See You at Harry’s

You’d think I’d know by now not to judge a book by its cover. Well, I don’t, and the latest book to fool me is See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles. Let’s take a quick look at the cover:

This cover practically shouts, “Brain candy right here!” I mean, there’s ice cream on the cover, for goodness sake. Of course I thought I would be getting a light, fun read that would be a nice contrast to other, heavier books I was reading. Alas, that was not the case. (I probably should have paid closer attention to the blurb on the front cover and the synopsis on the back. My bad.) Now, that’s not to say that See You at Harry’s was bad in any way. It was wonderful, to be quite honest. It just wasn’t what I was expecting…and that’s a good thing. I re-learned an important lesson and got a moving, sob-inducing book in the process. Hooray for me.

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Fern often feels ignored by her family. Her father’s main focus is on the family business. Her mom, when not helping Fern’s dad, is wrapped up in her meditation. Her sister Sara is taking a year off between high school and college and seems to delight in telling her siblings what to do. Her brother Holden spends most of his time hiding his true self from the world. Then there’s Charlie.

Charlie is three years old and the center of everyone’s world. Fern, who is probably Charlie’s favorite sibling, loves her little brother but finds him annoying at times. Sometimes, Fern wishes Charlie would just leave her alone and bother someone else with his dirty, sticky, loud, obnoxious self. Why can’t he ignore her like everyone else does?

Fern’s only solace is the time she spends with her friend, Ran. Ran is the epitome of cool, calm, and collected. His mantra of “all will be well” soothes Fern when things aren’t great–both at home and at school. Pretty soon, though, even Ran’s mantra won’t be enough to soothe what ails Fern…

When tragedy strikes Fern’s family–and Fern feels as if she’s to blame–life as she knows it begins to unravel. How can any of them go on when something so horrible has happened? At first, they can’t. Fern wonders how anyone in her family can stand to look at her when they know that this horrible accident is all her fault. She doesn’t see any way past what has happened, and she can’t fathom being happy after what has befallen her family.

But there is hope…

Fern, with the help of her friends and siblings, eventually realizes that, even though her sadness is often unbearable, she deserves to be happy. She can laugh and celebrate and love despite her tragic circumstances. Joy can be found even in the bad times. Fern and her family simply have to find a way to look for the light in the midst of the darkness.

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I really hope I haven’t given away what happens in this book. That would just ruin everything. Suffice it to say that I cried ugly tears through the latter half of the book. (We’re talking wet shirt, foggy glasses, going through a whole box of Kleenex here. I was a mess.) So, if you’re looking for a good cry, See You at Harry’s may be the book for you.

In my most humble opinion, See You at Harry’s is a book suited to middle grade readers on up. I do think, though, that tween readers will have a very different reaction than will adult readers of this book. It might be interesting to compare the two reactions in a faculty-student book club. (If I worked in a middle school library, I’d strive to make this a reality.)

If you’d like to learn more about See You at Harry’s and other books by Jo Knowles, check out the author’s website. (Quite a few of her books are on my extensive TBR list.) You can also connect with the author on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Happy reading!

Dead to You

Last night, I finished reading Lisa McMann’s latest novel, Dead to You, and proceeded to spend the rest of the night thinking about the book.  (I didn’t sleep much.)  Dead to You, like McMann’s other YA novels (Wake, Fade, Gone, and Cryer’s Cross) kept my interest from the very beginning and kept me thinking long after I finished the book.  (I’m still processing how it ended.)  It was gripping, tense, and made me eager to turn the page.  Dead to You was a quick read with a sympathetic male protagonist, and is a perfect pick for reluctant male readers.  (There is some bad language in the book and a couple of rather frank depictions of, shall we say, what goes on in the mind of an adolescent male when confronted with an attractive female, so I would hesitate to recommend this book to anyone under the age of fourteen.)  Anyone who reads this book will be intrigued by the premise—a boy kidnapped when he was seven and returned to his family nine years later—and eager to see how this story plays out…

Ethan De Wilde went missing when he was seven years old.  No one had any clue about his whereabouts…until now.  Sixteen-year-old Ethan has returned to his family after nine years, and he’s totally unprepared for what his miraculous appearance truly means, especially since he can’t remember anything before his abduction.  His little brother Blake, though, remembers everything.  He remembers seeing Ethan get into a black car with two strange men.  Ethan has no recollection of that, but he does know that he lived with a woman named Ellen until she abandoned him at a group home a year ago.  After he left the group home, Ethan found out where he truly belonged and made his way back to his long-lost family.

Ethan is trying to recall memories of his first seven years, but he’s overwhelmed with all his return means.  His family—which moved on without him—is readjusting to having Ethan home.  His mom and dad are constantly fighting, Blake seems to be jealous of all the attention Ethan is getting, and little Gracie—the “replacement child”—doesn’t really know what’s going on.  Ethan is struggling with lost memories, going to school, feelings for the girl next door, and controlling his urge to run away from the madness his life has become.

Just when Ethan finally begins to feel safe and at home, something happens that throws his life into a tailspin once again.  Ethan doesn’t know what to do, how he can get past this, or what it means for his future.  But he does know one thing.  Unlocking the memories of Ethan’s first seven years will change everything, and no one will be prepared for the fallout.  Read Dead to You by Lisa McMann to learn what happens when things long-buried—memories, secrets, lies, resentments—rise to the surface and threaten to destroy everything.

I predict that Dead to You will be an easy sell in high school libraries everywhere.  The book’s length is not intimidating to reluctant readers, teen readers across the board will find something to identify with, and the story itself is so fascinating that all readers—teen and adult—will be riveted until the very end.  Also, the discussions that the ending will generate will be quite interesting.  (It almost makes me wish I still worked in a high school so that I could talk to teens about this book.)  Dead to You provides great opportunities for students to take the story and write their own endings.  What happens next?  I’m sure the answers would be as varied as the young adults who read this book.

If you’d like more information about Dead to You and other books my Lisa McMann, visit http://lisamcmann.com/index.html.  You can also follow the author on Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest.

For even more, check out this video from Simon and Schuster with Lisa McMann talking about Dead to You and what her readers can expect next!

Happyface

When I started reading Happyface by Stephen Emond, I was prepared for a light-hearted, humorous read.  (The big yellow smiley-face on the cover led me to that assumption.)  Well, let’s just say that I didn’t exactly get what I was expecting.  While the journal format was different from a lot of young adult novels, the whiny, self-centered protagonist was not.  I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing.  Many young adults I know are whiny and self-centered, so they’ll be able to easily relate to this character, also known as Happyface.

We begin our story in a seemingly normal situation–a teen boy is out of school for the summer; his older brother Everett is home from college; they live with their parents who have their problems but seem to fit together; and this teen boy is in love with his best friend Chloe.  Everything’s great, right?  Um, no.  Fast forward to August, and our young friend is entering a new school, he and his mom have moved into a tiny apartment, and there is little to no mention of Dad, Everett, or Chloe.  What happened in just a couple of short months?  (Note:  I’m not going to tell you.  You’ll have to read to find out.)

With all these changes, our main character decides to make some changes of his own.  At his old school, he was kind of a nerd, always apart from everyone else (except Chloe).  Now, he is determined to be different.  He wants to be outgoing, popular, active.  It all begins when he meets Gretchen.  He makes an effort to be nice and happy around her, and Happyface is born.  That’s the nickname Gretchen gives him because he’s always smiling.  Happyface thinks if he’s smiling and acting like nothing bothers him, people will like him and not care (or know) about the mess his life is at home.  For a while, it works.  He’s going to all the parties, breaking curfew, hanging out with new friends, and basically becoming the popular guy he’s always wanted to be.

As with most things, however, this new-found popularity cannot last.  People begin to find out just what Happyface is hiding.  They discover what happened with his parents, his brother, and his best friend.  Happyface is back to square one, and he’s not, well, happy about it.  How can one person experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in one short year?  (Trust me, it can happen.  I speak from experience.)  How can Happyface reconcile his new life with the one he thought he left behind?  Read Happyface by Stephen Emond to find out.

If you like books written in journal format with lots of illustrations, Happyface might be the book for you.  If you enjoy it, I also encourage you to check out Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  The books have similar formats, but, while Happyface takes himself way too seriously most of the time, the main character in Alexie’s book uses a lot of humor to get him through some tough situations.

For more information on Happyface and Stephen Emond, visit http://www.stephenemond.com/.