Just Wanna Have Fun | Jesse’s Girl by Miranda Kenneally

Jesse's Girl by Miranda Kenneally

A country star + budding musician/high school student + one awesome day. Sourcebooks Fire; 7/7/15; 304 Pages.

What can I say about the Hundred Oaks series? When Catching Jordan first released, my love for YA was gradually building and it holds a special place in my heart. With six of her books tucked in my bookshelf, I’ve come to depend on Kenneally for a strong female leads, sweet and sexy romance, and standout friends and family. Despite these bright spots, she’s not afraid to explore the complexities of these relationships, have her characters question faith and sex and themselves, have them sometimes fail.

Jesse’s Girl is just more of what I love about these books. Maya, a genius musician with stage fright, meets Jesse Scott, a young, massive country music star. He’s supposed to be teaching her about the music industry but the original plan takes a Ferris Bueller-like turn. In the course of a day, they totally butt heads but Maya also offers him her friendship — something he could really use — but nothing goes according to plan. (I love this: “I decide to take Mom’s advice this time: if Jesse really wants me, he’ll let me know.”)

The extra special treat (for someone who wants to be an honorary resident of Franklin, TN) is each book comes with a Hundred Oaks reunion of some kind. Folding Jordan and Sam into the Jesse’s Girl mix added so many comedic elements to the book, and I loved seeing Sam as this big, scary protective big brother (even though he’s kind of a sap).

So pencil in a date night with Jesse’s Girl. Not only can you expect the whole Miranda Kenneally package (special shout out to Dave, Maya’s awesome BFF) but it’s an ode to everything fun in the 80s and a reminder to keep working for what you want.


Why in 5 — country music style (Sorry, Maya!):

Live a Little” (Kenny Chesney): I need to live a little, have some fun / Take some time, waste it on number one / Find a girl that brings my whole world to a stop / Live a little

I don’t want to call Jesse a “poor little celebrity” but he’s been burned before and he’d rather hang out alone with his cat (Casper!) than actually talk to other people when he has time off. Plus — imagine working so hard all the time and barely being able to go in public on an off day. I always liked a boy who was a challenge so I like that Maya (who plays it so cool) wants him to confide in her — even if it’s a one time only thing.

New Strings” (Miranda Lambert): I’ve worried about life and / If it’s arriving right on time / I guess if you don’t jump / You’ll never know if you can fly

Maya is gutsy and she knows what she wants. That’s more than we can say about a lot of 17 year olds but, more than anything, I love how nothing has stopped her from getting closer to her passion. Lack of money, crappy band members, her age — none of these factors matter. When the going gets tough, Maya just grows to be tougher and I admired her for it.

I Don’t Want This Night to End” (Luke Bryan): I’m so glad you trusted me / To slide up on this dusty seat / And let your hair down / Get out of town / Got the stars coming out over my hood/ And all I know now is it’s going good

I’m obsessed with the concept of two people spending one magical, amazing day together. What happens next? Jesse can ditch his entourage for a day, and Maya’s parents have no idea what her Career Day (arranged by her principal, no less) has turned into. Our main characters reach a certain level of intimacy, hanging out in this bubble all day, and, as the reader, you want so badly for nothing to disturb that.

Tumble and Fall” (Little Big Town): “It’s a reach out, it’s a white flag, it’s a forfeit of the game / It’s a let go of the ego, and the whisper of your name / It’s a fight for, not a defend, it’s a stay out in the rain”

It’s not like Maya goes into Career Day thinking she’s going to nab the GREAT Jesse Scott. Spoilers aside: this is a Miranda Kenneally book so we know we have some high-charged chemistry to look forward to. But he’s a celebrity! She’s in high school! How would this even work if either of them were willing to admit they liked each other? It’s all about taking that risk.

Maps Out the Window” (Caitlyn Shadbolt): Woahhh feels good just letting go / Woahhh roll it down, let the wind blow

This song embodies the fun and fancy free feeling that Jesse’s Girl is all about. Just like you want to be listening to this song with the top down and sun shining on your face, there’s no way this book won’t boost your mood and make you smile.

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This book was provided by the publisher for review.

Estelle: The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

The Scar Boys by Len VlahosThe Scar Boys by Len Vlahos ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: January 21, 2014
Publisher: Egmont USA
Pages: 256
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: set in 70s/80s, horrific accident, bullying, friendship, male POV, music, bands
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary: When Harry was 8 years old, a few boys tie him to a tree during a thunderstorm and he is severely burned when lightning strikes and the tree catches on fire. For most of his childhood and teenage life, he is a loner until a popular kid named Johnny butts in on some bullies bothering him. Later, they form a band, make new friends, and actually go on tour. The story of The Scar Boys is actually Harry’s personal essay for a college. Spoiler: he goes over the recommended 250 words.

If you know my reading preferences, you know I love a story told from a male POV. I also love reading books set in another decade. The Scar Boys takes place over the 70s and 80s from the time that Harry is horrifically injured by a lightning bolt at 8 years old until the time he is in high school, on the road with his band (Scar Boys) and telling the entire story in a personal college essay.

The detail that struck me most about this book is Harry. He doesn’t mope, he doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for himself because he’s different from all the kids around him, he just is. It’s not to say he’s unaffected. Harry knows people look at him strangely, he’s aware that his dad doesn’t treat him as a father should, and it’s not until some assholes come up to him in school that things start to take a turn in his life.

Suddenly, he is best friends with Johnny. Hanging out all the time, jogging together, and even going to parties. Then totally on a whim (and as a way to get over a girl) Johnny suggests they start a band. Johnny and Harry totally immerse themselves in every kind of music available, find other members, write original songs and I was shocked to see — the band becomes pretty successful. Gigs at CGBG’s? Huge deal! So when the idea of touring for the summer materializes (an idea that Johnny takes credit for), a majority of the book becomes about prepping for the tour and all the little conflicts and successes that come along with it.

I loved how Harry gained confidence through music. Even though he was definitely experiencing growth, he still had a ways to go. I had no idea if he could trust Johnny because Johnny seemed like the kind of guy who only felt good when he put others down. He didn’t always play by the rules. This was conflicting for Harry because even though Johnny didn’t act like a good guy a lot of the time… he was the catalyst for Harry’s happiness. He helped Harry find music.

The Scar Boys has absolutely no airs about it. It’s simply the story of a kid coming into his own, facing unique challenges and putting his life into motion. Harry’s narration (especially his observations) reminded me a little of the Jean Shepard narration for A Christmas Story or Daniel Stern’s narration of The Wonder Years. He had already lived the story as he was telling it, but he was able to accurately express his insecurities, the choices he made, and how music became a lifesaver.

This was a really enjoyable debut! Most of all I loved how Harry’s journey to move forward after the lightning strike felt refreshing and new. It never felt forced or over-dramatized, and at points, it was almost like he didn’t realize he hadn’t dealt with the big picture yet and BOOM, there was more work to do.

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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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