Category Archives: young adult

Review: In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

In the Wild LightWhen Cash’s best friend Delaney discovers a new fungus that could help treat multiple diseases, she becomes the toast of the world. Receiving multiple offers to pursue her educational aspirations outside of their small East Tennessee town, Delaney makes a bargain with a prestigious private school for her and Cash to be a package deal.

The only thing holding Cash back is his dying Pawpaw. Pawpaw eventually convinces Cash to go and a whole new world opens up to him, including his discovery that he might be a poet (and not know it).

A new novel from Jeff Zentner is something to look forward to and In the Wild Light is no exception to the type of authentic, character-driven young-adult novels he’s written before. However, I have to admit that somehow In the Wild Light didn’t quite hit it out of the park in the ways some of his other books did.

It could be that part of it is because this novel feels a bit weightier than some of his other books. Cash’s struggle with his own self-worth and depression is well explored, though it does make for difficult reading in some passages — especially late in the novel as it feels Cash just can’t quite catch a break. And yet, in all the darkness, Zentner offers up a commentary on how the arts can help and their value. Cash’s discovery of poetry and his talent for writing it is one of the great threads in this novel and seeing Cash explore that part of himself is one of the best parts of this book.

>In the Wild Light includes some Easter eggs to previous works from Zentner. I’m sure I saw many of them but missed a few more along the way, but it’s that extra bit of world-building that was appreciated by this reader.

In the Wild Light is a great read. It has some beautifully realized passages that I had to just re-read to appreciate the beauty of the language. But, it could be that Zentner has set too high a bar in his previous works that no new book could quite exceed. This one comes close but just feels a bit off in the final analysis. But that still makes it one of the shining highlights of the young-adult genre and a book that’s definitely worth your time and attention.

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Audiobook Review: What’s Not to Love by Elizabeth Wibberly and Austin Siegmund-Broka

What's Not to LoveReading/listening to What’s Not to Love, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the early days of the Sam and Diane romance on Cheers. One scene, in particular, kept standing out, when during an argument that ends up with Sam and Diane smacking each other, Sam points out that he didn’t hit Diane as hard as he wanted to. It’s a dark moment for the show, one that indicates just how opposite these two romantic partners really are.

Of course, if you’ve watched Cheers (and if you haven’t, why are you still reading this?!? Get to streaming it immediately!), you know that Sam and Diane were on-again, off-again for several more seasons before she left.

I bring up that moment because it feels like the kind of moment you can’t really come back from — and there’s one like it in the middle of What’s Not to Love. Ethan and Allison have been rivals for all four years of high school, competing against each other with ever-increasing stakes and a blatant disregard for themselves or the people around them. Both of them want to get into Harvard and are on the school paper, which brings things to a huge boil when both parties do something equally unforgivable in an attempt to sabotage the other — again, not thinking about if or how their actions might impact other people in their lives. Continue reading

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Review: The Last Best Story by Maggie Lehrman

The Last Best Story

Defenders of high-school journalism, Rose and Grant were inseparable — until one fateful day a few months before the end of her senior year when Rose walked away from the paper and Grant. Now, it’s the night of prom and Rose is there with someone else while Grant continues to wonder why Rose walked away from the paper and the dream of becoming a journalist. When the school is put under lockdown, it’s up to Grant and Rose to get the real story of what’s going on at the big dance out to the world.

The Last Best Story wants to a hybrid of romantic-comedy, thriller, and ripped from the headlines social commentary. Unfortunately, these elements aren’t as well-blended as they could or should have been and the entire novel comes off feeling like it’s treading water for far longer than it should have.

Part of this is how entirely clueless Grant is about his role and influence over Rose. The obvious simmering attracting between the two occasionally bubbles over in flashback, but it feels a bit like watching Who’s the Boss where it felt like every sweeps period, we’d get something that might push our leads into a romantic relationship, only to see it backed off and the status quo reset by episode’s end. It was frustrating then and it’s frustrating here — especially given that the book is trying hard to give Rose a character arc. The question of whether Rose loves journalism or loves that Grant loves journalism and it’s rubbed off on her is an intriguing one that’s brought up, but never reaches a satisfying conclusion.

Add in an almost Scooby Doo level of “I’d have got away with it if not for these darn kids” level thriller plot and you’ve got a novel that just doesn’t quite add up in the final analysis.

One of the most disappointing novels I’ve read this year.

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Review: Forget This Ever Happened by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Forget This Ever Happened

Learning that Cassandra Rose Clarke was penning a couple of Star Trek tie-in novels, I decided to sample some of her back catalogs. The first book that hit my library reserve pile was the young-adult urban fantasy, Forget This Ever Happened.

The town of Indianola, Texas is off-the-grid, even in the early ’90s. That’s because there are monsters who live out by the old power planet who live in a tentative alliance with the town’s humans. And anyone who leaves town forgets about the monsters and details of their lives in the small town.

In the summer of 1993, Claire is exiled to Indianola, Texas to care for her aging grandmother. When a monster shows up in her yard, taunting her, Claire calls the local exterminator to remove the creature back to the power plant. That’s how she meets Julie, whose family owns multiple local businesses. Claire’s grandmother is convinced that Julie’s family “stole” their family home out from under them years ago and is less than pleased with Claire and Julie’s strike up a friendship. Claire’s grandmother would rather she spent time with Audrey, the girl who is almost too good to be true.

The first third of Forget This Ever Happened builds the world of Indianola and the budding relationship between Julie and Claire. Pieces of the larger mystery of what’s happening in town and the connection to everyone are slowly sewn and established. Once the pieces are in place, the novel proceeds at a slow-burn toward the final revelations of just what’s going on in the town and why. Clarke earns each of the reveals, all while giving us a good dollop of teen angst. This angst comes in the form of Claire’s rising attraction to Julie and her feelings about it.

To say too much more would probably ruin some of the developments of the novel’s last third. Forget This Ever Happened is an intriguing treat with strong, female protagonists that earn most of the surprises from the novel’s final third. Given that Clarke’s upcoming TNG novel will focus on Dr. Crusher from season seven, I can’t help but look forward to that book arriving on my shelf later this year.

Until then, there are more novels from Clarke to explore — something I’m looking forward to doing.

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Review: One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is LyingA quintet of stereotypes from a John Hughes movie walk into detention one fateful Monday afternoon, but only four make it out alive.

Each of the survivors — the athlete, the cheerleader, the academic, and the drug dealer — had good reason to want to see the victim silenced. Simon Kelleher runs Bayview High’s infamous gossip blog app and his next post contained juicy details that could cause grief and heartache to each of the survivors. But was that post enough of a motive to kill Simon? And if it was, which one of these four is guilty of the crime?

The central mystery of who killed Simon and why drives Karen M. McManus’ debut novel One of Us Is Lying. And the story starts with teenage stereotypes, each of the characters doesn’t remain a stereotype for long. One of the highlights of the story is watching McManus build each of the characters through shifting point of view segments while both validating and challenging our initial assumption of each character. Whether it’s the academic, Bronwyn who was presented with a chance to keep her collegiate dreams of going to Yale alive or Jake, the drug dealer who is trying to overcome his family’s dysfunctional history, McManus’ narrative weaves the lives of the so-called Murder Club into something more than just your standard murder mystery. Continue reading

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Review: Never Apart by Romily Bernard

Never ApartHe steps back, steps back again. He can’t believe what I’m saying. Once, I might not have believed it, either. But the lie is the closest to the truth we’re going to get. We’re never going home. We Fall again and again, and every time it’s a little different, but it’s never right.

Grace is trapped in a loop that resets itself every five days. Despite her best efforts, she can’t find a way to escape the seemingly inevitable death of her boyfriend Ander at the hands of Finn.

Heaven knows she’s tried forty plus times now.

But landing in the latest loop, things feel different. Her twin brother Jem has returned, Ander has no memory of their previous Falls (he did in the first forty or so) and her family seems to be more functional. As Grace contemplates embracing the current Fall and staying in this set of events, she can’t shake off the feeling that there’s something she’s overlooking in trying to break the never-ending cycle of tragedy and death. Continue reading

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Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of UnrequitedWhile Molly Pescan-Suso has experienced 26 crushes in her life, she’s rarely acted on them. Entering the summer before her senior year, Molly yearns to find the right person to share a first kiss with and possibly take things from being a crush to actually being her significant other.

Now, Molly has two possible new crushes on her radar — the popular guy Wil and the fantasy t-shirt wearing, Reed. Which one, if either, will Molly chose makes up most of the drama and teen angst of The Upside of Unrequited.

Becky Albertalli caught my attention last year with the funny, entertaining and thought-provoking Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And while Simon has an Easter egg cameo in this book, overall Upside ranks as one of the more disappointing stories I’ve read lately. Much of my frustration with the novel comes from its first-person narrator, Molly. Albertalli tries her best to make Molly self-deprecating about her lack of romantic experience, chalking a lot of it up to a lack of confidence because of her body type. Molly’s own self-image isn’t necessarily the most positive as she repeatedly refuses to believe that anyone else would find her attractive, despite there being signs from that two potential crushes might be interested in more than just being an unrequited object of her affection.

I get what Albertalli is trying to do with Molly and giving us the perspective of someone who is an outsider, looking in at what the “popular” kids (including her own twin sister) are doing. But it felt like Unrequited was getting a bit redundant and hitting all the expected romantic comedy touchstones for Molly instead of giving us an authentic journey for her. In the end, it feels only like Molly comes out of her shell because a boy likes her and not because she realizes that she has inherent worth as a person regardless of her external appearance.

Albertalli fills Upside with a diverse group of characters, many of whom feel one-dimensional. Too many of them feel like they’re summed up by one or two characteristics instead of being fully realized characters.

It all adds up to a disappointing sophomore effort by Albertalli. Maybe my expectations were too high for this one. But I can’t help but feel like this one had potential that it never quite lived up to.

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Review: Coming Up For Air by Miranda Kenneally

Coming Up for AirEver since she dipped her toe into a pool, Maggie has been obsessed with being the water. Driven to be one of the best swimmers in her state and country, Maggie is training hard for her final year of high school and her college career as well as a shot at the United States Olympic team.

But in between keeping her grades up and swimming laps, Maggie can’t help but wonder if she’s missing out on something. Namely, dating, guys, relationships and the logistics of making out. As Maggie ponders this situation, she begins to see her best friend and fellow swimmer, Levi in a new light. So Maggie proposes that Levi teach her the basics of making out before she graduates from high school.

What could possibly go wrong? Continue reading

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Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittay Cavallaro

A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes, #1)A Study in Charlotte?

I see what you did there.

Clever title aside, this Sherlock Holmes homage is an interesting and entertaining story that features the great-great-great-great grandchildren of the original Holmes and Watson. Being a young adult novel and requiring the requisite romantic angst, this time around it’s Holmes’ descendent Charlotte and Watson’s descent, Jamie.

Brought together at a private school in Connecticut, the duo soon finds themselves at the center of a series of murders that take a page from some of Holmes and Watston’s most stories chaos. As the prime suspects in each of the cases, Holmes and Watson must join forces to try and figure out what’s going on and who the real culprit it.

As a way to introduce a new generation to the Holmes universe, A Study in Charlotte works extremely well. Both Holmes and Watson have some of the traits of their famous literary descendants and the connections between the two families and their shared history are just some of the interesting aspects of the story. The fact that a Holmes has moved from using cocaine to crystal meth is an interesting development in the story and the fact that Watson has a temper that sometimes get the better of him is another.

Brittany Cavallaro knows her Holmes-lore and sprinkles it judiciously. As the first novel in a trilogy, I’m intrigued enough by some of the larger plot threads and the characters to want to pick up another volume and continue to read more about the modern Holmes and Watson.

The book also makes me eager to dust off my original copies of the Holmes story and visit them again as well.

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Review: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

After accidentally not logging out of his e-mail account on the school library computer, Simon Spier finds himself being blackmailed by fellow classmate Martin. Martin wants Simon to play wingman with Abby, the popular new girl at school and help Martin get the inside track on a date with her. Simon goes along because what Martin saw could not only force Simon to come out of the closet sooner than he’d like to but also drive away his new anonymous pen-pal and crush.

Becky Albertalli’s debut novel Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a delightful, honest and funny coming of age story. I’ve heard a lot of buzz about this one and I’ve got to say that the novel more than lived up to it. While it did take a chapter or two to get know Simon as our first person narrator, I soon found myself caught up in his world and his concerns. It’s not that Simon wants to hide who he is, but he wants to be the one to tell the world about exactly who is he and not have it leaked out on a school Tumblr page as a piece of gossip for everyone else.

Like Simon, I kept guessing as the exact identity of the anonymous crush and I’ll give Albertalli a lot of credit for creating several scenarios and friendships for Simon that could be the identity of the person on the other end of the computer. By focusing on Simon and his successes and failures, the story comes across as authentic and Simon comes across an authentic teenager.

As I said before, this one is getting a lot of good buzz out there and I was a bit worried it might not live up to it. It does. It may even exceed the buzz. It takes a sensitive subject and deals with it honestly, really and with Simon’s often delightful sense of humor. Give this one a try. You’ll probably enjoy it.

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