The Program by Suzanne Young • Magan Reviews

Book Review of The Program by Suzanne YoungThe Program by Suzanne Young [website • twitter]
Published April 30, 2013 by Simon Pulse
Pages: 405
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: depression, suicide, losing memories, destiny, soul mates

Summary: Life for Sloane isn’t perfect. Her brother committed suicide, her best friend was taken into The Program because she was showing signs of suicidal tendencies, and her boyfriend seems to be slipping away as each day passes. While The Program may have been started with the best of intentions, it seems no one is safe from its grip and erasing all their memories.

• • •

Have you ever wondered if you had to choose again — boyfriend, spouse, college, best friends, etc. — if you’d choose differently? What if you were given the opportunity to try? Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but my hope is that no matter what I’d always be drawn to my husband, Dustyn. He’s the peanut butter to my jelly. He really and truly is my better half. I realize this means I’m saying I believe in soul mates, and I’ve got to be completely honest and say I hadn’t given it a whole lot of thought before.

Since reading The Program by Suzanne Young this has really been on my mind a lot. Sloane is a girl living in a world that’s trying to rid depression because there’s been a suicide epidemic they believe is related to it. Admittedly it isn’t terrible to hope for change, but the treatment involves erasing pieces of the person’s memories to reset them. Sloane’s living in a state of non-existence as she’s afraid to show too much sorrow (over the loss of her brother to suicide and a best friend to The Program) or too much excitement (about her boyfriend James, her one true confidant).

Any sudden shifts in behavior can flag the system and send her to The Program. When a series of events happens that sends James away — after promising he’ll always protect and take care of her — Sloane can’t help but break down. She’s sent away and she desperately tries to hold onto any piece of her memories with James that she can. The Program is manipulative and tricky. They strip everything away. (Note: I thought Young handled the subject of depression really well by tackling how some people assume it just means sadness and exploring that it’s more than just that. The Program was potentially started with the best of intentions, but begins to “fix” people who aren’t broken. This could be so, so interesting to discuss for a book club.)

When’s she’s released back into the real world, she begins to mingle with her peers again at school. She re-meets her former best friend and she clashes heads with James. The strongest draw was seeing whether they would be destined to love each other again. Would their love be strong enough to tie them together despite all the missing information that had been taken from them?

Sloane was a great, strong character who was so determined not to lose herself. She wanted to feel all the good and the bad. Her parents were so overwhelmed with the possibility of losing another child they didn’t really “see” Sloane. They were so broken they’d do anything to make sure she was okay to protect themselves from repeat loss and pain. Destiny, making blind decisions, and fighting against the system for what you believe in are extremely strong elements of The Program that make it such a page-turner and a definite conversation piece.

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Promposal by Rhonda Helms • Magan Reviews

Promposal Book Review by Rhonda Helms

Promposal by Rhonda Helms [twitter • website]
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 224
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: promposal, public displays of affection, LGBT, Dive Into Diversity
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: When best friends Camilla and Joshua find themselves in less-than-ideal situations for prom, one of them going with someone she doesn’t want to date and the other lusting after his male best friend who wants to ask someone else to prom, their usual gleeful attitudes become quite glum and they don’t know how to turn things around for themselves.

• • •

In case you’re unfamiliar, a promposal is an often public proposal, in which one person asks another to the prom, eliciting joy or mortification. (Definition was copied from the Goodreads summary.)

Here’s a really sweet example to get you acquainted with the idea:

I’m going to make this a Why in 5 review to keep things short and sweet because I know you’ll get carried away watching more promposals after seeing the one above…

  1. Camilla has a massive crush on a boy named Benjamin. While they’ve spoken very little, she hopes that he’ll pick up on her crush-vibes and ask her to Prom. That isn’t exactly how things pan out; she’s asked to prom on live television by a guy she barely knows. How does she turn him down in order to seek out Benjamin’s potential offer? The answer: she can’t because she refuses to publicly humiliate someone. Camilla is a sweet, smart girl who finds herself in a sucky situation. It’s her senior prom and she’s going with someone that’s annoying the crap out of her. She’s got a huge heart and is so, so kind.
  2. Her best friend, Joshua, is by her side offering his best advice throughout her whole ordeal, but he gets a bit sidelined by his own drama. He’s gay and his second best friend, Ethan, has been his crush for years. Ethan is also gay, but seeks Joshua’s help asking another guy to prom. This entails brainstorming ideas and Joshua trying to disguise all his hurt because he wishes he could be honest with Ethan about his feelings.
  3. Camilla and Joshua’s situations aren’t enviable, but they’re handled really maturely and respectfully. A promposal, to me, is a little silly and I think in many regards it’s unnecessary. But it’s a thing now and I kind of had to get past my adult notions to embrace the concept. Helms did a great job including a current trend and not allowing it to feel extremely cliche and silly. I came to admire Camilla and Joshua as they grew to understand that the only way out of both circumstances was to either suck it up and be a loyal friend or to speak up and be honest. I really appreciated that Helms presented the idea of a Promposal as something a person might not be expecting and how it might feel to be on the receiving end of that; I’d never even considered this before.
  4. Promposal reads easily and was a quick, enjoyable book. The story is about two genuine, innocent characters who want things to finally work out for them. My one issue is that maybe sometimes Camilla and Joshua seemed a bit younger than they were, as in the language didn’t always match the mindset. (But I have to remind myself that I was that naive, happy-go-lucky senior so maybe I’m seeing the characters through my adult microscope.)
  5. The chapters alternate between Camilla and Joshua’s perspectives and neither story outweighs the other. This is a really well-balanced Dive Into Diversity book; we’re given an inside look into Joshua’s divorced family and how his Dad supports his sexuality and nudges him to make a few decisions regarding Ethan. (No, I’m not telling you what happens. 😉

• • •

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book cover for Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols

Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols | Magan Reviews

book cover for Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols

Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols [twitter | website]
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 336
Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: opposites attract, yearbook superlatives, sexual high school relationships
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Brody and Harper are chosen by their classmates as the “Perfect Couple That Never Was” for their high school yearbook superlative photo. Several failed attempts to take the photograph provide opportunities to escape their significant others to spend time together and leave them questioning why: Why their classmates chose them. Why they never got together before.

• • •

We’ve reviewed quite a lot of Jennifer Echols’ work here on Rather Be Reading. Her work has been something we’ve really enjoyed, but it’s something we’re both feeling a bit disconnected from lately. I decided I would give things another go with Perfect Couple, really hoping that whatever was missing from the previous books had been found again.

But I don’t really feel that way. The story lacked a believable timeline and was peppered with abrupt, out-of-nowhere sexual scenes as an attempt to make readers forget their reading woes. Decisions were made just as quickly and emotions changed with the wind. I felt jerked around and really, really wanted to enjoy Perfect Couple more because I did quite like Brody and Harper. Their story just had a few too many gaping holes to really tie everything together well.

Harper and Brody are chosen by their classmates as the school’s “Perfect Couple That Never Was” for the class yearbook. Brody is an all-star quarterback. Harper is more of the artistic type. He’s dating a gorgeous cheerleader, Grace, and she’s in a relationship with Kennedy, a jerk who demeans her and treats her like utter crap. (And is incredibly moody/PMS-y…all the time.) Both are left to wonder why their peers would have paired them together. What do they see that Brody and Harper may have overlooked?

Despite ties to their significant others, Harper and Brody find themselves drawn to one another. Often very inappropriately and with little regard to boundaries if you know what I’m saying. (If you’re not one for a cheating book, you may want to steer clear. Though I couldn’t stand Kennedy, my moral compass was screaming at their indiscretions.)  The thing is I DID root for Brody and Harper to be together; the whole opposites attract thing was very appealing. But maybe I’m a traditionalist and think that there’s a time and place for all things, and I just really wish they would have slowed down and handled things respectfully.

It’s quite possible I would have enjoyed Harper and Brody’s story more if there had been more of a slow build, if they really worked to get to know one another, and if the tension has simmered just a little more. Or maybe I didn’t connect because I have aged out of Echols’ work? I probably would have given them the stink eye more than once because their fleeting decisions made little sense to me and there was so much back-and-forth I want him, I don’t want him, I want him. The bandaid was ripped from my reading-skin a few too many times, leaving me feeling very unattached and without much left to adhere to afterward. My recommendation if you’re in the mood for a great, steamy Echols’ read is to revisit Such a Rush.

Have you ever felt like you’ve aged out of an author’s work, or
have you ever significantly changed your opinion of an author’s work?

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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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Magnolia by Kristi Cook (Character Gift Exchange)

Greetings, guys!

Somehow it’s been 8 months since I’ve done an official character gift exchange? What? How is that possible? I’m not entirely sure but as soon as I read Magnolia but Kristi Cook a few weeks ago, I knew they would be the perfect victims, er, candidates for my next one! First, a few reasons to pick up this August release paperback:

  • Magnolia by Kristi CookThe setting is practically another character. Cook described the gorgeous Mississippi town so well, I felt like I was practically living there too. It was so delightfully Southern and everything felt so gorgeous and grand.
  • It’s not exactly a Romeo and Juliet story. Instead of Ryder and Jemma want nothing to do with one another, and it’s their parents who are pretty much marrying them on the spot. Loved this twist, and also the backstory associated with it.
  • There is a storm. An intense storm that traps both of the main characters in a house — alone. With the threat of no electricity. So. I’ll let that idea simmer for you because it was awesome.

I sped through Magnolia so quickly because I could not WAIT to see what would happen.

And now for the character gift exchange!

Ryder to Jemma

Magnolia Kristi Cook Character Gift Exchange Ryder to Jemma

Industrial Film Bookends: Jemma is a budding filmmaker, and her dreams of going to film school in NYC makes up for a lot of her anxiety in the book because it’s not exactly what her parents have in mind for her. I loved this artistic side of her!

Hello, New York: An Illustrated Letter of the Five Boroughs: This book is quirky and fun, and I would imagine Jemma would be so thrilled Ryder was thoughtful and got her this. It’s a sign of support.

Glimmering Tough Hair Pin Set: Another detail I loved in the book was how Jemma had an eye for fixing vintage dresses and making them her own. I didn’t want Ryder to buy her a dress, especially because finding them is half the fun but I think these hair clips would compliment any one of her frocks.

Jemma to Ryder

Magnolia Kristi Cook Character Gift Exchange Jemma to Ryder

Antique Constellation Print: Stars are Ryder’s thing; instead of a football future, he wants his in astronomy and science. Wouldn’t this be fun to frame?

Romeo & Juliet: A Baby Lit Board Book: This is exactly the kind of gag gift I would give to a boyfriend/my husband. Ryder and Jemma are aware of their situation and this is a light-hearted reminder of their friendship and their family history.

Dinosaur Boxer Briefs: A tongue-in-cheek reminder to stick to your guns.

♥

Hope you enjoyed these! Now hurry up + buy the book!

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Estelle: Blazed by Jason Myers

Blazed by Jason MyersBlazed by Jason Myers ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 528
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: divorce, broken hearts, San Francisco, music
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Warning: Blazed contains drug use, sex, and manipulative parents.

Summary: When armed with oxy and music, Jamie’s life is smooth sailing. Mostly. When his mom’s actions go a step too far, he’s sent to live with his estranged father in San Francisco for a week. Little by little, the stories his mom has told him about everything start to unravel and he finds himself in the midst of yet another complicated situation. Will he stay in San Fran? Is this his chance at a fresh start?

This is the second book I’ve read by Jason Myers and I have one question:

Why are we not talking about him anymore?

Everyone talks about wanting authentic and diverse books in their lives and well, here is another one of them that seemed to fly under the radar during release week. (Cue the sigh.)

Jamie, the main character of Blazed, is like meeting Holden Caulfield in present day. He’s passionate, he hates fake people, and he has many many observations when it comes to the world. Unlike Caulfield, Jamie depends on Oxy to get through the rough times and is also a musical genius. He can thank his mother for both of these things. She’s a retired ballet dancer who drinks and drugs herself so hard that she has no recollection of anything that happened the previous night. Jamie has learned to take care of their household, save his mom from crappy bars and shitty guys, and despite all of that, remains completely devoted and sure of his mother’s love for him.

As a reader, I was like: wake up, Jamie. Obviously, she was a terrible influence and putting unnecessary stress on the life of her teenage son. But, on the other hand, when he mentioned “the good days”: how she respected his art and encouraged him to listen to all this great music. She wanted him to do well. So the love was there even if everything about it was completely messy.

And it got even messier. When his mom takes things too far (even for her), Jamie is shipped off to San Francisco to live with a dad he has never gotten to know. In fact, all he knows about him are the stories his mom has relayed to him over the years and (I know you will be shocked) they are all super negative. It’s not surprising Jamie doesn’t warm to him, even when his dad tries so hard to make him feel comfortable and at home in SF. I don’t blame Jamie. He has felt tossed aside and forgotten for so long (he’s 14) and believes that his father ruined his mom. But, slowly very slowly, the truth begins to come out.

I loved Jamie’s time in San Francisco. For the first time, he was meeting people who truly cared about him and who totally inspired him. And for someone who loved music like he did (love doesn’t feel like a strong enough word here), Jamie was literally living in his dream world. But the drugs are aplenty in this new world too, causing a breakdown — totally different than the one that occurred at home. The big difference: there are consequences and truths that come to the surface, threatening to change life as Jamie knows it.

Is Jamie ready for that kind of change? He’s falling in love with the beautiful, musical, honest Dominique. He’s bonding and making music with new guys. He has a stepsister who looks out for him as much as he looks out for her. Can he be clean because he wants to and not because his girlfriend wants him to be? Can he and his dad maintain this talking honestly man-to-man thing?

The whole time I was reading Blazed, I was waiting for the shit to hit the fan. And that has to be a lot of shit because things were not looking that great as it was. Myers sucked me into the life of a young kid, forced to act like an adult, and constantly thrown into his mother’s delusions. Even as he adopted his mother’s addictive personality, Jamie was so utterly charming and you couldn’t help but root for him. I had no idea how the book would end. If I would be heartbroken or proud. It’s safe to say… I’m still not sure because there are definitely two sides to every story and we all have reasons for making certain decisions.

Blazed was dark, eye-opening, full of appreciation for art and individualism. It was fast-paced for its page count, and full of so many emotional up and downs. But it was the raw honesty of the main character that kept me hooked. I’m still thinking about him.

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