The Serpent King

Tonight, I come to you with red, puffy eyes and a slight headache from crying too much. That’s what happens when you read a book that absolutely wrecks you. Today, that book was The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being how much I cried during the movie E.T., The Serpent King probably rates a 9. I went through half a box of Kleenex, had to clean my glasses half a dozen times, and was all-out sobbing at several points. In some ways, it was cathartic, but it’s going to take me a while to get over this heart-wrenching book.

The Serpent King introduces readers to three friends, all of them outcasts in their small Tennessee town. Dill, Travis, and Lydia are in their senior year of high school, and all are facing uncertain futures. Right now, all they really have is each other and the promise of this one final year together.

Dill is the son of a snake-handling minister, Dillard Early, Sr., who was sent to prison for heinous acts–acts that he tried to blame on Dill. Even Dill’s mother, who is now working two jobs to keep the family afloat, blames her son for his father’s incarceration. And she’s not the only one. Dill is, through no fault of his own, a town pariah, and he thinks it’s his lot in life. His only escapes are music and hanging out with Lydia and Travis, his best friends. But even that will be changing soon, when Lydia goes off to college and leaves them behind. Dill doesn’t want her to go, but there’s no way he can ask her to stay.

Lydia, an up-and-coming fashion blogger, has her sights set on New York. She dreams of a career in fashion, and she’s already on her way to making it happen. On some level, she realizes that her friends, especially Dill, aren’t ready for her to leave them, but she needs to get out of this stifling town and make her mark on the world. She wishes Dill had the same ambition. She knows he has more to offer the world than he thinks. The trick is convincing him.

Travis, a big guy with a bigger imagination, finds solace in his favorite fantasy book series, Bloodfall. These books help him reach out to like-minded friends online and offer an escape from his abusive father. Thanks to Lydia and her many connections, he even gets a rare opportunity to meet his favorite author. This encounter leads him to believe that one day he could write fantastical stories that provide escape for people just like him.

Throughout this year, Dill, Lydia, and Travis maneuver through their small town as best they can. Dill and Travis begin to stand up for themselves and make plans for their futures. Lydia realizes how much she’ll miss her two best friends when she goes to college.

Just as things are starting to look up for this trio, tragedy strikes, and everything is thrown into a tailspin. What will become of these friends who mean so much to each other? Will they allow one tragic event–and their reaction to it–destroy their hope for the future? How can they hold onto hope when everything seems so bleak?

Maybe the only way to hold onto hope is to hold fast to each other.


I have to stop now before I give too much away (if I haven’t already). Let me just say that if you’re not ugly-crying at some point during this book, then you’re cold as ice. It’s a heartbreaking story of friendship, growth, grief, faith, and love, and I truly adore it…even if it did cause puffy eyes and a headache. It’s definitely one of my top books of 2016.

The Serpent King is author Jeff Zentner’s first novel, and I really hope we’ll hear more from him. He’s already being compared to John Green and Rainbow Rowell, and I think those are pretty apt comparisons. Keep that in mind when recommending The Serpent King and whatever books we see in the future from this wonderful author.

If you’d like to learn more about The Serpent King, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with Jeff Zentner on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Finally, check out the book trailer below for The Serpent King. It doesn’t give much of anything away, but it does capture the mood of the book. Enjoy!

Every Exquisite Thing

I don’t quite know how I feel about my latest read, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick. This book, which will be released next month, is the first Matthew Quick book I’ve read, but I doubt it will be the last. (Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock has been on my TBR pile for quite a while.) Even though I’m still pondering what I think about the book, the most important thing is that it did make me think. I have a feeling many other readers will feel the same way.

Nanette O’Hare is a girl who has it all together. She’s a good student, a star soccer player, and a rule-follower. She thinks she knows exactly what path her life is going to take…until her favorite teacher introduces her to The Bubblegum Reaper, a book that changes everything Nanette believes about herself and the world around her.

Nanette quickly becomes obsessed with The Bubblegum Reaper and its author, and, for the first time in her life, she questions the path she’s on. What if she doesn’t want to play soccer? What if she doesn’t want to hang out with her superficial friends? What if she doesn’t want to go to college? Suddenly, it’s okay to ask these questions and break free from everything she’s supposed to do.

While Nanette is rebelling against the life others have chosen for her, she’s joined by Booker, the reclusive author of The Bubblegum Reaper, who never wants to talk about his only published work; Alex, another fan of Booker’s novel, a boy who maybe takes the whole “rebel against the norm” thing too far; and Oliver, a kid who is tormented at school and needs someone to fight for him. Nanette believes she’s found kindred spirits in all three of these people, especially Alex.

Nanette and Alex grow closer, united in their rebellion against the status quo. But what will happen when Alex begins to lose himself, when he gets into trouble that he can’t talk his way out of? How will Nanette cope? Will she lose herself, too? Will she revert to the girl she once was–just going through the motions of “normal” life–or will she find a way to remain true to herself?

Read Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick to witness how a book changes one girl’s life, helps her find her voice, and makes her really look at the world around her and begin to find her own place in it.


When I was reading this book, I sympathized with Nanette, worried about her, and kind of wanted to be her. When she finally asserted herself and demanded that others see the “real” her, I cheered…and wished that I could do the same thing. When Nanette was both drawn to and repelled by Alex and his almost manic sense of rebellion, I wanted to shout at her to run away from what would surely be a destructive relationship. (In many ways, I was absolutely correct.) When she did what was expected of her, I did a bit of internal screaming, raging at her to wake up and live her own life. Suffice it to say, this character–the whole cast, really–elicited a lot of feelings, and most of them weren’t particularly comfortable.

Throughout the course of this book, I wanted those around Nanette–especially her parents–to see just how lonely she was and find some way to truly understand her. While that only sort of happened, Nanette did gain a greater understanding of herself. She was no longer content to simply do what everyone expected of her. Yes, some people got hurt, some judged her, and even those closest to her didn’t get why she was, in their eyes, throwing everything away. Nanette didn’t care. She eventually learned to live her own life instead of the one others wanted her to live. That’s something that many adults–myself included–still struggle with.

I guess, thanks to putting my thoughts into this post, I’ve realized just how much I really did like this book. It isn’t a happy-go-lucky book, and it’s not something you can read and never think about again. This book, like The Bubblegum Reaper, makes readers think and examine their own lives and who they’re living for. To some adults, that’s a dangerous concept to present to teen readers (and may explain why The Catcher in the Rye is still one of the most banned books around).

I do think Every Exquisite Thing is a book for mature teen readers. It deals with some adult situations and language that the vast majority of middle grade readers (and some teens and adults) are not ready to handle. This is a novel that invites some fairly intense philosophical questions, so be prepared for that.

For those that want to learn a bit more about Every Exquisite Thing, which will be out on May 31st, and other novels by Matthew Quick, check out the author’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

 

The Fall

It seems fitting that a book like The Fall should be released during National Suicide Prevention Month. This latest book from James Preller is out today, and it takes a look at one boy’s reaction to a classmate’s suicide.

While The Fall is a quick read, I think it forces readers to examine their own actions and reactions to things that are happening in schools, on social media, and everywhere in between. If this book can help just one person to be a little kinder, then it’s done its job.

When Morgan Mallen jumped off the town water tower, Sam was forced to take a long, hard look at himself and his actions (or inactions, as the case may be). Everyone knew that Morgan had been bullied relentlessly at school and online. Even Sam participated. What everyone didn’t realize was that Sam knew Morgan. He was perhaps one of her only friends.

Why, then, did Sam take part in tormenting Morgan even though he knew it was wrong? Why didn’t he want anyone to know they hung out? Was he partly to blame for her suicide, and could he have done anything to prevent it?

Sam explores his friendship with Morgan and the aftermath of her suicide through writing in a journal. He’s brutally honest with himself about his relationship with Morgan, his own weaknesses, and his part in this tragedy.

Sam knows that he wasn’t the only one making Morgan unhappy–and on some level, he realizes that Morgan’s decision was her own–but he’s struggling with all of the events that led up to that fateful day. Why was she bullied in the first place? Could anything have stopped Morgan from ending her life? Why did she feel she had no other option?

As Sam works through his feelings and all of the questions plaguing him, he comes to understand that, even though he can’t change what happened with Morgan, he can change his own behavior. He can do whatever possible to somehow make amends. He can confront those who were the worst offenders and own up to his own mistakes. And he can try to be kinder to everyone around him. After all, no one really knows what demons someone is battling. A little bit of kindness could make all the difference in the world.

_______________

I think The Fall and other books on the subjects of suicide and bullying are vitally important to young people (and even adults). These books make us examine what we say and how we act toward others. We really never know how one cruel or kind word can impact the people around us.

I would pair The Fall with Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why to give a gritty glimpse at the aftermath of a person’s suicide. Some parents may not be entirely comfortable with the subject matter, but it’s something that will likely touch their children in some way. I’d much rather a young person explore this topic through fiction than have to face the horrible reality. (A friend of mine committed suicide when I was in the 8th grade. It would have been nice if I’d had a book that let me know that I was not alone.) For that reason, I would recommend this book for libraries that serve both middle grade and teen readers.

For those who’d like to learn more about The Fall, visit author James Preller’s website. And if you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please get help. Talk to someone–a parent, a friend, a guidance couselor, a librarian, a religious leader, someone. Go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or It Get’s Better. You are not alone, and things will get better.

 

Just One Year

A word to the wise: Read Gayle Forman’s Just One Day before continuing with Just One Year. In my opinion, you MUST know what leads up to Willem’s story prior to opening this companion novel/sequel!

So, I finally finished reading Just One Year late last night. I would have finished it sooner, but I was away at a conference. (To those who think a school librarian’s work ends at the start of summer, I say only “I wish!”) I got back yesterday afternoon and proceeded to devour the rest of this book. I absolutely adored the first book, told from the perspective of Allyson/Lulu, so I really wanted to see what became of Willem after their one day in Paris.

When Willem wakes up, he’s not sure where he is. All he really knows is pain and the need to find something he’s lost. When he finally recovers enough to think, he remembers the girl, Lulu, who’s waiting for him. They shared a magical day in Paris, a day that seemed to change both of them. Willem tries to get back to her, but it’s too late. She’s gone, and she probably thinks he left and didn’t give her another thought. And he can’t exactly do anything about that. He doesn’t even know her real name…and she doesn’t know very much about him either. As much as they discovered about each other during their day together, they don’t know how to reach each other again.

Willem tries to find Lulu in Paris, but he’s floundering. He retraces their steps through the city, but that leads nowhere quickly, so Willem decides to return home to take care of the business he’s been avoiding for so long–settling his father’s estate.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Amsterdam, Willem feels the need to escape. The memories are too much, and Willem is feeling the itch to travel…and continue his search for Lulu. When his travels are delayed, he takes solace in his friends and in the arms of a former flame. She’s not Lulu, but she keeps him from feeling so lonely all the time. Eventually, though, Willem simply can’t fake his feelings anymore, and he must move on.

Willem’s journey takes him all through Holland, Mexico, India, and then back to Holland. Through it all, he thinks of Lulu, their one day together, and how that day changed him. He’s feeling restless, but his nomadic existence doesn’t feel like enough anymore.  He wants a sense of family, he wants real, lasting connections with people, and he wants purpose. Even if he never finds his Lulu, she’s at least given him that. She opened his eyes to the world around him and his place in it. (He doesn’t know it, but he did the same for her.)

While Willem is on his journey of self-discovery, he never truly abandons his search for Lulu. He explores every connection he can think of, but she seems to constantly be just out of reach. He finds himself wondering if he should leave Lulu and their day in Paris in the past and move on.

But Willem has no way of knowing that fate has different plans. Lulu–or Allyson–has been doing some searching of her own, and she and Willem are about to come face to face once again. Will their connection be as strong now that a year has passed and so much has changed? There’s only one way to find out…

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Now that I’ve read Just One Day and Just One Year, I find myself reflecting on my own reactions to each story. While I sympathized with Allyson, I was a little more judgmental of Willem. I know this says more about my own ideas and responses to emotional upheaval than anything, but I think that’s true of any book. We bring our own experiences to the stories we read, and we view the characters through those lenses. What I found really interesting, though, was how my views of Willem’s actions changed the more I read this book. Yes, he dealt with things a bit differently than Allyson did, but he had valid, and highly personal, reasons for doing so. And I think that’s the mark of a really great book. It makes you examine your own ideas through the experiences of another.

After finishing Just One Year last night, I immediately downloaded and read Just One Night, the last chapter of this love story. (Best $0.99 I’ve spent in a while.)

This ebook novella gives readers a look at what happened when Willem and Allyson/Lulu were finally reunited and had the opportunity to share their new selves and how they found their way back to each other. There’s also a fair amount of kissing (and other displays of affection), a bit of Shakespeare (like the preceding novels), and talk of the future. Will Willem and Allyson have a happy ending to their story? I’ll leave that for you do discover!

I failed to mention this in my Just One Day post, but I do believe that this series is suited to young adult (and adult) audiences. There are some mature themes, and I just don’t think most middle grade readers have the maturity or life experience to understand some of the content. As always, though, use your best judgment when recommending any book to young readers.

If you’re in or around South Carolina in November and want to learn more about Gayle Forman and her fantastic books, I urge you to attend YALLFest, a two-day celebration of young adult literature in Charleston. Gayle is scheduled to attend, and I know she’ll have lots of interesting things to say! (I had the privilege of hearing her speak last year, and I loved hearing her talk about her craft.)

For those that can’t attend YALLFest but still want more information about this series and others by Gayle Forman, check out her website at http://www.gayleforman.com/. Happy reading!

Just One Day

Last night, when I should have been packing for a conference, I was instead devouring Just One Day by the fabulous Gayle Forman. This book had been on my to-read list for quite a while, but I didn’t make time for it until this weekend. Oh, how I wish I had read it sooner!

Like If I Stay and Where She Went, Just One Day shows that Gayle Forman is a master at writing love stories that pack an emotional punch. Even more important, in my opinion, she’s excellent at giving readers examples of young women who, while navigating the perilous waters of relationships, also work to discover their own inner strength.

Allyson is nearing the end of a whirlwind tour of Europe, and, to be honest, the trip has been something of a disappointment. Yes, she’s oohed and aahed at all the appropriate moments, she’s seen some impressive sights with her best friend Melanie, and she’s even gotten a haircut to mark what should have been the start of the greatest vacation ever. But Allyson feels like she’s just going through the motions. She should be excited about this extravagant graduation gift, but something just doesn’t feel quite right.

Everything changes, though, when Allyson and Melanie deviate from their rigid plans and are persuaded to take in a performance of Twelfth Night in a Stratford-upon-Avon park. It is here that Allyson’s life changes forever. She meets Willem, a Dutch actor in the play, and she’s immediately drawn to him. There’s something about him that makes Allyson want to break free of limits and responsibilities. Maybe it’s because Willem doesn’t really know her. He doesn’t even know her name. He calls her Lulu because she reminds him of Louise Brooks, the silent film star. Maybe it’s that little bit of anonymity that gives Allyson the freedom to do something that’s so out of character. The freedom to eschew her plans to spend just one day with Willem in Paris.

One day in Paris. One day to see the sights and experience all that the City of Light has to offer. One day to fall in love with Willem, a young man who is so different from the Allyson she’s always been. Here she’s Lulu, a girl who takes things in stride, who has the attention of someone who could be–and probably has been–with dozens of other girls. It’s not easy to leave her good girl image behind, but Allyson wants to be someone different with Willem, and she’s coming to think she can be different when she returns to her real life.

All of that changes, though, when Allyson’s one day in Paris comes to a shattering end. After waking to find Willem gone, Allyson’s entire world seems to explode, and she doesn’t really know how to put the pieces back together. Nothing seems to fit anymore, and Allyson is struggling. It’s hard to admit that one day, one boy could have such a huge impact on her life, but Allyson will have to face what happened and the still unanswered questions if she has any hope of moving on with her life.

In the year after her day in Paris, Allyson must come to grips with how all of this has changed her. She has to deal with going back to being the “good girl” everyone expects and all of the pressure that entails. She faces the undeniable truth that she’s not the person she once was, and she’s no longer content living out someone else’s dreams. She must do what feels right to her…even if that means standing up to her parents, becoming more independent…and returning to the “scene of the crime” and discovering just what happened to make Willem walk away from her.

As Allyson attempts to make sense of everything that has happened in the past year, she’ll also discover that she’s stronger and more capable than she thought. Even if she never discovers why Willem left her, her quest for answers may just leave her with the peace and determination to become exactly who she was meant to be.

_______________

I think you can safely assume that I adored this book. If I weren’t so held back by my own fears–much like the Allyson we see early in this book–I would take off right now on a Parisian vacation, hoping to find my own sense of peace. Unfortunately, I am a big chicken, and that just won’t happen. (Not to mention the matter of not having the money and having to attend a conference for most of this week.)

I’d love to have a journey of self-discovery like Allyson experienced. I imagine that many readers will feel a similar longing. Even with the lows that Allyson dealt with after her day in Paris, she learned so much about herself. She learned that she had to let go of some things, even friendships, her parents’ expectations, and her own need to please those around her. I’m thirty-five years old, and I wish I could do that. Maybe one day.

While I’m envious of Allyson breaking free of her own boundaries, I’m also insanely jealous of her travels through Europe. The only time I’ve been out of the U.S. was when I went on a cruise to the Bahamas. I’ve wanted to travel to Europe, particularly Great Britain, for as long as I can remember, but finances, health issues, and a hefty dose of fear have always held me back. Allyson has inspired me, though. I’m somehow finding a renewed determination to make my dreams a reality. I’ve now got the beginnings of a plan in my head–a plan to save some money, lose some weight, and finally turn my desire for travel into a reality. How long with it take to put this plan into motion? I have no clue, but at least I’m getting started. Thank you for that, Allyson and Gayle Forman!

So, I finished Just One Day late last night, and I fully intend to start reading Just One Year, the companion novel from Willem’s perspective, within the next hour or so. (I have a two-hour ride to Atlanta ahead of me, so I should be able to make quite a dent in the book.) After that, I will read Just One Night, an ebook novella and the final chapter in the captivating story of Allyson and Willem. I can hardly wait to get started!

If you’d like more information on Just One Day or the other amazing books by the brilliant Gayle Forman, check out her website (which has quite a bit of info on the upcoming movie adaptation of If I Stay), Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. You may also want to take a quick look at the Just One Day book trailer below. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have!

Bitterblue

While it’s not entirely necessary to read Graceling and Fire (the first two books in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series) before reading Bitterblue, it is highly recommended…simply because all of these books are freakin’ fantastic!

On May 1st of this year, I rushed out to my nearest bookstore to pick up a book that I had every intention of reading immediately.  Sadly, as it often does, life got in the way, and I just recently made the time to read Bitterblue, the third book in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling trilogy.  I’ve been anticipating reading this book for a LONG time, and it was very much worth the wait.  I absolutely adored Graceling and Fire, so I knew that Bitterblue would be no exception, but I wasn’t prepared for exactly how much I would love this third installment.  It did take me a long time to read this one–nearly three weeks.  (A lot of different things factored into this, including but not limited to being displaced from my home due to a break-in, webmaster training and faculty meetings at school, sickness, fatigue, work, and just being busy doing other stuff.)  Anyway, I think taking so long to read Bitterblue helped me to really absorb what was happening, and, at least in this case, made entering this fantasy world the escape that I really needed it to be.

Bitterblue picks up eight years after the conclusion of Graceling. King Leck of Monsea is dead, but his legacy of cruelty–and his Grace of having everyone believe his lies–lives on.  His daughter, Queen Bitterblue, is left with the arduous task of picking up the shattered pieces of Monsea and putting them back together again.  But who can she really trust to help her?  She is certain that her advisors–who also worked for her lying, sadistic father–are keeping things from her.  She can’t get a straight answer from anyone, and anytime she brings up the past, those around her simply shut down.  (Some things, it seems, are simply too painful to remember.)  Her true friends and confidantes (Graceling‘s Katsa and Po among them) are few and far between, and, though they’re willing to help Bitterblue when they can, it ultimately falls to Bitterblue to find the answers she needs…even if she has to disguise herself and escape her guards to do it.

Bitterblue finds a new freedom when she leaves the castle and loses herself in the capital city of Monsea.  No one knows her as their queen.  She can be anyone and do anything.  She can find some answers to the questions that plague her every waking minute.  She can become friends with people who won’t make a habit of lying to her…because they don’t know who she truly is.

One of those friends is a Graceling named Sapphire.  Bitterblue is drawn to him like no one she’s ever encountered.  What’s so special about this young man?  And what will he do when he finally learns the truth…that the girl he’s come to care about is actually the Queen of Monsea?

While Bitterblue is facing her new, confusing feelings about Sapphire, she’s also dealing with betrayal at every level, the haunting legacy left by her father, spies in her midst, uncovering the lost history of her people, and the threat of war with neighboring kingdoms.  It’s all a little much for an eighteen-year-old monarch to handle.  Bitterblue is doing all she can to keep her head above water, but the pressure of everything weighing on her is starting to make her question her ability to rule.  Will she be able to rebuild Monsea while retaining her sanity, or did her father do more damage than Bitterblue can ever hope to repair?  Read Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore to learn if one young girl can be the queen–and the hope–that her people need.

So, yeah…I loved this book, and you should read it.  It’s beautifully complex, and it allows those of us who adored Graceling and Fire to revisit some of our favorite characters while introducing us to new characters to love and loathe.  I think I’ve said this about the previous two books, but I’ll say it again because the same applies to Bitterblue:  Tolkien fans will delight in this book and its companions.  (My fellow Ringers know this is super high praise.)  Kristin Cashore is wonderfully adept at world-building, and I found myself, at several points in this book, looking outside and being disappointed that my surroundings didn’t mirror those in Monsea (especially Bitterblue’s castle).

I can’t say enough good things about the entire Graceling trilogy.  I just wish there were more books to look forward to.

If you’d like more information about this series or author Kristin Cashore, check out her blog at http://kristincashore.blogspot.com/.  You may also enjoy the Bitterblue book trailer below.  I truly hope you enjoy this book and the others in this series as much as I have.

Princess Ben

Although I love fairy tales, I’ve always had a problem with some of them:  Why does the beautiful princess need to be rescued by the handsome prince?  Additionally, why does the princess have to be beautiful, and why can’t she save herself?  (If you haven’t figured it out by now, yes, I am a feminist.)  I like seeing a strong, smart heroine who solves her own problems.  I got what I wanted in Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.  (The whole title is Princess Ben:  Being a Wholly Truthful Account of Her Various Discoveries and Midsadventures, Recounted to the Best of Her Recollection, in Four Parts.  Great title.)  At times, Ben is irreverent, brash, and a bit immature, but she grows into a woman who thinks for herself and can save herself and those she loves.

Princess Benevolence of Montagne has just lost her uncle, King Ferdinand, her mother, and her father.  She is the sole heir to the throne, but Ben has almost no desire to learn the seemingly trivial things that her aunt, Queen Sophia, thinks she should learn.  Ben isn’t interested in pointless conversations, fashion, needlework, or starving herself so that she can be the slim princess who will attract a husband.  When Sophia becomes fed up with Ben’s apathy and locks her in a tower cell, Ben thinks her misery will surely be a permanent condition.  That changes, however, when Ben stumbles upon an enchanted room and secret, magical passageways throughout the castle.  Ben begins to explore magic and learn things that are definitely not boring and may, in fact, have some use for her in the future.

When neighboring Drachensbett begins to threaten the kingdom of Montagne, Ben sets off on a perilous journey that threatens her very life.  She comes to painful and eye-opening realizations about herself and those around her.  What will become of her?  Will she ever make peace with Queen Sophia?  Will Drachensbett attack Montagne?  And what is she to do about her tumultuous feelings about Prince Florian, heir to the throne of Drachensbett and Ben’s own nemesis?  Princess Ben is definitely not your typical princess, and her story is not your average fairy tale.  Read Ben’s account of her life and discover what it’s really like when a princess grows up and learns the lessons that will make her a strong woman and queen.

Beneath My Mother’s Feet

My latest read, Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar, is not a very happy book.  In fact, I was mad at most of the characters for nearly the entire book.  That being said, it is a good story about a culture that many American readers know little about.  It also touches on dealing with one’s family expectations and duties while forming one’s own identity.

Nazia is a good daughter.  She always does exactly what her mother asks of her.  Her family lives in Karachi, Pakistan, and, while they are not wealthy, they seem to be comfortable and happy.  Nazia enjoys school and is looking forward to her arranged marriage at the end of the school year.  Things change, however, when Nazia’s father is injured at work and can no longer earn money for the family.  Nazia is forced to drop out of school and work with her mother cleaning others’ houses.  Her older brother steals her dowry, and, even when her father has healed, he refuses to work.  When word of these changes gets to her future father-in-law, Nazia’s engagement is called off.  On top of all of this, Nazia and her family are evicted from their small house and are forced to become live-in servants.

Nazia feels that she has lost the life she once had.  She can see no way out of her current situation.  Who will provide for her mother and two younger siblings if she does not do the lion’s share of the work?  What will become of her if she cannot marry, as is expected of a proper girl?  Read Beneath My Mother’s Feet to learn the story of a girl who is doing all she can to make a better life for herself while still being a good daughter.

When I was reading this book, I reflected on my own relationship with my mother.  Honestly, my mom is a saint compared to the mothers portrayed in this book.  (My mom should probably be sainted for putting up with me anyway.)  I know that culture plays a large part in the mothers’ behaviors in this book, but I cannot imagine a mother seeing her children as workers whose only worth is earning money for the family.  My mom has never shown me anything but love, and I now consider her one of my best friends.  I highly recommend Beneath My Mother’s Feet for any readers, particularly females, who want to examine the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.

Twelve Long Months

“Just a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world…”

Those immortal words from one of the world’s greatest songs make a great introduction to Brian Malloy’s Twelve Long Months.  (And if you don’t agree with me that Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ is a great song, you’re in denial.  You know you sing along whenever you hear it.)  Molly Swain is your basic smart-girl outcast.  She lives in a small Minnesota town, is in love with her lab partner, Mark, has no friends, and dreams of being a physicist.  After graduating from high school, Molly moves to New York where she attends Columbia University.  Mark is moving to New Jersey, so Molly thinks she finally has her chance to get him to really notice her.  Well, fate is not without it’s own sense of irony.

Soon after Molly and Mark meet up in New York, Mark reveals that he is gay.  Molly, understandably, is crushed, but she puts on a brave face for Mark and helps him to accept who he really is.  She also enters into her first serious relationship with fellow physics major Simon.  Molly feels like she’s finally getting the life she’s always wanted:  She has two awesome friends, a great boyfriend, she’s living in one of the most exciting cities on the planet, and she remains friends with Mark.

Well, this wouldn’t be a young adult novel without emotional turmoil, and Molly gets a lot more of it in spades near the end of this novel.  I won’t tell you what happens, but you’ll see it coming a mile away, but you’ll wish you didn’t.  I found myself praying, “Please don’t let it happen, please don’t let it happen.”  It happened, and I felt as lousy as Molly did.  (Well, probably not, but I did empathize with her.)  Even though I predicted what would happen, I found this book to be an engrossing read that I did not want to put down.

Although Twelve Long Months will be a hard sell for most guys, many female readers will enjoy it.  They’ll see that the book is about love at its core…maybe not the love envisioned at the beginning but something that grows into an unbreakable friendship at the end.

Night Road

In my school library, it is not usually difficult to get students to read books about vampires.  I don’t know what the appeal is, but I must admit that I fall prey to it as well.  I’m obsessed with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, I love Anne Rice’s vampire stories, and Simon in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series is one of my favorite characters.  All of these stories tend to have a certain degree of romance and danger, and that is a heady combination for some readers, particularly females.  While some of my male readers enjoy these series as well, a lot of them could do without all the mushy stuff, and Night Road by A.M. Jenkins may be just what they’re looking for.  It is a vampire story, but there is almost no romance–just three guys on the road trying to survive.

Now, in this story, the characters cannot really be called vampires.  They are hemovores, or beings who feed exclusively on blood.  They don’t really have much resemblance to the vampires of Hollywood.  They’re not all beautiful, they can’t control people’s minds, they don’t turn into bats, and, sadly, their skin does not sparkle.  They do, however, have an aversion to sunlight.  It burns their skin to ribbons and boils their brains.  Sunlight bad.

Cole is a hemovore who has been wandering for over a century.  He never settles in one spot, and, after a disastrous incident in his youth, he keeps an iron control over himself and his surroundings.  He has been summoned to the Building by the head of the Colony.  Cole is charged with the task of training a new heme, Gordon, who is still attached to his old life.  Cole, Gordon, and another heme, Sandor, hit the road as instruction begins.  Cole thinks Gordon just needs a clean break with the past and to learn some discipline.  He believes control will fix everything.  But what will happen when things don’t go according to Cole’s plans?  Gordon is determined to “live” on his own terms.  Cole and Sandor must convince him otherwise while trying to deal with yet another threat in the darkness.  What will happen?  Find out as you journey down the Night Road.