For Real by Alison Cherry | Review & Chat

For Real by Alison CherryFor Real by Alison Cherry ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: December 9, 2014
Publisher: Delacorte / Random House
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: revenge, reality TV, sister relationships
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley.

Summary: Two sisters embark on a reality show adventure but with different objectives: one wants revenge on an ex-best friend and the other is hoping for more quality time with her sister.

FYI: You don’t have to be a reality show guru to enjoy FOR REAL. In fact, if you are like me and maybe watch more Dancing with the Stars reality entertainment over the latest Survivor-type show, you will be impressed by the little details the author has folded into this story. From the auditions to deep in the action of Around the World, I felt like I was behind-the-scenes in the thick of things.

The core of FOR REAL was sisterhood, and that was so refreshing to experience because a lot of my reading doesn’t concentrate on the complicated relationship between sisters. I would know. I’m an older one. So even though I am more similar to Miranda and not Claire, our narrator, I related so much to the push and pull between them. Even though two people are related, when they are in two difference places in life, it’s so difficult to find common ground. Hearing Claire talk about playing second fiddle to Miranda made me think a lot about my sister and if she had ever felt the same way. Despite the disconnect, Cherry nailed the best thing about sisters: no matter where you are or what you are doing, the loyalty is unbreakable.

So Claire and Miranda team up to audition for a reality show that will take them around the world, participating in various challenges as a way to get back at Miranda’s cheating ex who is also on the show. They are so excited to land a last minute spot, but are also thrown for loop after loop once they sign their contract. There’s time spent with Will Devine, an adorable guy who seems to have his eye on Claire, and the changing landscape on the show that is focused on causing more drama and not really about strengthening new and old relationships. Is anyone taking part in this for real or are they all faking it?

It’s great that Claire was forced to make some tough decisions, as she struggled with her love for her sister and also her desire to win. (Let’s not forget her affection for Will.) Even as a reality show aficiando, Claire doesn’t have all the answers and I really enjoyed her journey. Cherry’s story was full of heart and I loved how she gave readers the opportunity to think about how real these reality shows are. Still, I would have welcomed more chapters to flesh out the end of the novel, and maybe a few more in between to lend some clarity to the show’s timeline. Overall, this was a fun introduction to Cherry’s writing and I was impressed by her decision to not always make the typical storytelling choices.

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Big thanks to Random House for the opportunity to chat with Alison about FOR REAL!

Alison Cherry - Author photo_LoResFirst of all, I loved that FOR REAL focused on the relationship between two sisters. As an older sister, it was a little hard for me to read about how Claire wanted her sister to respect her and want to spend time with her. (I became very self-reflective, seriously.) What was the hardest part about getting this dynamic right? Did you throw in your own experience at all?

It was definitely a challenging dynamic to write, especially since I’m the older sister in real life, too! My younger sister and I have always been close; we’re far enough apart in age and have diverse enough interests that we’ve never really experienced any sibling rivalry, and she says I never underestimated or babied her the way Miranda does to Claire. (I was extremely happy to hear that, as you might imagine.) But many of my best friends in high school were older than I was, and I remember exactly what it felt like when they went off to college and moved on to bigger, better things while I was still stuck at home. It’s extremely painful to watch your importance in other people’s lives wane, especially when your feelings for them haven’t changed at all.

I’m more of a Dancing with the Stars fan than an adventure reality show fan but I was so impressed by all the behind-the-scenes details you included that I never would have thought of. Was it tough to narrow down the destinations of the show that Claire and Miranda take part in?

The behind-the-scenes details were surprisingly hard to find! It turns out people have to sign all kinds of non-disclosure agreements when they go on reality shows, so there are barely any tell-alls or even blog posts about the experience. I did manage to interview one former contestant and one field producer, both of whom were very helpful, but I also got a lot of my information from a fan-written compendium about the first five seasons of The Amazing Race. If you want to know minutia about pop culture, it’s always best to talk to rabid fans; they’ve done much more digging than you’ll ever accomplish on your own.

As for narrowing down destinations, it actually wasn’t that difficult, but I can’t talk about my decision-making process without major spoilers! Let’s just say this: at each location, my characters had to do three challenges based on a very specific kind of local custom, so I could only send them to countries for which I could find three usable ideas.

Since its December and we are all about the holiday spirit around here, what do you think Claire and Miranda would be gifting each other this holiday season?

Miranda has noticed that Claire carries a Doctor Who bag, so the first thing she’ll Google when it’s time for Christmas shopping is “Doctor Who gifts.” She won’t know what this blue police box thing is supposed to be, but since it pops up everywhere, she’ll deduce that it’s probably pretty important, and she’ll buy Claire a TARDIS bathrobe. Claire will be delighted, thinking Miranda is finally taking some interest in the things she likes. But when she puts it on and makes a “bigger on the inside” joke, Miranda will just stare at her blankly.

Claire will buy Miranda the complete Freaks and Geeks on DVD. She’ll tell herself it’s just because she wants to introduce her sister to some great television, but secretly, she also wants Miranda to know what it felt like not to be popular in high school.

♥

Thanks so much, Alison!

(Be sure to check out Alison’s appearance at this month’s BIG KIDS’ TABLE too!)

Estelle: In Deep by Terra Elan McVoy

In Deep By Terra Elan McVoyIn Deep by Terra Elan McVoy ( web | tweet )
Release Date: July 8, 2014
Publisher: Simon Teen
Pages: 368
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: swimming, competition, grief, addiction
Format read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thanks!)

Summary: School work, friendships, family, romance — nothing is going to get in the way of Brynn’s swimming. Living for practice and not caring too much about everything else, all Brynn wants to do is best her times in the pool and land a scholarship for college. But is her training and focus a bit out of control?

A theme in many of more effective books I’ve read this year lately is complicated main characters. I like to remind myself that I am never going to agree with or understand why any one person does something. Not even some super close to me. That’s just about how I felt about Brynn, a supporting character from Terra McVoy’s 2011 novel, The Summer of First and Lasts, who steps to the forefront in the addicting and complex In Deep. (Note: I didn’t much remember Brynn from an earlier reading of TSOFAL but, FYI, In Deep takes place before it.)

Brynn is a risk taker. She loves to egg on her best friend, Grier, and, in turn, loves to do stupid shit herself. She basically fills up her time with anything she can before returning to the place she feels the best — in the pool — working to perfect for times and feel like a winner. With her dad suddenly dying a few years ago and her unhappiness with how her mom handled the entire situation, she has basically shut everyone out. Sure, she says hi and bye and allows herself to play silly games with her stepdad in the car but, despite the title, it doesn’t go deeper than that.

It’s hard for me to explain why Brynn acted the way she did. Was she jealous when Grier met a new guy and completely ditched her? Why couldn’t she let Charlie be good to her and accept that he wanted more from her than just sex? All of this work focusing on swimming, not caring about schoolwork, not being honest with Grier — it was all bound to come to explode at some point, right? I mean, that’s the thing. In Deep felt like a ticking time bomb. I was on the edge of my seat wondering what all of this debauchery was leading up to, but, at the same time, completely charmed by Brynn sometimes too. Like the way she dispensed useful advice to her school friend, Kate. Or how admirable her work ethic was when it came to swimming.

But that’s the thing. Our life can’t be just one thing. No matter how good it makes us feel, balance is key to our well-being. I worried that Brynn was filling up her time with some very damaging habits because she was hiding from her mom, hiding from the death of her father, and never truly dealing with any of it. Just like McVoy did with Criminal, she completely immersed me in a world that felt dangerous: emotionally and physically. But there were also so many layers to Brynn’s behaviors and routines, so many shades of gray, that I found myself wanting so badly to be able to discuss all my thoughts with someone. My mind was all over the place — in a good way.

I love to be challenged in my reading, and I’ve grown to love McVoy’s writing with every book I experience because not one of them is the same. She is constantly stretching my limits as a compassionate reader, and introducing me to characters and situations that make me consider possibilities  in my reading I never have before. Sure, there is something to be said about knowing what to expect from an author, but being surprised and satisfied? There’s nothing like it.

In Deep is dark and messy; it’s a story about how we can abuse control and routine, using it to shield us from the moments that catch us off-guard and what we do to fill an impossible void. Terra Elan McVoy continues to deliver memorable, authentic characters (leading and supporting) and moments that cause you to question your own convictions and press pause on just about everything in life until you reach the last page. (And then you won’t be able to stop thinking about it so… it’s never ending — in a good way.)

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Magan: The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt

book cover for The Chapel Wars by Lindsey LeavittThe Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt (twitter | website)
Previously Reviewed: Sean Griswold’s Head // Going Vintage
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s
Pages: 304
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: family rivalries, loss of a grandparent, secret romance
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thank you!)

Summary: Not only does Holly inherit her grandfather’s wedding chapel in Las Vegas when he passes away, but she continues the rivalry with the chapel across the parking lot and becomes responsible for saving the chapel when she realizes how much debt they’re in.

 

So you know when you think something is a really awesome concept, but then there’s just a little bit of spark that’s lacking to make it perfect? Essentially, that’s what I walked away from The Chapel Wars feeling. Set in Las Vegas, Holly’s grandfather passes away and she inherits his the wedding chapel he’s lovingly owned and operated. While others (particularly the one across the parking lot) have sold out to commercialize weddings and take theatrics to the extreme, Holly’s grandfather stayed true to his vision of weddings by trying to appeal to the elegant Las Vegas bride. What Holly and her family didn’t realize was the debt her grandfather was in and the race Holly must enter to keep them afloat, all while secretly falling in love with the competition’s grandson and facing an imminent deadline.

The chapel is passed down to Holly because she’s a go-getter who is obsessed with numbers. She’s a problem solver; if anyone’s going to save the chapel, it will be her. Her father is a little spacey and her mother lacks the passion. Holly really struggles with everyone taking her seriously and finding a balance between modernizing the chapel and falling into the money-trap that is Vegas by offering themed weddings and Elvis. The owner of the chapel across the parking lot had a long-withstanding war with her grandfather, and he’d like nothing more than to see Holly’s chapel crash and burn. But his grandson, Dax, enters the picture right around the time of Holly’s grandpa’s funeral. And Holly has a letter she’s been instructed to give him.

Dax and Holly have an instant attraction, but she feels like she’s cheating on her family if she pursues a relationship with him. Thus begins this whirlwind courtship that involves lots of sneaking around, secret dates, and stolen kisses between the chapels. As much as I enjoy seeing characters overcome obstacles, the relationship with Dax and Holly often felt rushed and a little forced. Coupled with the pacing feeling a little off and and an imbalance between the focus on the relationship, chapel, and Holly’s family problems, I always felt intrigued by what the outcome might be, but I didn’t feel invested. (I felt so distanced from Holly that at times I even felt myself not remembering her name.)

I applaud Leavitt for trying to give us more than just a slice of the pie by including multiple aspects of Holly’s life, but some details felt like nibbles when I really wanted to dissect the entire slice. Holly felt distant and difficult to connect to; she’s a very unemotional character who had a lot of barriers that, while intended to keep Dax at a distance, negatively impacted how attached I was to her. When Holly finally begins to loosen up and release some of her tension, her quick judgments felt out-of-character and that really made me feel like her actions were being manipulated for the intention of moving the story along.

If you’re looking to read your first book by Leavitt, I definitely recommend you begin with Sean Griswold’s Head; both Estelle and I have nothing but good things to say for it!

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