Goodbye Days

There are some books that should really be packaged with a box of Kleenex. Goodbye Days is one of those books. From Jeff Zentner, author of the William C. Morris Award-winning The Serpent King, comes another novel that absolutely rips your heart out. Goodbye Days isn’t one of those books that makes you cry only at the end. No, this one elicits full-on sobbing most of the way through. This novel is at once tragic, poignant, and cathartic, and I adored every last bit of it…even though I was often reading through a veil of tears.

Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read Goodbye Days a little early, but it’s available for the masses on March 7th. If you’re wondering if you should buy this book, you absolutely should.

Carver Briggs should be getting ready to enjoy his last year of high school with his three best friends, Mars, Blake, and Eli. Instead, he’s attending their funerals and dealing with the knowledge that he played a role in the deaths of those closest to him. How was he supposed to know that sending them a text message–like so many they’ve sent in the past–would somehow lead to the accident that destroyed everything?

Now, Carver’s life without his friends is almost more than he can bear. He’s a mess of grief, guilt, and fear. Grief over the loss of his friends; guilt over his role in this tragedy; and fear of what may happen to him if the authorities decide to bring criminal charges against him. Carver doesn’t know how to cope with everything, and he’s experiencing panic attacks for the first time in his life. Something’s got to give.

Thankfully, Carver isn’t completely alone. He’s supported by his parents (even though he doesn’t really confide in them), his wonderful sister, Georgia, and Jesmyn, Eli’s girlfriend, who shares her grief with Carver. He’s also started seeing a therapist–at his sister’s urging–and that’s helping him to explore his feelings about everything that’s happening.

Then there’s Blake’s grandmother. She, unlike some of his other friends’ family members, doesn’t blame Blake for what happened. She comes up with the idea of having a “goodbye day” for Blake, and she wants Carver to share one final day saying goodbye to her grandson. They’ll tell stories about Blake, visit his favorite spots, eat his favorite foods…basically, spend one day devoted to Blake’s memory.

At first, Carver is apprehensive about this, but he finds the experience somehow cleansing, and he wonders if it’s a good idea to have “goodbye days” with the families of his other friends. Some are willing; others are not. Not everyone forgives as readily as Blake’s grandmother. Even Carver feels that he’s somehow deserving of everything being heaped on him: the criminal investigation, the panic attacks, being a pariah at school, and the thoughts that plague him on a daily basis.

Will Carver ever be able to forgive himself for his role in this horrible tragedy? Will others be able to forgive him? Can a series of “goodbye days” help Carver and his friends’ families make some sort of peace with their loss? Will a cloud of grief hover over Carver forever, or will he be able to find a “new normal” with a little help?


I don’t know what more I can say about this book without telling everything that happens. It wrecked me, maybe more than The Serpent King did…and that’s saying a lot.

I think Goodbye Days is a great read for fans of John Green, Rainbow Rowell, and Gayle Forman. Basically, if you like books that tear your heart out, this is the book for you.

In my opinion, Goodbye Days is more suited to a YA audience than a tween crowd. If you plan to market this book to a middle grade audience, read it first. The book is written from a teen guy’s perspective, so there is some language and frank talk of “personal growth.” (I don’t think I need to explain that, do I?) Know your readers, and plan accordingly.

For more information on Goodbye Days and Jeff Zentner (who is now one of my go-to authors for contemporary YA), visit the author’s website. You can also connect with Jeff Zentner on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

The Warden’s Daughter

Yesterday, Jerry Spinelli’s newest book, The Warden’s Daughter, was released. I started reading it a bit earlier (thanks to NetGalley), but I didn’t manage to finish it until last night. It took a little while for me to gain traction with this book, but I flew through the latter half after school yesterday. As I got closer to the end, I was reading through a veil of tears. I needed a good cry, and this book delivered.

Cammie O’Reilly doesn’t exactly have a normal home. She is the warden’s daughter, and she and her father live in a little apartment attached to the Hancock County Prison. A prison trustee, Eloda Pupko, takes care of Cammie, and Cammie is friendly with many of the female inmates. As much as she wishes differently, though, none of them can really take the place of the mother who died when Cammie was just a baby. Or can they?

During the summer of 1959, Cammie does whatever she can to get someone, preferably Eloda, to mother her. It doesn’t seem to be working out for her, and this just adds to Cammie’s general sense of unhappiness. Sure, she has things she enjoys–talking about American Bandstand with her friend Reggie, playing baseball, eating junk food until she’s sick, and talking to Boo Boo, one of Hancock’s most colorful prisoners–but Cammie is not really happy.

This summer, big changes are in store for Cammie, and it’s not just turning the big 1-3. A new, controversial prisoner enters Hancock’s gates. Reggie, Cammie’s best friend, becomes obsessed with fame. Cammie finds friends–and an odd sense of family–in an unlikely situation. And Cammie’s entire world is rocked by a loss that no one could have anticipated.

Cammie struggles to cope with everything happening around her, and she lashes out at those close to her. Her anger and sorrow make her reckless, and she begins doing things she never thought she would. Her life seems to be spiraling out of control, and she doesn’t know how to get back on track.

What will it take for Cammie to become truly happy? Perhaps someone who’s been looking out for her–loving her–all along will give her just the push she needs…


The Warden’s Daughter is a great piece of historical fiction that is ideal for middle grade collections. Would I place it in an elementary library? Probably not. I’m not sure that my students are developmentally ready to tackle the question of capital punishment–an issue that is addressed in this book. There are also a few other situations in the book (suicide, rebellion, smoking, etc.) that, in my humble opinion, make it more suited to a middle grade audience.

I do think that this book could start some interesting discussions on how people in prison are treated. Cammie’s father, the warden, doesn’t treat his inmates as if they are subhuman. He treats them, even those who’ve committed the most heinous crimes, with respect. That’s something very different than what I’ve seen portrayed on the news and in various other forms of media. It might be worthwhile to have readers examine Callie’s father’s mindset with how today’s prisons are run or how they are portrayed in the media. Which way is better, and how can prisons be reformed? It’s thought-provoking to say the least.

If The Warden’s Daughter sounds like your cup of tea, I encourage you to give it a read. Given that I’m not normally drawn to historical fiction, I liked it a lot. I hope you will, too.

To learn more about this book and others by Jerry Spinelli, visit the author’s website. Enjoy!

The Sky Is Everywhere

I became a Jandy Nelson fan about two years ago when I read the unbelievably moving I’ll Give You the Sun. (Read it. Seriously. And have lots of tissues at the ready.) I was in a weird mood this week, so I looked to one of her other books, The Sky Is Everywhere, to get me through. It worked.

I guess I needed a good cry–without resorting to cheesy holiday Hallmark movies–and The Sky Is Everywhere definitely delivered. It explored concepts like loss, grief, love, family, hope, and the power of words and music in a way that really resonated with me. I hope it will do the same for you.

Lennie Walker is going through the worst time of her life. Following the death of her older sister, Bailey, Lennie is completely adrift. She doesn’t know which way to turn, and she doesn’t know how to go on without the most important person in her world. She’s lost interest in almost everything. Her only solace comes in the form of poems she leaves on the walls, on scrap pieces of paper, all over town.

While Lennie struggles to reconnect to her life, she looks for comfort in the arms of Toby, her sister’s boyfriend. He seems to be the only person who truly understands her grief, and maybe both of them are seeking a piece of Bailey in each other. Lennie knows it’s wrong to be so wrapped up in Toby, but she can’t seem to help herself. (To be fair, neither can he.)

When a new guy enters the picture, though, Lennie’s world is once again thrown into chaos. Joe Fontaine brings sunshine into Lennie’s life for the first time in a while, and he seems to bring her back into the world of words, music, and living. She begins playing her clarinet again, talking to friends and family, and contemplating a future of her own. It’s both exhilarating and, on some level, agonizing.

A big part of Lennie feels guilty for feeling any kind of happiness when her sister is gone, and an even bigger part of her is guilty over her continued connection with Toby when she’s falling for Joe. She knows she must end whatever is happening with Toby before it destroys her relationship with Joe…but that may not be up to her.

As her romantic life flounders, Lennie must also deal with secrets her sister was keeping, her feelings on her absent mother, how she relates to her family, and even how she views herself. Who is she without Bailey? Can she find the girl she is now before she loses Joe, the boy who may just be the love of her life? It’s time for Lennie to find out.


The band geek and word nerd in me really loved the character of Lennie (even though I wanted to shake her a few times). I have a feeling a lot of readers out there may feel the same way. If nothing else, maybe Lennie’s taste in music and literature could inspire readers to explore–or at least revisit–the classics.

While I think The Sky Is Everywhere is an excellent book for teens and adults–especially music and book lovers or those who’ve ever been in love or experienced loss (doesn’t narrow it down much, does it?)–I do think it’s geared toward more mature readers. This book doesn’t shy away from what may be deemed “salty language” or frank talk of sexuality. Yes, I know that’s reality for many tweens and teens. Some mature middle grade readers may be okay with this book, but others may not. As usual, know your readers and recommend books accordingly.

If you’d like to know more about The Sky Is Everywhere and other books by Jandy Nelson, I encourage you to visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

With that, I’m going to wrap things up…which is the only wrapping I’ve managed to do. It’s Christmas Eve, and I haven’t wrapped a single gift, so I guess I’ve got work to do. So long for now, and I’ll be back in a few days. Happy holidays to you all!

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.

 

A Million Ways Home

Last night, I finished one more of the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget. Those who know me can take one look at the book’s cover and figure out why I was a little hesitant to read this one.

That’s right. There’s a dog on the cover.

Well, I read the book anyway, and I have to admit that I’m glad I did. Though the dog plays a part in things, he’s not the major focus of the book. That honor goes to Poppy, a girl dealing with much more than any kid should be expected to handle.


After Poppy Parker’s grandmother suffers a stroke, the girl is sent to live in the North Shore Children’s Center. Poppy hates it here (with good reason), and she’s willing to do just about anything to reunite with her grandmother…even run away.

Poppy tries to make her way to the hospital to see Grandma Beth, but things quickly turn south. After a brief stop at a convenience store, Poppy becomes the sole witness to a horrible crime, an armed robbery and murder. The suspect knows her face and her name, so Poppy is placed under police protection, specifically in the home of Detective Trey Brannigan and his mother, Marti.

It doesn’t take long for Poppy to feel safe in this temporary home. She likes her caregivers, and she enjoys helping Marti at the animal shelter. She even manages to make a couple of friends–one human and one canine. Lizzie, the human, is a girl with troubles of her own. Gunner, the canine, is a beautiful German Shepherd who isn’t all that different from Lizzie. Both of them need someone to love them and be patient with them, and that person is Poppy.

Even with all these positives, though, Poppy longs for things to go back to the way they used to be. She wants her grandmother to get better. She wants to go back to their apartment and not have all these worries weighing on her. Surely, life can one day be normal again for Poppy and and her grandmother.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. There’s still the matter of a dangerous criminal on the loose and looking for Poppy. Also, Grandma Beth isn’t recovering like Poppy hoped she would. Things are looking bleak, and Poppy doesn’t know what to do.

Will Poppy ever be able to return home? Will her grandmother get better? Will the police ever catch the guy putting Poppy in danger? And what will happen with Lizzie and Gunner?

Learn how Poppy navigates through the waters of uncertainty, friendship, grief, and love to find her way home when you read A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget.


A Million Ways Home is a quick, moving, and entertaining read that is sure to appeal to upper elementary and middle grade readers. Readers will empathize with Poppy and wonder what they would do if placed in similar situations.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that it is too “busy.” There’s already a lot going on in this book–Poppy’s reluctance to go back to the children’s center, her encounter with a criminal, Grandma Beth’s illness, Gunner’s fate, Lizzie’s problems, etc. Adding revelations about Poppy’s parents, Trey’s regrets, and even Lizzie’s issues with her dad, in my opinion, muddy the waters a bit and make the narrative confusing at times. I understand why the author included these details, but I didn’t feel like they contributed a great deal to the story as a whole. Just my two cents.

My issues aside, I do think my students will enjoy A Million Ways Home, and I’m happy it’s on next year’s SCCBA list. Now, I get to figure out how to sum up this book in a minute-long book trailer to help me with promoting it! (Check my library’s YouTube channel later to see what I come up with.)

For more information on A Million Ways Home and other books by Dianna Dorisi Winget, visit the author’s website.

Happy reading!

The Last Time We Say Goodbye

On Monday, the latest nominees for the South Carolina Book Award program were announced. For the first time in probably ten years, I had not read any of the books listed in the Young Adult category. (I may work in an elementary school now, but I still love YA literature…as you may have noticed.)

Anyway, I knew I needed to correct that situation immediately, so I asked a friend which of the YA nominees I should read first. Her recommendation was Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Unfortunately, that book was unavailable through Overdrive, so I had to move on to another one. (Luckily for me, Red Queen became available fairly quickly, so that’s my next SCYABA read.) Since I couldn’t immediately dive into Red Queen, I chose to read The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand. I’d read her Unearthly trilogy (Unearthly, Hallowed, and Boundless) and enjoyed it, so I trusted that I would like this book as well. I was right…again.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye is not what I would call an “easy” read. The subject matter–suicide and those left behind–is tough to read about. It’s even tougher if one’s life has been touched by suicide. That being said, I feel this is an important book for allowing readers to explore a tough topic…and to know that they are not alone.

Lex thought she knew the path her life was on. She was happy, excelling in school, and hoping to get into MIT. She had good friends and a great boyfriend who really understood her. Sure, things were tense at home since her dad left, but she, her mom, and her brother would get through that eventually. Things were okay.

And then everything changed. From one moment to the next, Lex’s entire world was turned upside down.

When her brother Ty ended his life, Lex didn’t know what to do with herself. How could she ever be happy again when her brother would never be able to? How could she look forward to her future when Ty wouldn’t have one?

As the weeks and months pass, Lex searches for her new normal. She’s forgotten what it feels like to be happy. She’s lost touch with her friends and ended things with her boyfriend. Her grades are beginning to slip. She worries about her mother, and she can’t even deal with her father. Moving on from this tragedy doesn’t seem to be an option.

Lex reluctantly talks to her therapist who suggests she keep a journal. Through writing, Lex begins to explore her relationship with her brother, what may have led to his decision, and her own guilt over not being there when Ty needed her. Could she have done something to stop him? Lex doesn’t know, but the guilt–and the feeling that Ty is still around somehow–are driving her crazy.

If Lex has any hope of moving on and being happy again–whatever that looks like–she knows she must face everything that happened the night Ty died, all of the events that may have led up to it, and the horrible fallout. She has to confront her parents about their actions as well as come to terms with her own. It’s the only way she can possibly have any real peace.

Will Lex’s efforts be enough, or will she forever be haunted by the ghost of her brother? Find out when you read The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand.


The Last Time We Say Goodbye is sure to be popular with fans of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Fall by James Preller, or I Was Here by Gayle Forman. It’s a great book dealing with a difficult subject, and it may be just what someone needs to get through a tough time.

I don’t know that I would recommend The Last Time We Say Goodbye to all middle grade readers, but some may be able to handle it. Use your best judgement when putting this book in young hands, but keep in mind that kids–yes, even those in middle school–have been touched by suicide. A book like this one may be what they need. Trust me on this.

For more information on The Last Time We Say Goodbye, check out author Cynthia Hand’s website. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Finally, if you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please get help. Talk to someone–a parent, a friend, a guidance counselor, a librarian, a religious leader, someone. Go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or It Get’s Better. You’re not alone.

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.

_______________

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.

_______________

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!