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!

Get Happy

If you enjoyed Mary Amato’s Guitar Notes or are an aspiring singer/songwriter, there’s a great book heading your way. Get Happy, also by Mary Amato, will be released by Egmont USA in October, and, once again, this author explores how music allows one girl to express herself and work through everything that is happening in her life.

Minerva is a young songwriter who is desperate to have her very own ukulele. She’s sure that her mom will finally pick up on her oh-so-subtle hints, but it is not to be. On the morning of her birthday, she is met with a sweater instead of the instrument that she desires. Min does, however, receive something on her birthday that will change everything she’s ever believed about her own life. She gets a letter and a necklace from her father, a man she always thought abandoned Min and her mom. As it turns out, that may not have been the case…

While Min is both curious about her father and determined to avoid him, she’s also focused on her new job. She and a few other teens are performers for Get Happy, a company that provides characters for children’s birthday parties. Min is Get Happy’s resident mermaid, her best friend Finn is a pirate, a dimpled cutie from school is a cowboy, and Cassie, a too-perfect prima donna, is the princess. Min’s primary reason for getting this job is to earn enough money for a ukulele, but encountering so many happy (and unhappy) families is forcing her to examine her own childhood, the few memories of her father, and what she may have missed because of his absence.

Min is not ready to confront her mom yet–or, heaven forbid, her dad–about what really happened with them, so she expresses her conflicted feelings about the situation through song. When Min finally gets her prized ukulele, the songs seem to flow out of her, but the tension between Min and her mom is growing each day, and it will soon become too much for Min to bear.

When Min learns the truth about what her mom has been hiding all these years, she’ll be forced to face the father she’s never really known. Why did he really leave? Did he even care about her? And will she make a place for him in her life now? Can Min forgive her mother, know her father, and get happy with her life now that everything is out in the open? We’ll just have to see…

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Other than the whole music connection, one thing that Get Happy has in common with Guitar Notes is parents that are totally out of touch with their kids. Min’s mom seemed to be totally focused on what she wanted. She missed completely that her daughter didn’t care about the best clothes and was perfectly happy with quirky thrift store finds. Min wanted a ukulele; mom got her an ugly sweater. And most importantly, Min’s mother didn’t see how much damage she did to her daughter by keeping her from her father. Yes, I know she had her reasons, but it felt like she was acting in her own interests, not her daughter’s.

While I liked Get Happy, I do wish there had been a bit more resolution. Things felt very unfinished at the end, and I would have liked to see Min’s interactions with her father and how that impacted her life. I also wanted to see more of Min’s relationship with Hayes (the dimpled cutie mentioned above) and how her best friend reacted to it. It is my sincere hope that these issues will be addressed before the book hits stores in October.

If I had to recommend a book to young musicians, I would definitely pick Guitar Notes over Get Happy at this point. I felt like Guitar Notes had much more of a resolution, and the story itself just felt more fleshed out. I would, though, recommend both books for readers who express themselves through music. Even though the characters are teenagers, I think these books are more than suitable for readers from fifth grade on up.

For more information on Get Happy, Guitar Notes, and other books by Mary Amato, visit her website or Goodreads. And remember to pick up Get Happy at your local library or bookstore on October 28th!

Guitar Notes

I am a firm believer in the power of music. And when I encounter a book that shines a light on that, I tend to devour it. That was definitely the case with Guitar Notes by Mary Amato.

This nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Junior Book Award focuses on Tripp, a young guitar player, and Lyla, a talented young cello player.

These two young people use the same school practice room on opposite days. Tripp is playing a borrowed guitar (his mom took his away) and is only concerned with playing for his own enjoyment. Lyla, on the other hand, is feeling some intense pressure to further her career as a world-class cello player. She’s got some big auditions coming up, and she’s supposed to be using the practice room to get her pieces absolutely perfect. Things change, though, when Tripp and Lyla begin leaving notes for each other in their little room…

At first, the notes are kind of snarky. Tripp thinks of Lyla as Little Miss Perfect, and Lyla sees Tripp as something of an oddity. The two trade barbs and, in the process, learn a little more about each other. Pretty soon, they are exploring a tentative friendship and challenging each other to really explore their musical connection. Lyla puts her cello aside for a bit and focuses on learning to play the guitar and writing songs with Tripp. These two young people bond through music, and they find a friendship that might just turn out to change their entire lives.

As so often happens, though, circumstances arise that try to drive these two friends apart. Other friends don’t understand their connection, their parents are rather clueless (and are often doing more damage than they probably realize), and both Tripp and Lyla are facing pressures that feel insurmountable at times. Music, though, continues to bring them together…even when things seem impossibly bleak.

Join Tripp and Lyla on this musical journey that will take them through friendships old and new, family drama, and even a bit of adventure. They will learn so much about each other, themselves, and the music that ties them together, and this bond will see them through good times and bad. Tripp and Lyla will see the true power of music, and they may just share that with everyone around them…

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Guitar Notes really spoke to me as a musician. No, I’m not a guitar or cello player. (I had a brief interlude with the violin, but that resulted in people thinking I was torturing a cat.) I have, however, been a brass player since I was twelve, so I know a little something about how music can fill a person up, bring emotions to the surface, and make everything a bit clearer. That’s what I saw in Tripp and Lyla in this book. I think any musician, young or old, who reads this book will see what I did–two young people finally discovering their voices and realizing how much music really means to them.

Guitar Notes was, at times, an emotional ride. I laughed, I cried, I commiserated, and I even got angry. I couldn’t stand Annie, Lyla’s so-called best friend. I wanted to slap her every time she made an appearance. She was just so bossy. Kind of reminded me of one of my best friends in school. Ugh.

I also wasn’t a fan of Tripp’s mom through most of the book. I get that she wanted him to improve his grades, but taking music away from him to make that happen? No, no, no. If anything, that did more damage, and it’s been proven that music actually improves brain function. (Look it up.) Eventually, Tripp’s mom “woke up” and saw just how much the guitar and Lyla’s friendship meant to her son, but it took way to much for her to finally see the light. Just my two cents.

I highly recommend Guitar Notes to any reader–probably fifth grade and up–who has a passion for music. This book definitely has a place in upper elementary, middle, and even high school classrooms and libraries. I would also urge music teachers to read this book and recommend it to their chorus, band, and orchestra students.

I am thrilled that this book earned a spot on this year’s South Carolina Junior Book Award nominee list. It’s a wonderful book that shines a light on just what music can do in a young person’s life.

Mary Amato’s next book, Get Happy, also has a musical theme, and it will be out in October. Thanks to NetGalley, I’ll be diving into that one soon, so stay tuned!

For more information on Guitar Notes and other works by Mary Amato, check out her website.

Take a Bow

If you had asked my eighteen-year-old self what I was going to be fifteen years later, I would have said “a musician.”  I originally went to college as a music major (tuba, specifically).  It was a pretty cut-throat world, even in a small liberal arts college in South Carolina.  After two years of nearly working myself to death, I was completely burnt out.  (At one point, I was practicing eleven different instruments during the same semester.)  I changed my major and began a journey that would lead me to my true calling—school librarianship.  Music, though, has always been and will always be a part of my life.  I still play occasionally, and I’ve even been known to write a piece of music when the spirit moves me.  (I even did a stint as a low brass instructor for a marching band when I still worked at a high school.)  It should come as no surprise, then, that I enjoy books that combine my love of music with my love of young adult fiction.  Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg is a wonderful example of this winning combo. 

Take a Bow follows four high school students as they navigate the tough waters of a performing arts high school.  Emme is a songwriter who seems content to play with her band and write songs for her best friend, Sophie.  Sophie is a diva of the highest order who will stop at nothing to become a star.  (She reminded me a little of Rachel Berry on Glee.)  Carter is a former child star who is struggling with who he was, who everyone thinks he is, and who he wants to become.  Ethan is a gifted musician and songwriter who can’t seem to stop himself from self-destructing…even though he’s damaging the only relationship that really means something to him.

Each of these young people is dealing with the pressure that comes with striving to be the best performer in their fields—auditions, college applications, and nerve-wracking performances.  They’re also discovering just what they want out of life, and what they’ll do to get it.  People will be hurt, friendships will end, delusions will be shattered, dreams will be crushed, and lives will change, but Emme, Sophie, Carter, and Ethan will learn a lot about themselves, music, and life on their roads to success…and success won’t mean the same thing to all of them.  They’ll learn that sometimes the spotlight isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…and that true friends are there whether you’re falling on your face or taking a bow.

I truly enjoyed Take a Bow, especially glimpsing what each character was experiencing.  I totally identified with Emme.  (I was a very shy performer unless I was with a group.)  I loathed Sophie, and I couldn’t wait for Emme to really see the truth about her.  I rooted for both Carter and Ethan to get what they wanted (especially Ethan).  This is a perfect book for music, theater, and even art nerds.  It provides readers with a fairly accurate look at the competitive world of the performing arts.  It’s a little like Glee, but a lot more realistic.  (I love Glee, but I have no illusions that high school students break out into song in the halls or that the same three teachers seem to be involved in absolutely everything.)

If you’d like to learn more about Take a Bow and author Elizabeth Eulberg, visit http://www.elizabetheulberg.com/.  You can also like the author’s Facebook page or follow her on Twitter @ElizEulberg.  I’ve read two of her books so far (Take a Bow and Prom & Prejudice), and I look forward to reading many more!

Audrey, Wait!

Greetings, dear readers!  (Please note the cheerful tone of this post.  I’ve been a good mood for an entire week, which I’m sure is some kind of record for me.)  My latest read in Robin Benway’s Audrey, Wait!  This is a great book, especially if you follow “indie” music at all.  Each chapter begins with a line from a song that most people my age have never heard of.  (Thankfully, I am not like most people my age.)  Some of the bands mentioned include:  Cowboy Junkies, The Velvet Underground, Radiohead (Yay!), R.E.M., Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and many, many others.  This alone gave me an inkling that I would like this book.

Audrey’s life has just been turned upside down.  She broke up with her musician boyfriend Evan, and he decided to write a song about it.  The next thing she knows, the song, Audrey, Wait!, is a hit, and her life will never be the same.  She’s being hounded by the press and the paparazzi, people she’s never met want to be her friend, and her name is known worldwide.  At school, she has to do all of her work in the office because her new–and unwanted–fame has caused all kinds of distractions.  Other bands think of her as a muse, and want to use her to jumpstart their own careers.  It’s a mess.

Audrey doesn’t really know what to do about this new stuff in her life.  She never asked for any of it.  Some people, like her best friend Victoria, think she should take advantage of all this fame while she can.  Others, like her new boyfriend James and her parents, just want life to return to normal.  But normal may be a thing of the past in Audrey’s world.

Read Audrey, Wait! to see what one music-obsessed, sarcastic-to-the-core, sixteen-year-old girl will do about the fame she never wanted.  Will she embrace it like so many others before her?  Or will she find a way to be normal again?  Is normal even possible?  I’ll leave it for you to figure out.  Enjoy!

Good Enough

I really wish this book had been around when I was in high school.  Paula Yoo’s Good Enough is about a Korean-American high school student and her struggles with grades, her parents, music, a really cute trumpet player, her parents, college applications, SATs, her parents, her church youth group, and her parents.  That was my life in high school (except I’m not Korean, and it was a saxophone player, not a trumpet player…also, he wasn’t that cute and turned out to be kind of a jerk, but that’s another story).

Patti Yoon, the book’s main character is pushed to be perfect, by her parents and herself.  She is expected to get into every Ivy League school.  Playing the violin is her hook, or what sets her apart from other applicants.  But music is really more than just a hook to Patti; it is her passion.  How will she reconcile her love of music with her parents’ desire that she be the “Perfect Korean Daughter” (which basically means that she will get straight A’s, score at least a 2300 on her SATs, be valedictorian, go to Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, and become a lawyer or doctor)?

As a former musician and long-time perfectionist, this book really spoke to me.  It is often difficult to do everything your friends are doing when you’re always fighting to be the best at everything.  I could relate to almost everything Patti went through.  And this story is told in a very interesting way.  Patti gives us tips on how to make Korean parents happy or unhappy, recipes that tell more about her life at home, SAT tips, and other random lists that give us a clear picture of Patti’s world.  (And this stuff is often hilarious…especially the number of recipes involving Spam!)

I would highly recommend Good Enough for all the music geeks and smart kids out there (and I am including myself in those groups).  I would also recommend this for people who make fun of or look down on the music geeks and smart kids.  It could be a real eye-opener about how much pressure these people are under and how much they sacrifice to be the very best.