Carter Briggs knows about the power of the written word. Not only can he entertain and touch his three best friends with his stories and jokes but a simple text message to them could have been a factor in the auto collision that took their lives.
Wracked with guilt and hurting from the loss of the fellow members of the Sauce Crew, Carver faces the difficult task of trying to move forward with his life. It doesn’t help that the twin sister of his one his friends and a high-powered judge and father to another friend hold Carver responsible for the death of his friends. And both want to see Carver “pay” for his actions.
Jeff Zetner’s Goodbye Days chronicles Carver’s journey to come to terms with the death of his friends and the impact it has not only on him but those around him. Carter’s witty, self-aware narration is honest, authentic and, at times, utterly raw. Zetner ably captures the conflicting emotions Carver experiences, including several panic attacks that send Carver looking for help beyond what his family and friends can offer. Continue reading
When her senior year at her prestigious private school comes crashing down on her, Taylor is expelled in disgrace. Covering for her boyfriend, Taylor figured her powerful senator father’s reputation and influence would be enough to help her survive being caught with a backpack full of prescription medication.
Turns out she was wrong.
Now she’s home, forced to go to the Hundred Oaks High School and starting over. She’s got daily visits with her guidance counselor to make sure she’s staying away from the drugs and trying to recover from this huge hit to her goal of getting into Yale and following in the family business.
But what if the life that Taylor had planned out for herself isn’t necessarily the one she wants or needs?
Miranda Kenneally’s latest Hundred Oaks Defending Taylor novel examines this question and gives us a fascinating character study into Taylor and the people who inhabit her life. Taylor’s frustration at her family, her situation and her ex-boyfriend spill over time and again and are well explored. As with Kenneally’s other novels, the characters and situations in the novel feel completely authentic and are well realized. Taylor’s struggle to find her role on her new soccer team is well done, as is her confusion over her feelings for that one boy who broke her heart years before but has suddenly turned back up. Turns out that like Taylor, he’s harboring his own secrets from his family and the two find themselves back in each other’s orbit with feelings beginning to resurface. Continue reading
Madeline lives a fairly contained life. She’s home schooled, rarely ventures beyond the the walls of her house and has little contact with the outside world beyond her mother and her nurse, Carla.
Madeline has a very rare condition that makes her extremely susceptible to any kind of germ. Her immune system can’t fight them and so Madeline has to live inside her sterile, clean home, experiencing the outside world only by looking out the window and the books she reads (all brand new and properly sterilized, of course!)
She’s perfectly content in her world until one day a new boy moves in next door and Madeline has become intrigued by him and his family. Suddenly, her world seems a bit smaller and Madeline is willing to do and risk whatever it takes to get to know this boy and possibly fall in love with him. Continue reading
Sydney’s older brother Peyton was the jewel of his parent’s and the community’s eyes. Outgoing, fun-loving and seemingly on a course to have anything he wanted out of life, Peyton and his family’s life came to a screeching halt one night when he got behind the wheel of a car while impaired and hit a young man riding home on his bicycle.
Now Peyton is serving his sentence and Sydney and her family are left to pick up the pieces. That includes Sydney having to sacrifice her last few years of high school at a private school with her friends and heading to public school this fall. It also means that Peyton is feeling a bit distant from her parents — particularly her mother who seems to be focused on how to reconnect with Peyton and making sure he doesn’t feel like his family has forgotten about him.
Sydney is also wracked with guilt over what Peyton did and the impact that it had on the young man and his family. Thanks to the power of the Internet, Sydney is able to see how the young man is doing and even to contemplate reaching out to him in some kind of gesture. Continue reading
Heading into junior year, Alex, Mollie and Veronica are the queen bees of their school — and they know it. They’ve all been friends since elementary school, but things are about to start changing for each of them.
Lauren Saft’s Those Girls feels like its channeling the spirit of Mean Girls without any of the heart that made the movie work. The stories are told in alternating points of view from each of our three protagonists and I’ve got to admit that somewhere around a third of the way through the novel, I found myself losing track of certain plot threads, like which girl pined for the boy next door and which one was hooking up with him.
There’s a lot of very bad behavior by all these characters, making each of them completely unsympathetic as the story progresses. Saft tries to get us to understand what motivates each of these girls with the alternating first-person narration, but I slowly found myself getting irritated by the girls and their actions instead of understanding them or sympathizing. Each girl (and the other characters who they come into contact with) come across as shallow, vain and down-right mean. It makes it hard to spend close to 300 pages with them.
Which brings up the question of why I kept reading when I wasn’t really enjoying the novel. I kept hoping that Saft might be setting up Alex, Mollie and Veronica for some kind of a fall in the final chapters or maybe we’d finally see their actions catch up with them. Alas, this doesn’t happen — nor do any of the three appear to really learn anything from their actions. This includes random sex, seducing each other’s boyfriends and two of them slipping the third a roofie that nearly costs a male teacher his job.
Maybe I’m just not the target audience for this novel. Whatever it is, I have to give this one just a single star.
In the interest of a full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book.
Don’t fall in love with a Vargas. That’s the vow of the Hernandez sisters after two of Jude’s older sisters had their hearts broken by a Vargas brother. One got stood up at prom and another saw an engagement called off just weeks before the wedding. Each of the four Hernandez sisters swore and signed an oath that they wouldn’t get involved with a Vargas boy.
But when her father develops early onset Alzheimer’s, Jude wants to defy the doctor and experts by helping her father restore his Harley. And that means hiring a Emilio Vargas to work on the bike. Jude hopes she can keep his identity hidden from her sisters and parents, who may not react well to having Emilio spending time in their barn, working with their father and putting the old motorcycle back together. But as her father slowly disappears into his illness and parts of his life vanish from his memory, Jude finds herself isolated from her old friends and touched by Emilio’s sensitivity and connection not only to the Harley but to her father as well.
Could it be that Emilio is the apple that fell far away from the family tree? Or will he eventually revert to family type and break Jude’s heart?
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.