Estelle: Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Openly Straight by Bill KonigsbergOpenly Straight by Bill Konigsberg ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic
Pages: 336
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: LGBT, boarding school, labels, friendship, lies
Format read: ARC paperback from TLA.

Summary: Rafe decides to spend his junior year on the East Coast at an all boys boarding school. What’s so crazy about that? Well, unlike his life in Boulder, he decides not to share with anyone that he is indeed gay in order to give him the chance to strip away all labels and give him the opportunity to be more than his sexual preference.

Openly Straight is a novel that encompassed so many of my favorite things: a flawed main character who felt a lot, supportive and enthusiastic parents, and heart-tugging friendship and romance. And best of all? It made me think.

Basically, I want to hug and squeeze this book until I can’t anymore.

Rafe is pretty lucky when he comes out to his parents. They are completely supportive; they barely blink an eyelash. The liberal town of Boulder, Colorado responds pretty much the same way. His teachers want his thoughts on the gay movement, he trains to give speeches to others about sexuality, and his family surprises him with an awesome coming out party. Life is pretty much hunky dory. We’ve all heard people’s hurtful experiences regarding coming out, so it’s kind of hard to believe that Rafe has anything to complain about, right?

Well. Wrong. He feels totally pigeonholed by his sexuality, and decides to go off to a boarding school on the East Coast in hopes of wiping the slate clean. He won’t exactly be back in the closet because he knows he’s gay… he just won’t really tell the peers in his all-boy school what his deal is.

The idea of going to a brand new place and being a whole new you is pretty tempting. Of course, part of it, especially in Rafe’s case, isn’t awesome because he is kind of lying in some instances. But in others, he’s finding out things about himself that he never knew. Like maybe the jock isn’t always “the jock” and maybe he can actually keep up with a bunch of guys playing football in the quad.

The challenges though… outweigh that lack of boundary Rafe feels. And as a reader, you are just waiting for everything to blow up in his face. His parents are confused by this “phase”, he’s making up stories about his closest girl friend, and this intimate friendship with Ben, a soft-spoken jock who loves to read and have deep conversations, is definitely in jeopardy, especially as he and Rafe continue to get closer. Is Ben gay? Are they just best friends? The lines are so blurred at times, that it was really hard for me to figure it out. The possibility of heartbreak is so palpable.

Konigsberg also included pieces from Rafe’s writing class — a great way for us to get this character’s back story but also to see him grow as a writer. (I adored the teacher’s comments so much because so many times what he was saying was criticism I have about what I’m reading: “show don’t tell!”) Mr. Scarborough also gives him room to think about his choices to be someone new at the school, and subtley offers some helpful perspective. He would definitely have been one of my favorite teachers too.

I feel absolutely so much love for this book that my heart is actually seizing up as I write this review. From Rafe’s refreshing narrating to watching him painstakingly make blunders and attempt to get himself out of them, Openly Straight unveils a different kind of journey towards self-discovery — one filled with laughs, love, late nights, and finding out how to balance all the parts that make you you.

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The Look’s Sophia Bennett Talks Literary Sisters + Giveaway

Note from Estelle: Hopefully you checked out yesterday’s review of The Look by Sophia Bennett, which was released in the United States on March 1, 2013. I can confidently say it was one of my favorite reads of 2013 so far. Took me by complete surprise. Today I hand it over to the author who discusses her favorite literary sisters! What a fun topic!

♥

The Look is about Ava and Ted – two sisters who get just about the best news and the worst news a girl can imagine.

I didn’t have a sister myself, but I was close to my brother. Now I have two sons and two stepdaughters, and I love watching the relationships between them. Big families rock! However, while I was growing up, I had to make do with sisters in books. Here are some of my favourites:

Cassandra and Rose Mortmain in I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea cosy.”

So those are the opening lines and I’m already in love with Cassandra Mortmain. She is such a clear-eyed, unromantic observer of the world around her, but that world – a ruined castle, a father who’s a struggling writer, a beautiful sister, a visiting American family with two gorgeous sons – can’t help but be romantic.

The book is like a poem to a lost England, which, written in the 1940s from Hollywood, is sort of what it was. Dodie Smith also wrote 101 Dalmatians. Also a classic, but very different! (I borrowed bits of Cruella de Vil for a character of mine in The Look.)

The Bennet girls in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

How could I not include the Bennet girls? We almost share the same surname, after all. Every time I read it, I love to love Lizzie and Jane, get exasperated by Mary (oh God, I think I’m a bit of a Mary sometimes), and despair at Catherine and Lydia.

The BBC is about to make a TV series about what happens six years later, when one of the characters gets murdered. (I’m not going to say who, but he so deserves it.) Apparently Clare Danes is one of the people up for Lizzie. That I would have to see.

The March sisters in Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

No need to introduce them. You know them; you love them too. If you ever wanted to be a writer, you probably pictured yourself as Jo. Although I have to say her early success made it look much easier than it turned out to be for me, or most people. No matter. I forgive her. And I still envy her hair.

Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil in Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

I don’t know if it’s the same sort of classic in the US that it is in the UK, but even though it’s older than our grandparents, our kids still read Ballet Shoes. I adored the story of three girls with different talents and ambitions (and necklaces – I was very jewelry-conscious when I was a young reader).

My favourite sister was Posy, the ballet-made genius, who remembered things with her feet. But I loved actress Pauline and engineer Petrova too, and they way they felt that they had only each other to rely on if they wanted to solve their problems. Emma Watson played Pauline in the most recent TV series of the book, by the way.

My first book, Threads (Sequins Secrets and Silver Linings in the US) was partly inspired by Ballet Shoes. Even so, I have to admit I only learned to spell Noel Streatfeild’s surname about a year ago. Check it out. Trickier than it looks.

The Chocolate Box girls by Cathy Cassidy

The Chocolate Box Girls by Cathy Cassidy

Cathy is a wonderful writer friend of mine, and a literary rock star for Middle Grade readers in the UK. Her latest series is about the Tanberry sisters, who become a family when Cherry’s dad moves in with the mother of Skye, Summer, Coco and Honey. They all live in a big, rambling house by the sea in Somerset, and the mum and dad are starting a luxury chocolate making business together. Yes!

Each girl has her own problems, hobbies, passions, love interest and charm. As soon as you read them, you feel a part of the family – protective of Cherry, worried for Honey. They’re on their way to becoming a new classic, and the series isn’t even finished yet!

Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares 

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

OK, so they’re not officially sisters, they’re a sisterhood, but that’s good enough for me. I came late to the adventures of Lena, Tibby, Carmen and Bridget, but I immediately felt at home. I love the way the stories deal with serious issues like terminal illness, losing your virginity, and other serious issues, like unbreakable friendships and denim jeans that really, really fit. That’s the kind of balance I try to create in my own stories. When I’m struggling a bit, I get Ann Brashares off the shelf and think, ‘Oh, that’s how you do it.’

♥

Thanks Sophia! Be sure to check out Sophia’s website to find out more about her writing and books!

The publisher was nice enough to offer up a finished copy of The Look for a giveaway, so be sure to enter!

The Look by Sophia Bennett

What is THE LOOK about? The world becomes a confusing place for Ted when she finds out her fab-looking older sister, Ava, has cancer and must undergo treatment, and she (the odd looking one) is discovered by a modeling agency. Like always, Ava can convince her sister to do anything and Ted decides to take a chance on the modeling thing to raise Ava’s spirits. But the deeper Ted gets into this world, the more she learns about herself, her relationship with her family, and what she really wants. (EMH)

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Estelle: The Look by Sophia Bennett

The Look by Sophia BennettThe Look by Sophia Bennett ( tweet | web )
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Chicken House (Scholastic)
Pages: 336
Target audience: young adult
Keywords: modeling, cancer, London, siblings, family, self-discovery
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary: The world becomes a confusing place for Ted when she finds out her fab-looking older sister, Ava, has cancer and must undergo treatment, and she (the odd looking one) is discovered by a modeling agency. Like always, Ava can convince her sister to do anything and Ted decides to take a chance on the modeling thing to raise Ava’s spirits. But the deeper Ted gets into this world, the more she learns about herself, her relationship with her family, and what she really wants.

As the younger sister, Ted has a tendency to follow Ava’s lead — no matter how crazy her ideas are. Even in the midst of the changes their family has overcome (their dad losing their job and them moving into a new, smaller home), Ava can still convince Ted to jingle a tambourine on the street in hopes of scoring some cash.

Instead, they get a melted piece of Starburst and a business card from a modeling scout… interested in Ted.

Now, when I first started The Look, I thought I would jump right into Ted’s successful modeling career, the younger sister finally stepping out of the shadows of her beautiful older sister who loves to surf and fawns over her boyfriend, Jesse. But instead Sophia Bennett intricately sets the foundation of a close-knit family going through many catastrophic changes, including the moment that Ava is diagnosed with cancer. There’s actually quite a lull between the opening scene and Ted actually figuring out the modeling agency was legit and heading in for her first meeting. She decides to go through with the adventure as a way to entertain Ava while she is going through the worst of her treatments.

Ted doesn’t think of herself as worth looking at at all; she doesn’t like her hair, she thinks she is too tall, and there’s that guy in her class who is always making fun of her. She thinks it’s practically a joke that an agency would pick her among the beautiful people; therefore, she has this sort of self-deprecating sense of humor that I really enjoyed. I know it was part defense mechanism but she so owned it. As she goes from audition to audition, and learns more about the actual craft of photography, you can see the character truly growing and coming into her own.

In life, I think we can all remember an instance when one part of your life was going terribly and the other was so exciting. It’s hard to choose. It’s hard to feel like you can truly be happy when something so bleak is happening on the other side, especially when this horrible thing is happening to someone you love. Bennett manages to draw this parallel without being overly dramatic or cheesy at all. All the actions and feelings from the characters were so utterly authentic that I was just drawn in more and more to the story as it went on.

All I can tell you right now is that there are some beautiful scenes in this book, scenes of endearing amounts of pain and sisterhood and what it means to be close to someone and be there for them, even if the path doesn’t seem to make sense. Ted’s determination to work hard in order to support her family is so admirable, while her parents’ faith in her, though new, is refreshing and uplifting. There’s also a boy, and deceit, and the evil truths that Ted must face about an industry that she begins to fall in love with. Bennett has concocted such a dimensional story with a backbone that begins and ends with the importance of family and knowing yourself… even if it takes awhile to get there.

As an added bonus, I loved that The Look was set in London!

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Estelle: Sweet Summertime Reads – Retro Throwback

When I was a kid, my library used to have these reading contests every summer. We would have to keep a tally of the books we read and at each different level (determined by the library), we would get a prize. Is it surprising I won almost every year for most books read? (ha) One of my favorite parts of this was picking out all the Baby-Sitters Club books my library had. That series was one of my favorites and I can honestly say it shaped my childhood. I always wanted to be as cool and grownup as these gals who were smart enough to start their own club. THEY ALWAYS SEEMED SO OLD TO ME. In fact, I was quite disappointed when I turned 13 and I felt like I was never going to catch up to their level.

After my mom gave away MY ENTIRE COLLECTION (I can’t even talk about this), I started recollecting last year. Boxes and boxes of books arriving from eBay and I’m pretty much back to where I was. (Although, now I’m moving so I’m going to have to get rid of a bunch of them… sadface.) Because of the Baby-Sitters Club reminds me so much of the summer, I wanted to list a few of my favorites and hear about yours! (Here’s the complete list to refresh your memory.)

And most importantly, what baby-sitter was your favorite? (At a recent book event, I was SHOCKED to find out someone didn’t remember who Dawn was. What?!)

Kristy’s Big Day: Kristy was never my favorite baby-sitter even if she started the club. But when I started rereading the series I really fell for this book. Kristy’s mom is getting married, their moving across town to the “rich” side of the neighborhood, and Kristy is gaining step-siblings. I love weddings but I think this book was pretty on par with all the changes going on in Kristy’s life. Plus the baby-sitters get the job of a lifetime. (They have patience I do not possess.)

Boy-Crazy Stacey: Sea City, New Jersey anyone? This is the book where Mary Anne and Stacey are hired as mother’s helpers for the Pikes — the family with a billion kids? Stacey falls for a lifeguard and gets a little distracted on the job. This is one of my FAVORITES especially because I always pictured our time at the shore when reading it. (Except as the mature lady I am now, Stacey acted sort of like an idiot… just saying.)

Dawn on the Coast: I’m a cheating a bit with this one but Dawn goes to visit her dad and brother in California during spring break. They go to Disneyland and she gets to see her friends for the first time since moving to Connecticut. I remember always going straight to this book when I wanted to read something familiar. I actually used some of the pages for our table numbers at our wedding. Plus the cover just screams summer to me.

Mary Anne’s Makeover: Now this one has nothing to do with summer, but instead, starting fresh. Mary Anne must have been tired of being the quiet one, the overprotected one. This is a book where she is finally allowed to come out of her shell a little bit and embrace a whole new look. I always loved the cover of this book. Mary Anne was a cool girl (with or without the makeover) but a lot of the times they played it too safe with her. Plus I think this book in particular showed just how much her relationship with her dad has grown (especially compared to the earlier novels).

Here Come the Bridesmaids: A Super Special! Those were always awesome because it meant more time with the Baby-sitters! (I am such a geek.) I’m cheating AGAIN with this one because it’s actually December and some of the sitters are headed to California for Dawn’s dad’s wedding and a few others are helping out with Mrs. Barrett’s wedding. (Remember her from Dawn & the Impossible 3? She’s a single mom who is pretty scatterbrained and relies heavily on Dawn during that book.) What can I say? I love the California books. I’m pretty certain the BSC is why I always wanted to visit.

For anyone looking to buy any older BSC books, I like to buy them used on eBay or aLibris.com. Happy hunting!

To fulfill the throwback, who remembers this?!

P.S. Do we feel old yet?

Don’t forget to visit Ginger @ GReads & Tara @ Fiction Folio — our Sweet Summertime Reads ladies!