Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane

Zander isn't your average "at risk" sixteen-years-old girl. She gets straight As in school, has a boyfriend, speaks fluent French, and until one recent slip-up was a star swimmer on her swim team. Zander's parents are frustrated that she seems content to live in her own head, sometimes disappearing into herself for hours at a time. Their solution is to send her to a 10-week summer camp hundreds of miles from home. At this camp, Zander thinks she doesn't quite fit in- these are the kind of "at-risk teens" with real mental problems- depression, eating disorders, cutting, possible future schizophrenia. This can't possibly be the place for her. The camp motto is "The only way to be found is to admit we're lost." Zander doesn't feel lost. She knows where she is and where she wants to be: nowhere.

I really felt like the title of this book was misleading and that was likely due to a publisher (or someone down the production line) hoping a love story would interest more YA readers than anything else. I think this is an underestimation of readers in general and YA readers specifically. This book did involve a budding romance, but what this book was really about was Zander struggling to face the world and the unexpected friendship she gains in the process. Do publishers think that all girls care about is if the main character gets the boy? Romance, true love (at sixteen!), the possibility of a teen love scene. Give readers more credit that there is more in life, and in the lives of their readers, than boys. Maybe they felt like a book blatantly about mental illness wouldn't attract readers and it would be better to sneak it into what they thought was a Contemporary Romance. I liked this book, but that disappointed me.

On another note, what do you think it says that the last 3 out of 5 books that I've read have contained a theme of mental illness? I didn't even know that's where some of them were headed, so it isn't as if I had sought them out on that basis. Is the book universe trying to tell me something? If I answer back does that mean I'm definitely crazy? Surely not, right? Right?? Eh, I'll just enjoy the ride either way.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

What I've Heard- The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Last year I read and LOVED The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. This week I listened to the audio version and I really enjoyed it as well. The main narrator, Fiona Hardingham, speaks with a British accent but switches to a Swedish accent when voicing Sara who is from Sweden. I enjoyed these two alternating voices, but I was less enamored with the accent of the people living in the small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. It was hard to tell if this was due to the narrator's own accent or if perhaps this is what people from small town Iowa sound like. Either way it was a very small detraction from an otherwise extremely enjoyable listen. If you still haven't read this book, don't wait any longer. It is just lovely. 

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Oh, my! I just finished reading Made You Up by Francesca Zappia and I had to rush over here to tell you about it. I heard about this book a while ago and snatched it up when I saw it at the library. Made You Up is about Alex, a teenage paranoid schizophrenic attempting her final year of high school at a new school. Alex doesn't always know what is real, but she does her best. She meets knew people and even makes a few friends (and a few enemies) all while trying to keep her mental illness a secret. When she suspects one of the boys in several of her classes is the same boy she met when she was seven and her symptoms first began, she worries that her condition is worsening.

This was a heck of a book. Alex is the ideal unreliable narrator. The reader knows she is unreliable, Alex freely admits it, but we also know it isn't her fault. If Alex can't be sure what is real, how can the reader hope to do so? The whole way through the book I kept wondering how much was real and how long it would be before I would learn what was delusion and what wasn't. Alex thinks she sees men in black suits and red ties standing guard along the school's rooftop. She also keeps seeing a python poking its head out of the ceiling in the hallways. She knows she can't always tell what is reality and what isn't so she takes pictures to help, but maybe it isn't always working.

There were some things that were never clear to the reader, but I suppose that makes sense coming from a narrator who isn't sure either. The storyline in this book is interesting, but I also appreciated the look into the life of a young woman with a severe mental illness. Until we treat mental illnesses with the same respect and understanding with which we treat physical illnesses, people will continue to be unable to get the help they need. A YA book about mental illness could be such a service to a teenager who needs it.

Both funny and heart-rending, this book is quite a journey. At one point my shirt was soaked with tears. And when Alex utters this line, I felt her hopelessness:

No medicine would ever be strong enough for this.

Monday, June 19, 2017

the perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

A few months ago, I watched the film version of the perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, but I hadn't yet read the book. I really didn't know much about the story, but I like Emma Watson so I gave it a try. The movie took turns for which I was not at all prepared and I found myself often confused so I thought it was possible that something was missing from the movie that would have made more sense in the book.

the perks of being a wallflower, the book, was still not quite what I was expecting despite the fact that I had already seen the film. Set during the school year of 1991-1992, Charlie is anonymously writing letters to someone he knows, but not well. He tells this "friend" about all his worries starting high school and then proceeds to tell this "friend" everything that happens in his daily life. Essentially he uses this person as a journal, though he puts it this way:

...better than a diary because there is communion and a diary can be found.

Charlie struggles finding a place to fit in until he meets Patrick and Sam, seniors who take him under their wing. He's different, he isn't like anyone else. Patrick explains that he's a wallflower:

"You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand."

Some really awful things happen to and around Charlie and it is so hard to watch. He tries to do the right thing, he tries to understand, but he is so young and not really ready for it all.

At first this book bothered me and it took me a bit to realize it was the writing style that I didn't like. As the book begins, Charlie's letters are almost elementary. The sentence structure is choppy and it took me a few pages to understand that is the way a fifteen-year-old boy would write. As the story progresses, his writing improves thanks to the help of a very interested English teacher.

There were so many times I wanted to reach out and help Charlie, to stop him or help him make better decisions. As an adult reader, my perspective is so different from that of Charlie or that of the intended YA audience. This book has been included on the American Library Association's "10 Most Frequently Challenged Books" list a number of times and there were times when I certainly understood why. There is drug and alcohol use, smoking, and some sex that I can understand would make adults uncomfortable. I wouldn't want my thirteen-year-old to read it, but I wouldn't object if my sixteen-year-old were to bring it home. Certainly there are discussions that should accompany this book, but I don't think it should be banned. I won't add it to my "Required Reading" list because I'm not sure I feel that strongly about it, but I can see how it could have value.

Just today, as I was nearing the end of the book, a lady at the library saw me reading it and mentioned what a good book it was. She really liked it. I just liked it. Have you read it? Did you love it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star

This month's book club selection is Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star. Ginger, Mimi, and Callie Tangle are growing up in New Jersey with their brother Charlie and their parents Glory and Solly. It isn't the most idyllic childhood; Glory is not the ideal mother. The children are on constant alert for their mother's mood changes, but when real tragedy strikes and Glory declares it all unspeakable, the real scars form. Years later, Ginger is the mother of a seventeen-year-old daughter who leaves home far too early and with far too few plans, breaking her mother's heart.

Told in alternating timelines, the reader is given glimpses of the lives of the Tangle family both before and after the tragedy and then years later as Ginger struggles with her rebellious daughter and  her aging mother. When secrets are revealed, no one is prepared for the paradigm shift left in their wake.

This book was so frustrating to me at times. Some of the characters made me so angry, but I suppose that was exactly what I was meant to feel. I couldn't stop reading because I just had to find out what had really happened. When it was finally all revealed, I was absolutely shocked and heartsick for what this family had suffered. The writing wasn't perfect and there were parts that dragged while the story seemed to wrap up a bit quickly at the end, but I did like this book. If family drama, in books at least, catches your attention, this is the book for you. It is quick and engaging, making for a good summer beach read.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

What I've Heard- The Chemist

A few months ago, I read The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer and I really liked it. I just finished listening to the audio version and it was oh, so good. Just as exciting as the book, perhaps even more so with the intensity of the reading, the audio version had my attention in its grip. I was reluctant when I needed to turn off the audio book because I really wanted to keep listening. There just aren't any good stopping places- the action moves at such a strong, fun pace.

As I mentioned in my book review, don't let the author's name discourage you from reading or listening to this book. I know Stephenie Meyer may have lost some credibility with readers, especially as time has progressed from the frenzy created by the initial love affair many of us had with Twilight. (Don't deny it- she sold over 100 million books from that series and they weren't all bought by teenagers.) This book is good! It is fun and it moves at lightning speed. I really hope that it is made into a film (thought I hope the adaptation is better than what The Host received). This would make the perfect summer read/ road trip listen. I hope you'll give it a try.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg

Set primarily in the early 1970s, All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg centers around Carole, a loving mother of three, a wife helping run her husband's car repair garage and the oldest daughter of a woman who has spent the last three-and-a-half decades locked in a mental institution. When Carole begins hearing voices, the fear that she is following in her mother's footsteps is more than she can stand. Having seen first hand what happens to people who lose their grip on reality, Carole's only option is to pretend it isn't happening to her and to hide it as best she can. Carole's young daughter, Alison, sees that something is wrong with her mother, but she can't understand what is happening. Though she wants to help and tries talking to her father and her aunt about it, Alison feels helpless.

This book is an interesting exploration of family dynamics, the barriers that often exist between rich and poor, especially in the years following the Great Depression, and the realities of mental illness in a time when so little was understood about it. Told in the three perspectives of Carole, her mother Solange, and Alison, we also see three different time periods. We meet Solange when she is young and are allowed to watch as events lead up to her commitment to the nearby mental hospital. We see Carole as a young child forced to deal with the loss of her mother in a situation that she can't understand and of which no one will speak, let alone explain. And we see Alison leaving childhood, becoming a young woman and not having the motherly support she needs. Written in such a beautiful way, I was touched by not just the words Yoerg used, but their rhythm. For instance, this section when Carole is hearing voices:

Voices pursued her. She couldn't make out the words and was almost inside the side that was in not the side that was out inside out like a sock pulled off in a hurry. Keep your insides in. Keep your outsides out. Sounded simple simple Simon Simon says touch your nose touch your head. Touched head. Dead.

The first section I encountered like this briefly confused me, but it took only a moment for me to find the pace and to understand that the author was bringing the reader into Carole's madness, sharing her thoughts with us. That is what I enjoyed about this book. There were a few characters that seemed almost unnecessary to the story, characters that might make sense if they had more development. There were a few tangents I wish she had explored more deeply, but overall I really liked this book. This isn't a light, easy read (it does focus on mental illness, after all), but neither is it too heavy. Interesting and beautifully written, this is a book I think you would enjoy.