Yes Please

Occasionally, I like to take a little break from my standard fare of children’s, middle grade, and YA literature. That break generally takes the form of a romance novel or a memoir. This time, I chose to read a memoir, specifically Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

This book could be classified in a number of ways: nonfiction, autobiography, humor, and, of course, memoir. What I’d like to emphasize here, though, is that it is a book for adults. Unlike most of the other books I feature here, this is not a read that belongs in a YA collection. Are there certain elements that will appeal to teens? Sure. But this is a book written for adults and should be treated as such. It contains frank talk of marriage, sex, drug use, being a woman in a male-dominated industry, parenthood, and simply navigating life.

Now, all that being said, I did like Yes Please. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but I guess that’s a good thing. I started this book thinking that I would be getting something similar to Tina Fey’s Bossypants (which I loved). To a certain extent, that’s what I got, but there was also a more serious side to Poehler’s book. It wasn’t the laugh-out-loud experience that I anticipated. Sure, there were moments of hilarity, but, at least in my opinion, the book was more about Poehler reflecting on what led her to where she is today.

Amy Poehler takes readers through her admittedly wonderful childhood, through her early days in improv, on to her time with the Upright Citizens Brigade, SNL, and Parks and Recreation. She paints a very vivid picture of how difficult and exhilarating it was to be a young comedian in both Chicago and New York, and she doesn’t shy away from the–in my eyes–darker aspects of the world she inhabited. There was a great deal of partying and lots of drug use, and Poehler did her share of both.

Things began to change for Poehler when she got married and became a mother. In this book, she talks more about the latter than the former. She only briefly glances on her divorce from Will Arnett (which I totally understand), but the love she has for her two boys pours from this book. It’s clear that those boys are adored by their mother…but also that she works to make time for herself. She admits that she has no desire to be a stay-at-home mom, and she cautions women to stop shaming each other for their choices. Her motto of “Good for you, not for me” is one that could serve us all…and maybe help some people to mind their own business.

I like to think I know a fair amount about the entertainment industry, but I have to admit that I’m not familiar with a lot of the names Poehler dropped in this book (and she dropped a lot of them). I knew some of them simply because I’ve watched Saturday Night Live for years, but others were completely new to me. I’m not sure what that says about me or this book, but I’m guessing other readers may also feel like they need to bone up on their “Who’s Who of Improv” after reading Yes Please.

Aside from the name-dropping, if I had to make a complaint about this book, it would be that it felt a bit choppy. Poehler jumped from event to event and back again fairly regularly. I eventually got used to it, but the frequent back-and-forth was a bit jarring at times.

All in all, Yes Please was an enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to adult readers who want an inside look at the world of comedy, particularly how a young woman worked like mad, paid her dues, and went on to become one of the most beloved and recognized comedians in the world.

 

 

Happy Again

If you haven’t read Jennifer E. Smith’s This Is What Happy Looks Like (which is a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award), do so before reading this post or Happy Again. Spoilers ahead!

So, last year, I read This Is What Happy Looks Like, a great contemporary YA romance by Jennifer E. Smith. After that last page, I wondered where things would go with Ellie and Graham. If you’ve read the book–and, at this point, I’m assuming you have–you know that things weren’t tied up in a neat little bow for them at the book’s conclusion. Well, now we have Happy Again, a sequel novella, to help clear things up a bit. Let’s dive in, shall we?

It’s been over a year since Ellie O’Neill has seen Graham Larkin. After they said their goodbyes on the beach in Henley, Maine–and Graham jetted off to finish his latest film and press tour–they stayed in touch for a while. Phone calls, text messages, and constant emails. But eventually, their emails stopped being personal and started to seem sort of emotionless, and they faded to nothing after a while.

Now, Ellie is a freshman at Harvard, and she only keeps up with Graham by glancing at the tabloid headlines. One weekend, Ellie uncharacteristically joins her roommate on a trip to New York City. When she sees a commotion near the Ziegfield Theatre, without even really knowing what’s going on, something tells Ellie that Graham is nearby. And she’s right. As fate would have it, she’s stumbled upon the premiere of the movie that brought them together.

Almost immediately, Ellie has the urge to run. Part of her desperately wants to see Graham, but another part is scared of what might happen if she comes face-to-face with him once again. As it turns out, that decision is kind of taken out of her hands.

Ellie and her friends are invited into the premiere, and, soon enough, there he is. Graham Larkin. He finds Ellie in the crowd, and insists they talk about the past year. What follows is a spontaneous trip through Manhattan, a trip where Ellie and Graham clear the air about why they stopped communicating, what’s been happening in their lives…and where they go from here.

Can Ellie and Graham find the happiness they felt last year in Henley, or has too much passed between them? Does this one extraordinary, fateful meeting have the power to bring them back together, or will this be their final goodbye?

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If This Is What Happy Looks Like was a little too open-ended for you (as it was for me), Happy Again definitely gives a bit of closure. But even this story leaves readers with some questions about whether Ellie and Graham will end up together. The ending in this one isn’t completely nice and neat, either. I like to think that things will work out for Ellie and Graham this time around, that they’re willing to work to be together, but that’s not crystal clear. And that’s okay. This gives me–and other readers–the opportunity to continue the story for ourselves, in whatever way we like.

All in all, I found Happy Again to be a pretty satisfying conclusion (?) to the unlikely love story of Ellie and Graham. Will we hear more from this duo? I have no idea, but I like to think that, whether their story continues in print or not, that they’ve found happiness together once again.

If you’d like more information on Happy Again, This Is What Happy Looks Like, or other books by Jennifer E. Smith, visit the author’s website and Twitter. For what it’s worth, I’ve yet to encounter a book by this author that I didn’t like. I hope you feel the same way.

Just One Year

A word to the wise: Read Gayle Forman’s Just One Day before continuing with Just One Year. In my opinion, you MUST know what leads up to Willem’s story prior to opening this companion novel/sequel!

So, I finally finished reading Just One Year late last night. I would have finished it sooner, but I was away at a conference. (To those who think a school librarian’s work ends at the start of summer, I say only “I wish!”) I got back yesterday afternoon and proceeded to devour the rest of this book. I absolutely adored the first book, told from the perspective of Allyson/Lulu, so I really wanted to see what became of Willem after their one day in Paris.

When Willem wakes up, he’s not sure where he is. All he really knows is pain and the need to find something he’s lost. When he finally recovers enough to think, he remembers the girl, Lulu, who’s waiting for him. They shared a magical day in Paris, a day that seemed to change both of them. Willem tries to get back to her, but it’s too late. She’s gone, and she probably thinks he left and didn’t give her another thought. And he can’t exactly do anything about that. He doesn’t even know her real name…and she doesn’t know very much about him either. As much as they discovered about each other during their day together, they don’t know how to reach each other again.

Willem tries to find Lulu in Paris, but he’s floundering. He retraces their steps through the city, but that leads nowhere quickly, so Willem decides to return home to take care of the business he’s been avoiding for so long–settling his father’s estate.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Amsterdam, Willem feels the need to escape. The memories are too much, and Willem is feeling the itch to travel…and continue his search for Lulu. When his travels are delayed, he takes solace in his friends and in the arms of a former flame. She’s not Lulu, but she keeps him from feeling so lonely all the time. Eventually, though, Willem simply can’t fake his feelings anymore, and he must move on.

Willem’s journey takes him all through Holland, Mexico, India, and then back to Holland. Through it all, he thinks of Lulu, their one day together, and how that day changed him. He’s feeling restless, but his nomadic existence doesn’t feel like enough anymore.  He wants a sense of family, he wants real, lasting connections with people, and he wants purpose. Even if he never finds his Lulu, she’s at least given him that. She opened his eyes to the world around him and his place in it. (He doesn’t know it, but he did the same for her.)

While Willem is on his journey of self-discovery, he never truly abandons his search for Lulu. He explores every connection he can think of, but she seems to constantly be just out of reach. He finds himself wondering if he should leave Lulu and their day in Paris in the past and move on.

But Willem has no way of knowing that fate has different plans. Lulu–or Allyson–has been doing some searching of her own, and she and Willem are about to come face to face once again. Will their connection be as strong now that a year has passed and so much has changed? There’s only one way to find out…

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Now that I’ve read Just One Day and Just One Year, I find myself reflecting on my own reactions to each story. While I sympathized with Allyson, I was a little more judgmental of Willem. I know this says more about my own ideas and responses to emotional upheaval than anything, but I think that’s true of any book. We bring our own experiences to the stories we read, and we view the characters through those lenses. What I found really interesting, though, was how my views of Willem’s actions changed the more I read this book. Yes, he dealt with things a bit differently than Allyson did, but he had valid, and highly personal, reasons for doing so. And I think that’s the mark of a really great book. It makes you examine your own ideas through the experiences of another.

After finishing Just One Year last night, I immediately downloaded and read Just One Night, the last chapter of this love story. (Best $0.99 I’ve spent in a while.)

This ebook novella gives readers a look at what happened when Willem and Allyson/Lulu were finally reunited and had the opportunity to share their new selves and how they found their way back to each other. There’s also a fair amount of kissing (and other displays of affection), a bit of Shakespeare (like the preceding novels), and talk of the future. Will Willem and Allyson have a happy ending to their story? I’ll leave that for you do discover!

I failed to mention this in my Just One Day post, but I do believe that this series is suited to young adult (and adult) audiences. There are some mature themes, and I just don’t think most middle grade readers have the maturity or life experience to understand some of the content. As always, though, use your best judgment when recommending any book to young readers.

If you’re in or around South Carolina in November and want to learn more about Gayle Forman and her fantastic books, I urge you to attend YALLFest, a two-day celebration of young adult literature in Charleston. Gayle is scheduled to attend, and I know she’ll have lots of interesting things to say! (I had the privilege of hearing her speak last year, and I loved hearing her talk about her craft.)

For those that can’t attend YALLFest but still want more information about this series and others by Gayle Forman, check out her website at http://www.gayleforman.com/. Happy reading!

Just One Day

Last night, when I should have been packing for a conference, I was instead devouring Just One Day by the fabulous Gayle Forman. This book had been on my to-read list for quite a while, but I didn’t make time for it until this weekend. Oh, how I wish I had read it sooner!

Like If I Stay and Where She Went, Just One Day shows that Gayle Forman is a master at writing love stories that pack an emotional punch. Even more important, in my opinion, she’s excellent at giving readers examples of young women who, while navigating the perilous waters of relationships, also work to discover their own inner strength.

Allyson is nearing the end of a whirlwind tour of Europe, and, to be honest, the trip has been something of a disappointment. Yes, she’s oohed and aahed at all the appropriate moments, she’s seen some impressive sights with her best friend Melanie, and she’s even gotten a haircut to mark what should have been the start of the greatest vacation ever. But Allyson feels like she’s just going through the motions. She should be excited about this extravagant graduation gift, but something just doesn’t feel quite right.

Everything changes, though, when Allyson and Melanie deviate from their rigid plans and are persuaded to take in a performance of Twelfth Night in a Stratford-upon-Avon park. It is here that Allyson’s life changes forever. She meets Willem, a Dutch actor in the play, and she’s immediately drawn to him. There’s something about him that makes Allyson want to break free of limits and responsibilities. Maybe it’s because Willem doesn’t really know her. He doesn’t even know her name. He calls her Lulu because she reminds him of Louise Brooks, the silent film star. Maybe it’s that little bit of anonymity that gives Allyson the freedom to do something that’s so out of character. The freedom to eschew her plans to spend just one day with Willem in Paris.

One day in Paris. One day to see the sights and experience all that the City of Light has to offer. One day to fall in love with Willem, a young man who is so different from the Allyson she’s always been. Here she’s Lulu, a girl who takes things in stride, who has the attention of someone who could be–and probably has been–with dozens of other girls. It’s not easy to leave her good girl image behind, but Allyson wants to be someone different with Willem, and she’s coming to think she can be different when she returns to her real life.

All of that changes, though, when Allyson’s one day in Paris comes to a shattering end. After waking to find Willem gone, Allyson’s entire world seems to explode, and she doesn’t really know how to put the pieces back together. Nothing seems to fit anymore, and Allyson is struggling. It’s hard to admit that one day, one boy could have such a huge impact on her life, but Allyson will have to face what happened and the still unanswered questions if she has any hope of moving on with her life.

In the year after her day in Paris, Allyson must come to grips with how all of this has changed her. She has to deal with going back to being the “good girl” everyone expects and all of the pressure that entails. She faces the undeniable truth that she’s not the person she once was, and she’s no longer content living out someone else’s dreams. She must do what feels right to her…even if that means standing up to her parents, becoming more independent…and returning to the “scene of the crime” and discovering just what happened to make Willem walk away from her.

As Allyson attempts to make sense of everything that has happened in the past year, she’ll also discover that she’s stronger and more capable than she thought. Even if she never discovers why Willem left her, her quest for answers may just leave her with the peace and determination to become exactly who she was meant to be.

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I think you can safely assume that I adored this book. If I weren’t so held back by my own fears–much like the Allyson we see early in this book–I would take off right now on a Parisian vacation, hoping to find my own sense of peace. Unfortunately, I am a big chicken, and that just won’t happen. (Not to mention the matter of not having the money and having to attend a conference for most of this week.)

I’d love to have a journey of self-discovery like Allyson experienced. I imagine that many readers will feel a similar longing. Even with the lows that Allyson dealt with after her day in Paris, she learned so much about herself. She learned that she had to let go of some things, even friendships, her parents’ expectations, and her own need to please those around her. I’m thirty-five years old, and I wish I could do that. Maybe one day.

While I’m envious of Allyson breaking free of her own boundaries, I’m also insanely jealous of her travels through Europe. The only time I’ve been out of the U.S. was when I went on a cruise to the Bahamas. I’ve wanted to travel to Europe, particularly Great Britain, for as long as I can remember, but finances, health issues, and a hefty dose of fear have always held me back. Allyson has inspired me, though. I’m somehow finding a renewed determination to make my dreams a reality. I’ve now got the beginnings of a plan in my head–a plan to save some money, lose some weight, and finally turn my desire for travel into a reality. How long with it take to put this plan into motion? I have no clue, but at least I’m getting started. Thank you for that, Allyson and Gayle Forman!

So, I finished Just One Day late last night, and I fully intend to start reading Just One Year, the companion novel from Willem’s perspective, within the next hour or so. (I have a two-hour ride to Atlanta ahead of me, so I should be able to make quite a dent in the book.) After that, I will read Just One Night, an ebook novella and the final chapter in the captivating story of Allyson and Willem. I can hardly wait to get started!

If you’d like more information on Just One Day or the other amazing books by the brilliant Gayle Forman, check out her website (which has quite a bit of info on the upcoming movie adaptation of If I Stay), Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. You may also want to take a quick look at the Just One Day book trailer below. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have!

This Is What Happy Looks Like

I love snow days. I’m not terribly fond of having to make them up later, but I’d wager most educators get just as excited as their students when the white stuff starts falling. And if you happen to be in the south, it’s a much bigger deal than almost anywhere else in the U.S. Snow has been falling here in Upstate South Carolina since yesterday morning, and estimates indicate that we could see nearly a foot before it’s over. I haven’t seen snow like this since I was eight years old, and, while I have no desire to go out and play in the snow, I am experiencing my own brand of fun while I’m out of school. That fun involves Netflix, sleeping, and, of course, lots of reading.

Yesterday, I finished reading Jennifer E. Smith’s This Is What Happy Looks Like. I had high hopes for this book after reading The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight a couple of years ago, and, to a certain extent, my expectations were met.  This is a love story that throws a few obstacles in the paths of our two main characters, Graham and Ellie. They have to overcome a great deal just to be together, and, even at the end, it’s not exactly clear that things will work out. Some situations in this book are resolved way too neatly, but the romance between Graham and Ellie still feels somewhat tenuous at the book’s conclusion. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Everything begins because of a typo. One teeny mistake, and two young people begin emailing each other, not knowing who they are really talking to. There is a certain freedom in that–a freedom to express things that are too often kept inside. But, as is often the case, this “freedom” can’t last, especially when one person decides to take things to the next level…

Graham Larkin is Hollywood’s latest teen heartthrob. He’s hounded by the paparazzi, he feels alone most of the time, and his manager wants to set him up with his latest costar. All Graham wants to do, though, is find a way to connect to the girl he’s been emailing, Ellie, and his status as a star may just help him do that. He suggests Henley, Maine, as a location for shooting his new film. What he tells no one is that Henley is where Ellie lives. Not even Ellie, a girl he’s never actually met, knows he’s coming. Will she be glad to finally meet him? Will she be awed by his celebrity status? Or will he get a different reaction altogether?

Ellie O’Neill never thought that the guy she’d been emailing could be the one and only Graham Larkin, and she’s totally unprepared when he suddenly shows up in her life. Almost immediately, he sends her entire world into a tailspin. Things aren’t as easy as they were when they were just two teenagers on opposite sides of the country. Now that Graham is in Henley and wants to pursue some kind of relationship, things are getting messy. Her best friend gets upset because Ellie’s been keeping secrets. Ellie’s mom fears the media circus that could surround them all if this relationship with Graham continues. And it seems that Ellie’s mom has good reason for her fears…

Ellie and her mom have been keeping a pretty big secret–a secret that could have a huge impact on the life they’ve built in Maine. Graham doesn’t want to do anything to make Ellie or her mom uncomfortable, but he may not have a choice in the matter.  In Graham’s world, secrets have a way of being revealed no matter what. Are Graham and Ellie strong enough to handle the fallout when their relationship–and Ellie’s secrets–go public?

In their quest for love and happiness, Graham and Ellie will have to decide what’s really important to them. Is it the glitz and glamour of Hollywood? The simplicity of a quiet life in Maine? Or is it being true to themselves and doing whatever they can to make a go of this rather unlikely relationship? I’ll leave that for you to discover…

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This Is What Happy Looks Like is a fun, light read that I think would be fine for middle grade and young adult readers alike. It might be a hard sell for male readers, but it’s an entertaining read no matter what.

Like I said before, it’s a little too neat in places, but the ending kind of leaves things open. This might be a great opportunity for someone to try his/her hand with a bit of fanfiction. How do things play out for Graham and Ellie after the novel is over? I have my own ideas about this, but I’d love to read some other possible endings.

If you’d like more information on this book or others by Jennifer E. Smith, check out the author’s website at http://www.jenniferesmith.com/. Enjoy!

Just One Wish

It’s no secret that my favorite genres–books, movies, TV shows–are fantasy and science fiction. Occasionally, though, I like to mix things up and read some realistic fiction. A few days ago I began reading Just One Wish by Janette Rallison, a book that’s been in my to-read pile for a few years. Despite the title (which one may think indicates some sort of magical wish fulfillment), this is a work of realistic fiction. There’s only one problem. I found the entire premise of the book to be just as outlandish as most of the fantasy I read. I get that the main character wants to do something a little out there for her sick brother, but how she went about it and the results are just too far-fetched for me. Also, when I pick up a book with a cover like the one you see below, I expect sunshine and rainbows at the end. That didn’t exactly happen.

Annika Truman’s six-year-old brother, Jeremy, is about to undergo surgery to remove a brain tumor. Annika is desperate to give him hope, so she comes up with a story about a genie who will grant a couple of Jeremy’s wishes–as long as his final wish is to make it through his surgery okay. She thinks that Jeremy will wish for the most sought-after toy in the world, a Teen Robin Hood action figure, which she’s already bought him. Unfortunately, Jeremy has something else in mind. He wants to meet the real Teen Robin Hood…as in the actor who plays the character. What’s Annika to do now? She’ll do just about anything to make Jeremy happy…so she hits the road to track down one of the most popular teen stars in Hollywood.

Apparently, when you’ve got a will of iron and a loyal best friend backing you up, it’s amazingly easy to find a celebrity. Annika and her friend get up to some pretty crazy shenanigans in their quest to find Teen Robin Hood, better known as actor Steve Raleigh. Here’s the kicker:  They succeed.

Annika’s methods aren’t entirely legal, and trouble ensues, but Annika finally gets the chance to ask Steve, who is even more gorgeous than he appears on TV, to help her little brother. All he has to do is take a little time out of his very busy schedule to visit with a sick kid. Happens all the time, right?

But what if Steve says no? What if Annika has spent all this time–time she could have been spending with her little brother–for nothing? And what if Steve agrees to help? What then? Will it be enough to give Jeremy–and, more importantly, Annika–faith that everything will turn out okay? What if this one wish just isn’t enough? Read Just One Wish by Janette Rallison to learn how far one girl will go to bring hope to a situation that is beyond her control.

As I said before, I found this book to be entirely unbelievable…except the end, which was way too believable. If you’re going to give me a story that makes me suspend reality and think that a seventeen-year-old girl could disappear for a weekend–without her parents having a clue what’s going on–to find a popular celebrity and get him to visit her brother, you could at least give me the ending that I want. And what is up with the schmaltzy romance that, in my opinion, is just as unlikely as almost everything else in this book? It just didn’t make sense to me, but maybe that’s because I’m looking at this from an adult perspective. I’m sure teens want to think that simply meeting a favorite celebrity would be enough to make them fall in love. (Okay, okay…I’ll admit that I have a serious crush on Benedict Cumberbatch, and I’m holding onto the hope that he’ll sweep me off my feet one of these days. I’ll get off my high horse now.)

At any rate, this book wasn’t for me. There was very little about it that I thought was realistic. Feel free to disagree, but, as for me, I think I’ll move on to reading about something more likely to happen…like an alien invasion. Peace out.