Audiobook Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Audio Review

Dumplin'Title: Dumplin’

Author: Julie Murphy

Narrator: Eileen Stevens

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: September 15th, 2015

Interest: Contemp

Source: Audio purchased via Scribd

Summary (From Goodreads):

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Audiobook Review: I listened to the audio for Dumplin’ because I was originally listening to the audio for Dorothy Must Die and it was randomly removed from Scribd. After some frantic searching (I HAD to find a new audiobook), I found the audio for Dumplin’. After a quick sample I knew I wanted to listen to it. The narrator, Eileen Stevens, has an easy and smooth voice and I loved the accent she used; I felt like I was really there alongside Willowdean in Texas. Stevens did an excellent job switching her voice for each of the female characters, but the male characters, however, too often sounded the same which made it difficult at times to follow the story. Besides that, I thoroughly enjoyed this listening experience and finished Julie Murphy’s newest release in a matter of days.

Book Review: First and foremost, all teenagers need access to this book. Whether you’re a self-proclaimed fat girl like Willowdean or not, teens are going to find themselves in her story. There were multiple times I felt myself nodding my head and thinking “Yep, I felt the same way, Willowdean. I worried about that or wished that, too.” Teens need to find themselves in the books they read and I’m sure they will when they read Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy.

Willowdean won me over because she’s authentic and honest with herself. She’s true to herself even when she has self-doubts. She’s quick-witted. Julie Murphy wrote a teen character who truly sounds and acts and thinks like a teenager. Just like Willowdean I was self-conscious about my body, especially around boys. Just like Willowdean I was snarky on the outside but not always so confident on the inside. I’m in my 30s now, but I know teens today will connect for many of the same reasons.

If you like books about friendships, read Dumplin’. If you like books with crush-worthy guys, read Dumplin’. If you like books with strained mother-daughter relationships, read Dumplin’.

I basically can’t say enough good things about Dumplin’. It’s been added to my Favorites shelf and will certainly be a favorite of 2015. Just like I want everyone I meet to read Winger by Andrew Smith and fall in love with Ryan Dean, I want everyone to read Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy and fall in love with Willowdean.

Review: Golden by Jessi Kirby

GoldenTitle: Golden

Author: Jessi Kirby

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Release Date: May 14th, 2013

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.

Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.

Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.

Jessi Kirby’s books keep getting better and better. I bought my copy of Golden over the summer and am now angry with myself for not reading it right away; it’s that good. I’m not sure how to put words to all of my thoughts about this book, so this review is going to be written as a list.

1. Julianna’s journal. I love that Jessi Kirby added Julianna’s journal entries to the story. It takes the story to a whole new level because of the romance and mystery it adds.

2. Mr. Kinney’s journal assignment. I love the quote he had students respond to: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” –Mary Oliver. He gives his seniors notebooks and says, “Fill it up with words that make a picture of who they are, things they may forget later on, after so many years, and want to look back on” (11). I love the idea and want to find a way to mimic this assignment with my seniors.

3. The cover. This book cover is gorgeous! Besides my raving about it, the cover will draw my students to this book.

4. The relationships. Parker deals with a strained relationship with her mother, the threat of losing her best friend when she leaves for college, deciding if she should give her long-time crush a chance, and of course Julianna and Shane’s relationship. They’re blended together and balanced perfectly so it never feels like one part of the story outweighs another.

5. Parker’s growth as a character. Parker’s character is one of the many reasons I love contemporary realistic fiction. She’s afraid to let anyone down and that fear has held her back. She discovers a lot about herself through Julianna’s journal. I know a lot of students who are very similar to Parker. Senior year is often scary for students which is one of the reasons why I appreciate Jessi Kirby writing Parker’s story.

Review: Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Where the Stars Still ShineTitle: Where the Stars Still Shine

Author: Trish Doller

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Release Date: September 24th, 2013

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She’s never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love–even with someone who seems an improbable choice–is more than just a possibility.

Trish Doller writes incredibly real teens, and this searing story of love and discovering who’s really important in your life will resonate with readers who want their stories authentic and utterly true.  Where the Stars Still Shine left me breathless and at a loss for words in the best possible way.  Honestly, I don’t feel like I can accurately express how much I love this book.  It’s beautiful.

I tear up when I read books, but it’s rare for me to actually cry when I read a book.  I cried while reading Callie’s story.  I had to email friends who have read this book to make sure certain things were/were not going to happen because I couldn’t read it fast enough.  I was INVESTED in these characters.  I still am.  As I’m writing this review it’s been a month since I’ve read Where the Stars Still Shine and I’m STILL invested in these characters.  I feel like they’re part of my life.  I care about them and want the best for them.  That kind of story is the best kind of story.  Trish Doller has written an excellent story.

Something that really made me happy while reading Where the Stars Still Shine is that Callie is such a strong and independent character.  She has to be because of how she’s grown up.  But even though she’s strong, she’s also vulnerable.  Callie has a tough time asking for help and recognizing familial support.  And her family?  They are amazing.  Her father, Greg, is what I wish more fathers in general and in YA are.  Callie also has an incredible grandmother and cousin.  These supporting characters not only add a real depth to the story and excellent familial element, but they also showcase how strong yet vulnerable Callie is.  She’s not use to relying on anyone but herself, but now that she has this new family she learns a new and better definition of the word family.  Her mother isn’t really a mother, but it’s all she knows of family.

If I’m going to bring up Callie’s independence and strength, I need to bring up sexuality.  Callie hasn’t had the best experiences with sex in her life; in fact, at least one experience was detrimental.  Her relationship with Alex is positive and is written really well.  I like that she takes ownership of her thoughts and desires about sex.  Not that many books write sex in this way, so I’m happy to read one that does.

Speaking of Alex, I want to know more about his back story.  I would love it if Trish Doller wrote a book from his point of view.  I know that’s wishful thinking, but there it is.  I want more from Alex.

I will admit that I wished for a slightly different ending, but it works for the characters and the story.  It’s an honest ending.  Trish Doller writes magic, and I HIGHLY recommend that you read Where the Stars Still Shine.  I read it in one sitting and can’t wait to share it with my students.

Review: Over You by Amy Reed

Over You coverTitle: Over You

Author: Amy Reed

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: June 4th, 2013

Interest: Contemp / Mythology / Author

Source: ARC gifted from a friend

Summary (From Goodreads):

Max would follow Sadie anywhere, so when Sadie decides to ditch her problems and escape to Nebraska for the summer, it’s only natural for Max to go along. She is Sadie’s confidante, her protector, and her best friend. This summer will be all about them. This summer will be perfect.

But that’s before they meet Dylan.

Dylan is dangerous and intoxicating, and he awakens something in Max that she never knew existed. No matter how much she wants to, she can’t back away.

But Sadie has her own intensity, and has never allowed Max to become close with anyone else. And Max doesn’t know who she is without Sadie.

There are some problems you just can’t escape.

This is one of those books that I’m afraid I won’t do justice in my review.  Over You by Amy Reed is a very smart book that deserves more attention.  It’s the first book of Amy Reed’s that I’ve read, even though I have two of her other books in my class library, but I’ll definitely be reading all of her books now.

I’m not always sure when to describe a book as being literary, but I feel comfortable describing Over You this way.  Amy Reed juxtaposes multiple mythological allusions with different parts in the story to compliment what’s happening with Max and Sadie or how her characters are feeling.  This mythological tie-in is what originally caught my attention about this book.  One of the project options for my YA Lit II class requires students to read YA mythology books and study the myths included.  I loved the idea of sharing a contemporary realistic title with them that’s suitable for that project.  Amy Reed’s inclusion of mythology really works for this story and adds rich layers to the characters.  Besides the mythology, there’s also beautiful uses of imagery, similes, metaphors, etc.  The perspective of the story makes it seem like Max is writing to Sadie or speaking to Sadie, by saying things like “we” and “you”, which took me a bit to get accustomed to, but I ended up enjoying it.

There are plenty of conflicts in this book, but deep down I was interested in Max’s character development.  Obviously she isn’t going to develop as a character without the conflicts, but more than anything I liked being in her head.  She’s defined herself through Sadie, so when she’s finally released from Sadie’s influence, Max gets to find out who she really is and what she likes/dislikes.  This is incredibly hard for her to do.  She feels guilty, but she’s also excited.  Her highs and lows kept me reading because they’re real.  I never felt like they were over-exaggerated or unbelievable.  She very much reminds me of Grace in Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard.  If you haven’t read that yet, I really hope you move it up in your TBR pile.  Over You is an excellent read alike to Like Mandarin.  The characters and their conflicts are similar and will resonate with readers.

I had a difficult time liking Sadie.  She’s lost just like Max, and much of it has to do with her parents (her mother in particular), but her character irritated me.  But honestly, I think we’re supposed to feel that way.  Max often feels that way.  Sadie is needy, immature, and manipulative.  But she’s also like family to Max.  I can see why Max cares so deeply for her.  I’m not exactly sure if Max’s feelings for Sadie are romantic because there are two scenes in particular that left me thinking that, but it really isn’t the point–or at least I don’t think it is.  Max is bi-sexual, but it isn’t really a core issue in the story.  Whether Max loves Sadie in a romantic sense or not, it doesn’t matter because so much of this story is about Max and Sadie’s friendship in general.  It’s about Max finding herself without Sadie.

There’s more that I could probably say about Over You and Amy Reed’s writing, but I’m going to stop because I feel like I’m rambling or about to start.  I’m so happy I finally read one of Amy Reed’s books and can’t wait to read the rest of them.

Review: One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

One for the MurphysTitle: One for the Murphys

Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Release Date: May 10th, 2012

Interest: Middle grade / Contemporary / Debut author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Twelve-year-old Carley Connors can take a lot. Growing up in Las Vegas with her fun-loving mother, she’s learned to be tough. But she never expected a betrayal that would land her in a foster care. When she’s placed with the Murphys, a lively family with three boys, she’s blindsided. Do happy families really exist? Carley knows she could never belong in their world, so she keeps her distance.

It’s easy to stay suspicious of Daniel, the brother who is almost her age and is resentful she’s there. But Mrs. Murphy makes her feel heard and seen for the first time, and the two younger boys seem determinded to work their way into her heart. Before she knows it, Carley is protected the boys from a neighbourhood bullly and even teaching Daniel how to play basketball. Then just when she’s feeling like she could truly be one of the Murphys, news from her mother shakes her world.

I can’t find the right words to review this.  One for the Murphys is a fairly short book containing 224 pages, but it made me feel SO MUCH within those pages.  Lynda Mullaly Hunt has written a stellar debut.

One of the many things I like about One for the Murphys is that although it’s middle grade, I know many of my high school students will enjoy this.  Actually, I’d love to read this aloud to them even though I know I wouldn’t be able to do it without crying.  Carley has a mature voice despite being twelve; she’s experienced more trauma and turbulence in her short life than most adults do.  She’s rough around the edges, whip smart, and has more potential than she’s aware of.  Middle school and high school students alike will be able to connect to Carley.

I can’t write this review without bringing up Mrs. Murphy.  She’s patient, kind, and has a heart of gold.  She’s the kind of mom and woman my mom is.  The way Mrs. Murphy loves and cares for and understands Carley made me think of my mom because I know my mom would be the same way.  I wish more parents, whether they’re biological or not, would be written so strongly in young adult and middle grade novels more often.

My one critique about Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s debut is that some parts of timeline and story jump quickly.  I never really had a sense of how much time had pass, despite Carley marking off the number of days she’s been with the Murphys.  After one incident, which came out of no where, it was apparently the day before Easter.  And then it was Mother’s Day.  Little details like that caught me off guard when I was reading.  They were convenient to the movement of the plot and the character development, but they would have served the story better with a little more editing.

Quite a few of my friends have already read this, so if you’re one of the apparent few who haven’t, I hope you read One for the Murphys soon.  Carley and the Murphys are going to stay with me for a long time.  I took my friends’ advice when I read this, and I hope you’ll take this same advice: make sure you have a box of tissues handy while reading.

Review: Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally

Title: Stealing Parker

Author: Miranda Kenneally

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Release Date: October 1st, 2012

Interest: Contemporary / Author

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads): Red-hot author Miranda Kenneally hits one out of the park in this return to Catching Jordan’s Hundred Oaks High.

After her family’s scandal rocks their conservative small town, 17-year-old Parker Shelton goes overboard trying to prove that she won’t turn out like her mother: a lesbian. The all-star third-baseman quits the softball team, drops 20 pounds and starts making out with guys–a lot. But hitting on the hot new assistant baseball coach might be taking it a step too far…especially when he starts flirting back.

Miranda Kenneally really knows how to hook a reader!  Her debut, Catching Jordan, kept me reading from start to finish without putting it down, and I had the exact same experience reading her sophomore release, Stealing Parker.

I’m confident that my girls in class are going to love Stealing Parker.  It’s more mature in  nature than Catching Jordan in regards to sexuality, but it also deals with an important issue.  Some may see the idea of a book involving a relationship with an older man who is also in a position of authority as taboo, but it’s not uncommon either.  I knew plenty of girls in high school dating significantly older guys, although none of them worked for the school.  The idea of that always made me uncomfortable, and it made me uncomfortable as a reader watching Parker enter dangerous territory with Brian.  I think the girls in class will enjoy watching Parker flirt with Brian, but as things grow more serious, I think they’ll be hoping it ends.  Miranda Kenneally did a fantastic job making the scenes with Brian tense as opposed to romantic.  Nothing about their interactions are romanticized.  Parker doesn’t think six years is that great of an age difference, and I remember thinking along those lines when I was her age too, but it doesn’t take long for her to realize that it’s actually a significant difference.  In the grand scheme of things we know that six years isn’t a huge age gap, but when you’re in high school and your love interest is beyond that, the life experience alone makes six years a huge age gap.

Parker’s other love interest serves as a sweet and simple balance to her relationship with Brian.  I’m not going to say who it’s with, but it’s absolutely adorable.  This character made me mad at times, but he still won me over.  I hope other readers cheer for him like I did!

Watching Parker grow as a character was really enjoyable.  She’s quite naive in areas of love and relationships.  The shocking revelation that her mom is a lesbian crushed Parker.  It threw her world into a tailspin and rocked her self-image and thoughts about love.  Her so-called friend, Laura, starts rumors that Parker’s a lesbian just like her mom.  As a result Parker wants to do everything she can to distance herself from her mother.  She loses weight so she doesn’t look “butch” and starts kissing lots of boys so people will know she isn’t a lesbian.  I can’t imagine going through what Parker goes through.  She’s completely lost which is what drives many of her poor decisions.  I love a good mother-daughter storyline which Stealing Parker has and does well (it even made me tear up!).  The only thing I didn’t need in this part of the story is Parker’s weight issues.  The story would have been just as strong without them. Her concerns with calories and weight were more of a distraction because I didn’t know if it was going to lead to something more severe as the story progressed.  I didn’t expect religion to play such a big role in Stealing Parker, but it works with the story.  I have quite a few students who are active in their church, so I think they’ll enjoy that aspect of Parker’s story.re

I thoroughly enjoyed Stealing Parker because it invoked so many reactions in me as a reader.  I was completely engaged and connected to the characters.  I wanted to smack Laura, I wanted to hug Parker, and I wanted to laugh with Drew and Corndog.  Miranda Kenneally tackles some heavy issues, but she does so with ease and charm.  I wish her next book, Things I Can’t Forget, came out sooner!

Review: Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams

Title: Glimpse

Author: Carol Lynch Williams

Publisher: Paula Wiseman Books (Simon & Schuster imprint)

Release Date: May 1st, 2012 (paperback edition)

Interest: Verse Novel

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

This stunning and PEN Award–winning novel of triumph over trauma is a “page-turner for Ellen Hopkins fans” (Kirkus Reviews).

In one moment it is over.  In one moment it is gone.    

Twelve-year-old Hope’s life is turned upside down when her older sister, Lizzie, becomes an elective mute and is institutionalized after trying to kill herself. Hope and Lizzie have relied on each other from a young age, ever since their dad died. Their mother, who turns tricks to support her family, is a reluctant and unreliable parent—at best. During the course of this lyrical and heartbreaking narrative, told in blank verse from an exceptionally promising YA voice, readers will discover the chilling reason why Lizzie has stopped speaking—and why Hope is the only one who can bring the truth to light and save her sister.

Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams is gripping and intense.  On the very first page Hope walks in on her sister Lizzie holding a shotgun, her finger on the trigger.  Not since reading Burned and Identical, both by Ellen Hopkins, have I read a verse novel so raw with emotion and suspense.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have a sister, but I love reading stories about sisters and their relationships.  Hope and Lizzie are as close as sisters can be, so it’s an absolute shock when Hope walks in and finds Lizzie this way.  Carol Lynch Williams has done a fantastic job portraying the bond between these two sisters.  Hope is slow to realize why her sister wants to kill herself, and part of that reason is because Lizzie has been committed to protecting and sheltering her sister.  What I like about Glimpse and the dynamics between Hope and Lizzie is that we see first hand how concerned, conflicted, and confused Hope is about her sister.  Hope doesn’t understand what’s going on between Lizzie and her mother, but she knows it’s making her jealous.  While feeling jealous, however, Hope gets the feeling that Lizzie is hiding something important from their mother, so she tries her best to protect Lizzie and her secrets.  Their relationship rides a fine line, but it leans mostly to the side of caring and protecting rather than jealous and malicious.

I’ve become critical of verse novels, and while some of the free verse felt choppy, the writing as a whole worked for me.  Some of the choppy lines came from sections where Hope repeats random sentences or words.  I’m sure it’s for effect and drama, but those few lines were more distracting than anything else.  The majority of the verse, however, is lyrical and smooth.  I say this often in my reviews of verse novels, but I’m so impressed when an author is able to convey strong emotions and paint vivid scenes and characters with so few words.  Carol Lynch Williams does an excellent job doing both.

Carol Lynch Williams tackles some mature issues in Glimpse, but she does with subtlety and grace.  As I began figuring out what was happening I grew nervous because I was wondering how it was going to be handled later in the story.  The revelation is clear, but it’s not overdone or graphic.  It’s enough to gain understanding and break your heart at the same time.  Glimpse is a powerful book and one not to miss.

Review: Camp by Elaine Wolf

Title: Camp

Author: Elaine Wolf

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Interest: Bullying / Mother-Daughter Relationship

Release: June 15th, 2012

Source: Finished copy received from the author

Summary (From Goodreads): Going to sleepaway camp can be one of the most wonderful experiences for a young girl. But for Amy Becker, it’s a nightmare. Amy, whose home life is in turmoil, is sent away to summer camp for the first time as a teenager. Though she swears she hates her mother, who is unduly harsh with Amy’s autistic younger brother, Amy is less than thrilled to be leaving home. When she arrives at camp, she is subjected to a horrifying initiation and bullying by Rory, the ringleader of the girls in her cabin. Then a cousin reveals dark secrets about Amy s mother, setting in motion a tragic event that changes Amy and her family forever.

CAMP is a compelling coming-of-age novel about bullying, mothers and daughters, and the collateral damage of family secrets. It’s a powerful mother-daughter story for mothers and daughters to share.

Camp by Elaine Wolf is a quiet book that will resonate with many readers.  It’s a fast read; I read it within a couple hours of starting it.  The story keeps a steady pace and held my interest from beginning to end.

Amy Becker doesn’t have a cozy life at home, at least when it comes to her mother.  From the very beginning of the book, Amy’s mother struck me as cold and distant.  Amy does, however, have a very close relationship with her brother who, even though it’s not stated, I believe has autism.  Her father tries to be loving and involved, which is why he signs Amy up for summer camp, but he can’t always do this completely since he’s often “siding” with Amy’s mother.  It’s a tense atmosphere in the Becker home.  Amy’s mother isn’t thrilled about Amy attending summer camp because her husband’s brother is running it.  This raised my first red flag because her reaction wasn’t typical; it was quite guarded and cautious.  Despite all of this, Amy doesn’t want to attend camp, mostly because she worries about her brother.

Poor Amy is at a disadvantage as soon as she gets to the bus leaving for camp.  Her aunt and uncle sent a list of things to bring, and it said nothing about clothes from home, so she’s in her camp uniform.  Lots of giggling from other campers ensues.  At this point in Camp, the reader gets to see more of Amy’s insecurities.  Amy’s mother is very concerned about appearances, so it was considered appropriate that Amy attend camp appropriately.  For a girl who didn’t want to attend camp in the first place, this is a horrible way to start that experience.  On the bus ride to camp, quite a bit of foreshadowing is included to give us an idea of the bullying Amy’s going to face.

The bullying in Camp is a prominent theme in Elaine Wolf’s novel, but it wasn’t the primary focus because all of it ties to Amy’s relationship with her mother.  It is important to note, however, that the majority of Camp takes place during Amy’s stay at summer camp and how she deals with Rory.  There were so many times while reading that I became angry because of what Amy goes through.  It was a good kind of angry though because my feelings were a direct response to the story.  Rory has some serious and disturbing issues which influence her actions.  On the other hand, I just wanted Amy to get a backbone and stand up for herself.  This is where her relationship with her mother ties in.  Amy’s “bullied” by her mother on a regular basis.  Her mother fixates on Amy’s appearance and weight.  She makes comments about Amy needing to lose weight, especially if she wants boys to pay attention to her.  Amy feels like she can’t do anything to make her mother happy, and almost the entire time she’s at camp she’s “hearing” her mother’s criticisms and judgments.  How can Amy possibly stand up to Rory when she can’t stand up to her mother?

Camp becomes more complex as serious family secrets are revealed, mainly about Amy’s mother.  We get more insight to her background and why she’s so cold.  The only problem I had with this, is that many of the major secrets are revealed at the end of the book.  I know, it makes sense for secrets to be revealed at the end, but the way they were revealed didn’t work for me.  Without spoiling the book, something goes on with Amy’s mother and the Beckers which instigates the revelations.  It felt like this portion of the book was rushed, or like some parts were added to the story for convenience (primarily regarding Amy’s mother).  These are my only qualms with Camp.

Camp by Elaine Wolf is definitely a book that should be read and discussed.  It’s intense, surprising, and chock full of emotion.  It could easily be added to units on bullying and/or familial relationships.

Review: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Title: Something Like Normal

Author: Trish Doller

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Release Date: June 19th, 2012

Interest: 2012 Debut Author / Guy appeal

Source: E-book ARC received via NetGalley

Summary (From Goodreads): When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.

I’ve read quite a few rave reviews for Trish Doller’s debut Something Like Normal, so I looked it up on NetGalley to request a copy.  As soon as I received the approval email I downloaded Something Like Normal to my Kindle and started reading.  If I hadn’t started it while visiting my grandpa in the hospital, I would have finished this in one sitting because it’s that good.  If I could get away with writing a review that says “READ IT!” I would just do that because it’s hard to form words for such a wonderful story.

Over the years I’ve learned about myself that if I can’t connect with a character then I won’t enjoy the book.  I’ve also learned that I mostly prefer first-person point of view.  Something Like Normal fits both of those preferences, plus it features a male protagonist which is something I’m always looking for.  Travis is on leave from the Marines and he’s really suffering after witnessing the death of his close friend Charlie.  He’s also dealing with coming home to a family that’s been falling apart since his deployment.  I really like that Trish Doller wrote Travis the way she did because he’s not written as a hero.  He’s written as a suffering young man who’s trying to recover and make amends.  He’s trying to become a better man, a man he can be proud of.  I can see a number of teenage guys relating to Travis, especially if they’re considering joining the Marines or another part of the armed forces.  Many of my seniors that enlist do so because they hope it will shape them into a better person; they hope it will provide some guidance in life.  Travis says he really doesn’t know why he joined, but his character made me think of past seniors I had in class that enlisted because they wanted guidance or a sense of direction in their lives.  I always appreciate a story with a hero, but there’s something about a story with a flawed character that a reader can’t help but love.  Travis’s voice is real and authentic; it’s how I imagine many teenage guys think and feel and act.

I’ve noticed that more Y.A. novels are featuring characters who have graduated from high school.  I hope to see more published like this because it’s an excellent way for upperclassman to relate to what’s in their future.  It’s also a way to keep teens reading Y.A. beyond high school.  Even though Travis is done with school and has been in situations and done and witnessed things most adults never will, he’s still dealing with family drama and common relationship insecurities/dilemmas.  I doubt Travis returned home expecting to fall for a girl, especially when his ex-girlfriend has moved on to his brother.  His life is complicated, but after running into Harper everything starts to turn around.  As I was reading Something Like Normal, I didn’t know what to expect from Harper, but I ended up loving her character.  Really, I love Travis and Harper together as a couple.  They form the kind of relationship where they work off each other.  They mesh in that perfect, awkward, kind of rough around the edges way, but those edges begin to smooth over.  Travis isn’t perfect, far from it actually, but his effort to become better is endearing.  We see these efforts in his relationship with his mother and with Harper.  Both of these women make Travis want to become a better person which is when we see the rough edges smooth over.

Trish Doller includes flashbacks and nightmares in Something Like Normal which give us an idea of the suffering and experiences Travis goes through.  I appreciate these scenes for two reasons.  My first reason is because it breaks up the family and relationship drama Travis is going through at home.  I know many readers enjoy romance and relationship issues in the books they read, but for the readers that want a little less of that, these flashbacks and nightmares will add a welcome break.  The second reason I like these scenes is because it gives us a more well-rounded idea of who Travis is and what life is like for soldiers in Afghanistan.  I can’t imagine returning home and constantly searching the floor for bombs.  Or preferring to sleep on the floor rather than my bed.  Or feeling vulnerable without my gun in my hands.  These scenes are an invaluable layer to the story.

My only issue with Something Like Normal is that I’m done reading it and I don’t have another book by Trish Doller to read next.  I feel like I haven’t expressed enough how completely fantastic this debut is.  There isn’t anything I disliked or would change.  It’s an engrossing story that I predict will be a huge hit in my classroom.  Actually, I wish it released earlier than June 19th so my current students could read it since I don’t have a physical ARC to share with them.

Flash Reviews (11)–Graphic Novel Edition

I’ve been wanting to read more graphic novels, but I really didn’t know where to start.  After some recommendations from trusted resources like Paul W. Hankins and John Schu, I was on my way and reading excellent graphic novels.  The idea of reviewing them is foreign to me, so I’m trying it out as flash reviews because even though I don’t feel confident reviewing them fully, I still want others to be aware of what’s out there and worth reading (in my opinion).

Stitches by David Small

Summary (From Goodreads): Finalist for the 2009 National Book Award and finalist for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards: the prize-winning children’s author depicts a childhood from hell in this searing yet redemptive graphic memoir.

One day David Small awoke from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he had been transformed into a virtual mute. A vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot, the fourteen-year-old boy had not been told that he had cancer and was expected to die.

In Stitches, Small, the award-winning children’s illustrator and author, re-creates this terrifying event in a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka. As the images painfully tumble out, one by one, we gain a ringside seat at a gothic family drama where David—a highly anxious yet supremely talented child—all too often became the unwitting object of his parents’ buried frustration and rage.

Believing that they were trying to do their best, David’s parents did just the reverse. Edward Small, a Detroit physician, who vented his own anger by hitting a punching bag, was convinced that he could cure his young son’s respiratory problems with heavy doses of radiation, possibly causing David’s cancer. Elizabeth, David’s mother, tyrannically stingy and excessively scolding, ran the Small household under a cone of silence where emotions, especially her own, were hidden.

Depicting this coming-of-age story with dazzling, kaleidoscopic images that turn nightmare into fairy tale, Small tells us of his journey from sickly child to cancer patient, to the troubled teen whose risky decision to run away from home at sixteen—with nothing more than the dream of becoming an artist—will resonate as the ultimate survival statement.

A silent movie masquerading as a book, Stitches renders a broken world suddenly seamless and beautiful again. Finalist for the 2009 National Book Award (Young Adult); finalist for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards (Best Writer/Artist: Nonfiction; Best Reality-Based Work)

Flash Review:  This is one of the first graphic novels I read.  It’s a memoir of David Small’s life, his very tragic life.  I don’t know if I would have been able to read it as a novel of prose, because it is certainly haunting.  David Small’s mother didn’t express emotion, which left Small without an outlet to express himself.  His cancer, which horribly goes ignored for far too long, leaves him without the ability to express himself well vocally.  These two circumstances would make one feel helpless, but David Small discovers art and is able to express his feelings and thoughts through this outlet.  Stitches is at times mature, but it’s an excellent example of a survival story and memoir.  The images say so much more than words can express.

Page by Paige by Laure Lee Gulledge

Summary (From Goodreads):

Paige Turner has just moved to New York with her family, and she’s having some trouble adjusting to the big city. In the pages of her sketchbook, she tries to make sense of her new life, including trying out her secret identity: artist. As she makes friends and starts to explore the city, she slowly brings her secret identity out into the open, a process that is equal parts terrifying and rewarding.

Laura Lee Gulledge crafts stories and panels with images that are thought-provoking, funny, and emotionally resonant. Teens struggling to find their place can see themselves in Paige’s honest, heartfelt story.

Praise for Page by Paige
“Gulledge’s b&w illustrations are simple but well-suited to their subject matter; the work as a whole is a good-natured, optimistic portrait of a young woman evolving toward adulthood.” –Publishers Weekly

Flash Review: I’ve read some great graphic novels, but I think Page by Paige is my favorite.  Paul W. Hankins introduced me to this graphic novel when we posted the book trailer on Facebook; I wanted to read it immediately.  The images are compelling and draw the reader in to Paige’s story.  I couldn’t help but feel for Paige as she discovers herself and how to express herself.  It’s hard putting yourself out there, whether it’s to make new friends or open up a secret part of yourself.  Teens will connect with Paige and understand what she’s going through.  The images are in black and white, but they are beautiful, creative, and unforgettable.  Page by Paige is a must read!

How I Made It to Eighteen: A Mostly True Story by Tracy White

Summary (From Goodreads): How do you know if you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown?  For seventeen-year-old Stacy Black, it all begins with the smashing of a window. After putting her fist through the glass, she checks into a mental hospital.  Stacy hates it there but despite herself slowly realizes she has to face the reasons for her depression to stop from self-destructing.  Based on the author’s experiences, How I Made it to Eighteen is a frank portrait of what it’s like to struggle with self-esteem, body image issues, drug addiction, and anxiety.

Flash Review: I suppose I enjoy memoirs more than I realized, because Tracy White’s graphic novel is based on her life, hence the character’s name, Stacy Black.  She admits that much is changed for the sake of the story and her friends and family, but she suffered much like Stacy.  Too many of my students, and teens in general, deal with low self-esteem, body image issues, addictions, depression, etc.  Many times all of those issues are connected.  Tracy White’s images are very simple in design, but they are clear and convey an important message.  Stacy is suffering and doesn’t really know how to help herself.  The readers gain insight to her life through testimonials from her friends, both past and current.  This story is mature in theme.  Considering the content, I think readers who enjoy Ellen Hopkins’ novels will enjoy

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