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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The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand • Magan Reviews

book cover the last time we say goodbye cynthia hand, books about suicideThe Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand [twitter • website]
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 400
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: suicide, loss of a brother, life after loss, counseling
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Lex’s brother committed suicide and she’s not entirely sure why. She wants answers she’ll never get; she wants more than his one-line-post-it-note on his bedroom mirror. Lex wants to go back to way things were before.

• • •



The Last Time We Say Goodbye is going to be really difficult for me to review well. I wish I could draw a diagram for you that showed all of the emotions and feelings I experienced while slowly (because it’s like the best, most delicious meal you’ve ever had: it must be savored) worked through Lex’s story.

Lex’s life is divided into befores and afters:

Before when she was happy.
After her brother committed suicide.
Before when she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
After when she’s lost touch with all of her best friends.
Before when she was sure she’d met her soul mate.
After when she broke things off with him because it’s just too much.

Lex’s mom is barely functioning; she goes to work, comes home, cries herself to sleep in Tyler’s room, rinses and repeats. When her mom swears she gets a whiff of his cologne, Lex blows her off. But then a few things start happening to Lex and she’s positive her therapist will prescribe her medication if she tells him she has seen Tyler’s ghost. Or that she’s noticed photographs have been removed from frames throughout the house. Surely this can’t be happening, right?

This was my first of Cynthia’s books and I have to say I’m just so incredibly in love with her storytelling. I’m an “issues” kind of girl when it comes to books so I’ve read a number of books that deal with a similar situation. But man, it felt like Cynthia really forced me into this world. Everything just felt so right with the pacing, the environment, the friendships, and Lex trying to figure out how to move forward. There’s an added element of Lex’s journal entries that her therapist forces her to write, and honestly, sometimes these kinds of things can feel jarring because they break up the story. It worked so, so well here. (Especially when everything really came full circle at the end. Cue the tears.)

The Last Time We Say Goodbye is heartbreaking and takes a good, long look at a family after the surprising loss of a son and brother. There are so many questions and so, so few answers. It’s less of an emphasis, however, on Tyler and the choice he made, and more about accepting his decision and how Lex and her mom move forward. Just in case you’re wondering if this is a ghost book, my answer would be no. It’s a very realistic adaptation of a grieving family with a very logical explanation for why these things are happening to Lex and her mom.

I caution you to prepare a continuous stretch of time for The Last Time We Say Goodbye. You won’t want to move an inch. And quite possibly, if you’re like me, you’ll be angry you haven’t read Cynthia’s work until now. Don’t worry — I’m off to correct this!

• • •

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My Heart and Other Black Holes • Estelle Reviews

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine WargaMy Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray
Pages: 320
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: depressing, suicide pact, family problems, friendship
Format read: ARC from Alex @ Little Wing Book Reviews. (Thanks!)

Summary: After trolling a website called Smooth Passages, Aysel decides to answer Roman’s ad for a suicide partner. They meet and agree to a “deadline”, yet their new-found “friendship” has Aysel thinking in a way she hasn’t in a long, long time.

Aysel reminded me a little bit of Joey Potter — forced to deal with the aftermath of her father’s sins, the girl “wrong side of the tracks” who can’t go anywhere without whispers following her. Though in Aysel’s case, her father has murdered someone and she is now living with her mother, step-dad, and half-sister in a home where she feels incredibly unwelcome. Aysel is convinced her family and everyone who lives in her small Kentucky town thinks being a murderer is hereditary, and she’s dangerous too. Lonely, she spends her time at a job she doesn’t like, and visiting a website called Smooth Passages. She’s ready to make the ultimate leap and commit suicide.

Smooth Passages opens Aysel up to the idea of a “suicide partner” and upon reading an ad, she meets Roman and decides to commit to his date. It’s an odd relationship because even though they are planning to die together, they are still strangers. Strangers who are trying to trust each other in 24 days. As Aysel gets to know Roman, she can’t help but feel confused. His mom is thoughtful (even if she’s overbearing), he’s been in relationships, he has talents, and people actually want to talk to him. How can this guy want to end his life? The more she gets to know him, spend time with him, and understand his sadness, the more her dark cloud seems to be moving somewhere else. Could they possibly help each other and forget about their end date? Would Roman ever go for it?

My Black and Other Black Holes is a compelling debut. I honestly had no idea how it was all going to end, feeling so anxious as each chapter counted me down until the day. Like Aysel, I was rooting for both of them to take a different path and Warga did a noteworthy job of building up this wall of depression, and the lengths it takes to penetrate it. It is frustrating, scary, heartbreaking, and any reader wants to make life easier for these two, wants to believe that this friendship makes the difference. The writing was great (even if I wanted a bit more development especially when it came to Aysel’s “new” family), I loved the details that made up both of these characters, and, it must be said, I loved how it called itself out for being a little cheesy at times. Tough to read but well-worth the rocky ride.

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book review and cover for All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven | Review + Giveaway

book review and cover for All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven [twitter | website]
Publication Date: January 6, 2015
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 384
Target Audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: depression, opposites attract, senior year, death of a sibling
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (A BIG thank you!)

Summary: After meeting on the top of the school’s bell tower, both contemplating the horror of jumping off, Finch bursts into every aspect of Violet’s life and they’re paired up (at his insistence) for a class project that requires them to spend even more time together.

• • •

Have you ever read a book that was SO GOOD you had to stop reading it so you wouldn’t finish it? I admit that this hasn’t happened many times to me. Usually I get heart palpitations and I dread finishing, but I never completely stop reading. Well, that’s what happened with All the Bright Places. I got to 92% and turned off my kindle, turned out the light, and snuggled in bed. Of course my mind wouldn’t quit racing and I couldn’t stop thinking about Finch and Violet. But at least I had that 8% to finish the next day.

The Meeting Place: On top of the school’s bell tower, both Violet and Finch are contemplating what it would be like to jump. Him: because he fluctuates between being “awake” and “sleeping” and because he’s fascinated with facts about how people have died. Her: because she feels she’s responsible for her sister’s death and can’t grasp why she was allowed to live.

The Story: Finch and Violet are two extremely unlikely characters who after meeting atop the bell tower, are paired together for a class in which they have to discover elements of Indiana over the course of the semester as their major project. This project and Violet’s company — the way she fascinates him and he wants to know more of her story — keeps Finch awake and helps him not to slip into the depths of his depression. He wants to keep Violet safe and alive and make her see she’s going to be okay. He’s known as a freak; she’s part of the popular crowd. He cares what no one thinks and tends to masquerade as different personas whenever he so chooses. Violet envies his ease and intelligence, but she’s also wary of him.

The Charm: Wit. Humor. Laughing out loud at the easy banter between Violet and Finch. Beautiful, gripping writing that really connected me to both characters (especially considering it’s old in alternating POVs). Finch and Violet were ALIVE and unique. The scenery and locations they visited were so “normal” and unspectacular until they arrived and breathed life into them. Meeting Violet and Finch is like taking a deep breath of the most intoxicating scent you’ve ever smelled — it fills you up and makes your lungs burn because you never want to exhale and lose the deliciousness.

The Clincher: There’s this feeling that something’s going to happen as you can feel that they’re both trying to climb out of the long, lonely slumbers they were in before meeting. My emotions were on such a roller coaster as I learned more and more about their stories and who they were. There’s such joy in two polar opposite characters meeting (however tragically that might have been) and seeing their relationship progress to such a beautiful place.

I’ve already marked All the Bright Places as a favorite for 2015. I finished the last pages and immediately pre-ordered a finished copy to be mailed to Estelle. I never, ever spend a lot of time re-reading books, but this book is so strong and remarkable I’ll need to. (I highlighted a bazillion passages and think each time I read it, a million more will stand out.) I guarantee Jennifer Niven will be racking up multiple awards for her incredible work. (She deserves every one of them.)

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• • •

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I loved All the Bright Places so incredibly much that I want to start 2015 off by sharing a copy of it with someone!
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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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHruyZS7ob0

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Estelle: The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher

The S-Word by Chelsea PitcherThe S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pages: 304 pages
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: bullying, suicide, friendships
Format read: ARC from NetGalley via Publisher. (Thanks!)

Summary: When Angie’s best friend commits suicide, she launches into a full-on investigation to find out who continues to tarnish Lizzie’s reputation with the proclamation of SLUT written on her locker and her old journal entries showing up all over school. Angie faces tough truths about her friendship (that wasn’t so solid during Lizzie’s last days) and the downward spiral of hatred at her high school.

Whoa. Chelsea Pitcher has painted such a dark and unforgiving portrait of high school that had me thanking my lucky stars I would never have to go back.

Angie is determined to figure out who continues to tarnish the reputation of her ex-best friend Lizzie who just committed suicide because it would take a person with a pretty sick sense of humor to do that, right? The S-Word begins on shaky footing because there is just so much that is unknown, including how Angie really feels about her friend’s death. Her attitude was a little too distanced to me, the setting a little too film noir, and without a firm grasp on my narrator, I found myself sluggishly making my way through the earlier chapters of the book.

When I least expected it though, as Angie continued to dig deeper into the lives of her high school peers, I was truly swept up into the intertwining storylines, childhood tragedies that had yet to heal, and the secrets uncovered that carefully tied the everything (and everyone) together. While I’m not sure all the intersected plotlines were entirely necessary, you could see that Pitcher put a lot of care into crafting her writing, creating such a complex and multi-arced story. She even folds in some of Lizzie’s journal entries; the insight they provided and Lizzie’s voice in general were a highlight for my own reading experience and gave me some time to breathe as the story grew more and more unfortunate and out of control.

The biggest takeaway from The S-Word is how much we just may not know about the people who are the closest to us and how much trust and bravery is required to truly be yourself (especially in such a toxic environment). The experiences we bury away, the secrets we keep may cause a domino effect of events we can’t even begin to fathom.

Despite the book’s summary, I wasn’t expecting something quite so dark and full of tangled, tangled webs. But I do applaud Pitcher’s complex storytelling, as well as her cast of diverse characters (why oh why is this so uncommon), a unique (tension-filled) romance, and ability to embed some serious surprises.

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