Magan: Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner

book review for Can't Look Away by Donna CoonerCan’t Look Away by Donna Cooner
See Also: Skinny by Donna Cooner
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Point
Pages: 272
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: beauty and fashion vlogger, loss of a sibling, moving to a new state
Format Read: Arc received from the Publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: Torrey, popular fashion and beauty vlogger, doesn’t know how to deal with the sudden harassment and criticism she receives from her followers after the death of her younger sister. Her family moves from Colorado to Texas to be closer to family, and Torrey has to figure out how to mourn her sister and move on.

Almost exactly two years ago, I raved about Donna Cooner’s Skinny, a book about a girl who undergoes gastric bypass surgery and deals with insecurities and body image issues, even though her physical appearance is changing. I really connected with Ever and felt super pumped to read Donna’s newest book, Can’t Look Away, about Torrey Grey, who is a popular beauty and fashion vlogger. The scenarios are almost completely reversed — Ever is a girl who had zero self-confidence and had to work really hard to accept and love herself. Torrey is popular and extremely well-known, but when her 12-year old sister is killed by a drunk driver, her character is questioned and she’s criticized for detaching and not addressing what’s happening.

But ultimately, the lesson is still the same for both Ever and Torrey: despite fame, beauty, body size, popularity, vlog views, etc., both girls have to learn to love and accept themselves despite any of those other outside factors.

Torrey was a more difficult character for me to relate to because her every move seemed calculated: How do I promote myself? How will everyone react to xyz? What can I do to gain more views and recognition? Believe me when I say I could relate to those feelings because I’ve dealt with that with my businesses and with Rather Be Reading. You pour so much of yourself into these projects and want people to love and appreciate it as much as you do. I think I’m in a personal place of wanting to be a blogger and a business owner, but also not wanting my entire life to be only those things. And that’s what I wanted for Torrey.

I wanted to see her mourn her sister and stop worrying about how to connect to the internet to see what people were saying about her. I wanted her comments to not be so snippy with her cousin, Raylene, who was trying desperately to forge a friendship with her. I wanted Torrey to not care quite so much about sitting at the popular table at her new school. Oh, and that boy she liked, Luis? I wanted to shout, “JUST GO FOR IT! Who cares if he’s “unpopular”!” Torrey had a lot of growing up to do, but I think one thing stands out. Sometimes when we’re in the midst of something deep, hard, and heavy, we find distractions to focus on. We fill our time with the mundane details so we can cast aside all of the hurt we don’t want to deal with.

In a nutshell, that was Torrey. It was easier for her to focus on being the girl she used to be instead of letting it sink in all the ways her life would now be changed without her sister. The growth does happen, but I wanted to see it happen a little less rapidly. And what about her parents? They were on the periphery of the story and we saw how they dealt (or didn’t deal well with their grief), but I felt there should have been a little more involvement with helping Torrey overcome her obstacles. She deals with Internet bullying and moving to a completely new state, and the death of her sister all by herself.

Can’t Look Away is so pertinent and has some really valid points and lessons. I, always the proponent for loose ends to be tied as much as possible, wish there were a few moments that felt a little more ironed out, but overall, this is another great contemporary by Cooner. Definitely looking forward to more!

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Magan: Tease by Amanda Maciel

books about bullying Tease by Amanda Maciel

Tease by Amanda Maciel (twitter)
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Pages: 336
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: bullying, suicide, lawsuits, book told from bully’s perspective
Format Read: ARC received from the publisher.

Summary: Sara is being tried for the death of former classmate, Emma, whom she and her friends Brielle, Tyler, and Dylan bullied. The story is told from Sara’s perspective as her trial nears and she reflects back on the past leading up to Emma’s death and present day.

Hello again, friends! I’m back with another vlog review, and –wow!– what a book Tease was. I’ve seen a bit of differing opinions about this one because author Amanda Maciel takes you (uncomfortably) inside the bully’s mind. As a reader, you’re going to want to wring Sara’s neck in hopes that she could see that she’s done wrong and made some major mistakes. Does that happen? You’ll just have to find out for yourself. But do know that you’ll feel frustrated with Sara. She thinks her actions are justified; she felt threatened by Emma and had a hard time standing up to her best friend, Brielle, when she suggested something particularly nasty to do/say to Emma because Sara felt like her friendship with Brielle was slipping away.

Simply stated: Tease is complicated. It’s a difficult read, but it’s very relative and important. Read it.

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Magan: If I Lie by Corrine Jackson

book cover for if i lie by corrine jackson

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson (website | twitter)
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 276
Target Audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: Military towns, cheating, reputations, bullying
Format Read: eBook purchased for my Kindle.

Summary: Quinn’s boyfriend, Carey, is serving our country in Afghanistan. Shortly after his deployment, a photograph was taken of Quinn and another guy, proving that she was cheating on Carey. She’s trapped in a world of bullying because she’s protecting Carey by not sharing his secret.

I mentioned in my Shelve It vlog on Sunday that I was recently in a deep book slump because I was having a really difficult time making it through a book. (Don’t worry. It wasn’t If I Lie.) I was super hesitant to pick up another book because I really needed something solid, something that was sure to be an absolute win. And guess what? If I Lie was the perfect book for me.

Quinn is in her senior year of high school, shunned by her entire small Military town because they think she’s committed the ultimate crime: She cheated on her boyfriend, Carey, right after he went away to serve our country in Afghanistan. Did you catch what I said? They think she’s done this. There’s photographic proof that she was with another (unidentifiable) guy, but no one except for Quinn knows the absolute truth. Or the secret that Carey’s asked her to keep.

The backlash that Quinn faces from her father who was abandoned by her mother while he was at war, or from her classmates who vandalize her school locker, or from Carey’s parents who want absolutely nothing to do with Quinn will make you feel appropriately uncomfortable. But I fully believe Jackson does a brilliant job of balancing the bullying by showing us how resilient and dedicated Quinn is to Carey. There’s no way someone could face all the turmoil Quinn does without feeling deep, sincere love for another person.

But things only become more complicated for Quinn once Carey goes MIA after being out on a mission. But you know what I found most wonderful about If I Lie? Yes, we’re learning about Quinn, and yes, slowly Carey’s secret is being revealed to us, but there’s just so much more meat to the story. There’s also George, her wonderful elderly companion at the VA Hospital who is teaching her how to become a better photographer and doesn’t succumb to the rumors he has heard about Quinn. And there’s her messy relationship with her father and how desperately Quinn wants to be seen by him again. The speculation about who this other boy is also made my heart pound a little harder, but the final few chapters (our foster daughter can vouch for me as I was reading aloud to her while she played) really tugged on my heart strings and I balled my eyes out. My point: If I Lie is so incredibly well-rounded. The focus isn’t just on this one relationship, but has so many lovely gems that propel the story forward and make it flow effortlessly, especially when the subject matter gets a little tough.

I’m really, really not sure why I waited over a year to read If I Lie. I suppose that’s what happens when you let books pile up on your kindle because you get buy-happy. I sincerely hope that if you haven’t read this book yet that you’ll give it a whirl as soon as you can. Don’t be like me and wait too long to read a really wonderful story.

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Estelle: Promise Me Something by Sara Kocek

Promise Me Something by Sara KocekPromise Me Something by Sara Kocek ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 1, 2013
Publisher: Albert Whitman
Pages: 311
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: homophobia, bullying, new school, friendships, remarriage
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Starting at a new school for Reyna Fay is tough, especially when all her best friends are all together at another one. When she reluctantly falls into a friendship with loner Olive, the constant butt of her class’ jokes, Reyna is tested in ways she never imagined.

On one hand, I really related to Reyna’s uneasiness when starting her new school without her best friends. I felt so similarly in middle school when I was separated from my elementary school best friends for the first time. Will your friendship survive not seeing each other every day all day? Will they like their new friends better? And would eventually mixing new friends and old friends lead to disaster?

Kocek explores the plights of the 14-year-old so well, she could have taken pages out of my journal: the up and down moods, wanting to stay below the radar at school but not be totally invisible, and the excitement that comes along with a first romance. But it’s Reyna’s time with Olive, a girl that practically forces their friendship, that really makes her first year in high school one to remember.

In good ways and in bad.

Olive is totally outspoken, not afraid to say how she feels no matter how any else feels. She’s not exactly the person Reyna would pick to be friends with, but soon they are working on school projects together and having sleepovers. I was never totally sold on Olive. Maybe because I was never be able to predict what she was going to say or do? My inclinations weren’t too far off. She continued to shock me throughout the whole book.

There is SO much I want to say to you, because Promise Me Something really turns the tables on bullying and the non-acceptance of people’s sexuality. It’s also about being scared of  the unknown and not always knowing what to do when faced with those situations. I was disappointed when Reyna allowed herself to be poisoned by the popular crowd, and even more so, that Olive couldn’t seem to get over herself and things got worse and worse when the two hit an impasse.

Kocek has a lot of lessons for her readers in the pages of this book, and while I appreciated them, I felt like I was swimming in uncharted territory for the last half. (And just how believable was all of it? That was a big question for me.) Tons of surprises and a lot of character growth for Reyna all brought to a halt with an abrupt ending. After all that occurred and all the attention to detail, there needed to be more of a wrap up and maybe some anger?

So some elements resonated, and some just didn’t. Still Promise Me Something was fast-paced, featured a lot of relatable experiences (remarriage and religion), and also presented an entirely unique way of dissecting unfortunate issues that plague us too often and need to take a hike. For good.

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