The Possibility of Now

Every once in a while, I thank the Maker that I did not grow up in the age of social media. Adolescence was hard enough without worrying about my most embarrassing moments–and there were a lot of them–ending up on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. As the fat nerd who played the tuba, I was already a target for bullies. I shudder to think what I would have had to deal with had social media been a factor in my life…the way it was for the protagonist of my latest read, The Possibility of Now by Kim Culbertson.

In this book, our main character, Mara, feels the need to disappear after she has a major meltdown and someone posts her shame on YouTube. Over half a million hits later, Mara escapes her elite private school in San Diego and journeys to Lake Tahoe to spend several weeks with the father she’s never really known.

Mara is hoping that this drastic change in scenery will help to clear her head…and perhaps allow everyone to forget about her public breakdown in the middle of her calculus exam. If only she could forget.

Mara makes a detailed plan to get her life back on track, but, as so often happens, plans have a way of changing. She still does a ton of work to stay on top of things at school, but she gradually begins to let go a bit and actually enjoy life in Tahoe. She makes friends who encourage her to live a little and take things less seriously. She sort of begins to know her father. More importantly, Mara begins to realize just who she is and what’s really important to her. Maybe it’s not being perfect or worrying about everyone thinks of her. Maybe is exploring the possibilities around her and learning to truly live in the now.

While Mara misses parts of her life in San Diego, she’s coming to love the slower pace and relaxed atmosphere of Lake Tahoe (not to mention the guy who’s captured her interest). As the time nears for her return to San Diego, she wonders if she really wants to go back at all. Maybe she can make a home here with her father and new friends. Maybe she doesn’t have to go back home and face what made her leave in the first place.

Can Mara reconcile the person she’s become in Tahoe with who she was in San Diego? Will she be able to face her past while embracing her future? Explore the possibilities when you read The Possibility of Now by Kim Culbertson.


In addition to dealing with how social media now plays into adolescence, I think this book also addresses the pressures that young adults face, particularly as it concerns academic performance. I related strongly to this aspect of Mara’s character.

Like Mara, I was an overachiever, and I freaked out if I made less than an A on an assignment. This was true all through middle and high school, even into college. I even had a bit of a meltdown when I realized I was doing too much. For me, this didn’t happen until college, and it led me to change my major and eventually find the path that steered me to librarianship. So, I get what Mara went through, and I think a lot of young adults will feel the same.

If you’re interested in sharing The Possibility of Now with others, I would recommend it for middle grades and up. Mara is a high school student, so those readers will probably relate more to what she’s dealing with, but it’s accessible to anyone who’s ever wanted to escape an embarrassing situation and try to reinvent themselves somewhere else. Can we all do that in picturesque Lake Tahoe while learning to ski? No, but we can dream.

For more information on The Possibility of Now and other books by Kim Culbertson, visit the author’s website. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Shingaling: A Wonder Story

Read Wonder by R.J. Palacio before proceeding with this post. (Actually, read Wonder anyway. This is a book that everyone–regardless of age–needs to read.)

Last night, I finally made time to read Shingaling, the third “bonus” story that goes along with Wonder. At first glance, I wasn’t totally sure which character I’d be reading about. The title, which refers to a dance I’d never heard of before, doesn’t immediately give that away.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this story is told from Charlotte’s perspective. You might recall that she served as one of Auggie’s “welcome buddies” during his first days at Beecher Prep. That’s not the only thing that was going on in Charlotte’s life, though. While Auggie was dealing with his first year at school, Charlotte was wading through some issues of her own…

Charlotte has always been a nice kid. She gets good grades, she’s polite to adults, she helps the new kid at school, and she tries to stay out of all the drama that comes with middle school. Does she sometimes try a little too hard to be liked? Sure, but it’s just because she wants to belong.

Charlotte’s best friend, Ellie, has been accepted into the most popular group in school, and Charlotte feels like she’s been left behind. It doesn’t help that Ellie’s new friends are sometimes mean to Charlotte and other students in school. Charlotte knows she shouldn’t care what this group thinks of her, but she can’t help it. She really wants them to like her.

When Charlotte is given the chance to dance in a very special performance–based on the shingaling–she also gets the opportunity to get to know Ximena, one of the popular girls, and Summer, one of Auggie Pullman’s closest friends. All three girls are spending hours each week practicing their dance, and they gradually learn that they have more in common than they thought. They become friends and talk about their interests, their fears, and their perceptions of the people around them.

It’s during these conversations that Charlotte realizes hat the kids at school think of her as a goody-two-shoes who’s only nice when teachers are looking. Charlotte tries to be nice to everyone around her, but maybe that’s not the same thing as being kind.

Join Charlotte as she learns what kindness, friendship, and even empathy really mean when you read Shingaling: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio.

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The little synopsis above is one of the most difficult I’ve ever written…and I honestly can’t pinpoint the reason for that. Even though this story was less than 70 pages long, it covered a lot, and I know I’ve left out a bunch of stuff and glossed over even more. I apologize for that.

If you’ve read Wonder and The Julian Chapter, you know that the boys of Beecher Prep had their own brand of drama going on during Auggie’s first year of school. Well, in Shingaling, we get to see the girls’ side of things. We see what they think of the “boy war” and how they are dealing with the cliquey girl drama that is so common in middle schools the world over. (This story definitely made me reflect on my own horrible experiences in middle school. I imagine other readers will have similar experiences.)

Auggie is barely a blip in Shingaling, and that, in my opinion, helps fans of the original book to realize that there was more going on at this school than just Auggie’s story (even though it’s an extremely important one to tell). Sure, Auggie’s journey had an impact on the character of Charlotte, but it wasn’t the sole focus of her year. She had her own issues to sort through, and, while Auggie had a small part in how that played out, Charlotte had to forge her own path and learn several lessons in her own way (as we all do).

As far as I know, Shingaling is the last of the Wonder stories. It’s actually now part of a print collection known as Auggie & Me, which includes The Julian Chapter, Pluto, and, of course, Shingaling. If you’re a fan of Wonder, I highly recommend reading each of these extra stories. I think they definitely add some depth to what we saw in Wonder. You might also want to check out 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts. I haven’t read that one yet, but I understand that it’s a book of sayings–or precepts–supposedly compiled by Auggie’s teacher, Mr. Browne.

For more information on all things Wonder, visit author R.J. Palacio’s website.

Saint Anything

This next statement may shock some of you. Until a few days ago, I had never read a Sarah Dessen book. I know, I know. It’s a true scandal for someone who loves YA literature as much as I do. The good news is that I have remedied that situation, and I’m now prepared to read everything that Dessen has ever written. Her newest book, Saint Anything, is outstanding, and if her other books are in any way comparable, I’m already hooked.

In Saint Anything, we meet Sydney, a girl dealing with the fallout of her brother Peyton’s mistakes. Several months ago, Peyton, after claiming that he was finally going to get his act together, had a few drinks at a party and proceeded to get behind the wheel of a car. On his way home, Peyton hit a kid named David Ibarra, paralyzing him for life.

Now, Peyton is in prison, and Sydney is left to deal with her guilt and shame over her brother’s actions. And with all of her parents’ focus on Peyton and his issues, Sydney wonders if they really see her. Even her decision to transfer to public school doesn’t seem to faze them. (They don’t appear to realize that Sydney’s decision was based partly on the financial burdens created by Peyton’s actions.) She’s invisible in her own home.

At first, Sydney feels invisible at her new school as well, but that changes rather quickly. When Sydney encounters the Chatham family, she feels like she’s finally seen.

The Chathams are a close-knit family with their own share of issues. The family owns a local pizza parlor, and, almost immediately, they treat Sydney as one of their own. Layla soon becomes Sydney’s closest friend. Layla has no luck with guys, but she’s always searching for the one who will be true to her. (Also, she has a weird obsession with fries.) Then there’s Rosie, a recovering addict who is trying to get her figure skating career back on track. Mr. Chatham runs the pizza parlor and plays in a bluegrass band in his spare time. Mrs. Chatham struggles with multiple sclerosis, but that doesn’t stop her from keeping her entire family in line. And then there’s Mac…

Mac is Layla’s older brother, and Sydney is drawn to his quiet, protective nature. Even though she knows it could damage her friendship with Layla, Sydney can’t seem to help growing closer to Mac…and he feels the same way. Sydney finally feels like there’s someone who really gets her, and she won’t let go of that without a fight.

After an argument with Peyton and discovering Sydney breaking a couple of rules, Sydney’s parents finally turn their attention to their daughter. (I say “they,” but I really mean “her mother.” She leads, and Sydney’s dad sort of follows along.) They don’t want her to go down the same path that Peyton did, and they seem to think that the Chathams have something to do with what they perceive as changes in their daughter’s behavior. (They don’t see their own lack of attention as a problem, in my opinion.) They tighten the reins on Sydney, talk about transferring schools, and basically try to keep Sydney away from anything that could be a “bad influence.” What they don’t realize is that the true danger to their daughter has been right under their noses all along.

Sydney knows her parents are being unreasonable, but she doesn’t know how to convince them that a couple of mistakes do not mean she’s headed for trouble. She’s tired of being punished for Peyton’s actions, and she’s unwilling to let go of the relationships that have come to mean so much to her. What can she do to make her parents finally see her? Can Sydney reconcile her own feelings about her brother while helping her parents to see her for herself? And how will her closeness with the Chatham family help–or hinder–her efforts? Discover the answers to these questions and many more when you read Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen.

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I adored this book. The characters were wholly relatable, and I honestly felt like the Chathams made me a member of their family as I was reading. I was charmed by that entire family, particularly Layla, Mac, and Mrs. Chatham. This family was a beautiful example of how a family should come together in tough times. That provided a perfect counterpoint to Sydney’s own family.

Sydney’s parents, blinded by the experiences with their son, were exasperating. At several points during the book, I wanted to reach through the pages and smack Sydney’s mom. (I’m sure I’m not alone in this.) I know she was dealing with a hard situation the only way she knew how, but it was still frustrating to read, and Sydney’s dad didn’t really help matters. When he was around, he meekly followed along with whatever his wife wanted, even though it was clear that he often disagreed with her. Neither of them paid enough attention to their daughter…until something happened that forced them to.

Saint Anything, which I think is suitable for both middle grade and teen readers, is a wonderful book about a girl discovering herself and what it truly means to be part of a family. The Chathams provide her with the love and attention she’s craved, but they also show her that every family experiences difficulties. Those connections help Sydney cope with what is happening at home. In her own family, Sydney comes to realize that her perceptions, of her brother and her parents, may not always reflect what’s really going on.

I hope you enjoy Saint Anything as much as I did. If you’d like to learn more about it and author Sarah Dessen, click here. You may also want to connect with the lovely Ms. Dessen on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

As for me, I’m now going to add every other Sarah Dessen book to my already staggering TBR pile. Wish me luck!

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend

I’m amazed that I just got around to reading The DUFF (which came out in September of 2010), especially considering that I’ve been one for most of my life. (We really can’t count those preschool years, right?) I’m not going to go into my “duff” experiences through middle school, high school, college, and even into my adult years, but let’s just say that the title of this book alone speaks to me. What’s between the covers of the book…well, that’s another story.

Bianca Piper is fiercely loyal to her two best friends, Casey and Jessica, even when they force her to go to a local dance club with them. Bianca usually just sits at the bar and nurses a Cherry Coke, but on this particular night, she’ll engage in a conversation that will change how she views herself, her friends, and how the entire world looks at her.

When the vile, loathsome–and totally hot–Wesley Rush starts talking to her at the club, Bianca’s pretty sure there’s been some sort of mistake. She makes it pretty clear that she hates Wesley, so why is he chatting her up? Well, the answer is rather simple. He’s trying to hook up with one of Bianca’s friends, and he thinks that paying attention to the “duff”–designated ugly fat friend–of the group will win him some points. Bianca, of course, is livid at this description, so she throws her Cherry Coke in Wesley’s face. (Quite right, too!)

But the more Bianca thinks about Wesley’s description of her, the more she thinks…he may be right.

Being branded as a “duff,” though, is not the worst thing going on in Bianca’s life right now. Her mom is never around, her dad is a mess, and her ex-boyfriend (who completely crushed her heart) is coming back into town. So what does Bianca do to distract herself from her problems? She lays a big kiss on her nemesis, none other than Wesley Rush.

Well, the kiss with Wesley probably wouldn’t have been a huge deal…if she had stopped there. No, instead Bianca continues to escape her problems in Wesley’s arms, and she’s soon avoiding even the good things in her life to spend more time with Wesley (who has issues of his own that he’s trying to escape). Bianca still officially hates Wesley (who continues to refer to her as “Duffy”), but it’s getting harder and harder to convince herself of that, especially when he’s there for her during the most difficult situation she’s ever encountered.

So how can Bianca reconcile her growing feelings for someone she swears she hates? Does Wesley have feelings for her even though she’s supposedly a “duff?” Do these two kids have a shot at a real relationship, or will their various issues drive them apart? I’ll leave that for you to find out…

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So…first of all, let me say that I love Bianca’s voice in this book. She’s cynical, sarcastic, moody, and she doesn’t pull any punches. At the same time, she’s vulnerable and struggling with her parents’ crumbling marriage. Even when she’s being surly and self-destructive, Bianca is a sympathetic character. And even though I don’t particularly like how Bianca distracted herself from her problems, I can see where she’s coming from. Her mom escapes through traveling, her dad escapes into a bottle, and both Bianca and Wesley escape into each other. (I escape into books, Netflix, and food…which may go a long way in explaining why I still see myself as a “duff.”)

For those of you thinking of giving The DUFF a read, let me go ahead and tell you that the book doesn’t shy away from sex. Bianca and Wesley get pretty hot and heavy, and that definitely comes through in the book. Even when Bianca hates herself for turning to Wesley, she enjoys sex with him. (Why else would she keep doing it?) And I may get angry messages for saying this–especially here in the Bible Belt–but I think it’s important for teen readers to see examples of enjoyable sex lives in the books they read. I can’t think of many YA novels that make it a point to say that characters–particularly female characters–have positive, even fun, sexual experiences. Something to think about there.

So…given all of that, I would recommend The DUFF to teenage readers (probably age sixteen and up)* who like books with totally relatable characters, sexy times, and a rather happy–if somewhat unrealistic–ending. It’s also a great book for readers who sometimes struggle with their self-perception. (That didn’t narrow things down, did it?) All of us have thought of ourselves as ugly, fat, or some other negative adjective. Are we all “duffs” at one point or another? Maybe. But, as Bianca discovers, other people don’t get to decide who and what we are. Our identities are up to us.

*This is NOT a book for middle grade readers. Aside from the sexual situations, there’s also quite a bit of language and some other themes that may be more suited to mature readers.*

There’s another book set in the world of The DUFF coming out tomorrow! Lying Out Loud features Wesley’s sister Amy and includes cameos from the characters we’ve come to know and love. I, for one, look forward to seeing how Bianca and Wesley are faring.

For more information on The DUFF and other books by Kody Keplinger, check out the author on her website, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and YouTube.

**I know there was a movie adaptation of The DUFF released a couple of months ago, but I didn’t see it. From my understanding, quite a few liberties were taken with the plot, so I doubt I’ll see it now. If I’m wrong on that, please let me know, and I’ll give the movie a try.**

 

Chime

It’s rare that it takes me three weeks to finish a book.  Usually, it’s more like three days.  My latest read, however, almost completely stalled my reading progress, which is a shame because I was so excited about this book when I started it.  This book is Chime by Franny Billingsley.  (If you’ve been following the controversy surrounding this year’s National Book Award, this book might seem familiar to you.)  The cover is beautiful, nearly every review was positive, and the synopsis I read before diving into this book promised an interesting, engaging read.  Well, that might have been true for some readers, but this book just didn’t do it for me.

In Chime, we meet Briony Larkin.  Briony is not an average girl.  She spends her days taking care of her twin sister Rose, avoiding her father, and hating herself.  Why does she hate herself, you ask?  Well, Briony is a witch, and she can feel nothing but hatred for herself.  She cannot cry, she cannot love, and she cannot feel remorse.  She knows she’s a wicked girl, and only bad things will befall her and those around her.  After all, Briony’s jealousy injured Rose and killed their stepmother, right? 

When a young man, Eldric, arrives in the small village of Swampsea, Briony notices a change in herself.  She begins to feel more than just self-hatred.  She’s becoming adventurous, she’s laughing, and she’s having strong feelings for this boy-man.  She’s venturing into the swamp that she’s always been afraid of (and drawn to).  She’s longing to tell someone the truth about herself.  But what will Eldric do if he learns the truth about Briony?  Will he announce to the town that she’s a witch?  Will he watch Briony hang?  Will he keep her secret? 

Join Briony, Eldric, and a host of other colorful characters on a journey through the mysterious mires of Swampsea.  What will they discover?  What secrets will they unearth?  In the end, all truth will be revealed when you read Chime by Franny Billingsley.

Like I mentioned above, this book was not a favorite of mine.  The dialog was as hard to wade through as the swamp-filled setting.  On a more positive note, I thought the ending of the book was pretty good, and I like that this book serves as a stand-alone title (no trilogy in the works that I’m aware of).  If you decide to give Chime a try, let me know what you think of it.  Maybe I missed something that you didn’t.

If you’d like more information about Chime and author Franny Billingsley, visit http://www.frannybillingsley.com/.  I was just browsing this site, and I discovered that Ms. Billingsley wrote a favorite picture book, Big Bad Bunny.  Cool.

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/.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading this book.  It’s been out for nearly eight years now, but I kept putting it off.  I think it’s because I knew this would be a somewhat uncomfortable read.  Don’t let the title fool you.  I know a title like The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things might lead one to believe that this is a lighthearted book about being a chubby girl, and, while some parts of the book are lighthearted, this book deals with some pretty heavy (pun intended) issues.  Yes, weight and body image play into that, but this book also shines a light on things like self-perception, disappointment in those closest to you, and breaking out of one’s shell.  It was a very enlightenting and, yes, uncomfortable read for me as I’m still dealing with many of the issues addressed in this book (and I’m well out of my teen years), but I think this book is an important one, especially for teen girls who struggle with body image and those who really have no clue what that’s like.

Virginia Shreves does not fit in with her perfect family.  They’re all thin, athletic, and, well, perfect.  Virginia, meanwhile, struggles with her weight on a daily basis.  Her mother is an adolescent psychologist who won’t communicate with her own family and seems to be trying to mold Virginia into her image of the perfect daughter.  Her father and brother are not much better.  (Her sister is in the Peace Corps, so at least she’s safe on that front.)  Virginia also deals with comments about her weight at school.  It’s not easy being the fat girl, especially when Virginia’s best (and only) friend has just moved to Washington.

Virginia tries to diet and even agrees to see a nutritionist, but she always goes back to the comfort of food.  She knows she needs to treat herself better, but if the people around her don’t seem to care about her, why should she care about herself?

When something happens in her family that shakes Virginia to her very core, she begins to reexamine her life, the choices she’s making, how she views herself, and how other people see her.  Virginia is breaking out of her shell, and the people around her, particularly her family, are in for a shock.  The new, improved Virginia is here to stay, and she’s not taking crap from anybody anymore.  How will her parents react to the new Virginia?  Will Virginia finally find the acceptance she’s always longed for?  Will she and others see her as more than just a fat girl?  Read The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler to find out!

I must say that this book was a very inspiring read for me.  I now have the urge to take up kickboxing, dye my hair purple, and get my eyebrow pierced.  (Well, maybe not that last one.)  Who knows?  I might just break out of my shell, too.  Stranger things have happened.

For more information on this book and others by Carolyn Mackler, visit http://carolynmackler.com/Carolyn-Mackler-Home-Page.asp.