Review: The Dead Inside: A True Story by Cyndy Etler

Review: The Dead Inside: A True Story by Cyndy Etler
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books
Publication: April 4, 2017 by Sourcebooks
Book Description:

For readers of Girl Interrupted and Tweak, Cyndy Etler’s gripping memoir gives readers a glimpse into the harrowing reality of her sixteen months in the notorious tough love program the ACLU called “a concentration camp for throwaway kids.”

I never was a badass. Or a slut, a junkie, a stoner, like they told me I was. I was just a kid looking for something good, something that felt like love. I was a wannabe in a Levi’s jean jacket. Anybody could see that. Except my mother. And the professionals at Straight. From the outside, Straight Inc. was a drug rehab. But on the inside it was… well, it was something else.

All Cyndy wanted was to be loved and accepted. By age fourteen, she had escaped from her violent home, only to be reported as a runaway and sent to a “drug rehabilitation” facility that changed her world. To the public, Straight Inc. was a place of recovery. But behind closed doors, the program used bizarre and intimidating methods to “treat” its patients. In her raw and fearless memoir, Cyndy Etler recounts her sixteen months in the living nightmare that Straight Inc. considered “healing.”

As I read the harrowing true story of Cyndy Etler‘s time in the Straight Inc. program, I felt as I had when I read Garrard Conley’s brilliant memoir Boy Erased: floored, aghast, enraged. A memoir of Cyndy Etler’s time in the “rehabilitation” centre for “wayward” and “druggy” youths, The Dead Inside is an incredibly detailed, eye-opening, disturbing read that brings to light a very troubling so-called recovery program that existed only decades ago in North America (…and one that perhaps not many know about).

The Dead Inside is an emotional, bleak read- and a very important one at that. Not only is the memoir insightful about one particular kind of ‘treatment’ program that was tested on youth, but it is also read that stirs thoughts regarding opportunity (and limits to) for forgotten or hidden youth; parental abuse; as well the dangers inherent in labeling teens as ‘bad’ kids. Many intense subjects are openly approached in this title: sexual abuse, verbal abuse, psychological and physical trauma for a start. Etler does not broach any subject matter in a benevolent, timid fashion- and The Dead Inside makes all the more impact for it. Etler’s memoir is one read that I feel needs to be experienced for the full impact; I fear that I cannot do justice to aptly describing or condensing the dark and compelling nature of this memoir.

A little side story here before wrapping up my thoughts: while in the middle of this read, I actually stopped to tweet about my reading experience (so many thoughts and emotions were running through my head) and Cyndy Etler herself (unexpectedly and so sweetly!) responded back…which is all kinds of incredible. Any readers who appreciate darker, no holds-barred memoirs, or the writing of authors such as Ellen Hopkins or Patricia McCormick might especially take to this read. Interested readers: take note that a follow-up to The Dead Inside called We Can’t Be Friends, detailing Cyndy’s recovery and life after leaving Straight Inc. is due out in the fall of 2017.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (64): YA from Vicki Grant, Alice Kuipers, Susan Juby & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: all young adult! There are new YA titles coming out from always-read Canadian authors (and personal favourites) Susan Juby and Alice Kuipers; Canadian author Vicki Grant has a fantastic-sounding contemporary YA called Short for Chameleon that has been recently released; Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue– which is getting rave reviews- is coming out in June; and last, but not least, two new-to-me authors, Mary O’Connell and Karen McManus, have very intriguingly described titles coming out soon. Let’s take a closer look!

 

Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant
Publication: March 7, 2017 by HarperTrophy

Embarrassed by your brother? Estranged from your uncle? Then you might need some help from Almost Family Surrogate Agency. Cam Redden and his dad are rent-a-relatives, available for hire to anyone looking to upgrade.

Cam’s job is all about being whoever other people want him to be. Then two new clients come along. Albertina is an old lady with a big mouth, a bigger wig and a serious mission. Raylene is a beautiful girl with a nose ring, a wonky eye and a painful secret. Now to get to the bottom of the tragic mysteries that fuel them both, Cam may finally have to be himself.

 

Me and Me by Alice Kuipers
Expected publication: April 11, 2017 by HarperTrophy

It’s Lark’s seventeenth birthday, and although she’s hated to be reminded of the day ever since her mom’s death three years ago, it’s off to a great start. Lark has written a killer song to perform with her band, the weather is stunning and she’s got a date with gorgeous Alec. The two take a canoe out on the lake, and everything is perfect—until Lark hears the screams. Annabelle, a little girl she used to babysit, is drowning in the nearby reeds while Annabelle’s mom tries desperately to reach her. Lark and Alec are closer, and they both dive in. But Alec hits his head on a rock in the water and begins to flail.

Alec and Annabelle are drowning. And Lark can save only one of them.

Lark chooses, and in that moment her world splits into two distinct lives. She must live with the consequences of both choices. As Lark finds herself going down more than one path, she has to decide: Which life is the right one?

 

Dear Reader by Mary O’Connell
Expected publication: May 9, 2017 by Flatiron Books

For seventeen-year-old Flannery Fields, the only respite from the plaid-skirted mean girls at Sacred Heart High School at is her beloved teacher Miss Sweeney’s AP English class. But when Miss Sweeney doesn’t show up to teach Flannery’s favorite book, Wuthering Heights, leaving behind her purse, Flannery knows something is wrong.The police are called, and Flannery gives them everything—except Miss Sweeney’s copy of Wuthering Heights. This she holds onto. And good thing she does, because when she opens it, it has somehow transformed into Miss Sweeney’s real-time diary. It seems Miss Sweeney is in New York City—and she’s in trouble.

So Flannery does something very unFlannery-like: she skips school and sets out for Manhattan, with the book as her guide. But as soon as she arrives, she meets a boy named Heath. Heath is British, on a gap year, incredibly smart—yet he’s never heard of Albert Einstein or Anne Frank. In fact, Flannery can’t help thinking that he seems to have stepped from the pages of Brontë’s novel. Could it be?

With inimitable wit and heart, Mary O’Connell has crafted a love letter to reading, to the books that make us who we are. Dear Reader, charming and heartbreaking, is a novel about finding your people, on the page in the world.

 

The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby
Expected publication: May 23, 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Charlie Dean is a style-obsessed girl who eats, sleeps, and breathes fashion. John Thomas-Smith is a boy who forges metal sculptures in his garage and couldn’t care less about clothes. Both are gunning for a scholarship to the private art high school that could make all their dreams come true. Whoever wins the fashion competition will win the scholarship–and only one can win.

Told in the alternating voices of Charlie’s and John’s journals, this hilarious and poignant YA novel perfectly captures what it’s like to have an artistic drive so fierce that nothing–not your dad’s girlfriend’s drug-addicted ex-boyfriend, a soul-crushing job at Salad Stop, or being charged with a teensy bit of kidnapping–can stand in your way.

With black and white art custom-created by fashion and beauty illustrator Soleil Ignacio, the book is a collector’s item, perfect for anyone with a passion for fashion.

 

One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus
Expected publication: May 30, 2017 by Delacorte Press

The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.
Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.
Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose? Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Expected publication: June 27, 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books

An unforgettable tale of two friends on their Grand Tour of 18th-century Europe who stumble upon a magical artifact that leads them from Paris to Venice in a dangerous manhunt, fighting pirates, highwaymen, and their feelings for each other along the way.

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men. But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy. Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Witty, romantic, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a sumptuous romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.

Must Read Monday (60): YA from Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, Paula Stokes, Simon Mason & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week is all about young adult fiction! Even whittled down, there are piles of tremendous-sounding YA titles on my TBR list! Here is a selection of eight: some have been waiting a while (I am sorry, dear books), others are new and forthcoming, some from authors I adore, and some I have read rave reviews for:

 

25733927The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Publication: February 23, 2016 by Wendy Lamb Books
Book Description:

Alaska: Growing up here isn’t like growing up anywhere else.

Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck suddenly comes her way. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This is a book about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed.

 

26156199Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes
Publication: May 17, 2016 by HarperTeen
Book Description:

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the roller coaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away may be harder than she thought.

 

28691938Running Girl (The Garvie Smith Mysteries #1) by Simon Mason
Publication: August 30, 2016 by David Fickling Books (first published 2014)
Book Description:

Meet Garvie Smith. Highest IQ ever recorded at Marsh Academy. Lowest ever grades. What’s the point? Life sucks. Nothing surprising ever happens. Until Chloe Dow’s body is pulled from a pond. Garvie’s ex-girlfriend.

Inspector Singh is already on the case. Ambitious, uptight, methodical, he’s determined to solve the mystery–and get promoted. He doesn’t need any “assistance” from a notorious slacker. Or does he?

Smart, stylish, and packed with twists and turns from start to finish, Running Girl introduces an unforgettable new character to the world of crime fiction–so lazy he’d only get out of bed for murder.

 

27414423Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig
Publication: October 4, 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
Book Description:

Flynn’s girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own?

Flynn’s girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can’t answer, and her friends are telling stories that don’t add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January’s boyfriend, he must know something.

But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January’s disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself.

 

28954189Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1) by Neal Shusterman
Publication: November 22, 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Book Descsription:

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

 

32075671The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Publication: February 28, 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Book Description:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.

 

23447923The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Expected publication: March 7, 2017 by Clarion Books
Book Description:

From the multi-award-winning author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe comes a gorgeous new story about love, identity, and families lost and found.

Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican-American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it’s senior year, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

This humor-infused, warmly humane look at universal questions of belonging is a triumph.

 

30653853The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Expected publication: April 11, 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Book Description:

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

Right?

 

Blog Tour Stop: Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli

Welcome to one of the stops (the last one!) on the Raincoast Books blog tour for David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli’s graphic novel Fish Girl! Please read on for my thoughts as well as a look inside the book…

9780547483931Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: March 7, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Description:

Triple Caldecott winner David Wiesner brings his rich visual imagination and trademark artistry to the graphic novel format in a unique coming-of-age tale that begins underwater. A young mermaid, called Fish Girl, in a boardwalk aquarium has a chance encounter with an ordinary girl. Their growing friendship inspires Fish Girl’s longing for freedom, independence, and a life beyond the aquarium tank. Sparkling with humor and brilliantly visualized, Fish Girl’s story will resonate with every young person facing the challenges and rewards of growing up.

In Fish Girl, the new graphic novel from David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli, readers are taken into the world of a young mermaid who is kept as a star attraction- and money-making draw- by her keeper, Neptune. Kirkus Reviews has described Fish Girl as a ‘riveting…adaptation’ of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Little Mermaid- and what an on-point, perfect statement that is! Fish Girl is absolutely its own weighty, serious and intense story, but its ties to the Anderson fairy tale are fascinating.

Fish Girl lives her life in an aquatic exhibition run by a man called Neptune. Neptune, as we learn, was a fisherman who apparently took Fish Girl (along with a myriad of other sea life) from the ocean from the time she was a baby. Keeping Fish Girl in a boardwalk exhibition to make money off of teasing exhibition go-ers with the possibility of the existence of a ‘real, live’ mermaid, Neptune is the keeper of Fish Girl. Aside from her magnificent octopus friend and other sea creatures, Fish Girl only has Neptune…until a young girl visiting the exhibition takes genuine interest and care in getting to know Fish Girl. As Fish Girl gets to know the girl, Livia, she begins to question and investigate Neptune, her claustrophobic life as an exhibition, and how she might escape from her caged life and start a new life on land. Layered and complex, Fish Girl is a more serious, contemplative read with darker undercurrents. Neptune in particular, is an uncomfortable character; he mistreats Fish Girl and baits her with promises of stories about her mermaid family if she behaves and performs well. Fish Girl herself becomes a heroine to root for; readers will likely be captivated (and hopeful) as she attempts to thwart Neptune and escape from what has become- and has likely always been- her oceanic prison.

Overall, Fish Girl is an excellent, potent story. David Wiesner’s work is always distinct and impressive; readers who have experienced his wordless and award-winning picture book Flotsam will see once again how majestically he draws sea creatures. The combination of Donna Jo Napoli- an author seasoned in stories based on myth, legends and fairy tales- and Wiesner works wonderfully to bring the singular experience of Fish Girl. A sophisticated and layered story- at times, intense and taut, with sinister undercurrents- Fish Girl works as a graphic novel with definite crossover appeal for older children and teens. Readers who have enjoyed children’s or YA graphic novels with more mature subject matter, along the lines of Sunny Side Up, Matt Phelan’s Bluffton or Snow White, anything from Gene Luen Yang, David Petersen or Kazu Kibuishi, might especially appreciate Fish Girl.

fishgirl_p70

Excerpt from Fish Girl, courtesy of Raincoast Books

Interested in reading more reviews and thoughts about Fish Girl? You can check out the other great blogs participating in the tour:

fish-girl-blog-tour-postcard

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments are my own.

Coming up: Blog Tour for Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli!

Next week, I am participating in the Raincoast Books organized tour for Fish Girl, a graphic novel by multiple Caldecott winner David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli! I am delighted to be taking part as I am a huge fan of David Wiesner’s illustrative work (Sector 7, Flotsam, Mr. Wuffles) and Donna Jo Napoli’s work (Zel, Sirena, and many more!). Take a look below to check out the terrific lineup of bloggers; the tour stops here on Friday, March 3.

Look forward to the Fish Girl tour coming up as well as some new reviews!

fish-girl-blog-tour-postcard

 

Review: The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend

dcover-584Review: The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: March 7, 2017 by Farrar Straus & Giroux

Book Description:

Hollis Darby-Barnes has never met her father, but she hates him.  For making her feel like a lab experiment, a half-person, a freak.  Sometimes she fantasizes about tracking the guy down, setting up a time and a place to meet, and then—right after she says, “Hi, I’m Hollis”—slapping him across the face.

Milo Robinson-Clark has never met his father, but he wants to.  He’s memorized the profile: Height (six feet).  Eyes (hazel).  Hair (dark, thick, and curly).  Does he need to cut it every four weeks to avoid looking like a mushroom?  Does he also have dark, thick eyebrows?  What about body hair?  These are the things Milo wonders about.

When Hollis and Milo met on a seesaw in Brooklyn a gazillion years ago, in some weird sperm donor/lesbian mom reunion, neither of them thought twice.  But when they reconnect as teenagers to find the man who gave them life, everything changes.  Only together can Hollis and Milo discover that family—in all of its weird, messy, freakish permutations—is the only thing that really matters.

Natasha Friend is an author whose work I have been reading and enjoying since I first picked up her YA novel, My Life in Black and White. Her recent middle grade novel, Where You’ll Find Me, is a terrific read and made my Best of 2016 Children’s Fiction list. In her latest contemporary YA novel, The Other F-Word, Friend takes on family– the other f-word- and all of its complicated, thorny, wonderful, heartbreaking and awesome parts.

The novel follows two protagonists (in alternating third-person narratives) through the course of the story: fifteen year old Milo and fourteen year old Hollis. Milo and Hollis met years before as children, when their respective moms connected via a sperm donors group. Now teenagers, Milo and Hollis are essentially strangers and have not been in touch since that fuzzy childhood meeting. The only connection they currently share is DNA: they have the same sperm donor as their biological father. Milo attempts to reconnect with Hollis due to medical reasons and his own frustrations of having to live such a protected, restricted and careful life: from childhood, he has been suffering from severe (some near-fatal) allergic reactions, and his doctor floats the possibility of learning more about his half-sibling’s health history and his biological father’s as a way to do more progressive/advanced allergy testing and trials on Milo.

The opening chapters  of The Other F-Word are a wee bumpy in parts, but do give it time to settle in as once it finds and gets into its quick, witty and heartfelt rhythm, it is a winner. As noted, the early few chapters of the novel come across as a little hasty: the voices of both Milo and Hollis seem a but rushed, Hollis reads as much older than fourteen, and the medical reason for Milo reconnecting with Hollis arguably feels a wee tenuous. However, as Hollis and Milo begin their first steps in messaging, emailing and talking, and sharing their lives, the story takes on tremendous meaning. With great thoughtfulness, Friend takes on subjects such as: same-sex marriages and partnerships; rights (and lack thereof) afforded to same-sex couples; and what connotations and emotional weight (and pain) terms such ‘biologically related’ or ‘non-biologically related’ can bring to families. Once Milo and Hollis find their half-sibling circle is even larger and possibly stranger than previously thought, their intertwined story opens up even more, leading up to an incredible reunion of family.  As the roster of characters grow, Friend does a wonderful job in keeping the increasingly engaging and bustling story moving along smoothly. In tandem, Friend ably keeps Milo and Hollis’s distinct voices and senses of humour running well, and the expanding role of Milo’s best friend JJ is a superb addition to the story.

Overall, The Other F-Word is a well-written, surprising and insightful contemporary YA story. While a funny read with laugh out loud moments of wackiness and sweetness, Friend also meaningfully writes about significant contemporaneous issues as related to family, and pulls off some emotional moments that are tender and so lovely. Already picking up steam with starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist, I do hope The Other F-Word gets read and enjoyed by a wide and appreciative audience. Readers who enjoy YA lit by authors ranging from Hilary T. Smith to Susin Nielsen or from Julie Halpern to Lindsey Leavitt, or those who like any unique YA that tackles real-life, family-centred issues with a great dose of humour and compassion, might especially adore The Other F-Word.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

9781770497825Review: Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
Source: ARC courtesy of Susin Nielsen and Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Expected publication: February 21, 2017 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Petula’s funny, and a crafting genius, but no social star at high school, and it doesn’t help that she’s isolated herself after her adored toddler sister died. Petula feels responsible for this death, though her parents say it was a tragic accident. No one’s fault. Now, Petula sees danger everywhere: every activity and every bite of food could kill you. Then a new boy, Jacob, joins Petula’s group in the school’s lame art therapy program; he has a prosthetic arm and darkness behind his sunny surface. Petula and Jacob become friends, then, something more. But a secret behind why he’s in the group could derail them.

A heartbreaking yet humorous first YA from award-winning author Susin Nielsen, Optimists Die First continues Susin’s tradition of creating memorable characters and genre-bending narratives.

Governor General Award winning author Susin Nielsen has written some of my favourite children’s titles: Word Nerd, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom, We Are All Made of Molecules, and last, but absolutely not least, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen. Nielsen’s novels are ones I recommend time and again to kids (and their caregivers) in my work as a children’s librarian, and I have also often mentioned Nielsen’s work in top ten lit lists. So, needless to say, as soon as I saw/read/heard about a new book from the author- a young adult debut, no less- I was there. And I have been an extremely lucky reader indeed to have had the opportunity to read Nielsen’s already multi-starred (!) YA debut Optimists Die First.

In Optimists Die First, we follow the first-person narrative of Petula De Wilde. Petula is, as other protagonists of Nielsen’s novels, imminently likable, wonderful and slightly (or intensely) hurt in some way. Whether working through or surviving family tragedy, loss, life-change…Nielsen’s characters might be some of the most tenacious, stubborn, lovely, and brave kids or teens you will meet. Here, we have Petula: shaken to her core, reshaped since a horrifying and fatal accident forever altered her and her family. Now constantly fearful, experiencing debilitating panic and anxiety, and exhibiting compulsive behavior, Petula is forced to attend an art therapy group for emotional troubled kids as well as talks with her watery-eyed but exceedingly patient and kind principal. Through circuitous circumstances, a new student at her school- who Petula has nicknamed Bionic Man- Jacob, joins her art therapy program and takes an interest in getting to know her.

Jacob, as we learn, is also suffering- and more intensely than Petula realizes. He and Petula are both dealing with tremendous scars of aftermath, regret and guilt; but once their tentative connection in and out of art therapy begins, it grows into something tangible. Nielsen writess Petula and Jacob’s relationship as such a beautifully aching, fluttery, strange and hazy-happy first-love; it sincere, genuine, and unforced, and something that clicks naturally and necessarily (as we see) with the arc of each character’s story. Lest you wonder whether Nielsen has taken the route of ‘troubled teens meet, fall in love and quickly heal’ (which can be grating and oft-abundant in YA…), I can assure you that it is not the case. The author works Petula and Jacob’s relationship from the very beginning as something that occurs within and among the chaos of their internal voices and immediate surroundings, which means that while Petula’s psychological traumas about her family and school life might ebb and flow, they simply do not heal due to first-love (Jacob does not magically heal, either). I do not want to give away too much more of the story’s intricacies here, as I hope for readers to get to experience it for themselves…but I will say that Optimists Die First offers some terrifically surprising and wonderfully weird moments à la Breakfast Club, intense heartache and rawness (think Judy Blume), as well as loveliness mixed with hope and possibility- all in Nielsen’s incredible style.

Overall, Optimists Die First is a gorgeously written, funny and heart-rending read. As with Henry K. Larsen, my reading experience with Optimists Die First was one ranging from belly laughter to tears and everything in-between. Nielsen takes a sensitive and thoughtful approach to covering serious, raw subject matters in all of her novels and that consideration always comes forth in her writing- this novel is another great example of that. I cannot recommend Nielsen’s novels enough, and would highly encourage readers new to Nielsen to check her books out. I loved meeting and spending time with Petula, her family, and Jacob, and I hope you get the chance to as well.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of the author and publisher. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (57): YA from Nina LaCour, Robin Roe & Katie Kennedy

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: new and upcoming young adult fiction titles on my radar! Since reading Nina LaCour‘s Hold Still and absolutely loving it, the author has been on my must-read- and I have adored all of her books. I’m eagerly anticipating We Are Okay; it has been receiving some terrific reviews from review journals as well! Next up is A List of Cages by Robin Roe– another YA title that’s been receiving some incredible praise from journals and love from YA book bloggers I follow. Last but not least is Katie Kennedy‘s Learning to Swear in America– a title that came up as a recommended read on Goodreads, if I recall, and immediately hooked me with its great, stand-out description. All three look like stellar YA reads!

 

28243032We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
Expected publication: February 14, 2017 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

“You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.”

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

 

25613472A List of Cages by Robin Roe
Publication: January 10, 2017 by Disney-Hyperion
Book Description:

When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian—the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.

Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kindhearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives…

 

23018259Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy
Publication: July 5, 2016 by Bloomsbury
Book Description:

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize–if there’s ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri’s 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he’s not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.

Review: If This Is Home by Kristine Scarrow

9781459736504Review: If This Is Home by Kristine Scarrow
Source: ARC courtesy of Dundurn Press. Thank you!
Canadian Publication: January 28, 2017 by Dundurn Press
Book Description:

When her mom is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jayce searches for her estranged father, hoping he can fix everything.

Jayce Loewen has had to take on a lot of responsibility over the years. Her single mom works two jobs and long hours, leaving Jayce in charge of her four-year-old sister most of the time. When her mom is diagnosed with cancer, Jayce decides to track down her long-absent father in the hope that he will be able to make everything okay again.

Looking for her dad was one thing, but when she actually finds him, Jayce is in for a real shock. When everything in her life seems to be going wrong, Jayce has to figure out who her family really is, and how to live with the possibility of losing the person she loves most.

Canadian author Kristine Scarrow’s sophomore young adult novel, If This Is Home, is a contemporary story covering everything from terminal illness, complex teen friendships, sibling love and difficult family history. Taking place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Scarrow’s compact novel embraces much of what I personally love about Canadian YA: the overwhelmingly fluid, uncluttered, quiet yet potent writing; rooted protagonists and secondary characters that read as genuine and free of veneer; and the presentation of unidealized concepts of teenagers and ‘the teenage years’.

In If This Is Home, we follow the first-person narrative of sixteen year old Jayce Loewen- known as J.J.- as she and her four year-old sister Joelle deal with beyond devastating news: their mother is sick with lung cancer. A tight-knit family of three, with a long-absent father and long-estranged grandparents, J.J.’s mom has been her everything. When a doctor gently states an unspeakable prognosis, J.J. is overwhelmed but determined that she and Joelle stay strong and stay together. In the midst of high school chaos with her less-than-considerate best friend, and worried about what might happen if they lose the only parent they’ve ever known and had, J.J. goes in search of her father. With the help of a boy she meets in detention, a teen named Kurt, J.J.’s life begins a complicated roller coaster of major revelations and disappointments.

In a plot move I really appreciate, Scarrow grows the relationship between J.J. and Kurt as platonic and heartfelt. Perhaps due to the more serious nature of the crux of the story- that of J.J.’s intense love and protectiveness for her sister and mom and the threat of it being torn apart- Scarrow decided to keep that story element more neutral. Arguably a more unconventional route to take in a teen novel, yet one that works so well here with the direction the story takes. Scarrow also writes and develops the relationship between J.J. and her mom and sister, and- later- another family member very well. I would have appreciated more by way of introduction and background to J.J. herself, Kurt (I feel he was introduced and then suddenly so involved with the family), and more about the Loewen’s family history. Certain aspects of the story came across as rushed or a little surprising, or in need of elucidation: as a whole, If This Is Home is absolutely moving and interesting, but I feel as though more detail would have been of benefit to add even further richness and depth to the story.

Overall, If This Is Home is a moving read, deftly written, propelled by a solid, well-written protagonist. As noted above, I would have liked more exposition about Kurt, as well as background exploration into J.J.’s mom and grandmother to add more foundation to the story, but in all, I truly enjoyed this read. Readers who enjoy contemporary Canadian YA lit, or readers who enjoy authors such as Susin Nielsen, Robin Stevenson or Sarah N. Harvey (all write so beautifully on family and serious subject matters), might especially appreciate this lovely book. Scarrow has published one YA title prior to If This Is Home called Throwaway Girl; it is one title I’ve seen in local bookshops and am now inspired to pick up.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Dundurn Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Blog Tour Stop: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti!

lizzielovett9781492636083Welcome to one of the stops on the Raincoast Books blog tour for Chelsea Sedoti’s contemporary YA debut, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett!

Read on for my thoughts on the book as well as a special Q & A with Chelsea!

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: January 3, 2017 by Sourcebooks
Book Description:

Hawthorn wasn’t trying to insert herself into a missing person’s investigation. Or maybe she was. But that’s only because Lizzie Lovett’s disappearance is the one fascinating mystery their sleepy town has ever had. Bad things don’t happen to popular girls like Lizzie Lovett, and Hawthorn is convinced she’ll turn up at any moment-which means the time for speculation is now.

So Hawthorn comes up with her own theory for Lizzie’s disappearance. A theory way too absurd to take seriously… at first. The more Hawthorn talks, the more she believes. And what better way to collect evidence than to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life? Like getting a job at the diner where Lizzie worked and hanging out with Lizzie’s boyfriend. After all, it’s not as if he killed her-or did he?

Told with a unique voice that is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, Hawthorn’s quest for proof may uncover the greatest truth is within herself.

My relationship, if you will, to young adult novels- and contemporary YA especially- has been on a bit of a bumpy journey over the last five years or so. At one point in my life, it was a genre that I read almost exclusively- then drastically dropped to a minimal amount when I felt as though tropes and themes had been too often retread. Nowadays, my reading of YA titles is…careful…cautious…sometimes apprehensive. Thanks to authors such as Jeff Zentner, Kathryn Ormsbee, Lisa Moore, Jane Ozkowski, and J.M. Kelly as of late though, I’ve found much to love and look forward to in YA. Chelsea Sedoti is, I am happy to say, another new YA author that I can add to that refreshing roster.

In The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, we follow the sometimes meandering, unexpected and unusual first-person narrative of teenager Hawthorn Creely. At the centre of the story is Hawthorn’s fixation with the disappearance of a former high school classmate of her brother’s- the supposedly perfect Lizzie Lovett. To Hawthorn, Lizzie is many things. Perhaps too many things. The girl she remembers as always gorgeous, always popular, forever having other girls look up to her and forever having guys want to be with her. The older, amazing girl who let Hawthorn down years before. When Hawthorn learns that Lizzie has disappeared during the course of a camping trip- possibly murdered by her boyfriend, possibly run away, possibly killed by wild animals in the woods- she gets drawn in further and further into conducting her own investigation…and offering her arguably bizarre, mythical theory as to what happened to Lizzie. As she learns that the Lizzie Lovett she remembers, obsessed over and sometimes (or often) hated was not quite who she thought, Hawthorn becomes even more strangely enmeshed with Lizzie Lovett as she befriends Lizzie’s boyfriend- possible murder suspect- Enzo Calvetti.

Sedoti has, in Hawthorn, created quite an interesting young protagonist and narrator- one of those utterly compelling and exasperating, highly introspective yet oblivious teen characters that I have a tendency to appreciate. Readers may fall in love with Hawthorn, they may like her a lot or a little bit- they could even grow very frustrated with Hawthorn, especially as her friendship with Enzo heaves some major ups, major downs and moments of WHY. However you find Hawthorn, though, her voice is so terrifically imperfect and odd that you might find yourself quite hooked. I especially appreciate how Chelsea writes Hawthorn’s voice as the story leads to the discovery of what actually happened to Lizzie Lovett (we do indeed find out), the fallout from discovery, the manner(s) in which Hawthorn reacts and how the strange trajectory of Lizzie, Enzo and Hawthorn culminates before the close of the story.

Overall, a solid, thoughtful and offbeat read with genuinely felt moments of insight. Readers who have previously enjoyed the work of YA authors such as Jasmine Warga, Julie Halpern, Jessica Martinez or Leila Sales and enjoy contemporary teen reads featuring a stand-out and unusual voice might do very well to check out The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett.

Question Time with Chelsea Sedoti

Bloggers participating in The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett tour had, thanks to the awesomeness of Chelsea and Raincoast Books, the opportunity to ask one question of the author. I had a few brewing here and there but tried to narrow it down to one bigger question that kept percolating as I read the story…

Q: The idea of a ‘Lizzie Lovett’- that person that we think or assume is perfect, is adored, has an easy life, and thus someone we envy deep down- is something that I think most all of us can relate to. Did you have a Lizzie Lovett in your life growing up– and did your relationship to or understanding of that person ever change in surprising ways as you got older?

A:I have this bad habit where I compare myself to other people, then decide I don’t measure up.

The result: I haven’t had one Lizzie Lovett. I’ve had a million of them.

For example, my cousins. It’s an unlucky fact of my life that I’ve grown up with cousins who are basically superhuman. They’re smart. They’re attractive. They’re athletic which, in my sports-obsessed family, is maybe the biggest deal of all. (I should note that I was the kid who got picked last for teams and spent most of PE hiding.)

My cousins are easy-going. In school, they were popular—or at least generally well-liked. They were outgoing, unlike shy, quiet me. They weren’t “weird.” They weren’t “nerds.”

Eventually these cousins grew up and went to college where they quickly and successfully got degrees without bouncing between majors and wondering “But what do I really want to do with my life?” They got great jobs. They married people as awesome as them. They had beautiful kids.

It’s safe to say, I grew up feeling inferior. Constantly. That’s what happens when your family is perfect.

Except my cousins aren’t perfect, not really. I listed their successes, but didn’t bother mentioning their personal struggles. I cut out all the bad stuff that’s happened to them and made generalizations about their lives.

Recently one of these cousins commented to me that it’s amazing I’m getting a book published. That I actually accomplished what I always said I wanted to. That I get to spend my life doing what I’m passionate about.

And yeah, that is amazing.

It drives home the fact that you can spend your whole life envying another person, and never realize that maybe that person envies you too.

It’s hard to keep that in mind sometimes. But I try to remind myself that there’s always more going on with a person than what you see publicly. Even the people who are the most talented, the most beautiful, and the most successful, have struggles and flaws and times of deep unhappiness.

No one is perfect. And sometimes it’s our imperfections that make us the most fascinating.

Thank you so much for your time, Chelsea! It has been a pleasure, and so fascinating and interesting reading your thoughtful answer.

Interested in reading more Q&A’s with Chelsea and more on Lizzie Lovett? You can check out the other great blogs participating in the tour:

lizzie-lovett-blog-evite

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments are my own.