Book Review: All That I Can Fix

All That I Can Fix – Crystal Chan – Simon Pulse – Published 12 June 2018

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Synopsis

In Makersville, Indiana, people know all about Ronney—he’s from that mixed-race family with the dad who tried to kill himself, the pill-popping mom, and the genius kid sister. If having a family like that wasn’t bad enough, the local eccentric at the edge of town decided one night to open up all the cages of his exotic zoo—lions, cheetahs, tigers—and then shoot himself dead. Go figure. Even more proof that you can’t trust adults to do the right thing.

Overnight, news crews, gun control supporters, and gun rights advocates descend on Makersville, bringing around-the-clock news coverage, rallies, and anti-rallies with them. With his parents checked out, Ronney is left tending to his sister’s mounting fears of roaming lions, stopping his best friend from going on a suburban safari, and shaking loose a lonely boy who follows Ronney wherever he goes. Can Ronney figure out a way to hold it together as all his worlds fall apart?

My thoughts

What to say about a book that is one part humorous, two parts ridiculous, and the rest a bundle of important messages, from mental health, stigma, and racism, to gun control and animal cruelty? All That I Can Fix is a novel that faces difficult topics straight on, with an abruptness that is both disconcerting and refreshing.

When the local exotic zoo owner shoots himself and lets loose his animals, Ronney isn’t fazed. What’s a camel on the loose compared to a father who might be continually physically present but never mentally, a mother who doesn’t know how to cope anymore, a sister on the verge of a meltdown, and a list of things he must do to keep the whole family from falling apart?

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Book Review: We’ll Fly Away

We’ll Fly Away – Bryan Bliss – Greenwillow Books – Published 8 May 2018

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Synopsis

Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.

But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling.

My thoughts

We’ll Fly Away is a well-written, hard-hitting YA novel with important messages about poverty, child abuse, the justice system, and friendship. I knew We’ll Fly Away would be heartbreaking. I also expected it to be raw, upfront, exposed, and almost crude. It certainly is an unflinching book, with threads of hope (but mainly heartbreak) and a positive message.

Luke and Toby are best friends – the only ones to see inside the truths of the other’s life, the only ones who could understand. But Luke struggles to maintain his wrestling record for a college scholarship with his mother’s ever increased neglect and caring for his two younger brothers, and Toby falls into a relationship with an older woman while continuing to face his father’s abuse. Events will come to a head as the boys fight for their friendship, their future, and their freedom.

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Book Review: Autonomous

Autonomous – Andy Marino – Disney-Hyperion – Published 3 April 2018

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Synopsis

William Mackler is about to go on a road trip of a lifetime. After winning a contest—and nearly dying in the process—he becomes the proud owner of Autonomous, a driverless car that knows where you want to go before you do. #Worthit! To sweeten the deal he gets to pick three friends to go with him on a cross-country trip to see their favorite band. For William, a reckless adrenaline junkie, this is the perfect last hurrah before he and his friends go their separate ways after graduation. But Autonomous is more than just a car without a steering wheel. It’s capable of downloading all of the passengers’ digital history—from the good, to the bad, to the humiliating. The information is customized into an itinerary that will expose a few well-kept secrets, but it will also force William to face some inner demons of his own. Think you know Autonomous? The real question is, how much does Autonomous know about you?

My thoughts

Please note this is a review of the original book that was to be published in November 2017, and some things may have changed in the April 2018 release.

Picture a road trip – sunny days, hair blowing in the wind, happy times of solid friendship and sing-a-longs to feel-good music. Autonomous is not that road trip. Instead, Autonomous is an examination of the true nature of humanity, where buried secrets are laid bare and the harsh truths of reality are posed against the speculation of how technology might evolve and how it might reflect those truths.

When William wins a state-of-the-art car in a competition, he plans to take his three best friends on an epic road trip. But while discovering the extent of the car’s abilities, from being completely self driving to apparent mind reading, everything William had planed for the road trip begins to fall apart. Instead of making fantastic memories with his friends, their relationships are tested and things get far more dangerous then they could have imagined.

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Book Review: Jacked Up

Jacked Up – Erica Sage – Sky Pony Press – Published 3 April 2018

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Synopsis

It’s bad enough that Nick’s sister is dead and, in some bizarre attempt to force him to confront his grief, his parents are shipping him off to Jesus Camp. But he’s also being haunted by the ghost of Jack Kerouac—who’s surprisingly annoying, for a genius.

And if arguing with a dead beat poet weren’t enough to qualify Nick for antipsychotics, he’s pretty sure Eden Springs Church Camp is going to drive him insane. The campers ride donkeys into the desert campsite; a retired magician dressed as Jesus seems obsessed with converting him; and Nick’s practically shunned for uttering the words “Harry Potter.”

Worst of all is the PC Box, into which every camper is required to place a nightly prayer or confession. In hopes of getting Jack to stop nagging him about it, Nick scribbles down his darkest secret—a secret about his sister’s death—and drops it in the box.

But then the box is stolen, with Nick’s secret inside of it. When campers’ confessions start appearing around the camp, Nick is desperate to get the box back—before the world learns the truth about what he did. The truth he can’t even face, himself.

My thoughts

What a crazy book! Jacked Up is a uncontrollable snort laugher inducing, hypocrisy identifying, gut punching, grammar fixing, donkey jokes kind of crazy book. With all the finesse and humour of its authentic male narrator, Jacked Up is an upfront and honest novel that delves into the aftermath of suicide, grief, and guilt, in a way that is easy to read and lots of fun.

In the wake of his sister’s suicide, Nick’s parents are sending him to Bible Camp. Sure it is the last place on Earth that could help him, especially considering the soul-eating secrets he is hiding, Nick is reluctant at first. Arriving at the camp only increases his doubts – are these people serious with their Bible character dress-up selfie moments, donkey lotteries, and box of prayers and confessions? But when the PC box goes missing, containing Nick’s biggest secret, he will do anything to get it back.

I jumped into Jacked Up with little prior knowledge of its aspirations as a novel. And it totally surprised me. There were so many fun moments. Nick is an awesome narrator and totally realistic of a teenage boy. And the book doesn’t shy away from anything – coarse language, sexual references, innuendo, jokes of every description. Honestly, I’m not sure there is a teen boy (or maybe girl) alive who wouldn’t love to read this book. Unless you consider those who might be offended by it…. And let’s face it, there are many people who might be offended by the revealing of this teenage boy’s mind.

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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: Winterfolk

Winterfolk – Janel Kolby – HarperTeen – Published 6 February 2018

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Synopsis

A gritty yet beautiful debut novel about a homeless teen who relies on the magic she sees in the world around her to help her find her place, perfect for fans of Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap

Rain is a homeless teen living with her father in the woods outside Seattle, near a community of other homeless people called the Winterfolk. She finds safety and sanctuary in this hidden world—until the day that safety is shattered when she learns the city plans to clear the woods of everyone who lives there. Now she’s forced to confront Seattle, which is full of strange sights, sounds, people—and memories.…

My thoughts

How shall I describe this book? At once both hopeful and sad, gritty and yet filled with magic, Winterfolk pairs the harsh reality of homelessness with a magical, lyrical writing style to create an ethereal novel about love, family, belonging, acceptance, and community.

Rain lives in the Jungle, the forest outside of town that shelters the Winterfolk. Rain knows how to be invisible, living with her father, King – who is friend, protector, everything – and a collection of souls who use the forest to take what protection they can to hide from the world. When the Winterfolk’s home is threatened by destruction, Rain knows her home is in danger. On Rain’s fifteenth birthday, King takes her into town. But a simple trip to see what lies outside the protection of their trees becomes a life-changing journey.

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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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