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 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: When My Heart Joins The Thousand

When My Heart Joins The Thousand – A.J. Steiger – HarperTeen – Published 6 February 2018

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Synopsis

Alvie Fitz doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care. She’s spent years swallowing meds and bad advice from doctors and social workers. Adjust, adapt. Pretend to be normal. It sounds so easy.

If she can make it to her eighteenth birthday without any major mishaps, she’ll be legally emancipated. Free. But if she fails, she’ll become a ward of the state and be sent back to the group home.

All she wants is to be left alone to spend time with her friend, Chance, the one-winged hawk at the zoo where she works. She can bide her time with him until her emancipation. Humans are overrated anyway. Then she meets Stanley, a boy who might be even stranger than she is—a boy who walks with a cane, who turns up every day with a new injury, whose body seems as fragile as glass. Without even meaning to, she finds herself getting close to him. But Alvie remembers what happened to the last person she truly cared about.

Her past stalks her with every step, and it has sharp teeth. But if she can find the strength to face the enemy inside her, maybe she’ll have a chance at happiness after all.

My thoughts

When My Heart Joins The Thousand offers a beautiful insight into growing up and learning to accept your self.

Alvie has only another year until she will legally be free – free from fear of being returned to the foster care system, free to continue living on her own terms, free from the continual assessment of others as seeing her as something different, something other. When a young man enters the sphere of her daily routine she is at first shaken, but then takes up the opportunity to prove that even she can enjoy the closeness of others. But her relationship with Stanley is nothing like she imagined. As Alvie faces the challenges of living alone, fights for her freedom, and faces her past, it is her relationship with Stanley that prompts her to reassess everything she knows about herself and love.

Well, that is one intense prologue. Talk about getting thrown right into the story. Actually, intense is the perfect descriptor for this book. It tackles so many important themes in an upfront and honest way. It is intense in an unputdownable way and I greatly enjoyed reading Alvie’s story.

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Book Review: Love, Life, and the List

Love, Life, and the List – Kasie West – HarperTeen – Published 26 December 2017

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Abby Turner’s summer isn’t going the way she’d planned. She has a not-so-secret but definitely unrequited crush on her best friend, Cooper. She hasn’t been able to manage her mother’s growing issues with anxiety. And now she’s been rejected from an art show because her work “has no heart.” So when she gets another opportunity to show her paintings Abby isn’t going to take any chances.

Which is where the list comes in.

Abby gives herself one month to do ten things, ranging from face a fear (#3) to learn a stranger’s story (#5) to fall in love (#8). She knows that if she can complete the list she’ll become the kind of artist she’s always dreamed of being. But as the deadline approaches, Abby realizes that getting through the list isn’t as straightforward as it seems… and that maybe—just maybe—she can’t change her art if she isn’t first willing to change herself.

This is the first in a set of three standalone books with crossover characters.

My thoughts

Can you make your best friend fall in love with you? Can you change your heart, become a better person with a few simple steps? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s what Abby learns in the process that makes Love, Life and the List such a fun, contemporary YA novel.

Abby’s goal is to make it into a prestigious art program. The one obstacle in her way is showing her art in an exhibit. When her work is turned away as ‘lacking in heart’, she creates a list of things to help her develop a deeper understand and appreciation of the world that will hopefully translate to her paintings. As she and her best friend Cooper work their way through Abby’s list, Abby is determined to make the experience a chance to finally get over her unrequited feelings for Cooper and hopeful fulfill her art goals at the same time.

A list that can change a person’s heart? Well, maybe it’s not as crazy as it sounds. I actually really love how Abby creates her list. It isn’t the typical flighty, ridiculous list of summer plans gone awry. Instead, Abby chooses things she likes best about each of her friends and family members and adds something that will help her become more like that. It’s a beautiful idea.

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Book Review: Exchange of Heart

Exchange of Heart – Darren Groth – Penguin Random House Australia – Published 31 July 2017

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Synopsis

Sometimes, Life takes on a life of its own…

Since the sudden death of his younger sister, Munro Maddux has been stuck. Flashbacks. Anger. Chest pains. And a voice – taunting, barking, biting – that his counsellor calls ‘the Coyote’. Munro knows a student exchange will not be the stuff of Disney movies. But in Australia he intends to move beyond his troubled past.

Forced by his new school to join a volunteer program, Munro discovers the Coyote is silenced in one place: Fair Go, an assisted living residence in Brisbane’s west, where Munro gets to know his team of residents: dogged designer Bernie; sleeping refugee Shah; would-be wedded couple Blake and Dale; comic creator Iggy; and self-defence tutor Florence. As this unlikely group shows Munro the sights, Munro’s notion of what it means to be a big brother begins to change.

But the burden Munro carries is not so easily cast aside, and unexpected developments at Fair Go prompt a devastating flashback that threatens to end the student exchange. Will the Coyote ultimately triumph? Or can Munro find the fortitude necessary to mend his heart?

My thoughts

There is so much to love about Exchange of Heart. I enjoyed every single minute spent reading this amazing book. Heart, humour, grief, and friendship combine in this moving story.

After the sudden death of his sister, Munro Maddux is desperate to do something to shake the numbness and remove the voice in his head. So he grabs at the opportunity to complete a student exchange program to Australia. Here, he hopes he can find the peace he is searching for. But a volunteering program at his new school has him working at Fair Go, an independent-living residency for young adults with disabilities. Instead of this sparking more trauma and flashbacks, like he expects, being around the residents finally quiets the voice in his head.

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Book Review: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares – Krystal Sutherland – G.P Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers – Published 5 September 2017

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Synopsis

Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther’s father is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the basement in six years, her twin brother can t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.

The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them.

Esther doesn’t know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.

Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she d been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn’t counted on: love.

My thoughts

This amazing books takes mental health and family breakdown and wraps it in a layer of magic and imagery so strong it glows like a thousand candles in the dark. It is a story of family and fear and bravery and love. It is funny and clever and sad and just a little bit frightening.

Esther Solar’s family is cursed. Cursed to die of their greatest fear. It’s why her father hasn’t left the basement in six years, why her brother is constantly surrounded by multiple sources of light, and why she herself has decided to never find her greatest fear. Instead, Esther has created a list of her worst nightmares and has worked hard to avoid each and every one of them. But then an old classmate (and crush) reappears in her life, pickpockets her belongings, and discovers her list. Jonah decides that Esther must face her fears and that he will help.

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Book Review: How To Disappear

How To Disappear – Sharon Huss Roat – HarperTeen – Published 15 August 2017

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Synopsis

Vicky Decker has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight, quietly navigating the halls of her high school undetected except by her best (and only) friend, Jenna. But when Jenna moves away, Vicky’s isolation becomes unbearable.

So she decides to invent a social life by Photoshopping herself into other people’s pictures, posting them on Instagram under the screen name Vicurious. Instantly, she begins to get followers, so she adds herself to more photos from all over the world with all types of people. And as Vicurious’s online followers multiply, Vicky realizes she can make a whole life for herself without ever leaving her bedroom. But the more followers she finds online, the clearer it becomes that there are a lot of people out there who feel like her— #alone and #ignored in real life.

To help them, and herself, Vicky must find the courage to face her fear of being “seen,” because only then can she stop living vicariously and truly bring the magic of Vicurious to life.

My thoughts

This book had me laughing and nodding my head in shared understanding by the first chapter. Loneliness, social media, and friendship are all key themes which are handled beautifully in this novel. How To Disappear is funny, moving, and so very realistic.

Vicky’s best friend Jenna has just moved away, exposing Vicky’s social anxiety in a way she’s never before experienced. Now, there is no one to answer for her, no one to talk to when she can force words out of her mouth, no one who understands how hard it is to traverse the high school hallways and sit through class. And when Jenna begins to find new friends, Vicky feels even more alone. In an attempt to convince her mother she is doing fine without Jenna, Vicky Photoshops herself into an image with other teens. The success of the image gives her the idea to try it again, this time in disguise and on social media. Soon, Vicurious, Vicky’s new anonymous Instagram account, goes crazy and Vicky realises she is not the only one out there feeling #alone, and that maybe she can do something about it.

The power of social media. It can connect, reveal, hide, and isolate. Vicky is a wonderfully relatable character. I think anyone who has ever suffered some form of social anxiety, whether that is chronic or occasional, will relate to the embarrassment and fear Vicky feels. Despite her fear, every time Vicky opens her mouth something amazing (or funny or, yes, totally embarrassing) comes out. I loved her. I want to be her friend and just hang with her.

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Book Review: Our Broken Pieces

Our Broken Pieces – Sarah White – HarperTeen – Published 8 August 2017

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Synopsis

The only thing worse than having your boyfriend dump you is having him dump you for your best friend. For Everly Morgan the betrayal came out of nowhere. One moment she had what seemed like the perfect high school relationship, and the next, she wanted to avoid the two most important people in her life. Every time she sees them kiss in the hallways her heart breaks a little more.

The last thing on Everly’s mind is getting into another relationship, but when she meets Gabe in her therapist’s waiting room she can’t deny their immediate connection. Somehow he seems to understand Everly in a way that no one else in her life does, and maybe it’s because Gabe also has experience grappling with issues outside of his control. Just because they share so many of the same interests and there is an undeniable spark between them doesn’t mean Everly wants anything more than friendship. After all, when you only barely survived your last breakup, is it really worth risking your heart again?

My thoughts

Our Broken Pieces is a passionate YA romance, light, fun to read, and with a touch of sentimentality.

This book begins with the flip side to the usual YA happily-ever-after, found-my-soul-mate story. Everly lost her boyfriend and her best friend at the same time when they began a relationship behind her back. Now, she is battling anxiety and dodging them in the school hallways rather than fulfilling her dreams of senior year. But when she meets Gabe in her therapist’s office, they begin a new friendship that, amidst the trauma in their lives, soon becomes much more.

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Book Review: The Secret Science of Magic

The Secret Science of Magic – Melissa Keil – Hardie Grant Egmont – Published 1 April 2017

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Synopsis

Sophia is smart, like genius-calculator-brain smart. But there are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for, and the messiness of real life is one of them. When everything she knows is falling apart, how can she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?

Joshua spends his time honing magic tricks and planning how to win Sophia’s heart. But when your best trick is making schoolwork disappear, how do you possibly romance a genius?

In life and love, timing is everything.

My thoughts

I have come to really love Melissa Keil’s writing and I was eagerly awaiting the release of this, her latest title. The Secret Science of Magic was one part wonderful, one part heartwarming, and totally teenagery (yes, that’s a word).

Sophia is a genius. She excels at maths and calculations, but struggles with social situations. Without her friend Elsie, she would be isolated. Joshua sees Sophia. For years he has longed to connect with her, really get to know her rather than observing from afar. But he knows she deserves more than a guy who is only good at magic tricks and doesn’t have a plan for his life. But as Joshua will tell you, timing is everything, and, maybe, it is the right time for Sophia and Joshua to finally connect.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I especially loved the characters. Sophia is awesome. She is incredibly smart when it comes to maths, but she is also terribly unsure about everything else, from reading facial expressions to understand others’ emotions. She knows she is different from the people around her, she longs to understand how to fit in better, and she really struggles with the feeling that different equals bad. Also, her favourite Doctor Who is Matt Smith, so clearly we are soul mates. Joshua is also an excellent character. A magician, he is constantly fidgeting or shuffling cards. He cares about Sophia but has a lot to learn about his role in her life and the role he should play in his own life. I loved his journey of discovery, I loved his friends, and I loved the way he loved Sophia.

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Book Review: Made You Up

Made You Up – Francesca Zappia – Greenwillow Books – Published 19 May 2015

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Synopsis

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

My thoughts

Made You Up has been on my to-read list for a while but I only picked it up after reading Fancesca Zappia’s new book Eliza and Her Monsters which is AMAZING!! So I had high expectations for Made You Up. And it certainly lived up to them in terms of writing style and story and characters, obviously it doesn’t have the extra story and accompanying webcomic panels, but it shares the refreshing honest and up-front way of talking about teenage mental health within a totally authentic setting.

Alex is starting at a new high school after an Incident at her last school involving spray paint, the gym floor and the possibility of communists. Alex is hoping that she will be able hide the fact that she has paranoid schizophrenia from her new classmates. But that might be hard when her new principal could be crazy, the school’s scoreboard is haunted and the boy from her childhood, whom she previously thought was a hallucination, might actually be real.

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