The Great American Whatever

I had big plans for my long weekend. I was going to catch up on my favorite shows, take a few naps, read about half a dozen books, and forget about the election madness for a while. My crappy immune system, however, had other plans. I don’t know about you guys, but, in addition to not being able to sleep when I’m sick, I also don’t feel much like reading. I did manage to finish one book, though, and I’ll try to piece together my thoughts on it before my antihistamines make me loopy again.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle. Apparently, this novel is Federle’s first foray into YA fiction, but you’d never guess that while reading. This coming-of-age story is told with empathy, humor, sadness, and all that comes with growing comfortable in one’s own skin.

Almost-seventeen-year-old Quinn has been off the rails for months now. Ever since his sister Annabeth was tragically killed in a car accident, Quinn just doesn’t know how to go back to his old life. He’s given up school, any semblance of cleanliness, and his dream of being a screenwriter. None of it really means anything without Annabeth by his side.

Things begin to change one day, though, when Quinn’s best friend Geoff decides that it’s time for Quinn to get out of the house and start living again. In a very short time, Quinn cleans up (at least a little), gets a haircut, and goes to a college party. It’s at this party where he meets Amir, a guy who’s interested in Quinn for some odd reason.

In the week that follows, Quinn deals with his first romantic relationship, his guilt over his sister’s death, a reunion with an old friend and mentor, and a surprise that rocks everything he ever believed about his relationships with those closest to him. On top of that, he’s forced to confront the possibility of his future as a screenwriter, a future that he never truly thought possible after the loss of his sister.

How will things work out for Quinn? Could one week have the power to turn his life around?

There’s only one way to find out…


The Great American Whatever is a quick, entertaining read that is sure to delight film buffs and those who simply want a moving story.

I would say that this book is written for a YA audience. (I would not put it in a middle school library.) It includes sexual situations, alcohol use, and profanity. As always, though, read the book yourself before making any judgments. You never know who may need a book like this one.

If you’d like more information on The Great American Whatever and other books by Tim Federle, you can connect with the author on his website, Twitter, Goodreads, and Instagram.

With that, I will now leave you all to return to my weekend routine of coughing, sneezing, and praying for the ability to breathe easily.

 

The Girls

Warning: Skip this post if you’re looking for a book for anyone younger than age eighteen. This one is for adult readers.

Earlier today, I finished reading The Girls by Emma Cline. I began reading the book about three weeks ago, and it definitely took me longer to get into it than most other books.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. The subject matter–basically a fictional version of the Manson family–should have gripped me from the start, but I failed to connect with the main character, Evie. Maybe it had something to do with the narrative, which felt almost like stream of consciousness to me. (That could have reflected the staggering amount of drug use depicted in the book.) Or maybe it was the flipping back and forth between 1969 Evie and present-day Evie. (Neither version is particularly sympathetic, in my opinion.) For whatever reason, I’m happy to move on to something else.

Even though The Girls wasn’t what I would call a favorite read, it is interesting at points. Seeing into the mind of a girl taken in by enthralling figures who give her a place to belong is eye-opening. Evie, on some level, knew there was something wrong with what was happening, but she was mesmerized by those around her. She did things that may have been unthinkable to her former self, and she narrowly escaped becoming involved in something truly heinous. Even so, these people gave her attention, negative as it was, when no one else really cared about her. It’s not so difficult to see how a vulnerable person could be susceptible to a group that was essentially a cult.

In case you didn’t heed my warning at the beginning of this post, I’ll say it again. This is a book for adults. The book includes sexual situations, flagrant drug use, child neglect, profanity, violence, and more. I would not recommend The Girls to anyone under eighteen.

Some may think I’m too harsh on this book, and maybe I am. Perhaps my years of reading children’s and young adult books have made me more sensitive, but is that really a bad thing? I know what I think, but I’ll leave you to your own opinions.

For more information on The Girls, visit author Emma Cline’s website.

Every Exquisite Thing

I don’t quite know how I feel about my latest read, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick. This book, which will be released next month, is the first Matthew Quick book I’ve read, but I doubt it will be the last. (Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock has been on my TBR pile for quite a while.) Even though I’m still pondering what I think about the book, the most important thing is that it did make me think. I have a feeling many other readers will feel the same way.

Nanette O’Hare is a girl who has it all together. She’s a good student, a star soccer player, and a rule-follower. She thinks she knows exactly what path her life is going to take…until her favorite teacher introduces her to The Bubblegum Reaper, a book that changes everything Nanette believes about herself and the world around her.

Nanette quickly becomes obsessed with The Bubblegum Reaper and its author, and, for the first time in her life, she questions the path she’s on. What if she doesn’t want to play soccer? What if she doesn’t want to hang out with her superficial friends? What if she doesn’t want to go to college? Suddenly, it’s okay to ask these questions and break free from everything she’s supposed to do.

While Nanette is rebelling against the life others have chosen for her, she’s joined by Booker, the reclusive author of The Bubblegum Reaper, who never wants to talk about his only published work; Alex, another fan of Booker’s novel, a boy who maybe takes the whole “rebel against the norm” thing too far; and Oliver, a kid who is tormented at school and needs someone to fight for him. Nanette believes she’s found kindred spirits in all three of these people, especially Alex.

Nanette and Alex grow closer, united in their rebellion against the status quo. But what will happen when Alex begins to lose himself, when he gets into trouble that he can’t talk his way out of? How will Nanette cope? Will she lose herself, too? Will she revert to the girl she once was–just going through the motions of “normal” life–or will she find a way to remain true to herself?

Read Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick to witness how a book changes one girl’s life, helps her find her voice, and makes her really look at the world around her and begin to find her own place in it.


When I was reading this book, I sympathized with Nanette, worried about her, and kind of wanted to be her. When she finally asserted herself and demanded that others see the “real” her, I cheered…and wished that I could do the same thing. When Nanette was both drawn to and repelled by Alex and his almost manic sense of rebellion, I wanted to shout at her to run away from what would surely be a destructive relationship. (In many ways, I was absolutely correct.) When she did what was expected of her, I did a bit of internal screaming, raging at her to wake up and live her own life. Suffice it to say, this character–the whole cast, really–elicited a lot of feelings, and most of them weren’t particularly comfortable.

Throughout the course of this book, I wanted those around Nanette–especially her parents–to see just how lonely she was and find some way to truly understand her. While that only sort of happened, Nanette did gain a greater understanding of herself. She was no longer content to simply do what everyone expected of her. Yes, some people got hurt, some judged her, and even those closest to her didn’t get why she was, in their eyes, throwing everything away. Nanette didn’t care. She eventually learned to live her own life instead of the one others wanted her to live. That’s something that many adults–myself included–still struggle with.

I guess, thanks to putting my thoughts into this post, I’ve realized just how much I really did like this book. It isn’t a happy-go-lucky book, and it’s not something you can read and never think about again. This book, like The Bubblegum Reaper, makes readers think and examine their own lives and who they’re living for. To some adults, that’s a dangerous concept to present to teen readers (and may explain why The Catcher in the Rye is still one of the most banned books around).

I do think Every Exquisite Thing is a book for mature teen readers. It deals with some adult situations and language that the vast majority of middle grade readers (and some teens and adults) are not ready to handle. This is a novel that invites some fairly intense philosophical questions, so be prepared for that.

For those that want to learn a bit more about Every Exquisite Thing, which will be out on May 31st, and other novels by Matthew Quick, check out the author’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Never Always Sometimes

Yesterday, I finished reading Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid. (You may recognize the name from his previous book, Let’s Get Lost.) Anyway, this latest book, which comes out next Tuesday, is sort of a coming of age story that John Green fans will probably eat up. In fact, at various points, this book reminded me a bit of Paper Towns. If you’re a Nerdfighter, that’s probably all the recommendation you need.

In Never Always Sometimes, readers are introduced to Dave and Julia, best friends who have done their best to avoid becoming high school clichés. Before they even darkened the doors of high school, Dave and Julia made a Nevers List, a list of things they vowed never to do during their time in high school. Some of the items were:

  • #2 – Never run for prom king/queen, student body president, or any other position that would have its own page in the yearbook.
  • #5 – Never dye your hair a color found in the rainbow.
  • #8 – Never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school.
  • #10 – Never date your best friend.

Now, almost four years later, just months before graduation, Dave and Julia have done a fairly good job of sticking to their Nevers List. Or so it seems.

Dave, for his part, has been in love with Julia for what seems like forever–breaking Never #8–but he keeps his feelings a secret so that he won’t ruin his relationship with his best friend.

One day, thinking she and Dave are missing out on the authentic high school experience, Julia suggests that they use the time before graduation to cross off every Never on their list. As is usually the case, Dave goes along with Julia’s crazy idea, and pretty soon, the two are dying their hair (and Dave is shaving his shortly thereafter), stalking a teacher, running a campaign for prom king, going to wild parties, and doing all the other things they’ve been disdainful of all this time.

Through all of this, Dave starts to realize that maybe he really has been missing out. This typical teenage stuff isn’t so bad, and it’s even pushing him to be social with people–girls–other than Julia. One girl in particular, Gretchen, catches his eye, and Dave begins to think that, as much as he still loves Julia, maybe he should let that hopeless crush go and move on.

What Dave doesn’t know (yet) is that Julia is coming to her own realizations. Maybe she too wants something more from her best friend, the guy who knows her better than anyone else. Maybe they should finally cross of Never #10 and see what happens. What could possibly go wrong?

_______________

How do I feel about Never Always Sometimes now that I’ve finished it and reflected a bit? Well, I’m still not sure. I think it’s a good book, maybe a tad unrealistic, but I kind of wanted to punch the main characters in the face several times when I was reading. Especially Julia. (I guess it’s good that I got so emotionally invested.) She seemed so self-centered to me throughout most of the book, and she tended to drag Dave down with her. Granted, he went–if somewhat unwillingly–most of the time, but I wanted both of them to wake up and see just how codependent they were.

As for the ending of the book, it took some doing, but it was sort of satisfying. I wouldn’t exactly call it happy, but given the events that preceded it, it really couldn’t be a totally happy ending for everyone. If anything, I would say that it was fitting and leave it at that.

For those wondering if Never Always Sometimes is suitable for middle grade readers, I would advise against it. It’s great for a YA audience, but the “sexy times” and rather unrepentant alcohol use and rule-breaking make the book much more suited to older teens. Whatever the reader’s age, I’d hope that all of them would have sense enough to know that some of the items on the Nevers List–like “never hook up with a teacher”–should remain Nevers.

As I said previously, Never Always Sometimes will be released to the masses on August 4th. (Many thanks to NetGalley for letting me read it a bit early.) If you’re interested in learning more about this book and author Adi Alsaid, you can connect with the author on Goodreads and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. It’s a pretty good intro to Never Always Sometimes, but it doesn’t give too much away.

Happy reading!

My Best Everything

Today, thanks to NetGalley and the Great Southern Ice Event of 2015 (hopefully, the only ice event of the year), I bring you yet another post on a recent read. That book is My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp and is due to be released on March 3rd.

I finished reading My Best Everything at about 10:30 this morning, and I’ve been thinking about it since then. After a few hours, I’m still not sure how I feel about this book. It’s certainly an interesting read, but parts of it really bugged me. The entire scheme cooked up by the main characters seems thoroughly implausible to me, and the ending, while somewhat satisfying, was kind of anti-climactic. I expected a bigger fallout, especially considering exactly what our protagonists were involved in.

On a positive note, though, My Best Everything wasn’t at all the love story I was anticipating. It went much deeper than that. This book–which needs a better title, by the way–gave me a story that did touch on first loves, but it also delved into things like self-control, looking to the future, escaping one’s past, and making hard–and sometimes dangerous–choices to achieve one’s goals.

All Lulu can think about is getting out of her small town. She doesn’t want to be one of those girls who stays in Dale, Virginia, and never leaves. Lulu’s plans to go to college in San Diego, however, have just hit a major snag. Her father, a traveling businessman, has just lost all of Lulu’s college money. It looks like Lulu may have to stay in Dale after all.

Or will she? When a moonshine still is sent to the junkyard where Lulu works, Lulu and her friends cook up an insane–and totally illegal–money-making scheme. What if they make and sell moonshine this summer? How hard could it be?

Well, as it turns out, there’s more to making moonshine than Lulu, Roni, and Bucky thought, so they turn to Mason, a troubled young man whose family has a long history as shiners in Dale. Lulu is intrigued by Mason, his past, and his vast knowledge of moonshine, but she’s also drawn to the man he’s trying so desperately to become.

Even as she and her friends are getting more caught up in making moonshine, Lulu worries that her great plan could ultimately be Mason’s downfall. Can he, with all of his personal demons, handle what they’re doing? Can Lulu? And can their fledgling relationship survive all of the pressures to come? Lulu is still focused on leaving Dale forever, but what will that mean for Mason? Is she ready to say good-bye to this young man who has quickly become so important to her?

This summer, changes are on the way for Lulu, Mason, and their friends. Nothing will end up quite like they expect, and their moonshining venture will impact everything they thought about themselves and their plans for the future.

Will Lulu make it to San Diego? Will she stay with Mason? What will become of their business as moonshiners? Can a small group of kids really make something like this work? Or will all of their efforts blow up in their faces? Read My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp to find out.

_______________

Maybe I’m alone in my sheltered little world, but I find the very thought of successful teenage moonshiners to be something of a stretch. In this book, though, the characters not only became moonshiners, but they also became pretty good at it. Yes, sometimes things didn’t go according to plan, and things didn’t quite end up like they’d hoped, but they really made a go of it. It was impressive…and disturbing.

Also, aside from the impact on the characters’ personal lives and relationships with others, there weren’t really any consequences for their highly illegal activities. I think that’s what bothered me the most about this book. The authorities weren’t even a real presence in the book, and some of the characters didn’t acknowledge being found out as a legitimate threat. I guess the rule-follower in me expected some sort of punishment for their actions, and, even though I would have likely rooted for the characters to escape the long arm of the law, I did want that arm to be present. Quite the conundrum.

I did like the way My Best Everything was written. Almost from the beginning, we know that the book is essentially a letter to Mason. But what kind of letter? Is Lulu telling him goodbye? Is she writing him a love letter? Is she simply trying to explain why things happened as they did? The reader never really knows, and that’s part of what I enjoyed about this book. Lulu lets us know that things didn’t happen the way she wanted them to, and, even at the end, we still don’t know what the future ultimately holds for her and Mason. It’s up to the reader to fill in those blanks.

For those who are considering purchasing this book for their libraries, I would urge some caution. My Best Everything is not a book I’d recommend to middle grade readers. In fact, I doubt I’d give this book to anyone under age sixteen. There are some complicated, adult situations–and loads of illegal activities–so this is definitely a book for older, more mature teen readers. Do with that what you will.

If you’re interested in learning more about My Best Everything and author Sarah Tomp, check out the author’s website, Twitter, and Goodreads. Enjoy!

Let’s Get Lost

A couple of days ago, Let’s Get Lost, a novel by Adi Alsaid, was released to the world. I began reading a NetGalley review copy of the book last week, and I finally finished it last night. To be perfectly honest, this book didn’t immediately capture my attention, so I found it easy to put it down and move on to something else. Once I made up my mind to sit down and read Let’s Get Lost, however, I wanted to know more about the central character, Leila, and her interactions with others on her journey north. The relationships she formed told us just as much about Leila as they did about the people she encountered.

Hudson is a kid preparing for the most important meeting of his entire life. He’s got a shot at a full scholarship at Ole Miss, and tomorrow is the big day. But a lot can happen in a day. When Hudson is working in his dad’s garage, a girl brings her car in for a little work. Almost immediately, Hudson is captivated by this newcomer. Her name is Leila, and she’s unlike any girl he’s ever met. She’s traveling to see the Northern Lights, and Hudson is awed by her bravery, her ability to take life as it comes, and to do what she wants. He wishes he could do the same. While she’s in town, he does. He decides to live a little before his big interview. Hudson shows Leila the town he loves, he shares pieces of himself with her, and he begins to reevaluate what he really wants. Is he ready, though, for the fallout of his night with Leila and what it could mean for his future?

Bree meets Leila on a lonely stretch of highway in Kansas. Bree is a runaway who lives for the next adventure, the next surge of adrenaline. She thinks she’s met a kindred spirit in Leila, the girl who took pity on a poor hitchhiker. Bree introduces Leila to the thrill of shoplifting, auto theft, and, eventually, spending some time in a jail cell. Through all this, Bree reveals her story to Leila, who wants to do whatever she can to help this girl find whatever it is she’s looking for. Is she really looking to run away, or is she trying to find her way home again?

Elliot, a young man in Minnesota, just told his friend, Maribel, that he’s in love with her…and was essentially shot down. This is not how his prom night was supposed to go. It was supposed to end like all the great romantic movies, with the girl revealing that she’s always loved him too, and then they have a dramatic kiss and live happily ever after. Yeah…not so much. Instead, Elliot is getting hammered and doing stupid stunts in the middle of the street. And that’s were Leila runs into him–literally. After a mild run-in with Leila’s car, Elliot unloads his troubles on this strange girl. Leila, in turn, vows to help Elliot win the girl he loves. What follows is a night reminiscent of a John Hughes film. Every time Elliot thinks he’s finally done something to win his Maribel’s affections, he’s rebuffed. It’s just when he’s all but given up that he has a glimmer of hope…and it’s all thanks to Leila, a girl he’d never met before this night but one who gave him the push he needed to follow his heart.

Sonia is a young woman struggling with her feelings. She’s in a wedding in British Columbia this weekend, but she’s very conscious that someone is missing from this important occasion. Sam, the boy she loved so much, passed away months ago, and his absence is weighing on Sonia. It’s Sam’s sister getting married, and his family that has taken Sonia in as one of their own, but how would they react if they knew she was moving on? Sonia doesn’t want to risk losing Sam’s family, but she knows that Jeremiah–who happens to be the best man in this weekend’s wedding–deserves more than she’s currently giving. The pressure gets to be too much for Sonia, and she needs some time alone. That’s when she meets Leila, a girl who takes pity on Sonia (who is now a tear-streaked mess), and what follows is a quest to reclaim Sonia’s life, save a wedding, and finally acknowledge that it’s okay to love again.

Leila has met quite a few interesting people on her journey to see the Northern Lights. She’s helped people–simply by caring about them–and she may have even experienced the beginnings of love, but it’s now time to see the Lights that she’s been so focused on. As she waits for the Lights to appear, she finally reveals her true reason for this long journey…and it’s not something that most people can fully grasp. Will the Northern Lights–in all their majestic glory–finally make things right for Leila, or will she discover that what she’s looking for has been within her reach all along?

_______________

Let’s Get Lost is a good read for those interested in travel, meeting new people, and throwing caution to the wind. I am definitely not one of those people, but I still enjoyed the book a bit. It was just a little difficult to understand the appeal of so much spontaneity.

I would say that this book is more suited to high school/YA collections than those for middle grade readers. It does include some alcohol/drug use, law-breaking, a little profanity, and a fair amount of disobeying (or outright ignoring) parents and other authority figures. (I think I was bothered more by the lack of respect for parents than by any of the other “bad” stuff in this book. Of course, I’ve always been a rule-follower. On the other hand, many of the adults in this book were almost completely out of touch with what was going on in their kids’ lives. Many young people will be able to relate to that.)

I know summer is winding down for most people, but Let’s Get Lost would be a great read if you’ve got a road trip ahead of you. It may just inspire you to slow down and get to know the people you meet along the way.

For more information on Let’s Get Lost and author Adi Alsaid, check out the author’s blog, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Love Letters to the Dead

I began reading my latest book, Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira, about two weeks ago. Unlike Oblivion, which was an easy book to put aside, this one kept calling to me, but I wanted to wait until I could give it my undivided attention before I really became absorbed in the story. I read bits and pieces here and there, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I finally sat down and got to know Laurel, the haunting voice that drives this wonderful book.

Love Letters to the Dead is just what the title suggests. It begins as a simple English assignment, but this is one that takes on a life of its own. Laurel was supposed to write a letter to a dead person, but she didn’t really stop there. She wrote letters to several famous people, most of whom died too young…just like Laurel’s big sister, May.

In Laurel’s letters to such notable figures as Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, Amelia Earhart, River Phoenix, Amy Winehouse, and others, readers learn not only about the lives–and deaths–of these people, but we also see how Laurel is dealing with her sister’s passing. (In short, she’s not.) Laurel’s entire life seemed to stop when May died, and moving on is excruciating at times. She doesn’t really know how to be herself because she’s always lived in May’s shadow. With May gone, who is Laurel…and why would anyone really care?

As Laurel enters a new school, forms a few unlikely friendships. and experiences love for the first time, she relates her experiences to those of the “stars” to whom she is writing. She writes about her fractured family and her guilt over May’s death. She writes of her sister’s magnetism and how everything May touched seemed to be absolutely perfect. She writes about her friends, Natalie and Hannah, and Hannah’s self-destructive behavior–which seems all-too-familiar at times–that is tearing the girls apart. And finally, Laurel writes about what happened before May’s death, the horror she suffered when May should have been watching out for her.

Through these “love letters,” Laurel deals with her grief and guilt, and she comes face to face with the sister she idolized. The sister who maybe wasn’t so perfect. The sister who let her down, first by leaving her vulnerable and then just by leaving.

Laurel realizes that there’s more to her than being May’s little sister, and it’s okay to want a life that isn’t ravaged by grief. Will she always love her sister? Absolutely. Nothing can ever change that. But will she finally understand that her sister was human and responsible for her own choices? Well, that’s a different question altogether and one that Laurel will have to answer for herself. These letters, though, might actually help her come to grips with the truth, and what started out as a simple English assignment could finally set Laurel free.

_______________

So, yeah…I liked this book. Anyone who has every experienced loss will relate to Laurel in some way. We experience Laurel’s crippling grief, we cry along with her, and we wonder if the pain will ever go away. Just like reality, the pain never really leaves Laurel, but she finds a way to deal with it so that she can get on with the business of living. And the process itself is not without its ups and downs, but Laurel powers on, facing herself and the truth about who her sister really was. Through it all, Laurel learns more about herself and who she wants to be.

In addition to empathizing with Laurel in Love Letters to the Dead, readers may also find themselves learning a little along the way. This book taught me more than I ever knew about the lives and deaths of Judy Garland, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, and several others. Their stories, like May’s, were tragic, and their deaths came too soon. Their legacies, though, live on.

I don’t feel I’ve done a very good job of capturing this book, but I hope you’ll give it a try anyway. If you enjoy coming-of-age stories like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, If I Stay, The Fault in Our Stars, We Were Liars, The Opposite of Hallelujah, and many others, I suggest you read Love Letters to the Dead. The format alone makes it a fairly quick read, but the story will stay with you long after you close the book.

For more information on Love Letters to the Dead and author Ava Dellaira, visit the author’s website, Facebook, or Twitter.