The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes

Book: The Princesses of Iowa
Author: M. Molly Backes
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release date: May 8, 2012
Source: Bought signed copy from author

 

Summary from Goodreads:

What does it mean to do wrong, when no one punishes you? A smart and unflinching look at friendship, the nature of entitlement, and growing up in the heartland.

Paige Sheridan has the perfect life. She’s pretty, rich, and popular, and her spot on the homecoming court is practically guaranteed. But when a night of partying ends in an it-could-have-been-so-much worse crash, everything changes. Her best friends start ignoring her, her boyfriend grows cold and distant, and her once-adoring younger sister now views her with contempt. The only bright spot is her creative writing class, led by a charismatic new teacher who encourages students to be true to themselves. But who is Paige, if not the homecoming princess everyone expects her to be? In this arresting and witty debut, a girl who was once high-school royalty must face a truth that money and status can’t fix, and choose between living the privileged life of a princess, or owning up to her mistakes and giving up everything she once held dear.

My Big Fat Disclaimer 

In the interest of fairness, (and maybe only a teensy bit of pride [but totally the Mama Bear pride and not the gross look-at-me pride]) I should disclose that I know the author, M. Molly Backes. Over the past few years she has been my teacher, critique partner, and friend. While this does not prevent me from stating my honest opinions on the quality of her book, I am probably in a position to like it as a person familiar with her personality and writing style. With that all out in the open, let’s move on.

Shit just got real…

Go back up and read the first bolded line of the summary above. I’ll wait.

Back now? Good. I point it out (for the lazy set: “What does it mean to do wrong, when no one punishes you?”) because I think understanding this theme from the outset greatly impacts your enjoyment of the book. This is not a story about fluffy bunnies and sparkly unicorns and beautiful rainbows (even though, in my mind, that cover is just asking for a rainbow). This is a story about real things that can, and do, happen to teenagers.

The situations in this book punched me in the gut. I dare you to read the prologue and not connect deeply with at least some portion of it. Molly Backes is a master of Getting It. She wrote a character, Paige Sheridan, who is struggling to understand consequences, or the completely unjust and unfair LACK of them, that accompanies the life of a high school student, in a way that was believable and thought-provoking. Backes peeled back the superficial layers and forced Paige, and us as readers, to acknowledge the ugly sides of human behavior and the ease with which cruelty and convenience can influence even the best of intentions.

Life is not fair. Things don’t always end up the way we want them to. And I love that Backes portrayed this so truthfully in her narrative. Not everyone agrees with me.

“Issue” is such a loaded word…

Is this an issue book? It deals with the impact of a drunk driving accident on a group of girls. It illustrates common teen situations of homophobia, bullying, partying, and sex. But I didn’t see it as an issue book. It wasn’t pointing out the perils of drunk driving and why teens should avoid it. Were there severe consequences from the accident? Yes. One girl was seriously injured. But that wasn’t the point of the story. Nor was the point of the story to show us how destructive homophobia can be on a community, or how teen girls should handle their drunk boyfriends trying to rape them. The drinking and the sex and the gay slurs just happened to be a part of Paige’s life, and all of these things impact her growth from a narcissistic princess into a contemplative writer. This is Paige’s story and journey, not an issue book passing judgment on the behavior of its teen characters.

I appreciated that Backes didn’t gloss over any aspect of Paige’s life. She has a manipulative best friend, a weak-willed boyfriend, and a self-absorbed mother. Her friends drink too much, Paige cares too much about what people think, and everyone in this book is capable of bad decisions. The beauty of this book is the subtlety with which each character’s growth is illustrated. There is not one cathartic event that pulls everyone together. Instead, there are a series of events that impact different characters in unique ways, setting all of them on a different trajectory. 

Sisters, man…

One of the best devices I noticed to show a subtle change was the name Paige used for her sister. In the first half of the book, Paige’s younger sister Miranda repeatedly has to remind everyone that she prefers to be called Mirror. As with many flights of fancy with young people, she is ignored. Paige refers to her always as Miranda, since that’s her name, and she thinks calling her Mirror is dumb.

I don’t know when exactly the shift occurred, but toward the end of the book I noticed that Paige was consistently calling her sister Mirror. While finding acceptance of herself, Paige began to understand that something as simple as a name change was also an important way for her sister to find her own identity. Though Paige may not have given herself a unique nickname, I think she subconsciously realized that Mirror did so because she wanted to be taken seriously, much like how Paige now wanted to be viewed as more than just a vapid princess. And she finds common ground, as well as a fresh starting point in their relationship, by using her sister’s preferred name and therefore validating Mirror’s perspective and identity. As someone with a younger sister, I really connected with this concept.

What I’m saying is…

I’m no expert in contemporary YA fiction, but this one spoke to me on so many levels. It’s a book that will make you think, which is always a good thing. It sheds some light on the power of cliques and group thinking that can take over a teen’s life without them even realizing it. Backes finds a way to validate experiences without passing judgment, and without needing to find a lesson in every difficult event that her characters encounter. Life doesn’t always hand us teachable moments, nor do we find answers in the immediate aftermath of major events. It’s how we process our experiences into making the choices that feel right to us that truly matters.

 

 

 

 

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Advertisements

Review: The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks

Book: The Girl in the Park
Author: Mariah Fredericks
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Release date: April 24, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley
 
Summary from Goodreads: When Wendy Geller’s body is found in Central Park after the night of a rager, newspaper headlines scream,”Death in the Park: Party Girl Found Strangled.” But shy Rain, once Wendy’s best friend, knows there was more to Wendy than just “party girl.” As she struggles to separate the friend she knew from the tangle of gossip and headlines, Rain becomes determined to discover the truth about the murder. Written in a voice at once immediate, riveting, and utterly convincing, Mariah Frederick’s mystery brilliantly exposes the cracks in this exclusive New York City world and the teenagers that move within it.

First impressions: I had not heard much about this book. I requested it on NetGalley because I thought the story looked interesting and different for the YA market. As soon as I started reading it, I was so happy with my choice to try out this book. It draws you into the mystery from the first pages, and Rain is a terrific teen character.

Lasting impressions: YA contemporary meets mystery/suspense thriller? Full of win! 

Conflicting impressions: Okay, so the killer is kind of easy to spot. Luckily there’s a whole lot more happening in this book.

Overall impressions: It would be so easy to just say, “Yeah, this is a murder mystery about a rich private school girl who liked to party.” That screams Law and Order: SVU doesn’t it? It sounds like it’ll be this quick read about a girl who runs off and gets drunk at a party and winds up dead and her friend saves the day by catching the bad guy.

It’s so much more than that.

It’s about how the persona one high school girl chose to present to her classmates warped their perception of her death. It’s about secrets and the price we pay to keep them. It’s about how love and attraction can be mishandled and exploited. It’s about the media’s role in victim blaming, and how the public uses it to feel safer. In short, there’s a lot under the surface of this seemingly simple story.

I appreciated following this plot through the naive eyes of Rain – a girl still recovering from a painful speech impediment and trying to finish high school without drawing more wrath from the popular crowd. Wendy, a vivacious outsider desperate to either fit in or make waves (whichever is more convenient), befriends Rain when few else will. It is that loyalty that drives Rain to find out what really happened to Wendy after she is found dead in Central Park.

Rain struggles to marry the Wendy she knew with the Wendy splashed across tabloid pages and whispered about in the halls. She pushes to find the truth, often through conversations with people she’d rather not have to speak with, and as the events of that night start to unravel, Rain gains the courage to keep right on pushing. She has to make difficult decisions – when to tell the truth, when to state suspicions, when to break a confidence – and she also has to deal with difficult consequences. The question she must answer time and again is “How far will I go to honor Wendy?” Finding the answer to that question is half the fun of this delightful mystery.

Highly recommended to whodunit fans and YA contemporary readers.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Review: Various Positions by Martha Schabas

Book: Various Positions
Author: Martha Schabas
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Release date: February 14, 2012
Source: ARC received from Debut Author Challenge ARC Tours

Summary from Goodreads: Trapped between the hormone-driven world of her friends and the discontent of her dysfunctional family, fourteen-year-old Georgia is only completely at ease when she’s dancing. When she is accepted into Canada’s preeminent ballet school, Georgia thinks it is the perfect escape. Artistic Director Roderick Allen singles her out as a star, subjecting her to increasingly intensive training, and Georgia obsesses about becoming the perfect, disciplined student. But as she spends more and more time with Roderick, it’s not so clear exactly what their relationship means. Is he her teacher and mentor, or is there something more? These blurred lines will threaten both Roderick’s future at the academy and Georgia’s ambitions as a ballerina.

First impressions: The prologue in this book is incredibly necessary. I know some people hate them, but here it is absolutely vital to our understanding of what is to come. This is not just a ballet book. This is going to get dark, and sexual. If anything about the prologue bothers you – STOP READING.

Lasting impressions: I considered not rating this book at all, because I had such ambivalent feelings about it. Parts of it were interesting in a Black Swan kind of way, but the story meandered without much purpose for large chunks of the book.

Conflicting impressions: What was Georgia’s goal? That’s a huge question to have dangling over the entire book. I never got an answer.

Overall impressions: I am a former ballerina. I love books and movies and TV shows about ballet. I was really excited to read this book, but I very quickly realized that it had nothing to do with ballet. The ballet school serves as a setting only, and as perhaps an extension of Georgia’s slightly obsessive-compulsive personality. She is a ballet dancer because she is, and that’s supposed to be good enough for us.

Once I got past that initial disappointment, I found the teaser from the prologue to be an interesting dangling carrot. We know sweet and innocent Georgia is going to meet someone at ballet school and seduce them. What I found strange by the end of the book, and I still can’t figure it out, is that the prologue scene never reappears in the book, nor does it fit with the actual sequence of events. Was it a dream? A fantasy? Did any of it really happen? I was looking for the payoff from the prologue, and wound up with a drastically different ending than I expected.

Georgia is only 14 years old, and I found her voice inconsistent. At times she felt much, much older and at other times she seemed naive and juvenile (as I would expect from a sheltered 14 year old). Her actions snowballed rather quickly, and over the course of only a few months she experiences a kind of sexual awakening that seemed suspiciously quick. Teenagers experience a whole host of emotions and thoughts about sex that are all over the map, but Georgia goes from zero to 60 and shows no signs of stopping. I’m not sure that’s going to resonate well with teen readers.

I didn’t find Georgia’s actions to be as disturbing as some other reviewers did, but the one aspect of the book that made me uncomfortable was that the reader had to essentially root for Georgia to act on her feelings for her teacher. To my mind, that’s the only goal Georgia was trying to achieve throughout the book, and it was weird to be dragged along on this escapade.

She expresses no thoughts on becoming a grand ballerina, doesn’t focus on the future in the slightest, and makes no effort to do anything besides passively fall in with a group of outgoing classmates and find time to be alone with her teacher. I desperately wanted Georgia to DO something or WANT something, but instead she simply reports on things as they happened. I didn’t understand how her family dynamic impacted the plot, and they gave us very little additional insight into her character.

At the end of the day, I must admit that I simply didn’t get the point of the book. It was an interesting, bizarre, dark little story that is recommended only for older readers.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review: Saving June by Hannah Harrington

Book: Saving June
Author: Hannah Harrington
Publisher: Harlequin
Release date: November 22, 2011
Source: Review copy received via NetGalley

Summary: (from Goodreads) â??If sheâ??d waited less than two weeks, sheâ??d be June who died in June. But I guess my sister didnâ??t consider that.â??

Harper Scottâ??s older sister has always been the perfect one so when June takes her own life a week before her high school graduation, sixteen-year-old Harper is devastated. Everyoneâ??s sorry, but no one can explain why.

When her divorcing parents decide to split her sisterâ??s ashes into his-and-her urns, Harper takes matters into her own hands. Sheâ??ll steal the ashes and drive cross-country with her best friend, Laney, to the one place June always dreamed of going California.

Enter Jake Tolan. Heâ??s a boy with a bad attitude, a classic-rock obsession and nothing in common with Harperâ??s sister. But Jake had a connection with June, and when he insists on joining them, Harperâ??s just desperate enough to let him. With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanour and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what she needs.

Except June wasnâ??t the only one hiding something. Jakeâ??s keeping a secret that has the power to turn Harperâ??s life upside down again.

First impressions: Can Harper be my new book BFF? In the first few scenes she is funny, irreverent, rebellious, and sympathetic. She is the most authentic teenager I’ve read, perhaps ever.

Lasting impressions: Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Magical. Hilarious. Although this one hit close to home for me, it was wonderfully cathartic.

Conflicting impressions: I can’t think of anything that didn’t work for me in this book.

Overall impressions: Harper has lived in the shadow of her sister her whole life, unable to understand why she doesn’t have June’s innate ability to exceed everyone’s expectations. Feeling like the loser letdown of a daughter, Harper has carefully constructed a persona to match her perceived failings – black nail polish, a wall of truancy and detention slips, smoking cigarettes. June is the golden child and she is the black sheep, invisible to her warring parents.

When June commits suicide, there is no note, and everyone struggles to understand why she did it. Harper feels the weight of being the one that’s left, and has a hard time shaking the feeling that everyone thinks the wrong sister died. While going through her sister’s things, Harper finds a mix CD that June had been listening to right before she died, as well as a postcard of California – the one place June had always wanted to go.

Jake Tolan is a boy who seems to have no ties to June, but shows up at the wake. After Harper discovers June was tutoring him, and that he works in a record store, she realizes he made the mix CD. Soon Harper, Jake, and Harper’s best friend Laney have concocted a plan to drive to California and put June’s ashes to rest in the place where she wanted to belong. June wanted nothing so much as to escape the pressures of life and family, and to be free to do and be whatever she wanted, and Harper is determined to make that happen as a final gift to her sister.

As Harper experiences impromptu protests, concerts, and landmarks, and shares these exciting adventures with new people, she begins to find herself. The road trip experience is full of powerful moments that reveal things about her desires and strengths, as well as her feelings about her sister. We don’t watch Harper change as a result of the trip, we watch her discover that the person she has been all along is nothing less than her sister. She has always been strong and capable, but her fears and insecurity colored her perception of herself.

Harper is without a doubt one of the best characters I read this year. I related to her and her struggles on so many levels, from her inability to cry at a funeral, to her need to just run away from it all and so something meaningful for the person she feels she failed the most. Hannah Harrington has written a girl so complete that I had a hard time believing she wasn’t real. Harper lives far beyond these pages, showing us the way teenaged girls really think and feel.

This book is one that will definitely stick with me. With a love story that seemed genuine in its slow growth, and an exploration of music through the eyes of Jake Tolan that provides a perfect soundtrack to Harper’s journey, this one is full of life and memories. For anyone who’s lost someone close to them, especially from suicide, this is a cathartic story that allows us to process our feelings alongside Harper. This is a powerful treasure that should not be missed.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Book: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release date: September 29, 2011
Source: ARC received for review from Around the World Tours
Series: Companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss
 
Summary: (from Goodreads) Budding designer Lola Nolan doesnâ??t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit – more sparkly, more fun, more wild – the better. But even though Lolaâ??s style is outrageous, sheâ??s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket – a gifted inventor – steps out from his twin sisterâ??s shadow and back into Lolaâ??s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

First impressions: Lola is such a refreshingly unique character! Stephanie Perkins nails the teen voice yet again.

Lasting impressions: Though I didn’t connect with this story as much as Perkins’ first novel, Anna and the French Kiss, there were elements I liked much better in this tale.

Conflicting impressions: At times Lola was written so convincingly teenaged that she became unbearably frustrating.

Overall impressions: Lola is a girl with a love of costume. She chooses to express herself in vastly different ways every day through a variety of interesting fashion pieces and wigs. It’s a chance to be someone new. I loved this quirk of hers – I suppose you could call it a personal philosophy – and it gave us an instant sense of who she is.

Lola has typical teenager problems. She’s dating a boy her parents think is too old for her, leading to insufferable weekly brunches where they grill him about his life goals. He’s in a band, has tattoos, and they are in love. Or at least they think they are.

Lola is the daughter of two gay parents, a nice touch that introduces a new dynamic in YA literature as far as relating to parents goes. Perkins does a lovely job of reinforcing the fact that gay parents are just like anyone else’s parents – at times too restrictive, sometimes embarrassing, and always loving. The wrench in this relationship is that Lola’s birth mother appears from time to time, always one step away from being homeless and never owning up to her poor choices due to drinking and drug abuse. While I loved the role of Lola’s parents, I never felt the relationship with her mother was fully developed and I didn’t get how it served the story.

Of course you’re probably wondering who is this mysterious boy next door, right? Cricket, and his twin sister, Calliope, are Lola’s next door neighbors who come and go due to Calliope’s competitive figure skating. There is some history between Lola and the Bell twins, and Perkins slowly unfurls that complicated history as Lola tries to deal with it.

For those of you who have read Anna and the French Kiss, Lola’s love triangle between her boyfriend and the boy next door felt like Etienne St. Clair trying to decide between his girlfriend and Anna. In fact, at one point Lola even has a conversation with Etienne about this very topic. As much as I wish we didn’t have a re-hash of the “I already have a boyfriend and I love him but I also kind of love you tooooo!” arc, I recognize that this is fairly typical for teenagers. When you’re young, relationships seem both eternal and frivolous at once. You think you’ve found The One, and it’s hard to let go, even if you recognize that you like this other person, too.

I was disappointed at how much Lola strung along poor Cricket, though. He was a saint for hanging in as long as he did, sort of like Anna did with Etienne, and I never fully understood what was holding Lola back. There never seemed to be too much of a conflict in ditching the boyfriend who seemed to be moving on without her, yet she still clung to him. Sure, he was her first love, but Cricket seemed like the obvious choice and that she enjoyed spending time with him far more than she did with band boy.

This is a cute romance with fresh characters, a hip San Francisco setting, and lots of teen indecision. It’s a great read if you’re looking for some light refreshment in a market flooded with dark, brooding paranormal fare.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review and Giveaway: Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Click the cover to purchase at Amazon
Book: Leverage
Author: Joshua C. Cohen
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release date: February 17, 2011
Source: ARC received from The Unread Reader

Summary: (from Goodreads) Thereâ??s an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid onâ??and offâ??the football field. And it claims its victims without mercyâ??including the most innocent bystanders.

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a schoolâ??s salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.

First impressions: Danny and Kurt are terrific narrators. Danny is sure of himself without being overly cocky. He’s small and a gymnast, and his bravado seems to cover a bit of insecurity about his stature. Kurt is lumbering and quiet, caught behind a painful stutter. He’s had a hard life, but is quick to see the good in others and is at heart a sweet kid with a terrible past. I just loved these two.

Lasting impressions: A powerful book that will challenge the way you think about bullying.

Conflicting impressions: I felt like the antagonists in this book were one-note villains juiced up on steroids and terrorizing the school with no consequences. This seemed a bit unrealistic to me, and thought the story would have been even more powerful if their brutality was a bit more subtle.

Overall impressions: Every once in a while, a book will come along and punch you in the gut. When I first read Missie’s review I knew I had to read this book. I was bracing for the inevitable throughout the entire thing, which meant a lot of clenched jaws and fists as I battled through the pages.

Joshua Cohen does not hold back here. From the first few scenes, we know that the football jocks are playing for keeps. They are mean, terrifying, and disgusting. They rule the school as well as the gym. Their coach does nothing to keep them in check. In fact, the adults in this book are pretty much nonexistent. The boys in this story know they have to fend for themselves, and sometimes at the expense of their fellow classmates. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, for sure.

Too often I think adults turn a blind eye to the concerns of kids. What can seem overdramatic or inconsequential to us can often seem truly frightening and devastating to kids. Granted, in this scenario I think anyone would have been fearful, but Cohen captures that fear in a very honest way. I understood why Danny was so on edge. My heart pounded every time he had to report for practice and step a foot into that locker room. Cohen brilliantly nailed that adolescent mix of isolation and disappointment that threatens to swallow you whole when the adults in your life ignore your fears, or worse, don’t even realize the threat to your safety exists. It just broke my heart.

Although this book has a dark stain on it from the jocks’ bullying, the true heart of the novel comes from how Kurt and Danny deal with it. Kurt, a new and gifted member of the football team, struggles with how to fit in, keep a low profile, but stand up for what is right. He was a victim of horrible child abuse growing up, and can’t stand the thought of others being hurt. He forms a friendship with Danny after seeing a spectacular performance by Danny at a gymnastics meet, and Danny welcomes Kurt as a potential shield from the rest of the football team’s bullying. Together they are able to find redemption after an intensely brutal attack by the football jocks on one of Danny’s teammates.

That attack is the defining moment for our protagonists. They are completely changed by what they witness, and they realize that how they choose to proceed after the attack will stay with them the rest of their lives. In the face of even more tragedy, and the deep shame that beckons for them to cover up their emotional wounds and just move on, our heroes must make a decision. It’s a decision none of us would ever hope to have to make, but it hangs there nonetheless. My stomach felt like a rock as I sped through the final chapters, desperate to find out whether Kurt and Danny would meet the challenge or hide from it.

This book is an important reminder that bullying exists, sometimes further under the surface than we like to admit. I highly recommend this book to everyone, and hope its poignant tale of courage and redemption speaks to your hearts as powerfully as it spoke to mine.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Are you looking for something to read for the All Male Review Challenge? This is a book with both a male protagonist and a male author! Score!



I think this is such an important book to read, so I am giving away a finished copy to one lucky winner!

This contest is open to ages 13 and up with a U.S. mailing address. To enter, leave a comment on this post, along with an email address where I can contact you. The contest will close on May 27, 2011 and the winner will be announced on the 28th. Good luck!

P.S.

Missie was nice enough to send me her ARC of Leverage because I was so enamored with her review. If you are a reviewer interested in posting your own review of this book, I’d be happy to spread the love and pass along the ARC I received. Email me if you want it. *Update* Sorry folks! The ARC has been claimed!

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Click the cover to purchase at Amazon
Book: Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton Books
Release date: December 2, 2010
Source: For What It’s Worth Book Tours

Summary: (from Goodreads) Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Parisâ??until she meets Ã?tienne St. Clair: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.

As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Annaâ??and readersâ??have long awaited?

First impressions: Anna has a really strong voice that captures your attention immediately. She reads like an authentic teenager without bombarding you with emoticons or a crazy amount of slang. She’s immediately likable in a real way. I want her to be my new best friend.

Lasting impressions: I. Love. Etienne St. Clair. So if Anna was my new best friend, we’d be having some words. Or be engaging in some light fisticuffs. Because Etienne? Is perfect.

Conflicting impressions: Despite the hype and general ga-ga fest over this book, I did have a few issues with it. There were times everything felt a bit too easy for Anna. She moves in, and becomes insta-best-friends with her next door neighbor, who just happens to be the first person she meets. Talk about lucky!

The nasty mean girl character, Amanda, is a bit over the top for my tastes. I don’t mind having a girl who is nasty, but Amanda has no reason to be nasty, and in a school of only 100 people, I don’t think a girl could afford to be that unpleasant. Girls are bratty and cliquish and snobby, yes, but I don’t think they can get away with highway robbery while in the close confines of an incredibly small boarding school. I could be wrong, but in my experiences Amanda seemed not that realistic.

Overall impressions: From start to finish, this is a very solid book. Anna is funny, unique, smart, if not a bit dependent. Her flaws make her more honest to the reader, so I forgave her for being occasionally obtuse and ignorant. I mean, she wants to be a film critic and is obsessed with movies, but doesn’t know that Paris is like film Mecca? Really?

Etienne St. Clair, Anna’s love interest (and pretty much everyone else’s in the book, too – he’s the Mary Sue for dudes), also can be a bit aggravating. He’s in love with Anna from the minute he sees her, yet draaaaaaags out his relationship with Ellie. In the end, we’re not given much of an explanation for why he holds on to Ellie for so long, other than that we needed more obstacles for Anna.

Similarly, Anna runs into some sub-plots that really didn’t do much for me. She overreacts to an incident involving Bridgette, her best friend back home, only to have it resolved in the end with a Big Reveal that ties to every other problem she and Etienne have been struggling with. Oy. She also dates a guy who turns out to be a Big Fat Jerk and spreads vicious rumors about her around school. It was very Skeet Ulrich from The Craft movie, and induced some major eye rolling from me.

What was amazing, however, was how nicely things all came together in the end. Anna really grows as a person from spending time in France, despite her major hesitancy at the beginning. She starts out as a terrified little girl, and grows into a mature young woman. She learns to trust herself as a capable adult who can go out in the world and make things happen, and she also learns to trust her feelings. She has to navigate the difficult world of teen boy, trying to decipher the truth from her imagination.

Seriously, haven’t we all been there? There’s nothing more anxiety-riddled than figuring out if the boy you like does indeed love you back. It’s a hundred times worse when you’re friends, because you don’t know how to reveal yourself without losing him forever if he doesn’t feel the same way. Stephanie Perkins captures that back-and-forth flirting with such ease that I never wanted to stop reading.

Bottom line? This book is an adorable love story between two kids just trying to figure themselves out. It’s funny, sweet, and refreshing. The characters are interesting, the setting is perfect, and it was a blast to read. I think everyone would love this book, and you should RUN to go get a copy.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Want a different perspective? Check out the other reviews from the For What It’s Worth book tour.

The Anti-Prom by Abby McDonald

Click the cover to purchase at Amazon
Book: The Anti-Prom
Author: Abby McDonald
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release date: April 12, 2011
Source: I Read Banned Books ARC Tour

Summary: (from Goodreads) Three unlikely allies team up for a night of rebellion, romance, and revenge in a high-stakes dramedy from acclaimed young author Abby McDonald.

Theyâ??ve spent years at the same high school without speaking a word to one another, but thatâ??s all about to change. Popular Bliss was having the perfect prom until she found her BFF and boyfriend making out in the back of a limo. Bad girl Jolene wouldnâ??t be caught dead at the prom, yet here she is, trussed up in pink ruffles, risking her reputation for some guy – some guy who is forty minutes late. And shy, studious, über-planner Meg never counted on her dateâ??s standing her up and leaving her idling in the parking lot outside the prom. Get ready for The Anti-Prom, Abby McDonaldâ??s hilarious, heart-tugging tale about three girls and one unforgettable prom night.

First impressions: I loved that this book didn’t waste any time jumping into prom night. We start smack dab in the middle, actually. No dinner, no limo rides, no photo sessions at the parents’ houses. And the opening scene sure is a doozie, too. Bliss catches her boyfriend cheating on her. Ouch.

Lasting impressions: Like The Breakfast Club and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants had a baby. So much fun!

Conflicting impressions: I didn’t always buy the actions/reactions of the characters. At times it felt overly confrontational and other times it felt too easy for them.

Overall impressions: This story throws three girls together for one crazy evening – prom night. In my experience, prom is always eventful, and this one is no exception. Bliss wants to get revenge on her best friend and boyfriend, who she catches getting hot and heavy together in a limo during the dance, so she seeks out bad girl Jolene for help. When Jolene finally agrees to be a part of Bliss’s scheme, they flee to the parking lot, only to get nearly run over by Meg, who has just been stood up.

Once the three girls agree to help each other over the course of the evening (Bliss with the cheaters, Jolene with her deadbeat dad, and getting shy, uptight Meg to loosen up), the action flies. The girls bounce back and forth from location to location, pulling crazy stunt after reckless escapade, and along the way they start to connect. The moments where the girls learn important life lessons can be a bit over the top, but for the most part their relationships seem genuine.

McDonald captures the high school girl especially well. I thought the dialogue was realistic with all of that angsty stressed out drama that colors it as a teenager. It makes the girls believable despite very little backstory. What could have very easily been pure fluff, however, is tempered with some pretty heavy issues, particularly revolving around Jolene and Meg.

Jolene has been destroying her life in an effort to lash out at her dad and the world she feels does nothing for her. Meg has given up on social life altogether, disappearing into the walls and rendering herself more and more invisible as time goes by. When things start to get really ugly, the girls have to rely on each other, and because of their differences they’re able to speak the truth. Instead of stock phrases and blind support that usually comes with teen girl friendship, these acquaintances don’t hold back, really cutting at the heart of the problem as each new snag arises throughout the night.

This is great fun, while also touching on some deeper issues. I highly recommend to contemporary YA fans, as well as anyone wanting to re-live some crazy prom experiences. 🙂

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Want another perspective? Be sure to check out Jen’s review today at I Read Banned Books. Click the button below! She’s also featuring an interview with Abby McDonald and a giveaway!

Review: Wonderland by Joanna Nadin

Book: Wonderland
Author: Joanna Nadin
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release date: February 22, 2011
Source: ARC Tour run by I Read Banned Books

Summary: (from Goodreads) Sixteen-year-old Jude has to get out of tiny Churchtown. She has to escape her outcast status and her pathetic dad, who hasnâ??t gotten past her motherâ??s death. The one bright light is drama, her way out, if only she can get into the Lab, a prestigious program in London. Then Stella, Judeâ??s childhood best friend, swaggers in after years away. With bold and magnetic Stella by her side, Jude knows sheâ??s capable of anything. But Stellaâ??s influence extends well beyond the theater. Soon Stellaâ??s wild and dangerous streak begins to cause trouble for Jude — yet Jude canâ??t bring herself to abandon Stella and the attention sheâ??s always craved. And besides, now that Stellaâ??s back, thereâ??s no stopping her. In Judeâ??s dark and tangled story, British author Joanna Nadin plumbs the aftermath of loss and the consequences of becoming the person you always wished you were.

First impressions: Jude and Stella open the book in a Thelma and Louise situation: cigarettes, lipstick, and a car at the edge of a cliff. Can you say “Grab on and don’t let go?” I read this book in one sitting, because I just had to know how these girls got there.

Lasting impressions: This book is so well-crafted that although I had my suspicions as to where the story was going, I still couldn’t quite believe it when I got my answer. This is one of those books where you have to flip back and read scenes again to see if you really missed it the first time.

Negative impressions: The ending is a bit trite and overplayed, but the story was so captivating and well done that I got over it. I mean, there are only so many plots in the world, and if I discarded every new book for having an element done before, I wouldn’t be reading very long.

Overall impressions: This book had real heart. I loved Jude and her complicated relationships with her dead mother and distraught father. She feels trapped in her small town, but scared to pursue her acting dream for fear she will end up just like her mother. Her mom was a bright star that faded to nothing when they moved to their small town, and watching the depression wash over her was too much for Jude and her father to bear.

Jude feels ignored and invisible, with few friends and not much going for her…until Stella comes back. Stella was a childhood friend who had pulled Jude out of her shell until she disappeared and moved away. Now she’s back, and Jude gets caught up in Stella’s whirlwind energy and bad influence. With Stella, Jude starts partying, dressing sexier, and getting interested in boys. When she lands an audition at the prestigious Lab, her dream theater school in London, she and Stella take the train together and Jude nearly blows her chance.

Watching Jude’s life get bolder and more outrageous is exciting until you see the scale tip in the wrong direction. When Jude goes to her audition, Stella is no longer the fun friend out to ensure they have a good time, she’s an enabler who is controlling Jude’s actions and dragging her down. It’s heartbreaking to see Jude realize that Stella may not be the best thing in her life. This definitely struck a chord with me – the idea that sometimes your friends can harm you more than help you. Welcome to adulthood, Jude!

This story is quickly paced and full of all the pains of adolescence: first love, wild friends, dreams of grandeur, and absent parenting. Jude rises to the challenges presented by all of these, finding her own voice and strength of spirit to reclaim the hold on her life that Stella threatens to steal from her. Dramatic, harrowing, and real, Jude’s tale will definitely make an impression.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Interested in reading this book? Click below to sign up for the ARC tour for this and other titles at I Read Banned Books.