Every once in a while, I come across a book that I know is going to wreck me. Sometimes, all it takes is a look at the cover or a glance at the description to realize that I better get the Kleenex ready. That’s what happened with Bang by Barry Lyga.

When Sebastian Cody was four years old, he did the unthinkable. He shot and killed his baby sister. It was an accident, but that event changed everything. It broke up his family, and it made Sebastian into a pariah. Everyone knows him as the kid who shot his sister.

It’s now ten years later, and Sebastian has nearly reached his breaking point. He’s certain it’s almost time for him to end his pain. He can’t escape what he did to his sister, but he can escape this life. He’s almost ready. Almost.

When his best friend, Evan, goes away for the summer, Sebastian is sure that he won’t see his friend again. He’s going to end his life, and nothing is going to stop him. His plans begin to change, however, when he meets Aneesa.

Aneesa is unlike anyone Sebastian has ever met. For one thing, she’s Muslim, which already makes her unique in his extremely white bread town. For another, she doesn’t know anything about Sebastian’s past. To her, he’s just Sebastian, awkwardly funny guy who charms her parents and makes delicious pizza.

Sebastian and Aneesa become fast friends–and partners in a pizza-making YouTube venture–and it’s almost enough to make Sebastian forget his plans. Could he possibly move past what happened to him all those years ago? Does he deserve friends and a future after what he did? He’s starting to think it’s possible.

But maybe all of the positive stuff in Sebastian’s life is too good to be true. After all, no one will ever let him forget his past. Even Aneesa’s friendship isn’t enough to blot out the pain. Can anything help him to move on, or is Sebastian fated to end his life the same way he ended his sister’s?

Like I said, this book wrecked me…so much so that I’m finding it difficult to write as much as I typically do. It is an outstanding piece of realistic fiction, and it’s sure to keep readers eager to turn the page. Yes, some of that enthusiasm could be morbid curiosity–will Sebastian end his life or not? But I’m hopeful that most people will want to keep reading to see if Sebastian finds his way through the darkness. Maybe they need to see him find a glimmer of hope so that they can seek their own measure of peace.

Aside from the deep stuff in Bang–and it does get pretty intense–I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it made me hungry. Not something you expected in a book like this one, right? Well, when you read about Sebastian’s epic pizza creations, you’ll probably feel the same way. After reading the descriptions of his pizzas, Papa John’s just won’t cut it anymore. I’m not inspired to make my own pizzas or anything–I hate to cook–but I may have to venture beyond the traditional after this book. When I wasn’t using tissues to dry my tears, I’m pretty sure I was using them to wipe away drool. (Can you tell I’m on a diet? Is it too obvious?)

I’m not sure if Bang is a good fit for a middle school audience, but I definitely recommend it to YA readers. It’s a powerful book, a quick read, and it makes readers think about differences, friendship, forgiveness, and redemption.

To learn more about Bang, visit author Barry Lyga’s website or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

This Is Where It Ends

If you’re going to read a book about a school shooting, it’s not a good idea to do so while you’re sitting at school after hours. It’s anxiety-inducing. Of course, I don’t know that any book about such a horrible topic wouldn’t be anxiety-inducing even in the most calming of environments. At any rate, my reading environment–and my choice of profession–definitely colored my feelings of This Is Where It Ends, a disturbing, stunning, and timely debut novel from author Marieke Nijkamp.

It was supposed to be a normal day at Opportunity High School. Students returning from winter break, listening to the principal’s standard new semester speech, and then moving on with their days. But nothing about this day is normal. When the speech is over, and students get up to leave, the auditorium doors won’t budge. Everyone is locked in. What is going on?

It quickly becomes evident that the students and teachers at this school are now at the mercy of Tyler, a kid with–in his mind, at least–nothing to lose. He feels alone, and he’s convinced that everyone in his life has turned their backs on him. They’ll remember him now. He’ll have his say and get his revenge on the school and the town that he thinks abandoned him.

Tyler’s sister, Autumn, and her girlfriend, Sylv, are in the midst of the terrified students and teachers in the crowded auditorium. Autumn can’t believe this is her brother, her protector. Sure, he’s got a dark side, and the past several years haven’t been easy on their family, but she never believed he could possibly do something like this. Sylv, on the other hand, knows firsthand about the darkness within Tyler. She’s seen the evil in his eyes, but she never revealed the truth of his heinousness. Can either of them do anything now to stop Tyler from taking more innocent lives?

Outside the auditorium, Sylv’s brother, Tomás (who was otherwise occupied when the shooting began), is working to find a way to his sister and everyone else in the auditorium. He and his friend, Far, are doing whatever they can to help the survivors escape. Yes, both of them are putting themselves in the line of fire, but they have to do something. Will it be enough?

Claire, Tyler’s ex-girlfriend, is also outside of the school. She was at track practice when the first shots were heard, and she’s attempting to get help while reflecting on her relationship with Tyler and the incident that ended it all. Until she’s presented with the evidence of Tyler’s actions, she can scarcely believe that the boy she once loved is capable of such atrocities. If she’d stayed with him, would he have still done this?

Autumn, Sylv, Tomás, and Claire are all wondering if there’s something they could have done or said to prevent the horror that this day has brought. What can they do to get out of it now? Can anyone reason with Tyler, or is he too far-gone to be helped? What led to this nightmare, and who will remain standing when it’s all over? And can an event as terrible as this one ever be truly over for anyone?


As much as the subject of This Is Where It Ends unnerves me, the book itself is a gripping read that I couldn’t put down. It features a diverse cast of characters, and is a great pick for reluctant readers. Would I put it in a middle school collection? I’m honestly not sure. If your library serves middle grade readers, you may want to read this one for yourself to determine if your patrons can handle it. Many may not be able to. (To be perfectly honest, this book may be too much for some older readers…including educators.)

This Is Where It Ends will be released on January 5th, and I think it will be a popular read in many YA collections. As horrifying as the subject matter is, it does reflect something that, while uncomfortable, could be all-too-real for some. Considering what’s going on in the world right now, it is especially timely, and exploring a topic like this through fiction is a safe way for readers of all ages to examine their own feelings and think about what they might do if faced with a similar situation. (Given that we now go through active shooter training at the beginning of each school year, this is something that we have to think about anyway.)

If you’d like more information on this book and author Marieke Nijkamp, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Finally, I’d like to thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book before its release. It definitely made me think.