Book Review: You Don’t Know Me But I Know You

You Don’t Know Me But I Know You – Rebecca Barrow – HarperTeen – Published 29 August 2017

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Synopsis

There’s a box in the back of Audrey’s closet that she rarely thinks about.

Inside is a letter, seventeen years old, from a mother she’s never met, handed to her by the woman she’s called Mom her whole life.

Being adopted, though, is just one piece in the puzzle of Audrey’s life—the picture painstakingly put together by Audrey herself, consisting not only of the greatest family ever but of a snarky, loyal, sometimes infuriating best friend, Rose; a sweet, smart musician boyfriend, Julian; and a beloved camera that turns the most fleeting moments of her day-to-day routine into precious, permanent memories.

But when Audrey realizes that she’s pregnant, she feels something—a tightly sealed box in the closet corners of her heart—crack open, spilling her dormant fears and unanswered questions all over the life she loves.

Almost two decades ago, a girl in Audrey’s situation made a choice, one that started Audrey’s entire story. Now Audrey is paralyzed by her own what-ifs and terrified by the distance she feels growing between her and Rose. Down every possible path is a different unfamiliar version of her life, and as she weighs the options in her mind, she starts to wonder—what does it even mean to be Audrey Spencer?

My thoughts

You Don’t Know Me But I Know You is another book that has left me with very mixed feelings. It has a writing style that is easy to read, but without characters who really grabbed me, I struggled with reading this book. In the end, I would pick it up only to put it down and distract myself with another book. I guess I was expecting something different. Something that broke all the moulds and would make me care about this story, care especially about this girl and her journey through a surprising discovery and hard decisions.

When Audrey discovers she is pregnant it forces her to evaluate her life and what she wants from it, who she wants to be. It brings into focus her relationships, with her supportive, musician, going-places boyfriend, her snarky, infuriating best friend, her wider group of friends, her adoptive mother, and even her biological mother, who has always remained somewhat of a mystery.

There are a lot of things to give the author points for in this book. Her main character is a person of colour. There is a bisexual best friend. There are plenty of other characters from diverse ethnicity. But sometimes it felt a little like they were also just boxes on a checklist that had been ticked off. There was nothing new or groundbreaking to make this story or the characters’ stories within jump out and grab me by the heartstrings.

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Book Review: Dress Codes for Small Towns

Dress Codes for Small Towns – Courtney C. Stevens – HarperTeen – Published 22 August 2017

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Synopsis

As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.

But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.

Always considered “one of the guys,” Billie doesn’t want anyone slapping a label on her sexuality before she can understand it herself. So she keeps her conflicting feelings to herself, for fear of ruining the group dynamic. Except it’s not just about keeping the peace, it’s about understanding love on her terms—this thing that has always been defined as a boy and a girl falling in love and living happily ever after. For Billie—a box-defying dynamo—it’s not that simple.

My thoughts

There was one reason I chose to pick up this book – it was written by Courtney C. Stevens. I have been hugely impressed with her books so far, I love sharing them with our readers and our readers love reading her books.

Dress Codes For Small Towns is a magnificent book. It is so heartfelt, honest, and true to itself, just like its main character. And Billie truly is the star of this show. It is her story and she won over my heart almost instantly.

Billie McCaffrey is the preacher’s daughter in a small town in Western Kentucky most famous for its harvest festival and annual Corn Dolly competition. Despite the many rude comments and judgemental looks, Billie dresses and acts in a way that is true to who she is. An artist. An adventurer. A member of the Hexagon, her group of friends who she has collected over the years. But as her feelings for two of her best friends grow and change into something unexpected and her relationship with another friend brings new experiences and freedom into her life, who Billie is and what she thinks about herself collides with her father’s (and the town’s), expectations.

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Book Review: The Way It Hurts

The Way It Hurts – Patty Blount – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 1 August 2017

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Synopsis

Music is Elijah’s life. His band plays loud and hard, and he’ll do anything to get them a big break. He needs that success to help take care of his sister, who has special needs. So he’d rather be practicing when his friends drag him to a musical in the next town…until the lead starts to sing.

Kristen dreams of a career on stage like her grandmother’s. She knows she needs an edge to get into a competitive theater program―and being the star in her high school musical isn’t going to cut it. The applause and the attention only encourage her to work harder.

Elijah can’t take his eyes off of Kristen’s performance, and his swooning face is captured on camera and posted with an out-of-context comment. It goes viral. Suddenly, Elijah and Kristen are in a new spotlight as the online backlash spins out of control. And the consequences are bigger than they both could have ever imagined because these threats don’t stay online…they follow them into real life.

My thoughts

The Way It Hurts is a story about music and the passion to take that music to as many people as possible. It is also a story about the impact of social media. The Way It Hurts is a novel with plenty of drama and characters with very strong emotions.

Kristin is counting on a summer music program to give her an edge when it comes time for her conservatory application. For Kristin, singing, performing, and dancing is everything. Elijah wants to take his heavy metal band all the way. He dreams of fame. When he sees Kristin perform, he knows her voice could be the thing to promote his band. He posts a picture of her and a comment about wanting her in his band. But convincing Kristin to sing with them might be hard after she discovers he is the one she spars with online and his post quickly sparks a derogatory backlash. But Kristin decides that performing with Ride Out could benefit her, and so starts to use the social media outcry to her own advantage. But when the comments online become increasingly sinister and her relationship with Elijah’s band mates struggles from the beginning, Elijah and Kristin will have to decide how much they will risk for what they want.

Firstly, let me state that I found the synopsis originally provided with this book misleading. There is no picture taken of Eli’s swooning face, he takes a photo of Kristen and posts his own, easily misconstrued, comment. And I don’t think Elijah and Kristen finds themselves in the midst of a social media maelstrom – they have a large part in creating it. As it escalates, Kristin is forced to bear the brunt of rude comments and disgusting photos and suggestions, which Elijah largely dismisses until it begins to effect him.

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Book Review: 180 Seconds

180 Seconds – Jessica Park – Skyscape – Published 25 April 2017

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Synopsis

After a life spent bouncing from one foster home to the next, Allison is determined to keep others at arm’s length. Adopted at sixteen, she knows better than to believe in the permanence of anything. But as she begins her third year in college, she finds it increasingly difficult to disappear into the white noise pouring from her earbuds.

One unsuspecting afternoon, Allison is roped into a social experiment just off campus. Suddenly, she finds herself in front of a crowd, forced to interact with a complete stranger for 180 seconds. Neither she, nor Esben Baylor, the dreamy social media star seated opposite her, is prepared for the outcome.

When time is called, the intensity of the experience overwhelms Allison and Esben in a way that unnerves and electrifies them both. With a push from her oldest friend, Allison embarks on a journey to find out if what she and Esben shared is the real thing—and if she can finally trust in herself, in others, and in love.

My thoughts

Wow. Wow. God save the Queen. God save the Queen wow. Whatever that was I was not expecting that. That!!! That mess of human emotions that was so achingly, amazingly, indulgently perfect. I want to read it again. Indulge and fall in love and feel it all again. I melted and laughed and overheated and cried buckets. This review may not be coherent because of reasons. Many reasons.

Allison is starting her junior years of college. She is happy her roommate never shows and is content to spend her college experience as she always has – hiding in her room, studying and blocking out the world. Her sixteen years in foster care taught her to never expect anything, to protect herself and build the walls around her heart as high and thick as she can. It’s safer to keep everyone out, even her adoptive father. Everyone except her best friend Steffi. And then, Allison finds herself pulled into a social experiment, where she unwittingly spends 180 seconds with (unbeknownst to her) social media celebrity Ebsen Baylor. 180 torturous, amazing, emotional-roller-coaster seconds. Her reaction: run. Steffi encourages her to chase after what could be and to be brave, but Allison isn’t sure if it could ever be worth the risk.

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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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Book Review: Eliza and Her Monsters

Eliza and Her Monsters – Francesca Zappia – Greenwillow Books – Published 30 May 2017

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Synopsis

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community, and has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.

My thoughts

I’m sharing my review of this book early because it is so amazing I just can’t stop myself from talking about it.

Wow. Wow. Wow! WOW. This book. This book. No words. Actually, so many words, just none of them powerful enough to convey how absolutely perfect and beautiful and amazing and clever this book is. My mantra is simply going to be ‘Read this. Thank me later.’

Some books are so good they blow all other books completely out of the water. How can I give this book five stars when it deserves five billion? This just became my favourite book of the year. Yes, I realise the year is not even halfway through. It’s still my favourite book for the entire year.

Eliza is the creator of the online webcomic Monstrous Sea. Online she is in control, popular, and clever. Outside of the online world she is unpopular, shy, and counts the minutes until she can return to her drawing. Then, she meets a new student to the school. A boy who seems as shy as she is. A boy who is a huge fan of Monstrous Sea. A boy with whom she can finally be honest face-to-face as well as online – just not about her identity as the creator of Monstrous Sea.

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Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited

Upside of Unrequited

The Upside of Unrequited – Becky Albertalli – Balzer+Bray – Published 11 April 2017

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

My thoughts

A forthright book about love, falling in love, that crazy feeling of falling in love, family, dating, and relationships.

Molly had has twenty-six crushes and counting. Her twin sister has had many dates, kisses and relationships, even if they only last a short time. But when Molly’s sister falls in love – for real this time – Molly senses that their close relationship is changing. And then there are the two boys – one, the boy her sister would like her to date and the other her geeky, new co-worker who makes her laugh and not totally tongue tied.

I admired Molly’s voice. It is so authentically and uniquely her. Her character is layered and realistic. I liked how there were so many little things that were just a part of who she is. For example, Molly has anxiety. She takes medication for it and she mentions it offhandedly a few times and feels anxious about some things and laughed about a few times anxiety got the better of her, but her anxiety wasn’t a defining feature of her character, especially not in her eyes. The same goes for her weight. She is totally upfront about her weight but she herself is ok with her size. The only thing she worries about is how others view her. She wishes they could be as accepting of her as she is. Again, just another facet that makes up Molly. But the majority of her focus and that of the book’s is on dating and falling in love.

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Book Review: Goodbye Days

goodbye-days

Goodbye Days – Jeff Zentner – Andersen (Aus/UK) (Crown – USA) – Published 6 April 2017 (Aus) 7 March 2017 (USA)

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Synopsis

Can a text message destroy your life?

Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, there could be a criminal investigation into the deaths.

Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver to remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. Carver has his misgivings, but he starts to help the families of his lost friends grieve with their own memorial days, along with Eli’s bereaved girlfriend Jesmyn. But not everyone is willing to forgive. Carver’s own despair and guilt threatens to pull him under into panic and anxiety as he faces punishment for his terrible mistake. Can the goodbye days really help?

My thoughts

Hilarious and heartbreaking, Goodbye Days is a winning combination. Perfection itself.

Goodbye Days is an incredibly poignant and relatable story. How many lives have been affected by the tragic deaths of teenagers – friends, classmates, sons or daughters? How many stories of death and grief are punctuation by questions of why, what if, if only? Guilt and sorrow mixing to form a potent poison. Goodbye Days captures all of that emotion and mixes it with a friendship so strong it can only be called a brotherhood. Mixes it with humour and levity and life so bright it dances in front of your eyes. I was crying one minute and laughing the next.

The day Carver Briggs sent a simple text message irrevocably changed everything. Now his three best friends are dead after a fatal car crash – a crash that may or may not have been caused by Carver’s text message. With a pending criminal investigation and guilt heavy enough to level him, Carver begins to form a new connection with Eli’s girlfriend as they both cope with their grief and he accepts Blake’s grandmother’s request to spend one final day celebrating Blake’s life.

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Book Review: The End of Our Story

The End of Our Story

The End of Our Story – Meg Haston – HarperTeen – Published 4 April 2017

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Synopsis

Bridge and Wil have been entangled in each other’s lives for years. Under the white-hot Florida sun, they went from kids daring each other to swim past the breakers to teenagers stealing kisses between classes. But when Bridge betrayed Wil during their junior year, she shattered his heart and their relationship along with it.

Then Wil’s family suffers a violent loss, and Bridge rushes back to Wil’s side. As they struggle to heal old wounds and start falling for each other all over again, Bridge and Wil discover just how much has changed in the past year. As the fierce current of tragedy threatens to pull them under, they must learn how to swim on their own—or risk drowning together.

My thoughts

The End Of Our Story is a powerful and heartbreaking story of family secrets and relationship breakdown.

I thought The End Of Our Story would be about a traumatic romance. A big break up, getting back together, breaking up again and then maybe, finally sorting out the issues and getting back together again. But the romance in The End Of Our Story is really just a backdrop for the story of family breakdown and social issues. What happens to you when your world shatters and the people you love aren’t who you thought they were?

I was surprised by the turn The End of Our Story took. I liked that it was about more than romance. Family, family breakdown, choosing who you want to be, actions defining who someone is, and doing the ‘right’ thing are all important themes.

Bridge and Wil have been friends since childhood. Love soon followed, but in their second-last year of high school their relationship shattered. A year on, following family tragedy, Bridge knows she needs to be there for Wil, while Wil is still reeling from the events of the previous year.

The book is written in alternating chapters from the perspective of the two main character but from different times. Bridge narrates the current time period, their last year of high school, and Wil narrates from the year previous. From the start of the book, the reader knows that something happened between Bridge and Wil to destroy both their childhood friendship and teenage romance. But the reader isn’t left in suspense for too long before the details of what happened are revealed. I liked that the story of their breakup was revealed early on rather than building suspense to a reveal that could have felt anti-climactic. But Wil and Bridge’s relationship drama is really only a backdrop to Wil’s family story, which is fleshed out through his chapters. Bridge discovers these family secrets for the first time as she reconnects with Wil in their senior year in the wake of Wil’s family tragedy. The big question is what happened on that night that changed everything for Wil. Bridge wants to ask him but doesn’t want to scare him away. You can see I am writing this review almost in code as I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I think it is fair to say this book is much less about romance than it is self-reflection, family breakdown and (I’ll put this in spoiler tags just in case) Continue reading

Book Review: Zenn Diagram

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Zenn Diagram – Wendy Brant – Kids Can Press – Published 4 April 2017

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Synopsis

Eva Walker is a seventeen-year-old math genius. And if that doesn’t do wonders for her popularity, there’s another thing that makes it even worse: when she touches another person or anything that belongs to them — from clothes to textbooks to cell phones — she sees a vision of their emotions. She can read a person’s fears and anxieties, their secrets and loves … and what they have yet to learn about calculus. This is helpful for her work as a math tutor, but it means she can never get close to people. Eva avoids touching anyone and everyone. People think it’s because she’s a clean freak — with the emphasis on freak — but it’s all she can do to protect herself from other people’s issues. 

Then one day a new student walks into Eva’s life. His jacket gives off so much emotional trauma that she falls to the floor. Eva is instantly drawn to Zenn, a handsome and soulful artist who also has a troubled home life, and her feelings only grow when she realizes that she can touch Zenn’s skin without having visions. But when she discovers the history that links them, the truth threatens to tear the two apart.

My thoughts

For some reason I knew I would love Zenn Diagram. Something about the synopsis just hit me and I knew I had to read it. Math genius – check. Paranormal abilities – check. Dark, foreboding secrets – check. And yet it surprised me by being even better than I imagined. It was a combination of everything I love in a YA romance.

Eva is a math genius. But she also has another talent she isn’t so open about. When she touches people or their things she gets flashes of their feelings. She calls them fractals because (insert a complicated math explanation that I’ll leave to Eva to explain here). So Eva has learnt to keep her hands to herself. It has limited her social interactions and greatly increased her notoriety as a weirdo. But that’s okay, because Eva has a good family, a great friend and she can use her gift/curse to help find the solution to anyone’s trouble with math. It makes her a good tutor. But Eva lastest student makes her wish for the impossible – an uncomplicated relationship, a chance to touch and be touched, to have someone see her. But one accidental brush against Zenn’s jacket gives Eva the impression that Zenn has dark and haunting secrets.

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