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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Book Review: Together At Midnight

Together At Midnight – Jennifer Castle – HarperTeen – Published 2 January 2018

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Synopsis

What does it really mean to be kind . . . and why does it sometimes feel like the hardest thing in the world to do? High school senior Kendall, who just returned from a life-changing semester in Europe, and Max, who is drifting his way through a gap year before college, struggle with these questions when they witness a tragic accident in New York City during the holiday season. Racked with guilt, the two accept a dare to perform random acts of kindness to strangers. The challenge pulls these two teens, who have a history together from back home, closer and closer as they explore a vibrant city filled with other people’s stories and secrets.

Kendall and Max can’t deny their growing bond, even though they both have other romantic entanglements and uncertain futures. As the clock counts down on New Year’s Eve, will they find themselves together at midnight?

My thoughts

Together At Midnight is an inspiring YA novel – romantic, but also so much more about kindness, society, and being brave enough to step outside yourself to help others.

Kendall, just home from a year studying abroad, doesn’t want to resume her regular life, including returning to her old high school. So she flees to New York to stay with her brother and reconnect with an old friend-and unrequited crush-hoping that the past months talking online mean there is a chance for a romantic future. She doesn’t expect to run into Max, Jamie’s friend, and the guy who saw her breakdown over Jamie’s rejection last year. She certainly doesn’t expect to bond with him after witnessing a traumatic event. But as they traverse the streets of New York, working together on a dare to spread kindness and hopefully make up for their previous lack of action, there is no denying their growing connection.

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Book Review: A Taxonomy of Love

A Taxonomy of Love – Rachael Allen – Amulet Books – Published 9 January 2018

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Synopsis

The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.

Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.

My thoughts

Is there a way to understand and capture the complexities of life, friendship, and love? A Taxonomy of Love is a sweet story that captures all the magic and heartbreak of friendship and growing up.

When the new girl moves in next door, she and Spencer become strong friends. Who else but Hope could understand Spencer’s love of bugs and climbing trees. Who else could understand the ways in which he is different and yet not treat him as if he is any different at all. But sometimes life is messy and not as easy to categorise as Spencer would like. Friends, more than friends, not friends at all?

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Book Review: A Conspiracy of Stars

A Conspiracy of Stars – Olivia A. Cole – Katherine Tegen Books – Published 2 January 2018

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Synopsis

Octavia has only ever had one goal: to follow in the footsteps of her parents and become a prestigious whitecoat, one of the scientists who study the natural wonders of Faloiv. The secrets of the jungle’s exotic plants and animals are protected fiercely in the labs by the Council of N’Terra, so when the rules suddenly change, allowing students inside, Octavia should be overjoyed.

But something isn’t right. The newly elected leader of the Council has some extremist views about the way he believes N’Terra should be run, and he’s influencing others to follow him. When Octavia witnesses one of the Faloii—the indigenous people of Faloiv—attacked in front of her in the dark of night, she knows the Council is hiding something. They are living in separate worlds on a shared planet, and their fragile peace may soon turn into an all-out war.

With the help of Rondo, a quiet boy in class with a skill for hacking, and her inquisitive best friend, Alma, Octavia is set on a collision course to discover the secrets behind the history she’s been taught, the science she’s lived by, and the truth about her family.

My thoughts

Here there be monsters. A Conspiracy Of Stars is a truly imaginative novel. Beautifully crafted, this book draws the reader into another world, or rather planet, that is entirely different from our own. Yet is seems that the troubles of humanity follow, no matter how exotic the location.

Octavia’s dream is to become a whitecoat like her mother and father, eminent scientists who study the diverse animals and plants of Faloiv. When she and her fellow classmates are offered internships well before expected, they are all excited. But things are changing within their settlement of N’Terra. There are murmurs of discontent, anger towards the indigenous people of Faloiv, the Faloii, and the head of the Council seems to be driving it all. As Octavia and her friends uncover more of the secrets of her home, she begins to experience her own strange changes – it seems she is far more tied to the planet of Faloiv and all its inhabitants than she ever could have dreamed possible.

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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: Now Is Everything

Now Is Everything – Amy Giles – HarperTeen – Published 7 November 2017

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Synopsis

The McCauleys look perfect on the outside. But nothing is ever as it seems, and this family is hiding a dark secret.

Hadley McCauley will do anything to keep her sister safe from their father. But when Hadley’s forbidden relationship with Charlie Simmons deepens, the violence at home escalates, culminating in an explosive accident that will leave everyone changed.

When Hadley attempts to take her own life at the hospital post-accident, her friends, doctors, family, and the investigator on the case want to know why. Only Hadley knows what really happened that day, and she’s not talking.

My thoughts

I’m not sure I will be able to write this review without crying. And I’m not sure if they would be tears of heartbreak, overwhelming relief, or joy. Simple words will not do justice to this incredible book. It captured my attention, enthralled my curiosity, and, most of all, worked its way into my heart. There is something so important in this book, so vital we must share it and shout it from roof tops. The survival, the resilience, the importance of friendship and love in this book, the display of emotions and fear and strength is truly amazing. It all makes Now Is Everything such a vibrant, heartbreaking, and incredible book.

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Book Review: Good and Gone

Good and Gone – Megan Frazer Blakemore – HarperTeen – Published 14 November 2017

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Synopsis

When Lexi Green’s older brother, Charlie, starts plotting a road trip to find Adrian Wildes, a famous musician who’s been reported missing, she’s beyond confused. Her brother hasn’t said a nice word to her or left the couch since his girlfriend dumped him months ago—but he’ll hop in a car to find some hipster? Concerned at how quickly he seems to be rebounding, Lexi decides to go along for the ride.

Besides, Lexi could use the distraction. The anger and bewilderment coursing through her after getting dumped by her pretentious boyfriend, Seth, has left her on edge. As Lexi, Charlie, and their neighbor Zack hit the road, Lexi recalls bits and pieces of her short-lived romance and sees, for the first time, what it truly was: a one-sided, coldhearted manipulation game. Not only did Seth completely isolate her, but he took something from her that she didn’t give him permission to. 

The farther from home they get, the three uncover much more than empty clues about a reclusive rocker’s whereabouts. Instead, what starts off as a car ride turns into an exploration of self as each of them faces questions they have been avoiding for too long. Like the real reason Charlie has been so withdrawn lately. What Seth stole from Lexi in the pool house. And if shattered girls can ever put themselves back together.

My thoughts

Wow. What a tangle of emotions. In the best way. There is an unguarded truth to this story, an earnest rawness that is at times hilarious and heartbreaking. It touches on so many important points – unhealthy abusive relationships, mental health and depression, and when it is time to let go and when it is important to hang on with all your might.

When Lexi’s brother Charlie suggests a road trip to locate missing pop star, Adrian Wildes, Lexi is shocked. Charlie hasn’t moved from the couch since he broke up with his girlfriend and dropped out of college. So despite Lexi’s scepticism, despite the hurt she has been feeling, she agrees. Along for the ride (and actually providing the means of transport for this road trip) is their neighbour, Zack. As Lexi, Charlie, and Zack hunt for the elusive pop star, they begin to work through the emotions, hurt, and actions of the past year.

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Book Review: The First To Know

The First To Know – Abigail Johnson – Harlequin Teen – Published 23 October 2017 (Aus) 7 November 2017 (US)

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Synopsis

Dana Fields’s father never knew his parents. When Dana secretly does a DNA test for her dad, hoping to find him some distant relatives for his birthday, her entire world implodes. Instead of a few third cousins, Dana discovers a half brother her age whose very existence means her parents’ happy marriage is a lie.

Dana’s desire to know her half brother, Brandon, and the extent of her dad’s deception, clashes with her wish not to destroy her family. When she sees the opportunity to get to know Brandon through his cousin, the intense yet kind Chase, she takes it. But the more she finds out about Brandon, her father’s past and the irresistible guy who’ll never forgive her if he discovers the truth, the more she sees the inevitable fallout from her own lies. With her family crumbling around her, Dana must own up to her actions and find a way to heal the breach—for everyone—before they’re torn apart for good.

My thoughts

Once again I am left utterly speechless by an Abigail Johnson novel. How does she do it!?!! Because The First To Know is the most incredible, agonising, rip-your-heart-out-and-then-sew-it-back-together, amazing book. Asdffdhngikaldnvj….I hope the publisher wasn’t expecting a put-together, coherent review, because all they are going to get is swooning, sighs, exclamation marks and fan-girling. Because it really is just. that. good.

When Dana decides to surprise her father with a birthday present to beat all birthday presents, she could never have expected the bombshell she would unleash. The DNA testing kit was supposed to unveil some long-lost family members – parents or cousins perhaps – for her father who grew up in foster care never knowing anything about his heritage or family. Instead, Dana discovers that her father has a son. A son who is not that much older than she is…and not that much younger than her sister. Confused and devastated, Dana keeps her secret while desperately trying to learn more about her brother, even if it means getting close to Chase, her brother’s cousin, a guy who is starting to mean so much to her, a guy she really shouldn’t be lying to.

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Book Review: Eight Days on Planet Earth

Eight Days on Planet Earth – Cat Jordan – HarperTeen – Published 7 November 2017

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Synopsis

How long does it take to travel 13 light-years to Earth?
How long does it take to fall in love?

To the universe, eight days is a mere blip—but to Matty Jones, it may be just enough time to change his life.

On the hot summer day Matty’s dad leaves for good, a strange girl suddenly appears in the empty field next to the Jones farm—the very field in rural Pennsylvania where a spaceship supposedly landed fifty years ago. She is uniquely beautiful, sweet, and smart, and she tells Matty she’s waiting for her spaceship to return to pick her up. Of course she is.

Matty has heard all the impossible UFO stories for all of his seventeen years: the conspiracy theories, the wild rumors, the crazy belief in life beyond the stars. As a kid, he searched the skies with his dad and studied the constellations. But all that is behind him now. Dad’s gone and Matty’s stuck.

But now there is Priya. The self-proclaimed alien girl. She must be crazy or high, right?  As Matty unravels the mystery of Priya, he realizes there is far more to her than he first imagined. And if he can learn to believe in what he can’t see: the universe, aliens…love…then maybe the impossible is possible, after all.

My thoughts

Eight Days on Planet Earth is a down-to-earth yet otherworldly novel – magical, funny, and a little heartbreaking.

Matty Jones has grown up knowing the field he lives next to is a little different. Matty’s father claims that a spaceship landed there on the night he was born. But Matty’s father has since run off with his brother’s sister, leaving Matty and his mother alone, so Matty isn’t all that inclined to listen to what his father believes. When a strange girl suddenly appears in Matty’s field claiming to be from another planet, waiting to be collected by a spaceship, Matty knows it can’t be true. But there is something so ethereal about Priya that she starts to change Matty’s view on life, the universe and, maybe, even love.

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