) So Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel was my first taste of her work and I totally get what all the fuss is about.

Main character Leila is a junior at her high school, a girl with a Persian heritage who is constantly labeled as a Latina. Already feeling on the outskirts of her peers, Leila can’t imagine coming out too. Not at her school and most definitely, not at home. She fears her parents and her perfect older sister will abandon her just like a family in their social circle did to their gay son. Will she ever be able to be her true self?

This is the thing. All of this weighs so much on how Leila sees herself, and how she presents herself to the world, making it pretty massive life changing stuff. But there is such humor in her character; I loved hearing her thoughts, how she wasn’t exactly a fashion plate, and how she struggled with being a good student and wanted to make her parents proud of her nonetheless. There were no airs about her; as readers we were granted the opportunity to know the real Leila and watch as she wiggled through these challenges.

Enter Saskia — the exotic new girl who flirts with anyone who has a pulse, including Leila. Unlike the rest of her school, Saskia doesn’t assume anything about Leila and really appreciates her culture. Their chemistry is apparent in the beginning but it was also a little worrisome. Did you ever meet someone and just fall for them completely, friendship or relationship? It was like a Saskia disease that Leila could not fight, paralleled with the return of an old childhood friend, Lisa, who is going through her own periods of grief and emerging as a brand new person from who Leila used to know. I was so thrilled to see Lisa and Leila rekindle their friendship because they didn’t try to put pressure on each other when it came to anything. Instead they supported each other in this quiet, lovely way.

Farizan skillfully balances the distance Leila is feeling from her family as her secret becomes harder and harder to conceal with the changes happening in her social life. She also injects some great moments from the school theatre program (which Leila reluctantly joins) and a teacher who confides in Leila more than she should. Most importantly, I really liked how Leila, who was so aware of people and their beliefs in certain stereotypes, was something she adopted without even noticing it. To me, this drove home the point that we are always works in progress, and are going to be encountering people all the time with no way to know their real story. It’s so important to listen, and to remain open-minded and compassionate.

Tell Me How a Crush Should Feel is a refreshingly authentic story of friendship, heartbreak, family, and acceptance — of yourself and others. If I haven’t sold you yet, there’s a Muppet reference. You are welcome. (Psst. Thanks, Sara.)

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Estelle: Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir

Bleed Like Me by Christa DesirBleed Like Me by Christa Desir ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 288
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: absent parents, intense romance, secrets
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss.

Summary: With her parents otherwise occupied with her adoptive brothers, Gannon is used to living pretty much on her own. Despite the support of her coworkers and a friend who really cares, Gannon detaches a lot until she meets Brooks. For the first time in a long time, someone is paying attention to her and wants to be with her. It’s not like her coworkers and friend. He’s fixated on her. Together, they jump straight into an intense, addictive relationship filled with secrets and deceit, as well as the overwhelming need to start fresh.

Christa Desir isn’t the kind of author to beat around the bush. I learned that when I read her haunting and real Fault Line. Almost a year since I first tried out her writing, Fault Line continues to be a book I think about a lot. Needless to say, I was anxious to see what she would have in store for me with Bleed Like Me.

If you are looking for intense and gritty novels out of young adult, I urge you to find Christa’s books. You will absolutely devour them, even as heartbreaking and painful as they are. Bleed Like Me tells us the story of Amelia (called Gannon) who is living with her parents and three adopted brothers. Until her brothers came along, she had been the pride and joy of her household but her brothers have never assimilated well to their home and the attention of her parents has shifted to them exclusively. Gannon gets lost in all the yelling between her parents about how to raise these kids, and all the scheming and disrespectful actions of her brothers. This situation in Gannon’s backstory is a difficult one to fathom; it doesn’t seem like there was a way out. Her mom continues to coddle the boys, the dad detaches himself from their home life, and Gannon is left to observe all of this from a distance.

It’s no surprise that Brooks’s attention intrigues her, except it kind of is because she has a girlfriend who seems to really care for her, and two coworkers who watch her back as well. But I believe years of her parents forgetting her and the breakup of the family she always knew really affected who she attaches herself to. Brooks is direct in an almost creepy way, but she cannot stop thinking about him or stay away from him. She needs him too quickly. He takes possession of her so swiftly, and it makes her feel something, like her cutting; two practices she can’t seem to give up. Desir does not shy away from the graphic cutting scenes either. I was, unfortunately, having lunch when I read the first one and I felt so sick.

In a book like this, readers are prone to realizing the danger the main character is in before she does. You want to warn her. You want to tell someone she knows. But you also know it doesn’t matter what you or someone else says. Gannon is one determined person when it comes to Brooks and time apart makes her dependence on him grow even more solid. Anything she sees in her future spells “Brooks”. Here’s the thing about him, though: as possessive he is, I didn’t think of him as the bad guy. He had his own baggage to deal with. Part of me blamed Gannon’s parents for not paying attention and part of me wanted Gannon to realize her life could not go in this direction and be okay. Obviously, a hurricane of emotions for this reader.

Basically, I sat back and let Desir take me on a ride I knew would come to a screeching halt in some way. This author has the power to suck you into the scariest of situations and keep you interested all the way through. Most importantly, without there having to be a lesson with a big red bow at the end. My biggest takeaway from this book was that sometimes the adults in our lives do not do well by us. When things get bad and they are forced to wake up, they still don’t. It’s up to us to decide what we do next and hopefully part of that conclusion, however shaky the ride is, includes acceptance.

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