Something’s not right on this plane

Cover artwork for Unaccompanied MinorTitle: Unaccompanied Minor

Author: Hollis Gillespie

Publisher & Release Date: Merit Press, December 2013 (ebook), January 2014 (hardback) — I’m a little confused about this.

The Hook: Teenage MacGyver on a plane vs. bad guys

The Lowdown (from goodreads): “Fourteen-year-old April Mae Manning spent her life on airplanes with her flight attendant parents. When her father dies in a crash, April’s mom marries a pilot who turns out to be an abusive jerk, and gets Mom confined to a psychiatric hospital. So April takes off, literally, living on airplanes, using her mother’s flight benefits, relying on the flight crews who know she’s been shuttling between divorcing parents for a year. Then, there’s a hijacking, but why is April’s “dad” on board? April flees to the cargo hold with another unaccompanied minor she’s met before, and they fight to thwart the hijackers, faking a fire, making weapons from things they find in luggage. At last, locked in the cockpit with a wounded police officer, the boy, and his service dog, April tries to remember everything her parents said to do in a crisis above the clouds. But she knows it won’t be enough.”

Overall Impressions:  I loved this thrill ride of a story and tore through most of it in one sitting. (There was a break to go to work.) Picture an action/adventure movie set on a plane but instead of Bruce Willis, Nicholas Cage, Samuel L Jackson or Harrison Ford saving the day, it’s a teenage female MacGyver with wide-ranging inside knowledge of how airlines work. She’s (practically) a third-generation WorldAir employee (on both sides), after all, and has practically memorized the entire run of MacGyver*. And I kid you not about the movie likeness – this book features a body thrown from a plane, a bomb in a bag, an undercover cop, surprise family revelations – and it left me with that same great feeling of adrenaline and “good guys triumph!”

(You’ve officially been spoilered.)

April Mae (she corrects people more than once on the spelling) Manning is wonderfully resourceful, self-confident, inquisitive, competent and snarky character who has taken to running away from  her scuzzy stepfather by slipping onto WorldAir flights. She’s a nightmare of custody issues – the jerk stepfather has primary custody, even though he basically ignores  her, and her mother is temporarily checked into a psychiatric facility – escapes from kidnapping, and the air is where April feels safest.

April’s intimate knowledge of WorldAir workings and the amazing numbers of employees she has met make her quick to notice when something looks hinky, and she pulls together with her band of rebels – friends Malcolm and Flo and police officer Ned Rockwell – to thwart the bad guys.

The story doesn’t allow for many shades of gray – the good guys are basically good, the bad guys pretty much bad – but the bad guys’ plot turned out to be something different than I anticipated and delightfully circular.

The story’s a blast and the characters form a wonderful family – part blood, part choice.

The Highs: April’s great voice. Much of the story is told from the perspective of a police/FBI witness interview/interrogation, and she’s just so crisp and sure of herself and steamrolls the agents.

April and her mother love each other so much, and while Elizabeth hates that she doesn’t have her daughter and feels lost fighting against the courts, she’s taught April all kinds of lessons she relies on while away from her mother. Most important, especially when things go wrong: “Don’t freak out, figure it out.”

When April, Malcolm, Flo and Ned all attempt to contact someone official about the hijacking and bomb and can’t get past automated phone trees.

I love how Ms. Gillespie took very cliche roles – precocious minor; scrappy dog; police officer with a history of questioning orders; sassy, super-tough flight attendant; older character with a string of past relationships and possible substance abuse – and mixed them up into something frothy and fun and effective.

Officer Ned’s attachment to his boots.

I am not an animal person, so I’m putting this in: I even liked the dog.

Buzzkills:  Minor character deaths – the reader doesn’t spend much time with them, but April’s memories of them made me wish we did.

Family court has completely failed April and her mother.

The Source: Bought the ebook.

*Pause to google correct spelling of MacGyver and look at pictures of Richard Dean Anderson for a moment.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a free airplane ride was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

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Dane is not Mr. Miyagi. Or Sherlock Holmes.

Cover art for Dead EndsTitle: Dead Ends

Author: Erin Jade Lange

Publisher & Release Date: Bloomsbury, September 2013

The Hook: Straight from the teaser – a bully and a boy with Down syndrome form a partnership and then a friendship.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Dane is one suspension away from the dead end of expulsion. Billy does not think special ed is a dead end. They both live on the dead-end, have-not side of town.

“A bully and a boy with Down syndrome. It’s the unlikeliest of partnerships, but Billy needs Dane’s help. He is sure the riddles left in an atlas are really clues to finding his dad again, and he convinces Dane to join the search. Together they work through the clues, leading to unmarked towns and secrets of the past. But they’re all dead ends. Until the final clue… and a secret Billy shouldn’t have been keeping.”

Overall Impressions:  I tore through this book, caught up in Dane and Billy D’s stories.

The jacket summary makes it sounds as if Billy D tells the story – making me think just a little of Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” – but Dane narrates.

Dane has strict rules – he’ll only hit someone (and never a girl or someone with a disability) if he’s asking for it. Trouble is, it doesn’t take much for him to feel a guy’s doing just that. We meet Dane when he’s beating up a guy who we learn was mocking him for not having a car. He lets a determined Billy D into his life begrudgingly. Their path to friendship is kind of a staggering one step forward, one step sideways, one step in random direction – for Dane, Billy D starts out as a way to get out of trouble at school while Billy D sees him as a possible guide/guard/help. Dane’s got a chip on his shoulder the size of car; Billy D has a fixation on finding his father. Dane verbally blows up at Billy D more than once; Billy D has a tendency to focus on things past the point of reason and well past Dane’s tolerance. Also, Billy D has never met a question he won’t ask.

The quest for Billy D’s father turns into one for Dane’s too. Absent fathers drive both boys, but in different ways.

The characters are great, fully built, and their complexity in how they react to other people believable. Lange crafted a tightly woven story.

I did see Billy D’s secret coming, but Lange handled it really well, and it’s understandable that Dane doesn’t.

The Highs: The slow growth of Dane and Billy D’s friendship, how they come to matter to one another and for Dane, Billy D becomes someone he wants to protect. Which doesn’t always work out that well, and that feels true to life.

Seely, who skateboards and works on cars, and calls both Dane and Billy on their bad behavior. She’s all-around awesome.

The relationship between Dane and his mother, who had him when she was still in high school. They may fight sometimes, but they’re a mother-son unit and they love each other. Lange chooses really interesting pieces of backstory to show their history. There’s a really awkward and painful but lovely scene where Dane is asking her about his father (not a flashback).

I love the cover.

Buzzkills:  Dane grows a lot in this story. Some of his attitudes about women still have room for improvement. There’s a kind of funny but mostly horrible scene involving Dane, Billy D and Marjorie.

The Source: Public library.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or a road trip was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Take these broken wings and learn to fly…

Title:  If I Ever Get Out of HereCover photo

Author: Eric Gansworth

Publisher & Release Date: Arthur A. Levine, June 2013

The Hook: Beatles references combined with a historical story (at least to people my age and younger: the 70s!), with a teen Tuscarora Indian as the main character, which I haven’t read before. I was happy to see that it was also just named the AIYLA Honor Book.

The Lowdown (from Amazon): “Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend?”

Overall Impressions:  This book has pretty broad appeal, and I would also happily push this onto fellow fans of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” though there are some significant differences. Sherman Alexie is irreverent, foul-mouthed, and hilarious, which is the essential voice in “Part-Time Indian.” Gansworth takes a more serious tone with many of the same issues – poverty, bullying, the meaning of friendship and family relationships, and navigating between the very different worlds of the reservation, high school, and military families. However, similarities included: a strong-willed and lovably awkward hero; a infuriating system that you want the hero to take down; showing the significance of little things; making me cry.

The Highs: I love it when characters connect with a friend over music, and Gansworth deftly brought in many satellite issues, like girlfriends, parents, bullies, and lies, while still holding on to that central theme. Lewis, George, their families and friends were all great characters, each with their own quirks that led to moments that rang very true.  I loved Lewis himself, his persistence and pride, even his fish-out-of-water awkwardness – I think most teens will be able to empathize with that feeling. The ending made total sense to me, even though it was bittersweet.

Buzzkills: This is more of a lack of amazingness than an actual buzzkill: I really wanted there to be a playlist of samples that I could download to my phone. A lot of the music references will probably sail over the heads of most teens, unless they have a rare penchant for classic rock, and it would be so cool to get teens get hooked on the music that Lewis fell in love with.

The Source: Netgalley.com

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or any Queen LPs were provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

She can see emotions but she can’t feel them.

Cover artwork for Some Quiet Place

Title: Some Quiet Place

Author: Kelsey Sutton

Publisher & Release Date: Flux, July 2013

The Hook: Eye-catching cover art, a heroine who feels no emotion, and a stellar review from Kirkus, which listed it as one of the best teen novels of 2013.

The Lowdown (from author’s webpage): “Elizabeth Caldwell doesn’t feel emotions . . . she sees them. Longing, Shame, and Courage materialize around her classmates. Fury and Resentment appear in her dysfunctional home. They’ve all given up on Elizabeth because she doesn’t succumb to their touch. All, that is, save one—Fear. He’s intrigued by her, as desperate to understand the accident that changed Elizabeth’s life as she is herself.

“Elizabeth and Fear both sense that the key to her past is hidden in the dream paintings she hides in the family barn. But a shadowy menace has begun to stalk her, and try as she might, Elizabeth can barely avoid the brutality of her life long enough to uncover the truth about herself. When it matters most, will she be able to rely on Fear to save her?”

Overall Impressions:  An impressive debut! Sutton created a story that feels both dreamy and gritty – beautiful imagery of Emotions and Elements in human form, invisible to our eyes, an Other World twisted around being trapped in a small farming town in an abusive home. Elizabeth is a compelling character, and I became thoroughly wrapped up in the mystery of her and her quest to solve herself.

That said, I also have some qualms about the ways in which violence was used in this story. For example, in trying to make Elizabeth feel emotion, Fear puts in her scenarios that, if they took place on a TV show (and weren’t happening to the main character), it would be the teaser before the opening wherein some attractive nameless young woman dies horribly. But on the other hand, Fear is trying to make Elizabeth feel afraid and she always quickly realizes it’s him and not entirely real. It would be fascinating to have a conversation with the author about what she’s trying to say in these layers.

I remain wary of love triangles. I’m not sure if I can really say this book has one, because Elizabeth is kind of a non-participant, given her walled-off emotions, and Fear and Joshua can’t really interact. Either way, I respect the choices Elizabeth made.

The storyline about the dying friend was touching and I understood its purpose in the book, but it also felt the least … organic. I think that’s because while you see Elizabeth making the deliberate choice to interact with Joshua and in small ways with her family, Maggie and Elizabeth’s friendship dates back to when they were little girls and you don’t know why Elizabeth chose to keep interacting with Maggie.

Toward the end of the book one of the characters tells Elizabeth that people are drawn to her, yet the book shows her primarily as an outcast. She involves herself in very few people’s lives – everything is a pretend, she must always act the part of normal and her efforts to do so make many people uncomfortable, including her parents. They actually fear her.

The Highs: I really love the cover art – gorgeous and creepy. The story itself balanced dreamy and real and scary so well.

The mystery of Elizabeth and how it resolves, who she grows into in the course of the story. The gradual deepening of the Other World. That Elizabeth is the one who ultimately has to save herself.

Buzzkills: Everything’s handled really well, but this story does deal with a physically and verbally abusive father, nasty school bullying that turns vicious, and some very disturbing violence from the shadowy menace. The first real encounter with the SM happens right after the vicious bully attack and there were elements that made the power imbalance even more uncomfortable for me.

The Source: Ebook from awesome public library!

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a gorgeous ballgown that looks like leaves was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

What do you do when someone you’ve never met hates your guts?

Cover art for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Title: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Author: Meg Medina

Publisher & Release Date: Candlewick, March 2013

The Hook: I’ve been hearing awesome things about this book for months.

The Lowdown (from goodreads): “One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away?”

Overall Impressions:  Piddy is floundering when the novel opens – her best friend has moved away, her own mother decided they needed to get out their horrible apartment where the stairs crash, and she’s at a new school she hates with no real friends. She doesn’t need an enemy. She gets one anyway, and Yaqui is tough and implacable. Medina never lets us inside Yaqui’s head – in fact, the two girls hardly speak to each other at all – but she hints at the background that shaped her.

Piddy’s growing desperation to understand why Yaqui has targeted her leads her to try to make herself into Yaqui’s mold, to find an escape in a friend at the old apartment building who has family problems of his own, and to increasing tension with her mother. Piddy’s vulnerable and struggling and doesn’t know where to turn.

Medina doesn’t pull any punches, and the bullying is unrelenting and vicious. No one can offer a perfect solution. Piddy can’t get out by herself, but she is the one who has to decide the course of action.

The Highs: Lila, the family friend who’s effectively Piddy’s aunt. She has such a zest for life and is ferocious as a tiger!

Piddy and her mother have a realistic, prickly relationship. The forbidden subject of Piddy’s father, her mother’s desires for Piddy to have a proper life and Piddy’s own dreams for her future have led to understandable walls between them, not helped by Piddy’s desire to hide her school problems from her mother. The tension keeps ratcheting up between them until they’re finally honest with each other. And by being honest with Piddy, her mother also starts re-establishing community ties.

The various characters who realize that the solution for one person is not necessarily the correct solution for another. I know, vague, but I found that extremely satisfying and a sign of the characters maturing.

Medina’s description of the hair salon where Lila and Piddy work – I loved the buzz of the community hub, the ladies getting pampered, catching up (and commenting) on each others’ lives, and how they’re ready to stand with each other. It’s such a striking contrast to Yaqui and her gang of friends.

Buzzkills (possible triggers):  I am serious about Medina not pulling punches, and –  highlight to read the spoiler – there’s an ugly video that plays an important role in the story.

The Source: Public library ebook

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a glamorous makeover was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Read-a-like gift recommendations

read-alikes collage

Books are one of our favorite gifts to give or receive….. looking for that perfect “next read” for the book lover in your life? Check out these suggestions, and then hit your local bookstore with confidence.

“The Book Thief” is in theaters now – and remember, the book is always better than the movie, and Markus Zusak’s story about a foster girl growing up outside 1939 Munich is powerful and heart-wrenching. For another tale of amazing young women during wartime, head immediately to “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein. A spy being flown into Occupied France during World War II is captured after being shot down and interrogated by Nazis; she’s writing her confession, remembering and mourning her friend who was piloting the plane. Wein has also written a stunning companion novel, “Rose Under Fire,” telling of a female American pilot and poet captured and sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. A streetboy in Nazi-occupied Warsaw is fascinated by the soldiers with their shiny boots and tanks until, as someone small enough to sneak into the Jewish Ghetto, he realizes the implications of their presence in Jerry Spinelli’s “Milkweed.” For slightly younger readers, consider Jane Yolen’s “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” wherein a girl travels back in time to when her grandmother was in a concentration camp.

Two other authors making less-known parts of 20th century history come to vivid life are Patricia McCormick and Ruta Sepetys. Based on the true story of Cambodian advocate Arn Chorn-Pond, McCormick takes readers on a harrowing journey into the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s in “Never Fall Down.” Sepetys’ “Between Shades of Gray” immerses readers in a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl’s heart-breaking struggle to survive Soviet labor camps and Siberia following World War II. Sepetys’ second novel, “Out of the Easy,” captures a slice of American history – sweltering 1950s New Orleans, class, race, and Josie’s dream of escaping the box she feels locked into.

If you know a reader who likes unusual narrators or storytelling styles – check out Zusak’s earlier book, “I Am the Messenger,” which also received a Printz Honor. A slacker unintentionally foils a bank robbery and then starts getting mysterious instructions in the mail. Daniel Handler teamed up with Maira Kalman for “Why We Broke Up,” wherein a young woman relates the tale of how a relationship grew and ended through the various mementos she tucked away and now is returning to her former boyfriend.

I can almost guarantee that you know at least one person who’s in love with True Blood, even if you’re not yet aware of it. Beyond the reigning queens of teen vampire lit (you probably know who I’m talking about), there are some excellent reads out there to (ahem) slake their thirst. My personal favorite is “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” by Holly Black, for a story that treats vampires with that sort of simultaneous awe and disgust, with a strong-willed female protagonist who can hold her own against the truly nasty tricks of the undead (plus a little romance). “Shadows” by Robin McKinley is another book with that beautiful chemistry of rogue magic, dire peril, and unexpected romance. Gail Garriger’s latest, “Curtsies and Conspiracies”, is the second of a series set in a supernatural Victorian London starring young spy Sophronia; humor and hijinks interweave the mission to save humans and undead alike. Though a few years old now, “Bloodshot” and “Hellbent” by Cherie Priest star a vampire thief in Seattle with a motley crew of misfits, again a funny and action-packed choice.

And if you follow the ins and outs of Young Adult literature at all, you probably know that John Green is one of the hottest contemporary YA authors on the planet. The film adaptation of his amazing 2012 novel “The Fault in Our Stars” is on track to be one of the must-see films of 2014. If you’re shopping for a John Green fan, you can pretty well assume that they’ve read all of his books already, but you have the unique opportunity to introduce them to their next favorite author. May I suggest the inestimable Rainbow Rowell as a starting point? I’ve been calling her “the girl John Green” since I devoured her YA debut, “Eleanor and Park”, and the follow-up, “Fangirl” was equally appealing. She follows the John Green template of writing about teens who are intelligent, funny, troubled and complex, switching easily between gut-busting humor and absolutely devastating poignancy. Incidentally, Green himself is a fan of her writing, so there’s an even better recommendation than my own. Another delightful choice for the John Green reader on your list is “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks”, by E. Lockhart. I adored this story of an ugly-duckling-turned-swan who is determined to shift the power at her posh private school by pranking her way into an all-male secret society. Sharp, witty, and just a little bit zany, this is a sleeper that hasn’t gotten the attention that it deserves.  My last recommendation, slightly out of left field, is “Going Bovine”, by Libba Bray. This Printz Medal-winning novel is a bizarre retelling of Don Quixote, recounting the adventures of Cameron, a 16-year-old suffering a nasty case of mad cow disease. With the help of an angel, a dwarf and a yard gnome, he sets off on a wild road trip with the hope of finding a cure for what ails him. Again, the mixture of humor and poignancy, not to mention the madcap journey with its colorful cast of supporting characters, will charm your John Green fan.

And remember, books are always in season!

readalikes collage 2

Fangirl; or, Why I want Rainbow Rowell to be my BFF.

Title: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Publisher & Release Date: St. Martin’s Griffin, September 2013

The Hook: Everything Rainbow Rowell writes is gold.  Seriously, her grocery lists are probably magical.  She’s quickly becoming my favorite YA author; I’ve been calling her “the girl John Green” for awhile now.  Strong words, I know, but she’s just that great.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Cath doesn’t think she’s good at life – but she’s really good at being a fan.  She’s been writing fanfiction since she was twelve, and she’s gotten kind of famous in that world.  But college is another “story”.  She’s got a mean roommate (with a too-friendly boyfriend), her twin sister’s ignoring her, her dad’s a mess, her writing professor is pushing her too hard… She keeps having to rise to the occasion, but all she really wants to do is stay in her room and write.  Is Cath ready to live her own life, write her own stories, and open her heart to someone?  Or will she just go on living insider her fictional world?”

Overall Impressions:  Based on the description of this book, I went in with low expectations.  Sure, “Eleanor & Park” was amazing, but I wasn’t sure that the “awkward girl who writes fanfiction” storyline was going to work for me.  Silly me.  I should have known that in Rainbow Rowell’s capable hands, even the most banal plot could become something poignant, raw, and funny.  As with all of Rowell’s books, “Fangirl” is painful, exhilarating, and impossible to put down.

The Highs: I would say “everything”, but that would make this a short review, so I’ll elaborate:

I love Cath.  I expected to find her irritating (she writes homoerotic fanfiction about a Harry Potter-esque character, for Pete’s sake), but she was written with such honesty and depth that I couldn’t help but feel for her.  Her social anxiety and obsessive behaviors were incredibly realistic and heartbreakingly familiar.

Levi.  Oh, Levi.  He might just be my newest fictional boyfriend.  Kind, genuine, enthusiastic, flawed in the most endearing ways… and the way he calls Cath “Cather”?  I die.  Every time.

Regan, Cath’s hard-as-nails-with-a-heart-of-gold roommate (and also Levi’s BFF) is probably my favorite character in the book.  She’s the friend we should all have, the person who will give it to you straight in any situation and defend you to the death.  I adore her.

I also loved Cath’s dad, and his own struggles with mental imbalances.  Again, Rowell approaches mental illness with honesty and sensitivity, never caricaturing the behaviors but portraying characters holistically, with their mental quirks, however debilitating, being simply a part of the whole person.

Buzzkills:  For me, there wasn’t a whole lot not to like here.  The characters who were less than sympathetic (Cath’s twin Wren, a certain boy with whom Cath collaborates on a project) were believable and nuanced enough to make me forgive them their flaws (well, not the boy’s, but he doesn’t deserve my forgiveness, damn it).  There was also a scene with one of Cath’s professors that was absolutely mortifying to read, but again, this is how Rowell writes.   The agony is part of the ecstasy.

The Source: Advance Reading Copy from the publisher.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or invites to college parties were provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Out of the Woods

Title: If You Find Me If You Find me

Author:  Emily Murdoch

Publisher & Release Date: St. Martin’s Griffin, March 2013

The Hook: This has been flying off the shelf at my library, as well as getting some buzz around the teen lit community.

The Lowdown (from Amazon): “A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency – until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.”

Overall Impressions: Fans of “Where the Stars Still Shine” by Trish Doller and “The Rules of Survival” by Nancy Werlin, not to mention “A Child Called It”, will be in love with Carey’s story. To be honest, this is not my favorite kind of story, but Murdoch did a great job of sucking the reader in and not letting go.

The Highs: Nicely paced, flipping between camper/meth!Mom flashbacks and present-day adjusting with a hint of foreshadowing to carry the story.  The focus is (rightly) on the development of Carey’s relationships with family and friends, with just a touch of romance; given the backstory, it was nice to see her take that very cautiously. The ending was a twist for a couple of reasons – I think most readers will guess the main reveal, but there was a little extra that set a new lens over the previous story.

Buzzkills:  Scenes of rape and abuse are grim, although not overly graphic. Her mother’s diagnosis seemed a little thin to me – but I’m not well-versed in mental conditions, which it’s possible the author is counting on. Carey’s education is suspiciously deep in some areas and incredibly shallow in others – she can quote Bronte and tests out as a sophomore, but doesn’t know what a locker or a cell phone is.  (I suppose it’s possible none of the books she picked up were set in present-day.) Jenessa can read, but there’s a whole host of other skills that are prerequisites for joining first grade that she would never have developed. Also, some of Carey’s reactions were out of proportion to the issue – after everything her mother did, and much of it was truly horrible, getting her birthday wrong made Casey physically ill. And finally, her step-sister called a truce because of something pretty major… and that was the end of it, no consequences. An interesting choice.

The Source: public library

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or bedazzled jeans were provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

In the (Wuthering) Heights

Title: Catherine Catherine

Author: April Lindner

Publisher & Release Date: Poppy, Jan 2013

The Hook: Retellings of classics always intrigue me, and I enjoyed “Jane” which came out a few years ago.

The Lowdown: From Amazon: “…Seventeen-year-old Chelsea learns through a hidden letter that her mother did not die when she was three, but ran away to New York. Chelsea does the same to try to rediscover Catherine and see if she is still alive.”

Overall Impressions: Lindner sets up the classic story with a modern twist: in her search for her mother Catherine, Chelsea finds Hence (a version of Heathcliff) as the owner of her grandfather’s punk venue; her mother’s diary; and a cute musician that her father most likely won’t approve of. Between one major plot change and the layered story-telling, the story will still have some surprises for readers familiar with Wuthering Heights. (For those who haven’t read the original: it’s gloomy and tragic and probably uses the word “woe” at least twice.)

Chelsea herself is a determined sleuth, tracking down her mother’s history and friends and pestering Hence until more of the mystery is revealed. It’s like she’s unfinished, and knowing more about her mother will complete a part of her that she didn’t know was missing until she discovered the letter. Hence is grim, hard to like, and hostile toward any idea that Catherine might be alive – because her absence would mean a deeper rejection than mere death. You can see how his passion is captivating. Chelsea’s father is well-meaning in a vague and ineffectual way, concealing Catherine’s last letters to Chelsea and dropping his missing wife from their lives. Chelsea’s romantic interest, Cooper, is cute, though very secondary to Hence and Catherine’s story.

The Highs: The structure, which could have been contrived and awful and instead flowed very nicely between the past and present. The undercurrent of romance with Chelsea and Cooper; a nice touch but not a distraction from the central mystery. The believable tension between Hence, Catherine, and her brother Quentin, in a world with less class restrictions than Bronte’s time but still many sources of friction.

Buzzkills: There were a couple of scenes that dipped a toe briefly into the gothic, an obvious nod to the original – but a mismatch in tone, I thought. The story itself is rife with misunderstandings, passion, and anger, but it’s a very human (rather than supernatural) tragedy. (Disclaimer: I have never really studied Wuthering Heights, so I would be willing to be persuaded.)

This is a total side note, but the proper names between the retelling and the original gave me hives while trying to write this review – I had to work to keep Lindner/Linton/Quentin/Hareton/Hindley/Hence straight.

The Source: My public library

Disclaimer: No chocolate or punk LPs were provided by the publisher for this review.

You can’t outrun death. But you can face life.

Chasing_full_jacket

Title: Chasing Shadows

Author: Swati Avasthi, Craig Phillips (illustrator)

Publisher & Release Date: Random House, September 2013

The Hook: Sophomore novel from the author who wrote the incredible Split.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Chasing Shadows is a searing look at the impact of one random act of violence.

“Before: Corey, Holly, and Savitri are one unit—fast, strong, inseparable. Together they turn Chicago concrete and asphalt into a freerunner’s jungle gym, ricocheting off walls, scaling buildings, leaping from rooftop to rooftop.

“But acting like a superhero doesn’t make you bulletproof…

“After: Holly and Savitri are coming unglued. Holly says she’s chasing Corey’s killer, chasing revenge. Savitri fears Holly’s just running wild—and leaving her behind. Friends should stand by each other in times of crisis. But can you hold on too tight? Too long?”

Overall Impressions:  Ms. Avasthi’s new novel is just as intense as her first and just as complicated in the personal relationships, how they empower us and how they tear us apart. Mr. Phillips’ graphic novel pages equal her intensity, driving the story forward.

Corey, Holly and Savitri have been best friends for years. The story opens with them racing across rooftops and a moment when one of them could have fallen. But she doesn’t fall – they all safety return to their cars. And as Holly and Corey sit in their Mini for a moment, it happens. A gunman approaches, fires, fires again. Corey and Holly are both hit. When Savitri unfreezes, she manages to call 911, tries frantically to stop Corey’s bleeding, to get them to respond. Holly requires surgery and lies in a medically induced coma for days while she travels with her brother, led by a creature called Kortha, into the Shadowlands, until Savitri’s voice calls her back.

Everyone’s dealing with grief in their own ways – Corey and Holly’s mother and father, Savitri’s mother, classmates and former friends. Some get caught up in trying to find the killer, some in trying to hold onto Corey.

Holly and Savitri are twisted up in loss and guilt – Holly as a survivor and Savitri as a witness. Savitri’s also tied herself in knots because just before Corey was killed, she told him she’d gotten early acceptance at Princeton and she’d always told herself that if she left for collage, she would end the relationship. And now Savitri can’t bring herself to leave Holly behind, and Holly can’t let go of Corey, falling into the stories of superheroes created through pain and her visions of Corey and Kortha. How long do you hold on?

Ms. Avasthi does an amazing job of balancing all the characters, of weaving past and present, of taking the reader through grief, fear, anger and mental illness, bringing all the pieces together. I am struck by the story’s imagery, the police as the city’s biggest gang, the freerunners on roofs, the nooses Holly sees on “deliveries” to Kortha. She and Mr. Phillips have created an amazing, powerful story.

The Highs: The power of Phillips’ illustrations for the Shadowlands. Wow.

The balance of Savitri, Holly and Corey’s relationships with each other Before. They were a trio of friends first. Holly encouraged Savitri and Corey’s romantic relationship but Corey also recognized when he needed to step back to Holly and Savitri’s friendship.

The full, complicated portrayal of the parents and their struggles to help their children.

That Corey’s flaws are addressed as well as his good qualities – he’s not canonized in his death.

The jacket – Holly on the cover, Savitri on the back.

The discussions of loyalty and what it means.

Buzzkills: More of a format issues, but some of the text in the illustrated sections was a little hard to read on my non-color e-reader screen.

And a minor detail gripe – when Holly’s thinking through various comic book heroes and heroines and the role pain has played in their journeys, she references “Jane Grey and the Phoenix,” rather than Jean, which threw me out of the story for a moment. I’m guessing someone’s more of a DC fan than Marvel?

The Source: Bought the e-book.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or a trip to Chicago was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.