#IReadYA Week WoW: What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

Here are a few reasons I look forward to reading this upcoming YA release:

  • Jessica Verdi is the author.
  • I’m a fan of pregnancy stories told from the guy’s point of view.
  • There appears to be a slight element of mystery.

What You Left BehindTitle & Author: What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

Release Date: August 4th, 2015

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Summary (From Goodreads):

It’s all Ryden’s fault. If he hadn’t gotten Meg pregnant, she would have never stopped her chemo treatments and would still be alive. Instead, he’s failing fatherhood one dirty diaper at a time. And it’s not like he’s had time to grieve while struggling to care for their infant daughter, start his senior year, and earn the soccer scholarship he needs to go to college.

The one person who makes Ryden feel like his old self is Joni. She’s fun and energetic—and doesn’t know he has a baby. But the more time they spend together, the harder it becomes to keep his two worlds separate. Finding one of Meg’s journals only stirs up old emotions, and Ryden’s convinced Meg left other notebooks for him to find, some message to help his new life make sense. But how is he going to have a future if he can’t let go of the past?

Book Trailer Thursday (127)–How to Love by Katie Cotugno

Book Trailer Thursday

Over the summer I read a few different books dealing with teen pregnancy. I’m looking forward to adding another one to my “read” pile. The book trailer for How to Love gives Katie Cotugno’s debut a lighter vibe, but a few of the reviews I’ve read said it’s actually not (they were positive reviews). Regardless, the story sounds intriguing. It will be interesting to hear what my students think once they can compare the book trailer and summary with the actual book once they’ve read it.

How to Love by Katie Cotugno releases on October 1st, 2013.

How to LoveSummary (From Goodreads):

Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he’s never seemed to notice that Reena even exists…until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind.

After: Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena’s gotten used to being without Sawyer, and she’s finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn’t want anything to do with him, though she’d be lying if she said Sawyer’s being back wasn’t stirring something in her. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?

In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.

Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr How to Save a Life

341 pp.  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release: October 2011

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads): Jill MacSweeney just wants everything to go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends–everyone who wants to support her. You can’t lose one family member and simply replace him with a new one, and when her mom decides to adopt a baby, that’s exactly what it feels like she’s trying to do. And that’s decidedly not normal. With her world crumbling around her, can Jill come to embrace a new member of the family?

Mandy Kalinowski knows what it’s like to grow up unwanted–to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, she knows she wants a better life for her baby. But can giving up a child be as easy as it seems? And will she ever be able to find someone to care for her, too?

Critically acclaimed author and National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr delivers a heart-wrenching story, told from dual perspectives, about what it means to be a family and the many roads we can take to become one.

Prepare for gushing because this novel is beautiful and amazing.  I’ve been a fan of Sara Zarr since a family friend gave me a copy of Story of a Girl as a college graduation present.  Story of a Girl has remained my favorite up until now.  How to Save a Life is such a strong novel and very different from Zarr’s other novels.

All of Zarr’s novels are strong in story and characters, but there’s a different feel to How to Save a Life.  I finished reading it thinking, “Wow.  This is her stand out, best book yet.”  The two point of views are seamless, dynamic and natural.  I could picture Jill and Mandy perfectly, but I could also picture her mom, Dylan and Ravi with ease as well.  I finished this yesterday and I’m still thinking about Jill and Mandy; I connected with them on such an emotional level.  Mandy is naive and often socially awkward; I often felt awkward for her, especially at the beginning.  She is also understanding, compassionate, and true.  Jill is grief-stricken and sometimes harsh, but she wants to open up and be a new, friendlier Jill.  I couldn’t help but fall for these girls.  So often I was willing them to communicate with one another and with the people around them.  Watching them develop a friendship and begin to trust others was one of the best parts of the novel.  Sara Zarr really did a fantastic job writing these characters.

The story itself is beautifully layered and more than just a story about a girl giving her baby up for adoption.  This is a story about the many ways of dealing with grief.  Jill has isolated herself.  Her friends aren’t easy to get back, her relationship with her boyfriend is strained, and she doesn’t know how to connect with her mother.  The relationship between Jill and her mother, Robin, is believable.  Sometimes these relationships are exaggerated in novels, but I never felt like either of their interactions or reactions were over the top or unbelievable.  And this is a side note, but even though I’ve never met Sara Zarr, I kept picturing her as I read Robin.  Maybe that’s weird, but I did.  Mandy is of course battling the conflicting emotions involved with giving up her baby.  This conflict is made deeper because of her own need for a mother.  Mandy’s mother is absent, cold and simply not what a mother should be.  She’s still connected to her and often recites her advice, but her need for someone like Robin is obvious.  Mandy broke my heart more than once.  I love a book like How to Save a Life because I can offer it to more students considering the rich layers.  I can hand this to a student looking for a book about teen pregnancy, grief, strained relationships with mothers, losing a parent, finding ways to trust again, and I could go on.

Sara Zarr has written a phenomenal book.  I absolutely loved it, and of course that means I’m struggling to write the review.  I hope I’ve found the right words to express the awesome that is this novel.  How to Save a Life is an emotional novel that will warm your heart.

Hooked by Catherine Greenman + Giveaway

Catherine Greenman Hooked

276 pp.  Delacorte Press  2011

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Source: Finished copy received from Tandem Literary

Summary (From Goodreads): Thea Galehouse has always known how to take care of herself. With a flighty club-owner mom and a standoffish, recovering-alcoholic dad, Thea has made her own way in her hometown of New York, attending the prestigious and competitive Stuyvesant High School. But one chat with Will, a handsome and witty senior, and she’s a goner—completely hooked on him and unable to concentrate on anything else.

Always worried that she loves Will more than he loves her, Thea is pleasantly surprised when their romance weathers his move to college and Will goes out of his way to involve her in his life. But then, Thea misses a period. And that starts Thea and Will on a wild ride that neither of them could have possibly prepared for. When they decide to keep the baby, their concerned parents chip in what they can to keep Will in school and give both teenagers a comfortable place to raise their child. But when a freak accident leaves Thea shaken and threatens to upend their little family altogether, Thea is forced to turn to the last place she would have chosen for comfort: her stiff, uncompromising father.

This smart, touching first novel brims with realistic, beautifully drawn characters, and reminds us that love is never as easy or predictable as we might like it to be.

There are a number of YA novels about teen pregnancy on the shelves, but Hooked definitely stands out in the crowd.  It’s about more than Thea getting pregnant in high school.  It’s about Thea’s first love, it’s about her relationship with her dad, and it’s about Thea discovering where she fits after high school.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read Hooked because I don’t care for the cover.  It really doesn’t do anything for the story and what it’s really about.  Personally, I think it looks tacky and the title looks like a tattoo.  Once I started reading the book and looked more closely as the cover, I realized that the heart is crocheted.  Thea learning to crochet becomes a large portion of the plot, so it makes sense that it’s represented on the cover.  I just wish it was more prominent.  Despite my feelings on the cover, I’m quite happy I read Greenman’s debut.

I think the best way for me to review Hooked is to break down what worked and didn’t work for me.

What Worked:
I like Thea’s character because she isn’t really popular and she isn’t really awkward either.  She’s right in the middle like most teens.  Also, once she has the baby, I think her life is portrayed realistically, for the most part.  She’s incredibly nervous about being a mother and hurting her baby.  I’m not a mother, but I’m guessing many new moms worry about this, especially teen moms.  Thea’s decision to keep the baby wasn’t an easy choice, but once she makes the decision she stands by it no matter what anybody says.  Her dad is firm that she doesn’t miss out on her college education, which I’m happy is in the novel because even though not all teens get this opportunity when they have a baby, I’m happy the importance of education and having a steady job is stressed.  Thea is a likeable character that I found myself liking more as she matured and the novel progressed.  She discovers a talent she didn’t know she had, while trying to balance being a mother and holding down a job.

What Didn’t Work:
I think my biggest criticism is that while her life is realistic, it only was to a degree.  **This is a spoiler**  Thea’s and Will’s parents give them a large sum of money to live on with the baby until they get settled.  This didn’t work for me, because while I know their parents are wealthy, I just can’t picture that really happening.  Eventually Thea needs to rely on her dad in a different way which I viewed positively and saw that as being more realistic.  It was actually one of my favorite parts of the story; their relationship isn’t perfect, but we get to see both Thea and her father grow as characters.

Other than the story, I had some issues with the writing.  There are a number of flashbacks in Hooked, but the writing/format lacks a signal letting us know we’re moving back and then forward again.  At times like these I had to re-read the passage to figure out what was going on.  Also, I was confused about the setting at the beginning because Thea and her mom are talking and Thea’s mom mentions a flat she sold.  When I read that I thought maybe this takes place in England, but then locations in New York were mentioned.  It wasn’t until much later that we learn Thea’s mom is from England.  That would have been nice to know at the beginning.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Hooked.  I’m sure many of my students will enjoy this and I’m looking forward to their thoughts.  There were a couple of quirks to the story, but I’m happy I read it.  If you like novels by Rachel Cohn, I’m sure you’ll like it too.

Win a copy of Hooked by Catherine Greenman

*Must be 13 years or older
*A US resident (copy provided & mailed by Tandem Literary)
*Fill out the form to enter–comments do not count as an entry
*One entry per person
*No extra entries required, but spreading the word is appreciated. Feel free to tweet the link including my Twitter handle @yaloveblog
*Giveaway ends 10/30/11

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