Estelle: Island Girls by Nancy Thayer

Island Girls by Nancy ThayerIsland Girls by Nancy Thayer ( web | facebook )
Publication Date: June 18, 2013
Publisher: Random House/Ballantine Books
Pages: 320
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: Nantucket, family secrets, sister, summer
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley.

Summary: Three sisters (two step, one half) are forced to spend 3 months together at their recently deceased father’s house in Nantucket in order for them to inherit the house and sell it off.

Nantucket, Nantucket! This place is all I hear about lately. And rightfully so, it is the perfect setting for a summer novel. Small town, beautiful people, clear skies, bright stars, and gorgeous beaches. I’m always wishing I could jump right into the pages of my book and be right there, alongside the characters.

Despite the serene environment, Island Girls is a bit of a drama fest. (In an addicting way.) Rory, dad to Arden and Meg (different moms) and adopted dad to Jenny, has just passed away and stipulates in his will that the girls must spend three months together at the family house in Nantucket in order for them to be able to sell it and reap the benefits. Doesn’t sound so bad, right? Wrong. Very wrong. Back when they were in their early teens, Arden and Meg were “exiled” from the Nantucket house by Rory’s third wife, Justine, after she accused Arden of stealing her necklaces. The sisterhood the three girls had been forming was immediately shut down, and in the recent years, anytime they see each other was as an obligation to their dad.

Now in their 30s, they are all determined to get through the summer without killing each other.

Luckily each of them have some distractions: Arden is looking for a new angle for her TV show (after she was deemed “too old”; shes 34.); Meg is finishing up her May Alcott book, on break from school and standing clear of her feelings for a younger colleague; Jenny hopes to make up for lost years with her sisters and finally find out who her dad is.

Tall orders for three months, don’t you think?

There is something about Island Girls that kept me hanging on every word. The family dysfunction, the cautious friendship growing between the girls, and the most unconventional family reunion near the end; I could not put it down. The novel might not be perfect (the dialogue seemed a little too old for women in their 30s plus there was a fairy tale ending) but I liked how it was a little love letter to Nantucket, the sexy relationship between Meg and Liam, and how these woman did try to make the best out of some crazy situations.

So if you can’t make it up to Nantucket any time soon, Island Girls is the next best thing!

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Estelle: Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann BrasharesSisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: June 14, 2011
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 349
Target audience: Mature YA/adult
Keywords: friendship, marriage, secrets, traveling pants
Format read: Paperback I bought.

Summary: A return to the friendship of Lena, Carmen, Tibby, and Bridget — four girls connected by their long history together and also a pair of pants that seemed to magically fit all of them for a few summers in a row. So what has happened now that all of them have become true grown ups?

I bought this book on a whim this past week because I was looking for some inspiration for writing a matron of honor speech. While I didn’t use any quotes from the book like I was originally planning to, it felt so fitting to spend some free time revisiting four friendships that really shaped my childhood as I prepped for the wedding of my best friend — a gal I’ve known since I was 5 years old. (Ironically my best friend has my original copy from when I lent it to her.)

I, first, read Sisterhood Everlasting when it was initially released in 2011. I remember I was totally frozen in place on my couch in our old house reading and reading until I got through the whole thing in one night. I just had to see how it ended. I’m happy to say that book was just as addicting the second time around, even if it is surprisingly sad.

Even though the girls (who I thought of as the next-gen Baby-Sitters Club) went through a fair share of drama through high school and college, I always thought the book boasted about the positivity of female friendships. So to experience such a change in Sisterhood Everlasting where the girls are all living in separate places, not getting together very frequently,  Tibby totally MIA, and dating people the others don’t approve of — as a dedicated fan of the series, you feel genuinely gutted.

“Growing up is hard on friendships,” Carmen says in the very beginning.

I know with too much experience how true this statement can be but part of me was hoping for the happily ever after scenario for these four. But Brashares has the opportunity to showcase some top notch writing because of this choice — the grown up thoughts (Is this who I really want to marry? Am I really happy in this job? Why do things not feel like they used to?), the small nods to the past, and even the gorgeous imagery (I need to get to Greece) — that she wasn’t always able to use when writing for a younger audience. Like the girls, her writing most definitely matured.

With Carmen an actress in NYC, Lena teaching in Rhode Island, Bee unable to settle down in California, and Tibby off in Australia — the girls are unable to find the common ground they once had with each other (even after the pants went missing). When Tibby surprises them with a reunion in Greece, the three feel this is what they really need until they arrive in Greece and things totally spiral out of control. When the girls go their separate ways once again, it feels like all hope is lost until each of them embark on their own journey undoubtably leading them to answer the same question: can they regain what they had and move forward together?

While I didn’t always agree with Brashares’ characterizations (I don’t think Carmen could ever be a size zero or tone down her Latina pride; Lena just seemed way TOO sad and isolated), I do think she did well when it came to capturing the spirits of these characters we love and showing just how much time can change us — to the point where we might not even recognize ourselves. It’s tough to see on the page, but almost necessary, because there are so many factors that come into play when it comes to friendships, too many distractions, and at some point, friendship takes a little bit more of a push than it has to when you were kids hanging out in the same neighborhood every day.

Whether you remember reading the Sisterhood series way back when or you are looking for a book about female friendships that run deep, Sisterhood Everlasting provides a roller coaster of heartbreaking, sweet, and honest moments as so many realizations are made. For me, it was so nice to spend 300 more pages reuniting with some of my favorite girls with the added reassurance that fighting for friendships is so important.

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Estelle: The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

book cover for The Stone Girl by Alyssa B. SheinmelThe Stone Girl by Alyssa B. Sheinmel (Tweet!)
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Pages: 224
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: eating disorders, New York City, friendships, mother/daughter relationships
Format read: ARC from NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Meet Sethie, a high school senior, living in New York City and doing anything she can to maintain her ‘ideal’ weight.

A character like Sethie is one we all know — a straight A student who wants to go to a good college (like Columbia), wants to be able to go up to her boyfriend and kiss him, a girl who looks in the mirror and doesn’t like what she sees.

At 17, Sethie can get in her college applications early but isn’t sure what her relationship with Shaw (her boyfriend?) is all about. It’s simply easier to let him take the lead and make the first move so she doesn’t destroy the delicate balance that is their relationship. She’s just sort of there.

That’s Sethie’s general MO in this novel. She’s not passionate about much more than maintaining her 110 pounds or less. (In fact, she quits yearbook because she doesn’t want to worry about the snacking that goes on.) There are flickers of another girl in there especially when she befriends Janey and they do everyday girl things like buy tight clothing and get all dolled up for frat parties.

From third person, Sethie’s behavior is still worrisome and alarming. There isn’t the same character connection and I felt like I was looking into windows and watching what these people were doing. I could not reach out and help — I was only an observer.

I didn’t know when and if Sethie would reach a breaking point. I feared what that would bring and while most stories regarding eating disorders build to a Broadway style complex, this one did not. It was gradual and calm and ordinary in a good way. The author, who reveals she suffered from an eating disorder in her teens, does present a different perspective which I appreciated. It felt believable and not weighed down by drama.

In fact, Sethie was not about drama at all. She did not like to make ripples and preferred standing in the shadows. One thing I couldn’t grasp was her relationship with her mother. Was I imagining her mom ignoring her daughter? Or was she simply an observer like the reader? Waiting and waiting until the right time to butt in? It wasn’t like her lack of a relationship with her mother or Shaw forced her to seek attention by losing weight. It didn’t seem Sethie had interior motives. She was addicted to this ideal and couldn’t let go.

While this novel focuses on serious subject matter, I did love the chemistry between Sethie and Janey – even though at first I didn’t trust their budding friendship. (Call me a cynic.) And later, I adored a character named Ben who brought a ‘giant’ amount of life into a very gray and stormy story.

Sheinmel’s writing is crisp and edgy and down-to-earth. She taps into a familiar subject matter, not by creating something cataclysmicly new but focusing on the everyday realities of those living with the disease, those who just find themselves in it
and can’t figure out if they want a way out or not. Despite the distance I felt from Sethie, I still liked her and my fondness for her paired with Sheinmel’s fast paced story made this a seamless read for me. (I only put it down twice.) Plus I loved how clearly it was written — every paragraph, every word seemed deliberate and served a purpose and that is something I don’t see nearly enough in young adult books.

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book cover for zero by tom leveen, black white and red book cover

Magan: Zero by Tom Leveen

book cover for zero by tom leveen, black white and red book coverZero by Tom Leveen [website | twitter]
UPCOMING Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Pages: 304
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format read: eBook received via NetGalley

Summary: Zero is an artist. She was accepted into the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), but her life plans change when she isn’t awarded a scholarship. Her best friend, Jenn, is going through some …stuff… and there’s a lot of tension between the two of them now. Zero’s dad is an alcoholic and her mom is super overbearing. Despite all the crap, Zero meets Mike, a boy she falls head over heels for.

Zero’s real name is Amanda Walsh. Her mom calls her Amy, but she loathes that nickname. She picked up the name Zero when she was teased in middle school by a bunch of jerks. It stuck. Now she’s graduated from high school but her summer plans changed when two things happened:

a) she didn’t get the scholarship she needed for art school in Chicago, and
b) her BFF got super weird and they’re not speaking anymore.

That leaves her feeling more alone than ever, even for a girl with the nickname Zero.

She passes the time by going to local shows of punk bands. After a performance by Gothic Rainbow, she decides to approach the drummer with the amazing eyes she wishes she could capture on a canvas. Thus begins the awkward, albeit sweet, relationship between Mike and Zero.

I loved Zero’s character – she was quirky and self-deprecating. She was always a little down on herself about her looks and weight. She fluctuated constantly between hoping she’d make it as an artist to thinking she’d never be good enough. (I could relate to so many of the thoughts floating through her mind.) Tom Leveen did an awesome job of capturing the essence of an insecure, never-been-kissed seventeen-year-old.

I only had a few quirks to overcome while reading, and those pertained to Leveen’s writing style. In several instances, Amanda would have a thought, and then follow it up with, “Discuss.” Other times it would be the phrase, “Here’s the thing,” and things would go a little more into detail. I don’t mind that happening sporadically, but I suppose I’m not one for much repetition, and things like this take away from the story and make me focus on the writing. (Please note this is just a minor complaint.)

As for Mike, he made my insides become a hot mess. He was quiet and nice. Sweet. Definitely awkward. I loved the blending of his musical talents and band with Zero’s artistic abilities. The descriptions of her art and his shows were so vivid. I felt like I was there or involved while she was making art or his band was performing. (Another sidenote: there’s a picture of a boy on the cover. Tell me when you read the book if your imagination depicts a guy who looks like the mohawk-dude on the cover. Mine did not.)

A few things to note:

  • This is one of the more… graphicyoung adult contemporaries I’ve read. Be prepared for a few hot and steamy scenes that go into more detail than most other YAs.
  • Look up the artists that Zero mentions throughout the book (mostly Salvador Dalí) to have a better understanding of some of the descriptions of her work and the emotions she describes by comparing them to paintings.
  • Don’t judge this story based on the cover. It implies something darker and heavier, maybe a little more gritty. I found it easy to relate to and didn’t think the cover really captured the essence of Zero.

While the story focuses a lot on the relationships Zero has with all the people around her (crazy mother, drunk dad, awkward boyfriend, lost BFF), it’s mostly about her journey to figuring out who she is. What does she want out of life? Now that all of these changes have occurred around her, how is she going to react and what’s she going to do about it? Zero is a witty, engaging story of self-discovery.

This was my first Tom Leveen book, but I’m definitely anxious to pick up Party now, and look forward to more from him.

 

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