First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano | Estelle Reviews

First There Was Forever by Juliana RomanoFirst There Was Forever by Juliana Romano ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Publisher: Penguin/Dial Books
Pages: 400
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: turning 16, best friends, popularity, sex
Format read: ARC from Publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: Total opposites Lima and Hailey have been best friends forever until Hailey finds herself more concerned with popularity and crushing on Nate, a guy who doesn’t give her the time of day. Subsequently, Lima finds herself dealing with Hailey’s absence as she attempts to make new friends — one of these new friends being Hailey’s Nate.

It’s safe to say we’ve all had a friend that seems to outshines us. Sure, sometimes it’s frustrating but most of the time we dismiss it because “it’s just the way they are”.  Even if this is the case in Lima and Hailey’s friendship, they both bring to the table qualities the other needs. They balance each other out. Lima’s life (two well-to-do, supportive parents) brings stability into Hailey’s (divorced, sort of absent). Hailey’s outgoing nature brings Lima out of her shell but also solidifies this intimacy they have with one another because Lima can trust Hailey with her most outrageous, embarrassing questions.

No one is on the same path when they are 15 or 16 years old. In fact, I think it’s probably one of the last times we might be on similar journeys as our friends. Lima might be perfectly content with spending time with her family, swimming at her aunt’s pool, and visiting food markets and gardening. At the same time, Hailey intensely throws herself into the in-crowd and the parties, and is sure she is in love with a quiet yet popular, Nate. Why does one person move ahead when another wants to stand still? Who decides these things? Like Lima, I have no idea. She maybe feel “behind” but she also wants to maintain her own pace. She even puts herself out there to meet some new friends but no one quite fills the space that was once occupied by Hailey. The heartbreak only builds because there are times when Hailey seems to be her old self. Is it possible they can go back to where they used to be? Nothing feels quite as solid as it once did.

I am completely in love with Romano’s writing. First There Was Forever was a debut, and I was in deep — the questions about sex and loyalty; the limits you set for yourself and the times you decide to go beyond them; the trust you have in your friends; the urge to hang on to our parents but to also break away — all against this brilliant, laidback California lifestyle. Romano also throws in a major wrench when Lima finds a friendship with Nate, the guy of Hailey’s dreams (or so she thinks). It’s a complicated and complex relationship but sometimes we can’t explain why these things happen. They just do and we have to go for it, or not. With Hailey acting selfish and out of character, I’m not surprised that Nate became such a big part of Lima’s life. He was simply there when her best friend wasn’t.

There’s truly a laundry list of moments to discuss in this book, but one thing I wanted to point out was how much our parent influence our friends during this time of our life. Lima needed a break from Hailey; it’s understandable she isn’t running to her parents to list Hailey’s “sins” but there’s such guilt when she sees that her mom misses Hailey having around too. The sadness continues to build, and sometimes we are helpless to put a cork in it. One quick reminder: these characters are on the younger side for YA. Romano presents their voices and actions so authentically, despite the “grown-up” questions they are asking themselves and each other.

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Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho | Estelle Reviews

Althea and Oliver by Cristina MorachoAlthea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 6, 2014
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Pages: 384
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: friendship, 90s, New York City, romance, sickness
Format read: ARC borrowed from Gaby at Book Broads. (Thanks!)

Summary: Althea and Oliver have been best friends since they were kids. Althea realizes she wants something beyond friendship with Oliver around the same time he keeps falling asleep for long periods of time and no one knows what’s causing this to happen. Set in the 90s, the story brings Oliver to New York for a possible treatment while Althea stays in Wilmington. She decides to drive up to New York City to find Oliver, but ends up finding something entirely different.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Althea & Oliver is probably the YA that the naysayers don’t realize exists. It’s literary, it’s layered in its storylines and the emotions build up in all of them, and not even close to fluffy. In fact, I would call the general feeling of this book melancholy.

If you haven’t guessed from the above description, Althea & Oliver is not exactly a story you are going to fly through. I was unsure if I was actually liking what I was reading for a long time. How can you like a girl doting over her best friend? What if that best friend is basically disappearing for weeks out of time because of some mysterious illness? I mean, there’s nothing truly happy here. But I was intrigued by Oliver’s strange health issues and I was hooked by the friendship between the two. Oliver and Althea maintained an intimacy that you don’t find a lot in young adult books. Sure, feelings beyond platonic were swirling around there but you can’t deny their closeness — how their families knew each other so well, how they always seemed to be stuck together, and how they accepted each other, faults and all.

I love how Moracho gave these characters room to grow beyond each other. Things happen, Oliver is off to New York, and Althea is acting out back in North Carolina. She makes the decision to lie to her dad and head to New York and talk to Oliver, and a major detour changes the course of the story. This is a tough one to review, friends, because so much happens that you need to discover for yourself. But what happens when you are so dependent on a friend and they can’t be there for you anymore? Do you continue to push this closeness or do you let the wind take you? Do you take this opportunity to get to know yourself without the other person? Will both of you ever be ready to take your relationship to the next level at the same time?

So much about Althea & Oliver felt more mature than a lot of other young adult books I read. I couldn’t help thinking it was the lack of technology in the story because it was set in the 90s. There was nothing keeping anyone together when they were apart except for some stray phone calls. Both Althea’s dad and Oliver’s mom allowed their kids to be very independent. These details definitely allowed the characters to do their own thing but it also didn’t disqualify their parents from the story either. (Big thumbs up.)

These two characters certainly hit rock bottom in two very different ways, and it was so emotional and heartbreaking and authentic how they climbed out of these holes and figured out next steps. I wouldn’t even say this book is about coming to clear conclusions but making the right decisions for right now, and keeping the future open. It’s so scary to jump into the unknown and this feeling is basically the theme of being a junior in high school. Moracho nailed it, making my heart swell and burst so many times.

I cannot wait to see what she is writing much, and I look forward to more thoughtful, and engulfing young adult books like this one.

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Estelle: My Best Friend, Maybe by Caela Carter

My Best Friend Maybe by Caela CarterMy Best Friend, Maybe by Caela Carter ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: senior year of high school, summer, Greece, friendships, parent/kid relationships
Format read: ARC paperback from Bloomsbury. (Thanks!)

Summary: Colette and Sadie were once inseparable, and then suddenly they weren’t. With no explanation, Sadie stopped speaking to Colette so it’s a little bit of a jolt when, after 3 years of radio silence, Sadie asks Colette to come with her family to a wedding in Greece in a few weeks. While she already has volunteer work lined up with her boyfriend on a trip she raised money for, Colette is desperate for excitement and adventure. Life has been feeling so dull lately, and she’s curious about Sadie, their friendship breakup, and what a few days in Greece could do for her. So she says yes.

I think no matter how inseparable two people are, how much fun together, how many memories they make with one another, there is always some kind of difference between the two. Even before Colette and Sadie stopped being friends out of nowhere, Colette was feeling it. Sadie was concerned with how she looked and interested in boys, and Colette knew she wasn’t there yet. It was a small crack in the foundation, one that could have easily been worked through except for the big mysterious thing that causes the two to go from peas in a pod to total strangers for 3 years.

How would you feel if your ex-best friend appeared out of nowhere and asked you to take a trip to Greece? Would you go?

Colette is not an easy character to understand; she lives her life a certain way, a product of her parent’s upbringing. Her mom who urges her to remain chaste, to remain protected and covered up while her dad just blurs into the background of her life, never speaking up. I believe Colette’s parents had good intentions. They wanted their daughter to grow up to be good with boundaries, and have only the best influences infiltrate her life. Instead Colette is insecure in her own skin, feels like any decision that will not garner the approval of her parents is “bad”, and has tiptoed through her high school life being very careful not to experience too much of anything.

Her day-to-day life has grown to be so black and white (especially after Sadie has left it) and she is yearning for some gray.

Freedom. Adventure. Fun. All of these words are synonymous with Sadie. This was how they balanced each other out. So it’s not a surprise that Colette wants to ditch her summer plans (volunteer work in another country with her long-time boyfriend) and see Greece and, most importantly, figure out why Sadie left her. For the first time in a long time, Colette defies many people to do what she wants. (Though her support comes from an unexpected place; I liked this choice.)

Caela Carter did an exceptional job painting a portrait of Greece: the beauty of the water, the food, the vineyards, the hot water near the volcano. It was exactly like I was there alongside Colette as she spent time with Sadie’s family — people she believed were her family until they weren’t anymore. It’s not entirely paradise; against this gorgeous backdrop, Colette is feeling constant tension with the family, knows Sadie is keeping many somethings from her, and is afraid she made the wrong choice and fractured relationships at home for no good reason.

I like the messy books. I like when we are privy to ALL the parts of the characters. These books are near and dear to me because they are truly representative of real life. We don’t all see things in the same way. We often don’t understand the reasons why people do things the way they do. People can surprise us: in good and bad ways. I applaud Carter for thrusting us into this unsteady friendship. Colette missed Sadie; she wanted to patch things up. Sadie obviously still felt she could trust Colette or she never would have asked her on this trip. But could it be more than just a trip? (Sometimes friendships sound a lot like relationships, don’t they?)

Despite the heaviness of the conflicts and secrets in My Best Friend, Maybe, I gobbled this one up. Read it in under 24 hours. I had to see how Greece would change Colette, get her thinking on her own without constant pressure from her parents. I had to know if Colette and Sadie’s friendship had anything left after all these years and after this trip. Plus, there’s a sweet romance that felt just right. I think young adult books sometimes underestimate how hard it is for kids to break away from their parents; it’s impossible for us to share the same beliefs and constantly agree on how to live our lives. How moving forward has nothing to do with the level of respect or love we have for those parents. In addition to that, it’s not so often we see two best friends break up and be granted a second chance to be truthful with one another.

My Best Friend, Maybe did that + then some. It was thought-provoking, tough, visually beautiful, and certainly made me a Caela Carter fan.

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Blast from the past: Magan reviews Caela Carter’s ME HIM THEM AND IT  (now out in paperback)

Harlequin Teen Double Feature: Two Reviews

Another Little Piece of My HeartAnother Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin ( web | tweet )
Published 12/1/2013 from Harlequin Teen
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: music, summer after high school, breakups
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Despite the strength of her feelings for budding musician Jared, Claire decides to break up with him to make things less stressful for her dying mom. She’s totally devastated but thinks it is the right thing to do. Devastation turns to anger when a song based on their breakup skyrockets Jared to stardom. And what are the chances that on a family summer trip to New Hampshire she bumps smack dab into Jared and a million feelings come rushing back? Pretty good.

I stayed up until 3 a.m. finishing this book.

I think that sentence says it all but here are a few more details about this reading experience. It sounded a bit like Audrey Wait, but unlike Robin Benway’s super funny book, the main character Claire is a musician herself and music is something that her and ex-boyfriend/current rock star always had in common. So not only does she lose Jared when she breaks up with him because her parents never seem to accept him and she’s done dealing with their constant jabs, but when the money for her college is suddenly all gone, Claire doesn’t have much to look forward to when she graduates and Jared seems to be getting everything.

I didn’t love that Claire broke up with Jared because of what her parents wanted, but teenagers make those kind of mistakes so I get it. In the aftermath of her mother’s death, her dad’s poor financial choices, and not letting anyone find out she is the girl in Jared’s song, she takes life into her own hands during a summer vacation to New Hampshire. She gets a job in a grocery store even though her father thinks its beneath her, and she starts to set plans in motion for making her own music dreams come true.

Of course, of course, of course, Jared ends up being in New Hampshire too and with her cousin totally into him, she cannot seem to get him out of her head and out of her sight. The tension here is great because Jared and Claire barely speak to each other but every now and then there’s a little moment where the air was buzzing and I just wanted them to make out already and talk about what happened.

Martin really develops Claire and her background well, and I love how we get bits and pieces of Jared and Claire’s relationship. I wanted them so badly to work it out because their time together was so ultra functional (what?! in a YA?) and they just always had a blast together. My one complaint was the ending: it wrapped up way too fast and all that tension fizzled so quickly. But I still had such a fun time reading it; my exhaustion the next day was completely worth it!

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Anything to Have You by Paige HarbisonAnything to Have You by Paige Harbison ( web | tweet)
Published January 28, 2014 by Harlequin Teen
Pages: 304
Target audience: Young adult (FYI: drugs, alcohol, and sex)
Keywords: friendship, high school senior year
Format read: ARC provided by Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary:  Best friends Natalie and Brooke couldn’t be more different. While Natalie would rather watch movies and cook on a Friday night, Brooke loves to be the center attention at every party. Things change for both of of them after Brooke drags Natalie to a party and old feelings resurface and life as they know it will never be the same again.

Opposites totally attract, and I could see why Natalie and Brooke were such close friends. Brooke’s enthusiasm for everything was super addictive, and Natalie’s thoughtful nature helped to keep her friend grounded. But one party starts to unravel this friendship when Natalie wakes up near Brooke’s long-time boyfriend, Aiden, and she has absolutely no idea what happened between the two of them. Silence and many unanswered questions slowly crack the foundation of Natalie and Brooke’s relationship and the consequences are bigger than either of them thought.

It’s super intense, especially when Natalie starts to remember how she was into Aiden first. She feels totally helpless when it comes to her feelings and has no idea who to turn to.

Harbison utilizes dual POV and I gave a little scream when the book went from Natalie’s story to Brooke’s. I really liked Natalie! Unfortunately, Brooke’s portions of the book were not as well-developed as Natalie’s and I could not hear her as a unique voice. So many of the scenes we had already read are flipped to Brooke’s experiences in them and I’m not entirely sure that was always necessary. It was also very difficult to empathize with a character who would not take responsibility for her own actions, and I did not agree one bit with the blame she placed on others. (I most definitely didn’t agree with those characters accepting this responsibility either.)

Anything to Have You was super fast-paced and I was able to read the whole thing in a few hours. I wish there has been more of a spotlight on certain scenes (especially toward the end) and less of a neat ending. It didn’t justify all the action we had experienced in the book. Plus, the title. I’m still not understanding what it has to do with the book or the friendship between these girls. I wouldn’t have minded a longer novel with a bit more fleshing out because Harbison’s dialogue is so refreshing and spot-on and the intricacies of female friendships are so discussion worthy.

Despite the weaker points, I’m glad I tired out Harbison’s work; I’m ready to dive into her backlist!

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