Vanishing Girls

I finished reading Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver about fifteen minutes ago, and I’m still processing what happened, so bear with me. I may end up working out my feelings on this book throughout the course of this post. (That happens quite frequently, to be honest.)

In Vanishing Girls, we meet sisters Nick and Dara. Their story, told in Before and After increments, details a rather tumultuous relationship. The sisters were once very close, but jealousy, fighting, relationships, self-destructive behaviors–and, eventually, a horrible accident–tear the girls apart.

Nothing is the same after the car accident that built an impenetrable wall between the sisters. Nick, who is moving back in with her mother for the summer, wants to repair her relationship with Dara, but her sister seems to excel in the art of avoidance. Their paths never cross, but Nick continues to look for a way back to her sister.

While Nick is searching for a way to reconnect with Dara, there’s another search underway in their town. Madeline Snow, a nine-year-old girl, has gone missing. Everyone is on alert, and as the hours and days pass, the story continues to grip the community. Where is this young girl? What happened to her? How could she have vanished without a trace? Surely someone knows something, but the girl is nowhere to be found.

After Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick is convinced that her disappearance is somehow linked to Madeline Snow’s. She goes on a hunt for clues into Dara’s life, and she’s shocked by what she finds. Apparently, Dara’s been involved in much more than the occasional experiments with drugs and alcohol. She gotten mixed up in a horrible situation, something with the power to ruin her entire life.

What drove Dara to something like this? Could Nick have done something to stop it? What does Dara have to do with Madeline Snow’s disappearance, and can Nick uncover the whole truth–including what really happened on the night of that fateful car accident–before she loses everything?

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Okay…after writing all of that, I’m still not sure how I feel about this book. It was good (as are Lauren Oliver’s other books), and it definitely kept me eager to turn each page, but I guess I simply wasn’t expecting the twist at the end. No, I’m not going to reveal anything major, but I will say that I now want to read the entire book again so that I can look for clues that I missed the first go-round.

Vanishing Girls isn’t a light and fluffy read that you can simply finish and forget. This book is sure to keep readers thinking long after the last page, and I think a lot of interesting discussions could result. (This would be a good pick for a YA book club.)

I do think this book is more suited to an older teen audience, mainly because of the frank depictions of alcohol and drug use and some sexual situations. As always, read the book yourself before adding it to any classroom or library collections. What works in one collection may not be a good fit for another.

If Vanishing Girls sounds like it might be your cup of tea, you can learn more about it on Lauren Oliver’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and YouTube. Enjoy!

Trouble Is a Friend of Mine

Given that school starts this week and I still have 795, 463 things to do, I’ll endeavor to keep this post short. Here goes…

If you or any teen readers you know like Sherlock, then you definitely need to give Trouble Is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly a try. If Sherlock Holmes were a 16-year-old American boy, he would be Digby…and awesome. In this highly entertaining book, Zoe (a teen girl version of Watson) encounters Digby after moving to a new area, and life as she knows it is about to get a lot more interesting.

Zoe Webster is just biding her time. All she really wants to do is transfer to the elite Prentiss Academy and get out of this new town, but she’s got to deal with her present circumstances first. A clueless mom, a new school, and no friends.

Well, the “no friends” thing may be easier to change than Zoe thinks. One day, a weird kid named Digby shows up at her door and basically informs Zoe that they’re going to be friends. Almost against Zoe’s will, Digby is right. Even when it leads her directly into the path of trouble, Zoe follows Digby into odd and often dangerous situations, but this strange and brilliant young man usually manages to talk their way out of nearly anything.

Digby and Zoe, along with a couple other colorful characters, manage to find themselves involved in a mystery that includes drugs, kidnapping, cults, attempted murder, and more mayhem than they ever could have expected. (Well, Digby may have expected some of it. Not much gets by him.) They’ll have to break every rule on the books–and some laws of common sense–in their attempt to uncover what’s really going on.

But why is Digby so invested in this stuff? And why does he insist on bringing Zoe along? Is Digby just a manic genius, or is something more going on? Read Trouble Is a Friend of Mine to find out.

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After reading Trouble Is a Friend of Mine, I must say that Digby is one of the most entertaining, charming characters I’ve encountered lately. He really keeps this book going simply because the reader never knows what he’s going to do or say next.

The parallels between Digby and Sherlock Holmes (as played by the delightful Benedict Cumberbatch) are unmistakable and wonderful. Digby has his own version of the Homeless Network, he bends the rules to get answers, he works with law enforcement (when it suits him), and he observes every little detail around him.

Zoe, for her part, is something of a stabilizing force for Digby, much like Dr. John Watson. Yes, she follows him into danger, but she also, in my opinion, keeps him grounded and lets him know that she’ll be his backup. Through the course of their friendship, both Zoe and Digby learn more about themselves, who they can really count on, and just how important their relationship is.

At various points, I think this story wanted to be a romance between Digby and Zoe. It didn’t quite happen, but I can see how it might if there were a sequel. (If there is one on the works, I haven’t heard about it yet.) Part of me wants Digby and Zoe to get together, but a bigger part wants them to be “just friends.” There are too many books out there that force a romantic relationship between two characters, and it would be nice to see a story–or series of stories–where male and female characters can keep things platonic. It would be refreshing, to say the least, and these two characters simply don’t need to hook up to continue being their hilarious, charming selves.

Trouble Is a Friend of Mine was released on August 4th, so it’s available wherever books are sold. I highly recommend it to any library serving teens (or older readers) who love Sherlock.

If you’d like more information on this excellent book, you can connect with author Stephanie Tromly on Twitter. As far as I can tell, Trouble Is a Friend of Mine is her first book. I sincerely hope this is only the beginning.

Once Was Lost

Well, it’s Easter Sunday, and it’s the first one I can remember that I haven’t attended church.  I chose not to attend for several reasons, but one of them is that I’ve been struggling with my faith.  It’s timely, then, that I began reading Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr a couple of days ago.  This story is all about a girl, a pastor’s daughter, who is having doubts about her faith and God.  I don’t know why I chose to read this book when I did, and I won’t claim that I’ve had some sort of spiritual awakening, but I will say that this book helped me to realize that I am not alone in my struggles.  There are many people out there like me–people who grew up in the church and now question everything they’ve always accepted as truth.  There are no easy answers to be found.

Everyone seems to think that a pastor’s kid has it all figured out.  She doesn’t have “normal people” problems, her family is perfect, and she’s always sure that God is in control of her life.  That may be what people think, but Sam knows what it’s really like.  She knows that her dad, a local pastor, spends more time caring for his congregation’s problems than those of his own family.  Sam knows that hiding the fact of her mother’s alcoholism is no longer possible.  And she knows that she can’t talk to anybody about her problems or she’ll tarnish the reputation of the town’s beloved pastor.  Why can’t her dad, someone chosen as a man of God, see that his own daughter is hurting?  Why won’t he do anything to help her, but he’ll dash off at the drop of a hat to help anyone else in the church?  Why?

Sam’s faith in everything she’s known is further shaken when a young girl from her church goes missing.  If God is really in control, how could He allow something like this to happen?  Where is this girl?  Who took her?  Is she still alive?  The questions pile up, but there are no easy answers.  Sam doesn’t know where to turn.  Her mother is in rehab, her father talks to everyone but Sam (and is spending way too much time with the young, vibrant, youth group leader, Erin), and her friends don’t really act like themselves when they’re around the preacher’s kid.  Sam longs to talk to someone who will understand everything she’s going through.  She eventually finds someone to talk to, but he has his own problems.  His sister is the girl that is missing.

Join Sam as she takes a journey that changes everything she knows about herself, her family, her friendships, and her faith.  Will the missing girl be found?  Will Sam find her way back to her faith?  Can the hope she’s lost be found again?  Read Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr to find out.

I won’t say that I loved this book, simply because it made me examine my own spiritual life.  That’s not an easy thing to do.  I will, however, say that I respect the message in this book–looking for peace in times of uncertainty and doubt.  That peace may not always be easy to find, but we should always keep searching for it.

For more information on the works of author Sara Zarr, visit http://www.sarazarr.com/.

Cryer’s Cross

I started reading Lisa McMann’s newest novel, Cryer’s Cross, last night during a severe thunderstorm in my area.  Not my smartest idea…especially when one considers that I am terrified of thunderstorms and this book is a bit spooky.  Let’s just say that I had some interesting dreams when I finally got to sleep last night.  Anyway, despite my fear of storms and my general wussiness, I was absorbed in the story Lisa McMann delivered in Cryer’s Cross.  My environment just served to make the story even more sinister.  (Luckily, I finished the book today when everything is calm and clear.  Hopefully, there will be no bad dreams tonight…which means I’ll probably dream of chainsaw-weilding zombie clowns intent on eating my brains.)

Our story begins with a missing girl, and in Cryer’s Cross, a town of only 212 where nothing ever happens, this is a major deal.  Everyone knows this girl, and the whole town comes together to search for her, but she is never found.  Kendall Fletcher knew the missing girl (just as she knows everyone else in town), and her OCD-addled brain is having trouble adjusting to all of the chaos around her.  She doesn’t know if she can handle much more change.

When another person goes missing, things become even more difficult for Kendall.  This time it’s her best friend who has disappeared, and Kendall’s entire world dissolves without him.  He can’t possibly be gone.  He had so much to offer the world.  How can Kendall possibly still her raging mind when thoughts of what may have happened to her friend constantly assault her?  Kendall sinks into a fog of depression so deep that she doesn’t think she’ll ever get out…

…until she sees the messages scratched on her friend’s old desk at school.  She knows every message on every desk at school, but she’s never seen these before–Please.  Save Me.  Who could possibly be carving these messages?  No one sits at this desk anymore.  And why do the messages look as if they’ve been there for years?  Could her friend be trying to tell her something?  What has happened to him, and can Kendall find out before that same something happens to her?  Read Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann to discover how some small-town secrets can be deadly.

It came as no surprise to me that I enjoyed Cryer’s Cross.  I really liked McMann’s Wake trilogy, so I had a feeling I would like her latest work as well.  This book had romance, mystery, small-town secrets, neurotic characters, and liberal doses of creepiness.  This was a very quick read, and it especially picked up near the end when I was anxious to know what Kendall would find out.  The ending came too soon, and, although I would like to know where Kendall goes from here, I kind of hope there are no sequels to this book.  Cryer’s Cross is strong as a stand-alone title, and the ending is so open (and spooky) that it could spawn some interesting discussions on what readers think happens next.

For more information on Lisa McMann and her books, visit http://lisamcmann.com.  I will warn you, though, that the home page of this site scared the crap out of me (given that I just finished reading Cryer’s Cross).  I literally screamed and closed out the site as fast as I could.  You’ve been warned!

The Replacement

The Replacement by Brenna YovanoffIsn’t this cover awesomely creepy?!  As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to read this book.  In this case, the tone set by the cover definitely carried over into the book itself.  The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff is terrifying and ugly, but the story is still starkly beautiful.  The main character is tragic and sympathetic, and, even though readers know he’s not the typical “hero,” I think they’ll still root for him to win against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Mackie Doyle is a replacement.  It’s something that everyone in the town of Gentry knows, but no one ever talks about it.  They know that children are stolen in the dead of night and replaced with something similar but still not quite human.  It’s just the way things are in Gentry.  They look the other way so that the things that go bump in the night won’t destroy the town.  Mackie is a part of this “bargain.”  Mackie knows he’s different.  He can’t be around anything with iron, including blood, without getting sick; he can’t stand on consecrated ground (which is kind of a pain when your dad is a preacher); and things seem to be getting worse.  Mackie has all but given up hope…he know’s he’s dying, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.  Then again…maybe there is.

When a young girl dies, and Tate, a classmate of Mackie’s, isn’t convinced that it was really her little sister that died, Mackie is drawn in to the seedy underworld that occupies Gentry.  He travels to the House of Mayhem, where he meets people like him…and beings much, much worse.  It is there he discovers the truth about what really goes on in Gentry, why the town looks the other way when bad things happen, who is really behind the terror, and how he might save Tate’s little sister. 

After years of trying to go unnoticed in Gentry, Mackie finds himself in the middle of the very things that the town most fears.  Will he take his place next to people like him?  Can he walk the fine line between two worlds?  Can he save Tate’s sister and any future “replaced” children?  What will it mean for Gentry, his family, his friends, and his own life if he’s successful…or worse, if he fails?  Read The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff to learn the truth about the dark secrets hidden beneath the town of Gentry.  What dark secrets lie beneath your town?

This book was awesome, but I must admit that I tried to keep my reading to daylight hours.  Even then, I still had nightmares about fighting evil fairies.  The Replacement is spooky and leaves you with the feeling that something wicked lurks in the dark.  That’s not a pleasant thought for someone who lives alone.  That being said, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story with dark, creepy characters and settings.

For more information on The Replacement and author Brenna Yovanoff, I urge you to visit http://brennayovanoff.livejournal.com/.  I’m truly looking forward to the next book from this wonderfully talented author!