Book Review: The Astonishing Color of After

The Astonishing Color of After – Emily X.R. Pan – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – Published 20 March 2018

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Synopsis

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

My thoughts

Imaginative, and with lyrical writing, The Astonishing Color of After is perfect if you enjoy a touch of magical realism served alongside plenty of heartbreak. Addressing the impact of suicide and the devastation it brings to the surrounding family members and friends, The Astonishing Color of After tackles this sensitive topic with delicacy, magic, and a sincere forthrightness.

When Leigh’s mother dies by suicide, Leigh’s world is thrown into chaos. One thing of which she is sure: her mother has turned into a beautiful, red bird. And that bird wants her to travel to Taiwan. Meeting her grandparents for the first time, exploring the places her mother once visited, and trying to uncover the long-buried truths of her family, Leigh slowly starts to face her mother’s death and the events leading up to it.

Over the years I have called many a book ‘important’. And yet, The Astonishing Color of After is important with a capital I. The Astonishing Color of After tackles the topic of suicide and the aftermath of suicide in an upfront way, which is so very needed in today’s society. The author’s note only expands on the very clear level of care, understanding and personal experience that has gone into making this book as considered and profound as it is.

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Book Review: The Final Six

The Final Six – Alexandra Monir – Harper Teen – Published 6 March 2018

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Synopsis

When Leo, an Italian championship swimmer, and Naomi, a science genius from California, are two of the twenty-four teens drafted into the International Space Training Camp, their lives are forever altered. After erratic climate change has made Earth a dangerous place to live, the fate of the population rests on the shoulders of the final six who will be scouting a new planet. Intense training, global scrutiny, and cutthroat opponents are only a few of the hurdles the contestants must endure in this competition.

For Leo, the prospect of traveling to Europa—Jupiter’s moon—to help resettle humankind is just the sense of purpose he’s been yearning for since losing his entire family in the flooding of Rome. Naomi, after learning of a similar space mission that mysteriously failed, suspects the ISTC isn’t being up front with them about what’s at risk.

As the race to the final six advances, the tests get more challenging—even deadly. With pressure mounting, Naomi finds an unexpected friend in Leo, and the two grow closer with each mind-boggling experience they encounter. But it’s only when the finalists become fewer and their destinies grow nearer that the two can fathom the full weight of everything at stake: the world, the stars, and their lives.

My thoughts

The Final Six combines thrilling tension, intense romance, heartbreaking grief, and sci-fi speculation in a world that is facing the disastrous consequences of climate change.

Leo has nothing left to live for. His family were killed in one of the massive natural disasters to hit Rome, and with no one to care for, he has given up all hope. Until, shockingly, Leo is drafted to the new world army. He is now one of twenty-four teenagers battling it out to become one of the Final Six. The chosen six will have the chance to escape Earth and forge a new settlement deep in space. When Naomi discovers she is to be one of the chosen twenty-four, she is heartbroken. There is no way she can leave her parents or her beloved brother. With no other choice, Naomi sets in place a plan to reveal the secrets that lie beneath the surface of this space program.

There have been a number of YA books published recently that centre around the concept of teenagers being recruited for elite space training. The Final Six sits well beside titles like Katie Kennedy’s What Goes Up and Heather Kaczynski’s Dare Mighty Things. Yet, despite some similarities in concept, The Final Six brings something unique to this space-cadets plot line, with diverse characters, conspiracy theories, and a unique setting.

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Book Review: The Secrets We Bury

The Secrets We Bury – Stacie Ramey – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 6 March 2018

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Synopsis

In an effort to escape his family, Dylan decides to hike the Appalachian trail—but he never expected to run into love.

Dylan Taggart is on the run. His family is trying to put him in a school for psychologically challenged students, and he gets it—he has anger issues. But Believers Charter School is a complete overreaction. So he decides a six-month hike on the Appalachian Trail is the perfect place to hide out until he can legally drop out of school.

Dylan wanted independence, but being alone on the trail is more than he bargained for. Then he meets a mysterious hiker named Sophie, and the two begin to develop a bond he never expected. But will love be enough to escape what they’re both running from?

My thoughts

I was intrigued by The Secrets We Bury, but never did I expect that is was going to be that good! Everything fits seamlessly together: the authentic male protagonist who struggles to fit in and deal with everything that makes him different; the people Dylan meets on the trail, those who are just passing strangers and those who come to have such an impact on him and he on them; the trail magic; the powerful beauty of the setting and the way Dylan slowly comes to notice it; and of course the underlying themes of grief, guilt, forgiveness and starting over.

Dylan has run away from home. Run away from the grief that overpowers him, run from the guilt of the secrets he carries, run from the mother who wants to put him in a special school to control his outpouring of anger. His plan of escape is to hike the Appalachian Trail. But the trail will test Dylan in ways he couldn’t expect – from bugs and new food to bears. When Dylan happens upon a strange and intriguing girl who is apparently hiking alone and unprepared, Dylan is drawn to her in a way he has never experienced before. Dylan might be running away, but the trail just might be the place where he finds himself.

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Book Review: Take Three Girls

Take Three Girls – Cath Crowley, Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell – Pan Australia – Published 29 August 2017

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Synopsis

Ady – not the confident A-Lister she appears to be.
Kate – brainy boarder taking risks to pursue the music she loves.
Clem – disenchanted swim-star losing her heart to the wrong boy.

All are targeted by PSST, a toxic website that deals in gossip and lies. St Hilda’s antidote to the cyber-bullying? The Year 10 Wellness program. Nice try – but sometimes all it takes is three girls.

My thoughts

Take Three Girls is contemporary #LoveOzYA fiction at its best. And yet, Take Three Girls is transferable to any society, any country which experiences the troubles of bullying, social media dangers, and relationship breakdown. With a no-holds-barred approach, Take Three Girls takes some serious and seriously important topics and meets them head on. What results is an open, honest, and refreshing novel that clears the way for some vital conversations.

Clem, Ady, and Kate. Three girls who attend the same school, but who otherwise don’t have a lot in common. Or at least, don’t think they do. When these three girls, like many others, are targeted by an abusive website spreading horrifying false information and sexual harassment, they are thrown together, not only in class but as they face the challenges of a cruel online world and culture.

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Book Review: Where I Live

Where I Live – Brenda Rufener – HarperTeen – Published 27 February 2018

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Synopsis

LINDEN ROSE HAS RULES FOR SURVIVAL.

1. Prevent the in-class nap.
2. Never carry too many belongings.
3. Avoid looking the part.

Her rules guarantee no one discovers her secret–that she’s homeless and living in the halls of her small-town high school. Her best friends, Ham and Seung, have formed a makeshift family, and writing for her school’s blog prevents downtime. When you’re homeless, free time sucks. Despite everything Linden’s burdened with, she holds on to hope for a future and a maybe romance with Seung.

But when cool-girl Bea comes to school with a bloody lip, the damage hits too close to home. Linden begins looking at Bea’s life, and soon her investigation prompts people to pay attention. And attention is the last thing Linden needs.

To put a stop to the violence, Linden must tell the story. Even if it breaks her rules for survival and jeopardizes the secrets she’s worked so hard to keep.

My thoughts

As expected, Where I Live is an incredibly powerful book. It snuck up on me and simply stole my breath away. In addition to raising the very needed and important topic of teen homelessness, Where I Live is a beautifully crafted novel that examines relationships in all their forms, and balances heartbreak with hope, offsetting challenges that knock you to your knees with the joy of living.

Linden is hiding in plain sight. Every day she handles a million tiny details to ensure that no one knows she is living in her high school, especially not her two best friends, Ham and Seung. Their love, banter, acceptance, and sometimes crazy schemes make the secrecy worth it. But when Linden starts to uncover the secret of a fellow classmate, sees abuse that is all-too reminiscent of her past, it begins to shake her already fragile world.

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Book Review: Hooper

Hooper – Geoff Herbach – Katherine Tegen Books – Published 20 February 2018

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Synopsis

For Adam Reed, basketball is a passport. Adam’s basketball skills have taken him from an orphanage in Poland to a loving adoptive mother in Minnesota. When he’s tapped to play on a select AAU team along with some of the best players in the state, it just confirms that basketball is his ticket to the good life: to new friendships, to the girl of his dreams, to a better future.

But life is more complicated off the court. When an incident with the police threatens to break apart the bonds Adam’s finally formed after a lifetime of struggle, he must make an impossible choice between his new family and the sport that’s given him everything.

My thoughts

It is going to be hard to put the magic of this book into words. What at first seems to be a simple tale about a boy who plays basketball is actually a richly detailed and poignant story of family, belonging, racial injustice, finding home, and settling into the person you were meant to be. Hooper, with a style all of its own, captures these timely themes in an original and approachable way.

“Basketball will be your passport.” Adam doesn’t exactly understand what that means. After all, he already has a passport from when Renata adopted him and brought him from Poland to his new home in the USA. But he does love basketball. Loves the freedom he finds only on the court. Loves the way it silences the anger and painful memories. As his basketball skills start to give him new opportunities on the court, Adam must balance these with the challenges he faces off the court. And maybe, through it all, he will discover a home, family, and friends, and finally a place where he belongs.

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Book Review: Flight Season

Flight Season – Marie Marquardt – St Martin’s Press: Wednesday Books – Published 20 February 2018

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Synopsis

Back when they were still strangers, TJ Carvalho witnessed the only moment in Vivi Flannigan’s life when she lost control entirely. Now, TJ can’t seem to erase that moment from his mind, no matter how hard he tries. Vivi doesn’t remember any of it, but she’s determined to leave it far behind. And she will.

But when Vivi returns home from her first year away at college, her big plans and TJ’s ambition to become a nurse land them both on the heart ward of a university hospital, facing them with a long and painful summer together – three months of glorified babysitting for Ángel, the problem patient on the hall. Sure, Ángel may be suffering from a life-threatening heart infection, but that doesn’t make him any less of a pain.

As it turns out, though, Ángel Solís has a thing or two to teach them about all those big plans, and the incredible moments when love gets in their way.

My thoughts

Flight Season is a beautiful, heartbreaking book that had me smiling and laughing and crying, both despairing and rejoicing in humanity, and so happy just to spend a little time with these amazing characters.

Vivi Flannigan has returned home from college for the summer to pull her life together. If she can stick it out at her hospital internship she might have a slim hope of passing her semester’s courses. If she can help her mother get back on track, she might be able to save their home. And if she can avoid Old Town, she might have a slim chance of forgetting that one night she lost total control. TJ Carvalho has one last clinical placement to pass before he is done with his nursing studies. So when Vivi turns up in his ward, the girl who he witnessed have a complete meltdown, he does his best to avoid her. But when TJ and Vivi are forced to work together to care for heart patient Ángel, the three of them form a beautiful, if challenged, friendship, which just might change their lives in ways they could never have expected.

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Book Review: Esme’s Wish

Esme’s Wish – Elizabeth Foster – Esme Series #1 – Odyssey Books – Published 30 October 2017

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Synopsis

When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the action of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother, Ariane – so why can’t she?

But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.

After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about her mother, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all.

My thoughts

Esme’s Wish is a delightful fantasy that captures the beauty of a watery, magical world, the trust of true friendship, and the strength of one girl’s loyalty to her mother.

Esme longs to discover what happened to her mother, who disappeared several years ago. Everyone else, including her father, have moved on, but for Esme, the unanswered questions plague her. Until, in her search, she finds herself magically transported to the world of Aeolia. There she discovers that her mother had an extra life full of art, magic, and danger. With her two new friends, Esme begins to uncover the mystery of what really happened to her mother.

I had Esme’s Wish sitting on my bedside bookshelf (thanks very much to the author for a copy) for a month before finally getting around to reading it. Why, oh why did I delay? Because Esme’s Wish is delightful right from the very first page. And I loved that first page. Hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time.

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Book Review: The Calculus of Change

The Calculus of Change – Jessie Hilb – Clarion Books – Published 27 February 2018

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Synopsis

Aden isn’t looking for love in her senior year. She’s much more focused on things like getting a solo gig at Ike’s and keeping her brother from illegal herbal recreation. But when Tate walks into Calculus class wearing a yarmulke and a grin, Aden’s heart is gone in an instant.

The two are swept up in a tantalizingly warm friendship, complete with long drives with epic soundtracks and deep talks about life, love, and spirituality. With Tate, Aden feels closer to her mom—and her mom’s faith—than she has since her mother died years ago. Everyone else—even Aden’s brother and her best friend—can see their connection, but does Tate?

Navigating uncertain romance and the crises of those she loves, Aden must decide how she chooses to see herself and how to honor her mom’s memory.

My thoughts

I expected Calculus of Change to be light-hearted contemporary, where math meets romance and trivial high school problems create light drama and much fun. Instead, Calculus of Change is a deep novel and touches on numerous heavy issues, from sexual assault to body image, relationship problems and self perception. It is thought provoking and written in an original style.

When Aden falls she falls. Head over heels, totally discombobulated falls in love. That’s what happened when Tate walked into their calculus classroom wearing a yarmulke and a smile that seemed only for her. But Tate has a girlfriend, and as Aden and Tate become friends and spend increasing amounts of time together, Aden finds it harder to hide her true feelings. But her unrequited love isn’t the only thing not going to plan, like her father’s endless grief and anger, her brother’s impending destruction, and her best friend’s own dangerous relationships. As Aden struggles to reconcile her feelings with her perceived self worth, she must decide how she will view herself, her family, her friendships, and her memory of her mother.

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Book Review: Say You’ll Remember Me

Say You’ll Remember Me – Katie McGarry – Harlequin Teen Australia – Published 22 January 2018

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Synopsis

When Drix was convicted of a crime–one he didn’t commit–he thought his life was over. But opportunity came with the new Second Chance Program, the governor’s newest pet project to get delinquents off the streets, rehabilitated and back into society. Drix knows this is his chance to get his life back on track, even if it means being paraded in front of reporters for a while.

Elle knows she lives a life of privilege. As the governor’s daughter, she can open doors with her name alone. But the expectations and pressure to be someone she isn’t may be too much to handle. She wants to follow her own path, whatever that means.

When Drix and Elle meet, their connection is immediate, but so are their problems. Drix is not the type of boy Elle’s parents have in mind for her, and Elle is not the kind of girl who can understand Drix’s messy life.

But sometimes love can breach all barriers.

My thoughts

Say You’ll Remember Me is simply stunning. Incredibly powerful, emotive, and heartbreaking, with characters that slip into your heart and refuse to leave, Say You’ll Remember Me demonstrates the importance of grace and understanding in this story of family and love. Once again Katie McGarry delivers a wonderful book. I have come to expect nothing less from this extraordinary writer, but nevertheless, McGarry seems to pass all expectations. In my opinion, Say You’ll Remember Me is her very best book to date.

Elle knows she is blessed – good parents, a safe and secure life, endless opportunities – but still she feels trapped. Trapped by the expectations of a life in the spotlight thanks to her father’s political career. Trapped by her own feelings of failure to live up to those expectations. For Drix, fresh out of juvenile detention and a second chance program, life has been against him since he was born. Now he has been given a chance to start over, but he too is constrained by expectations. Elle and Drix are not supposed to meet, not supposed to build a friendship against everyone’s orders to stay apart, and not supposed to connect in such a powerful way. But sometimes, there is one person in life who can see past all the facades and lies, and who believes in you, no matter what, and they are worth fighting for.

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