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review: “by the time you read this, i’ll be dead” March 26, 2010

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By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters.
Hyperion // Hardcover // 224 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Daelyn Rice has tried to commit suicide multiple times. The latest attempt has left her unable to eat solid food and to talk without pain. And Daelyn still wants to die — so she finds an online community to support her during her next attempt; the attempt that Daelyn wants to be her final success. But as much as Daelyn wants to die, others want her to live and they’re reaching out to her, trying to keep her alive.

It’s hard to review this book for me. I thought it was amazingly well-written, but the whole time I wanted to shake Daelyn and remind her that people cared about her. I was so utterly frustrated with her character and the seemingly unending hopelessness that she had — I really struggled to finish the book.

There are also pretty detailed descriptions on the methods that people chose to commit suicide, something that I almost wasn’t comfortable with in a YA book. And I have to say that I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to difficult subjects in YA literature. But when the descriptions were making my stomach turn? It was too harsh for me, and too harsh for a lot of the teens I know.

Daelyn does has reason for being truly unhappy — she’s been bullied her whole life for her weight. I don’t want to say it justified her depression and suicide attempts, but I felt like she had been truly abused.

[Spoilers for the end, run away if you don’t want to know!]

And the most frustrating part about the novel was that the ending was open — we don’t know what Daelyn did; if she did attempt suicide, if she was successful; or if the few people in her life were enough to convince her otherwise.

A hard-hitting well-written YA novel. I had trouble moving past the subject matter. And I think librarians should be careful to recommend it to teens who can handle the material.

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Julie Anne Peters

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review: “some girls are” March 19, 2010

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Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers.
St. Martin’s Griffin // ARC // 256 pages.
Reviewed from an ARC copy, from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.

When Regina is almost raped by her best friend’s boyfriend at a party, she confides in Kara who swears never to tell Anna. But what Regina fails to realize is that Kara wants to be Anna’s best friend — and wants to ruin Regina’s life. Now instead of being Anna’s favored friend, Regina is the outs with everyone at school, and is physically and emotionally paying for it. Because Anna and Kara are some of the meanest girls ever and their only goal is to make Regina suffer.

It’s hard to say that I liked this book, because it’s such a difficult subject matter. But I did!

The writing is absolutely amazing — real and gritty. I cannot even say how many times I wound up flinching while reading this book. The physical torment that Anna, Kara, and the rest of the clique put Regina through is horrifying and turned my stomach on occasion. This book is not for the faint of heart and is definitely an upper YA read.

What makes this book amazing and memorable is Regina’s development, her journey to move past this former mean girl who can’t even stand up for herself.

Regina’s parents and teachers seem utterly clueless about what’s going on in her life. I was convinced that someone had to know what these girls were doing — and rather than stopping it, they allowed it to happen.

Michael, Regina’s only companion throughout most of the novel, is a well-developed supporting character and I really liked what his character brought to the novel and offered to Regina’s own development.

I would definitely recommend this book to teens, but I would caution the teen about the heavy subject matter before putting the book in their hands.

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Courtney Summers

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review: “positively” March 3, 2010

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Positively by Courtney Sheinmel.
Simon and Schuster // Hardcover // 224 pages.
Reviewed from library copy.

Emmy’s always known that she was HIV-Positive — she got the disease from her mother during pregnancy. And at age 13, Emmy’s mother passes away leaving Emmy to an unsure new world, living with her father and stepmother. Unsure, scared, and angry Emmy acts out against her new world. Her father and stepmother try to help as best they can and finally decide to send Emmy to Camp Positive — a summer camp for those fighting HIV/AIDS.

I was convinced that this book would be a downer. What surprised me most about it was the hopeful nature of the book. I think that Emmy ultimately grows a lot throughout the book and is on the way to emotionally healing when we leave her.

Other great things about this book include the realistic way that AIDS/HIV talk was handled. Perfectly age appropriate, accurate information. None of the characters were talked down to, and Emmy’s concerns were ones that I felt all teenagers would be concerned about.

Sheinmel also masterly crafts an authentic young teenage voice. I was so drawn into Emmy’s words and world that having to put the book down left me wondering what was going on in the book while I was away. I also definitely had flashbacks to when I was younger teen.

This is such a better alternative to Lurlene McDaniel books. (Not that those don’t hold a special place in my heart — they were the only books that I could read after my Gram passed away from cancer as a young teen.) But Emmy’s story feels much more real, and way more contemporary than older books.

The book definitely got me to think and also to cry a little. But again, it wound up being a very hopeful and truthful story.

Definitely recommended for public libraries.

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Courtney Sheinmel

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review: “hold still” February 12, 2010

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Hold Still by Nina LaCour.
Dutton Juvenile // Hardcover// 304 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

After her best friend’s suicide, Caitlin cannot figure out how to move on. She’s lost interest in the things that she used to love and the people around her (teachers, parents) are clueless as to how to help her. It’s easier for everyone to ignore Caitlin. Struggling to make sense of Ingrid’s death, Caitlin has but one clue — Ingrid’s diary. A story of recovery set over the course of the school year, Caitlin works through her pain to move on with her life.

I’ve been putting off this review. I thought this book was well-written and an important topic for teens. The book really shows the length of time that healing can take, and I felt like Caitlin’s path to recovery was a long and hard one, one that wasn’t complete by the the end of the book.

On the other hand, I felt like “Thirteen Reasons Why” was a better (similar) book. I normally try not to compare one book to another, but since these two came out so closely together and I read them in the same year, I was still thinking about “Thirteen Reasons Why” while reading this one.

My other issue was I didn’t really enjoy reading about Caitlin suffering. There were a lot of moments when I put the book down for a while to feel happy again myself. When I felt overwhelmed in “Thirteen Reasons Why,” I could concentrate on the mystery of when Clay would show up in Hannah’s tapes.

Largely, I think my issue with the book was that I’m an adult and not a teenager. I had adult concerns (Why hadn’t the school addressed Caitlin’s obvious issues? Why didn’t her parents force her into therapy — or better — offer to go with her?) while reading and I really, really wanted the adults in Caitlin’s life to step up.

Overall, I did still purchase this book for my library and it’s not sitting on the shelf — so teens are reading it and hopefully taking something away from the book. I definitely recommend it for public libraries and do think it deserved the Morris Award Honor that it received.

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Nina LaCour

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review: “jumping off swings” December 21, 2009

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jumpingoffswings

Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles.
Candlewick // Hardcover // 240 pages.
Reviewed from library copy.

Ellie needs to have sex to feel validated. The only problem is she keeps picking boys who don’t remember to call the next day. And when she chooses Josh, she doesn’t expect the condom to break and she certainly doesn’t expect to get pregnant. Told in four alternating perspectives (Ellie, Josh, and their two best friends — Corinne and Caleb), Ellie’s decision and the aftermath of her decision are revealed.

My favorite part about this book was the different perspectives on all the characters — both the narrating characters and the supporting characters. Often, I find myself bothered by characters who react the same way to a situation — in all media, not just books. You know what I’m talking about — the Lifetime movie where the pregnant girl becomes an outcast and everyone ignores her. This isn’t the case in “Jumping Off Swings.”

Yes, some parents react angrily; some parents instead offer help. Some classmates create trouble, rejecting Ellie; some stand by her and create a support system.

This is what drew me into the book. Just the wide variety of reactions to Ellie’s pregnancy and to her decision — that is what real life is like, that is what contemporary realistic fiction should be like. This multi-layered book fits what would happen in the real world in a way that felt so refreshing to me, truly like a breath of fresh air.

I would not be surprised to not only see this book honored with some awards, but to also see it on YA shelves for years to come. Highly recommended for older YA readers.

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Jo Knowles

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review: “after” October 16, 2009

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after

After by Amy Efaw.
Viking Juvenile // Hardcover // 350 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Devon Davenport doesn’t understand what’s happened to her life. After staying home one morning, she finds herself being questioned by the police and arrested. They keep throwing around the phrase “baby in a dumpster.” Devon’s time now is spent between lockup in her cell, the juvenile detention center’s school, and meetings with her lawyer. But while understands what is happening after, she doesn’t understand what happened before…before the baby.

Wow. It was even intense for me to write the summary of this review. It’s an intense book to read. This was the kind of book where after I finished reading it, I had to give it some space before I could pick up another book.

Devon is a hard character to like, and a hard character to relate to. But, she’s easy to care about. I cared very much about what was happening to her and I wanted to find out how her life would be affected by her decisions. I didn’t have trouble believing her though. I did believe that she didn’t know, that she didn’t realize what had happened.

Some of the supporting characters just shine in this novel. Devon’s lawyer, Dom, in particular almost outshadowed Devon at times. I absolutely adored her, the way that she handled Devon’s case, and all of her scenes. As for other characters, we really don’t see much of Devon’s mom…but what we do see of it really frustrating me. I wanted so much more for Devon. And I had some problems with characters being a tad bit stereotypical, particularly the girls that are in the juvenile detention center.

It’s hard to comment on the plot, because of the subject matter. And I don’t want to spoil anyone. But everything makes sense within the context of the novel.

An engrossing read, highly recommended to teens who like issue novels.

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Amy Efaw
After Official Website

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review: “the chosen one” September 9, 2009

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thechosenone

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams.
St. Martin’s Griffin // Hardcover // 224 pages.
Reviewed from library copy.

The only life that Kyra has known is that of the compound, the home of the polygamist cult that she and her family belongs to. Kyra’s life is ruled by the commands of the Prophet and the cult’s clergy. Kyra has always tested the boundaries, secretly reading books from a bookmobile, and entering an illegal (in the cult’s eyes) relationship with a boy from the compound. But when Kyra is promised as the seventh wife to her 60-year-old uncle, she begins to question more vehemently her role and who she wants to be.

I really thought that I would be creeped out and disturbed by this book. I was surprised at how human the story was and how much I liked Kyra.

I loved that Kyra was illegally getting books from a bookmobile. This made me cheer as a librarian, I really smiled during scenes from the bookmobile.

Kyra’s relationship with Joshua was sweet, innocent, and lasting through the dangers of the compound. Their relationship was kept secret only because Kyra did not draw attention to herself until after being promised.

I had a hard time during some of the more graphic scenes, but I felt like they were appropriate to demonstrate the cult’s influence and restrictions. Without these scenes, I don’t think I would have believed Kyra’s decisions.

The last third of this book was read feverishly, racing to get to the end. I only wish I had been able to take more time with the book, but I couldn’t knowing that Kyra was still in danger.

This book is an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish. Controversial, yes. Disturbing, at times. But a human story, with a very real protagonist that teens *will* be able to relate to. Can’t wait to introduce it in booktalks.

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Carol Lynch Williams at Utah Childrens Writers and Illustrators

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review: “pure” August 13, 2009

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pure

Pure by Terra Elan McVoy.
Simon Pulse // Hardcover // 336 pages.
Reviewed from library copy.

Five friends, five purity rings. All it takes is one girl to go all the way to forever change five lives. Tabitha and her four best friends all wear purity rings. But when Cara reveals to Tabitha that she and her boyfriend have gone all the way, Tabitha’s life splits right down the middle and so do her friendships. Morgan exiles Cara and then Tabitha. Caught in the middle, Tabitha begins to question what friendship really is.

I wasn’t sure at first if I was even going to read this book. I’m all for saving yourself for marriage, if that’s what you want to do. But I don’t think that you should need a purity ring in order to do so. Additionally, I was worried that the book would be overly-preachy.

It wasn’t.

This was a really good book, built around the framework of purity rings, that actually was about friendship and tolerance at the core. I liked that each of Tabitha’s friends were different kinds of Christians, that they were involved differently in their religions and that they weren’t cookie-cutter creations. That was really important to me, having grown up Christian and knowing that some of my friends were highly involved and others weren’t.

The conclusion of the book seems natural and I liked how it ended. The book is a nice, cute read and I think it would be a great read for younger teens (no foul language, no actual sex — just the omission), but I think that it misses the age group it’s aiming for. Older teens may not find the same joy in the simple storytelling and the conclusion of the story.

A solid book, recommended for communities with large populations of Christian teens.

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Terra Elan McVoy

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review: “love you hate you miss you” July 9, 2009

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loveyouhateyoumissyou

Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott.
Harper Teen // Hardcover // 288 pages.
Reviewed from library copy.

It’s been seventy-five days since Julia died. For Amy, it’s been a lifetime filled with rehab, therapy, and the guilt that she is the reason that Julia’s dead. After finally being released, Amy struggles to fit back into a life without her best friend, without alcohol, and without partying. Her parents are watching her every move, she’s still got weekly counseling sessions with Laurie, and Julia’s locker is covered with “heartfelt” and “sincere” messages left by the student body. Amy survives by writing letters to Julia as she’s forced to evaluate just what kind of a friendship she and Julia had.

A painful, heart-breaking, funny, hopeful novel. Don’t ask me how Elizabeth Scott manages to blend all those emotions into one novel, but she does. Amy is a sarcastic, biting voice, full of half truths and half lies. The novel is told in two distinct parts — Amy’s narration throughout her daily activities and Amy’s letters to Julia. Even as Amy uncovers new feelings, she remains an unreliable narrator in her letters, desperate to hold on to Julia’s friendship. This is a novel about friendship, about the strange world where we can hate our best friends one moment, love them the next, and miss them always once they’ve gone.

The ending of this novel is too good to give away, but I was ridiculously pleased with the way that it ended. Scott does not sugar-coat the ending and she does not wrap everything up — the way I believe it should be. There are not always easy fixes and perfect endings. Scott’s choice to leave Amy with closure, but not a traditional “happy” ending was brilliant.

Darker than Scott’s romance novels, “Love You Hate You Miss You” is a book that is not to be missed. Readers of realistic fiction have found a new YA author to watch, and I too cannot wait for her next book.

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Elizabeth Scott

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