Wildlife by Fiona Wood | Estelle Reviews

Wildlife by Fiona WoodWildlife by Fiona Wood ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Publisher: Poppy/Little, Brown for Kids
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Australia, friendship, sex, relationships, nature, grief
Format read: Borrowed from the library.

Summary: Sib and Lou are two students living in the wilderness for the semester while dealing with the past, old friends, and new love.

I was tempted to read Wildlife because the reviews have been such a mixed bag. Here are some of my thoughts organized in a pros & cons list:

PROS

  • The setting. I haven’t read another book where students took a semester to live in the wilderness. It very much felt like a camp (but with grades), and I enjoyed hanging out in a new setting and taking part in all the nature-y and physical activities that were part of their every day routines. (I don’t know if I ever would have survived a semester like this.)
  • Lou is dealing with some very heavy grief. She’s also brand new to this school, and is able to shrink in herself as she deals with a tragedy that totally shattered her world. I loved how realistically Fiona Wood handled this storyline. Lou has to come to terms with so much without a familiar shoulder to lean on. She’s independent but hurting, and I liked how her story was broken down in diary entries as a way for her to work through these hefty emotions.
  • I felt similarly about the sex in this book. Sib, who is dealing with some new treatment from her classmates because of a modeling gig she has, engages in a secret relationship with one of the most popular guys at school and she has so many questions about deciding to take the next step and what it means to her. This was some of the best inner dialogue I’ve seen about sex in a young adult book, and I wish there was more of it. What do you do when you think sex is a big deal and your partner doesn’t?
  • Michael — Sib’s true blue best friend who is sort of pushed to the side while she pursues other interests and also a new friend to Lou. He’s quiet but super solid and I had a lot of love for him throughout the story.
  • Short chapters! Again, something I rarely see in the books I’m reading but very welcome when I’m reading during lunch and only have a short amount of time to jump back into the story. It felt like I always had a stopping point. (Plus the chapter number art was beautiful.)

CONS

  • The pacing was a little slow. Wildlife takes place over a semester and because all of the chapters were so introspective, there was very little action. I kept wondering what was going to break the book wide open, and it took awhile. (Even when it got there, it felt more like a tiny fire than a full on explosion.)
  • I was reminded a lot of my reading of Paper Airplanes from a few weeks ago. Two girls become friends, one of them has a toxic best gal pal, and there seems to be only a little bit of time for a full-fledged friendship to develop. It was obvious Sib and Lou could help each other (especially because Sib’s best friend is a piece of work) and I wanted the seed for their friendship to be planted sooner so maybe they could be farther along as I came up to the ending.

Final thoughts: Wildlife is written so beautifully, and I loved the supporting character that nature played in the story. The author did such a commendable job bringing to life two girls going through so much: one dealing with questions of her own limits (in relationships and friendship) and another working to make peace with the past. It was real and emotional but also hopeful. Definitely looking forward to reading more of Wood’s work in the future.

rather be reading borrow from the library icon

Add WILDLIFE to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N

Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts | Estelle Reviews

Zac and Mia by AJ BettsZac and Mia by A.J. Betts ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 9/2/2014
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: cancer, friendship, family, recovery
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: Zac unexpectedly meets Mia in the hospital while he is recovering from a bone marrow transplant. But their friendship is short-lived when they go back to their separate lives, only for them to reunite in a surprising way.

Around its publication date, I read a lot of middle of the road reviews for Zac and Mia. Many felt their expectations weren’t met, and so, this might be one of those situations where putting a distance between reviews and your chosen reading time leads to a positive outcome because I found Zac and Mia to be very refreshing, even if it wasn’t perfect.

I find myself thinking a lot about the choice to compare a book to two other popular ones. In this case, the book was marketed as a combo of The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park. But how long before this overused comparison means nothing anymore? Maybe it is helpful to the average book buyer or maybe it’s really not because I wasn’t reminded of either of them when reading Zac and Mia. Sure, there was cancer (Fault) and a boy and girl as main characters (E&P) but that was basically it. For the record, I found Fault overly pretentious, so much that any emotion I was supposed to feel was lost in a lot of big words. On the other hand, I thought E&P was charming even if it’s not my favorite of the author’s work. I realize I’m going off on a major tangent and this is a way to sell books but is it really helpful when the final product is nothing like the newsworthy titles they are relating it to? For this reader, not so much.

Anyway. I digress.

The main thing that stood out to me about A.J. Bett’s book was how she didn’t over-dramatize the cancer. We all know cancer just sucks. I’m sure we all know at least 5 people who have died from cancer. It has sadly become a word that is a normal part of our reality these days, and I appreciated how Betts explained each of Zac and Mia’s diagnoses so well, and also had them dealing with it in very real ways. Zac’s loss of friendships, Mia’s hot and cold relationship with her boyfriend, Zac knowing so much about this disease but still being surprised by its unwieldy nature, the utter devotion from family members when one of their own is diagnosed. It was a true delight to spend time with Zac’s family, especially getting to know his mother and his sister.

I was surprised the structure of the book didn’t immediately start with flip-flopping between Zac and Mia, and spent a lot of time on Zac at first. I do think that had a hand in me not getting Mia as quickly as I wanted to, but as I delved deeper into the book and got to know her better, there was an apparent change in her. (Maggie at Just a Couple More compares her to Alice in Side Effects May Vary and I can totally see that. She’s not the flat, nice character everyone wants to be friends with. She’s complicated; what a revelation!) Because we get to know Zac right off the bat and were provided with such a fuller look at his life, I felt closer to him than to Mia.

Another highlight? There wasn’t romance for sake of romance. There was attraction, yes. But this wasn’t a full-fledged love story. It was more about finding support and understanding in unexpected places, and a lot about trusting people when you are at your worst and welcoming them into your family. Zac and Mia’s friendship could have remained this momentary thing that happened in the hospital, but I think it was critical to their survival (throughout the book) that they lean on each other (despite distance).

All in all, I really enjoyed reading Zac and Mia. I loved the Australian setting, the time on Zac’s farm, and how unpredictably the story unfolded. The writing was fantastic, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Betts’ work in the future.

rather be reading borrow from the library icon

Add Zac and Mia to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N

Estelle: Complete Nothing by Kieran Scott

Complete Nothing by Kieran ScottComplete Nothing by Kieran Scott ( web | tweet )
Book 2 of the True Love series.
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Kids
Pages: 336
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Greek mythology, pressures of senior year, family secrets
Format read: ARC paperback from S&S. (Thanks!)

Summary: Cupid a.k.a. True is still dealing with her banishment from Mount Olympus to a high school in New Jersey but now with an added complication: her true love, Orion, just enrolled in the same high school and has no idea who she is. It’s not easy to have the distraction of her boyfriend not being her boyfriend at school, but her latest project is proving to be a difficult one. Peter and Claudia, high school sweethearts, break up out of nowhere and she is determined to get them back together. Will it work? Will she be closer to going home?

It was so great to be back experience the antics of True as she tries to make another love connection in Complete Nothing. (She is too funny.) Kieran Scott took a way different approach with couple #2 (True has to make three connections before she’s allowed to return to Mount Olympus) and I thought it was fantastic: a totally over-the-moon for each other couple dealing with the stresses of graduation, college applications, and a possible future apart. Claudia is already a shoe-in for Princeton while star football player Peter is pretty much allergic to talking about next steps.

Early on, you can see that Claudia and Peter have such a comfortable relationship. Some of their friends tease them for acting “married” but it’s Claudia’s determination to help Peter that causes him to irrationally dump her in front of the whole school. It’s completely out of character, and while Peter regrets it immediately, he doesn’t act quickly on fixing anything. Enter: True. She can see how much Claudia and Peter care about each other so she is going to help them find their way back to one another. Bonus? Orion is also on the football team now. Yay for proximity!

Of course, there would be no story if things didn’t go smoothly. True decides to use jealousy as the weapon of choice to get Claudia and Peter back together. Add in a rival football player, a confident cheerleader, True’s tendency to rush into things and you’ve got trouble. As we switch POVs between Peter, Claudia, and True, I wasn’t sure if things would end up working out. What I did like was how Peter and Claudia’s relationship was never perfect, even when they were happy. They never rushed to say “I love you” and they definitely had some kinks to work out. I wondered if they would get the chance to work through those together.

In the meantime, Scott folds in a plotline with True’s life back at home. There’s some impending danger when the wrong people find out about her relationship with Orion, and then there’s a matter of trust due to her good friend Hephaestus (who is on Earth to help her out) and a few family secrets. I like that we never lose sight of that ticking clock True is up against, and how her past actions are still affecting those on Mt. Olympus. I also can’t forget a few of the kids from the high school who come to her aid (especially the adorable and thoughtful Wallace) as she tries to get her “assignment” done.

I’ve enjoyed this True Love series more than I ever thought. The Greek details are interesting, I love watching True acclimate to a new world, and it’s also fun to experience these different love stories and see how they unfold. I can barely wait to see how Scott wraps up the series because I want our girl to get her own true love back. (Is it possible she decides to stay in New Jersey instead of return to her home? Hm… with this series, the possibilities seem limitless.)

Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

Add Complete Nothing to Goodreads | Buy on B&N | Buy on Amazon | My Interview with True

Psst. For those of you who haven’t read Only Everything yet, there’s only a few mentions of the couple True befriends in the first book but you never get the complete story. So if you do have to read these out of order, it’s not the end of the world. Although, it’s definitely more satisfying to read them in the order they were published.

Estelle: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin TalleyLies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Publisher: HarlequinTeen
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: historical fiction, 1950s, segregation, LGBT, family
Format read: Paperback ARC from HarlequinTeen. (Thanks!)

Summary: Sarah is one of the first African American students to enter a predominately white Virginia high school in 1959. The other students are not happy about it and are determined to make the black students feel as uncomfortable and unwanted as they can. When Sarah is paired with Linda and her best friend, Judy, on a French project, they are not expecting to become friends and Sarah is increasingly enraged by Linda’s close-minded proclamations. While it’s not so surprising being that Linda’s dad is one of the town’s most prolific supporters of segregation, Sarah sees little hints that Linda might not be like the other students in school; perhaps she can get why this treatment is not okay. As if things aren’t difficult enough, Sarah finds herself thinking about Linda in a way she doesn’t think God will approve of…

Imagine starting a brand new school with no welcome committee. Instead people are calling you names, telling you that you smell bad, not wanting to sit next to you, automatically thinking you are dumb because of what you look like, and even going a step farther than verbal abuse. They want to hurt you and they want to hurt you bad.

This is exactly the situation that Sarah and her friends are walking into as they step in Jefferson High School for the first time in 1959 Virginia. There is very little support from the administration a.k.a. the adults of the school, and even keeping your head down doesn’t stop them from singling you out. Sarah is miserable. She loved her old school, enjoyed her classes, got to sing in the choir, and now she’s stuck in remedial classes, doesn’t have any friends, and can’t participate in extracurricular anything. It’s hard to think she is “making a difference” like her parents remind her when she is dealing with this crap every single day. Scared for herself, her sister, and her friends. Instead, she feels lost and she’s not sure she will survive the few months until graduation.

Linda, a white girl in a few of Sarah’s classes and the daughter of someone who isn’t quiet about how these changes make him feel, feels like Sarah and the other African Americans have ruined her senior year. No prom, so much distraction. She can’t stand it. But so many of her opinions are formed from her father’s. A very busy man who has no time for his daughter and her opinions. Despite Linda not wanting Sarah and her friends in the school, she finds herself standing up for them a few times. When she is assigned a French project with her best friend (Judy) and Sarah, Linda acts like she has all the answers when it comes to Sarah returning to her old school and even why that school couldn’t afford enough books or equipment for all students. Calmly though passionately (most of the time), Sarah tries to explain why things are the way they are, and you can practically see the little cracks starting to affect Linda’s beliefs.

It was fascinating to watch Linda process what was happening around her and what was right vs. what she has always been told. So many times, I could see how close she was to realizing that her school’s treatment of Sarah and her friends was completely wrong. Then another wall would appear and we would move a few steps backward again. As much as people in this town and at Jefferson High did not want integration, it’s interesting to think how much of that was because they truly felt that way or because they were just listening to the arguments of others, believing that people with different skin type were actually lesser beings. Lies We Tell Ourselves does not shy away from how truly ugly people can get in the face of change and the unknown, and I had to close the book so much as I was reading because I was utterly disgusted. But by Linda’s character raising questions and asking why, we are able to gain more insight into this treatment without excusing it.

There is absolutely so much to discuss in this novel (book clubs and schools, take note!) but I wanted to say how nervous I was when I saw this book would also include a lesbian storyline. Conflicts because of integration is a lot to take on in the first place but to add in a plotline where Sarah and Linda fall for each other? Would it be too much? I shouldn’t have doubted Robin Talley and I won’t ever again; the feelings growing between the two never overpower the book and I thought that was a good move. It’s hard enough for the two to be seen in the same classroom, much less pursue a relationship but it was authentic and great to see each of their thought processes (was something wrong with them? were they going to hell?) and how the time period reflected their hopes for the future.

For all the pain and all the judgement in this book, there are also beautiful moments which shocked me with how much they affected me. (I would be crying and not even notice.) From the wonderful first moment Sarah shares her voice with two strangers, the bond between Sarah and her lil sister, Ruth, how Linda found strength in her own words, and the bravery that both girls had to tap into to move forward in ways I never would have predicted. Lies We Tell Ourselves  is an important book and not only for the treatment of this sensitive and confusing time in our history but for how well it manages to fold in the conflicts and changes between family, friends, and how we see ourselves.

Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

Add to Lies We Tell Ourselves Goodreads | Buy on B&N | Buy on Amazon

Estelle: Adrenaline Crush by Laurie Boyle Crompton

Adrenaline Crush by Laurie Boyle CromptonAdrenaline Crush by Laurie Boyle Crompton ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 9/23/2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Pages: 192
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: daredevil, therapy, falling in love, family
Format read: ARC paperback from the publisher. (Thanks!)

Summary: Dyna loves how she feels when she takes risks. When she gets seriously hurt in a fall, her mom forces her into a therapy program that she finds totally laughable. She doesn’t plan on doing anything out of her comfort zone ever again, even if the doctors do say her ankle can get better. But meeting the people in her group especially a war vet a few years older than her makes her wonder if she can find a balance in her life.

So 192 pages is short for a young adult book, right?

The size intrigued me because there’s only one other I can think of (Something Like Normal by Trish Doller) that manages to tell a complete story in a compact book. Could Adrenaline Crush do the same?

For the most part, it did. Crompton gave us a great sense of this supportive and unconventional family, Dyna’s thirst for adventure, and how her fall makes her rethink why she loves to do things that give her a crazy rush even if it means risking her health and her life. She’s never thought about consequences before because she’s never had to. So now what?

Her accident not only changes her own way of thinking but it also alters her mom’s usual easy-going nature. Suddenly, Mom is feeling over-protective and wondering if her and her husband have given their kids too much freedom to pursue what they wanted. The lack of boundaries lands one kid in the hospital and Dyna’s older brother is wasting his time smoking up and avoiding decisions about his own future. On the other hand, Dyna’s dad is confused by this change in his wife and urges his daughter to get healthy and get back on the saddle.

Then there’s Jay — a boy from Dyna’s school who ends up at the scene of the accident, saves her, and becomes her boyfriend. Their attachment to one another is based on Dyna’s accident more so than knowing each other well. Don’t get me wrong — he’s totally devoted but at some point, the two were going to have to discuss how they fell for each other so quickly. Was it a real or was it kind of convenient?

See? That’s a lot for 192 pages and I haven’t even talked about the therapy center yet. An oddball group of people of various backgrounds and ages talking in a circle about their fears and what they want to overcome. Dyna thinks it’s a bit hokey but even her cold heart is melted when she starts to get to know these people and takes part in field trips to help them. The instantly good looking Pierce helps a bit with that too. He was injured in the war, helping out friends and he’s returned to the therapy group to assist. But you can tell he is still healing too.

Obviously, Pierce and Dyna already have more in common than her and Jay. I’m not a fan of love triangle scenarios but I truly believe that you cannot help who you fall for and these two develop a friendship before they are talking about “what this all means”. Crompton handled the boys in this story really well. It was respectful and it felt authentic.

Could Adrenaline Crush worked better as a longer book? In some ways, yes. I would have liked to see a better developed resolution, more dialogue with her family (they are just so great), and more of a glimpse into Dyna’s thinking process as she seesawed between being a risk taker and playing it safe. Interference from her parents would have worked well here too. All in all, the book kept me interested and was definitely enjoyable, even if it won’t be a forever favorite.

rather be reading borrow from the library icon

Add to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy on B&N | Magan’s review of Blazed by Laurie Crompton

Magan: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley

Rites of Passage Book CoverRites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley
Publication date: September 9, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 416
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: Military Academy, sexism, hazing and bullying
Format read: ARC received from the Publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: Dared by her older brother, Amos, to join the military academy when they agree to accept females, Sam accepts. Life in the academy is far from easy. Is there a point where Sam says ‘enough is enough’ or can she prove herself despite the extra harassment?

What if you were dared by a sibling you greatly admired to do something that was so freakin’ hard you’d want to quit before you even began? Would you still go forward or just bow out?

Sam joins the DMA (military academy) on a dare from her older brother, Amos. When he passes away and the academy agrees to begin accepting females, it feels like more than just a dare to Sam. She’s gotta prove herself and not let him down. She becomes one of only four girls accepted. The majority of the guys do not want the girls there, but Sam is specifically targeted because of the military position her father holds and who her brother, Jonathan, is on the DMA campus, the corporal cadet. Sam doesn’t want preferential treatment, but many, many things cross the line, especially with her leader, Matthews, who wants her to suffer and quit.

Sam’s roommate, Katie, constantly finds ways to finagle her way out of workouts, and her friend, Kelly (a boy), seems to be on her side until Sam doesn’t want to break the strict no-dating policy. Everyone’s already watching her like a hawk, so why toe the line with something she could easily prevent? Sam is tough and strong and fights like hell to prove herself. Though her hard work is often overlooked, she is able to make some allies who commend her. Those allies, however, aren’t always around to protect her.

Let me break things down into a little Why I Loved Rites of Passage list:

  • Sam and her determination are absolutely unbeatable. Maybe she joined the academy on a whim, but she’s got a lot of fight and stamina. She’s probably one of the bravest female young adult characters I’ve encountered; I would have fled home because I couldn’t have mentally taken the torment.
  • I loved seeing a female succeed in a man’s world. Though there were countless times her achievements were overlooked (and I wanted to punch someone in the junk because of it), I was doing mental fist pumps cheering her on as she endured not only the physical training and workouts, but school and the ridicule as well.
  • There’s this subtle storyline that had me wondering what happened to her brother Amos. You can tell how much Sam is missing him and really working hard to make him proud, but why did he pass away?
  • Sam’s other older brother, Jonathan, is in a ranked position at the military academy. I wondered from the very beginning pages how he would treat his sister amongst a group of guys who clearly were so opposed to having females around. Would he be ballsy enough to stand up for her (assuming he wanted her to be there) or would he only make things worse and overlook any harassment?
  • Hensley’s writing flowed so, so well. I don’t have a lot of personal experience with the military (aside from attending Texas A&M for a year and seeing my fellow classmate suffer through his first year in the Corps) so the story really needed to be written well for me to grasp the environment and regimented lifestyle. And it was. Perfectly. The details were so crisp and I understood every ounce of Sam’s story.

To be fair, I did have one uncertainty about Rites of Passage:

  • The end felt a little abrupt. BUT, my adrenaline was also pumping and I had to finish before bed so the story buildup was there and my anticipation was high…but I needed a little more. My personal hope: that Hensley will continue writing Sam’s story. I just don’t feel like her story is over yet.

Absolutely, 100% add this book to your Must Reads of 2014 list. I think it’ll be one of my top ten favorites for the year. I’d be willing to bet on it.

Rather Be Reading Buy It Icon

Add Rites of Passage to Goodreads | Buy on Amazon | Buy from Barnes & Noble
ENTER OUR RITES OF PASSAGE GIVEAWAY (hosted with Alexa + Rachel!)