The Geography of You and Me

Before I get to my latest read, indulge me for a bit. Today marks Knight Reader’s 7th Blogoversary, and I’d like to thank everyone who’s taken the time to visit my little blog over the years. When I think about hanging it all up (which is about every two days), you guys are the ones who keep Knight Reader alive. I couldn’t do it without you, and I hope you’ll continue to stick with me.

Now, on with the show…

A couple of days ago, I finished another great read by Jennifer E. Smith. I’d previously read and enjoyed three of her other books–The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, The Comeback Season, and This Is What Happy Looks Like–so I figured that The Geography of You and Me would be no different. I’m happy to report that I was right (as usual).

Like Smith’s other books, The Geography of You and Me tells the tale of an unlikely pair. These two young people are thrown together by chance, fate, whatever you want to call it, and that one event ultimately changes everything…

It should have been a routine trip on an elevator. Lucy was going up to her apartment after checking the mail. Owen was headed to the roof to escape the chaos of New York City. But a citywide blackout changes everything. Now, Lucy and Owen are stuck together, and they’re getting to know each other when they’d barely registered the other’s existence previously.

After they’re rescued–and it becomes apparent that the power isn’t returning to the city anytime soon–Lucy and Owen decide to spend the long evening ahead exploring the city around them and looking at the stars above. They tell each other things they never revealed to anyone else. Owen talks about moving to New York after the death of his mother, and how he and his father are still floundering. Lucy tells Owen how it feels to be left behind when her parents travel abroad. Both young people are lonely, and, unexpectedly, they find kindred spirits in each other.

When the blackout ends, however, it’s a little more difficult to keep their connection alive, especially when Owen is headed west with his father, and Lucy is moving to Europe with her parents.

Lucy and Owen communicate through postcards and sporadic emails, but they’re also continuing to live their lives. Lucy finds a boyfriend when her family settles in Edinburgh, and Owen begins a relationship with a girl he meets in Lake Tahoe. Through it all, though, Lucy and Owen continue to think about each other and wonder how the other is doing. And when their other relationships go south, Lucy and Owen return to the connection they formed in the dark of New York City.

Eventually, Lucy and Owen come back to each other in the place where it all began. In the year since the blackout that started their relationship, they’ve each traveled hundreds of miles, met new people, and learned more about themselves and their places in the world. Are they even the same people as when they first met? Has too much changed in the past year?

Can two people from such different worlds overcome the miles between them and form a real and lasting relationship? Is geography even a consideration when two people really want to be together? I’ll leave that for you to discover yourself…

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I’d recommend The Geography of You and Me to readers who are looking for a quick, sweet read that explores the complexities of first love and long-distance relationships. It’s also great for those who have a bit of wanderlust and want to experience more of the world around them. (FYI, that is not me. I’m a bit of a homebody. If I want to go somewhere, I’ll just open the pages of a book. BOOM. Instant vacation.)

The Geography of You and Me is a good selection for readers in middle grades on up. Yes, it is a teen romance, but there’s no graphic imagery, and the language isn’t terribly shocking. Everything is true to the story. (As usual, read the book for yourself before adding it to your school or classroom library. You know better what fits in your collections than I do.)

If you’d like more information on this book or others by Jennifer E. Smith, check out the author’s website and Twitter. I, for one, look forward to reading her latest, Happy Again, an ebook novella that continues This Is What Happy Looks Like. I’m also excited about her next novel, Hello, Goodbye, and Everything In Between, which comes out on September 1st.

Happy reading, everyone!

Let’s Get Lost

A couple of days ago, Let’s Get Lost, a novel by Adi Alsaid, was released to the world. I began reading a NetGalley review copy of the book last week, and I finally finished it last night. To be perfectly honest, this book didn’t immediately capture my attention, so I found it easy to put it down and move on to something else. Once I made up my mind to sit down and read Let’s Get Lost, however, I wanted to know more about the central character, Leila, and her interactions with others on her journey north. The relationships she formed told us just as much about Leila as they did about the people she encountered.

Hudson is a kid preparing for the most important meeting of his entire life. He’s got a shot at a full scholarship at Ole Miss, and tomorrow is the big day. But a lot can happen in a day. When Hudson is working in his dad’s garage, a girl brings her car in for a little work. Almost immediately, Hudson is captivated by this newcomer. Her name is Leila, and she’s unlike any girl he’s ever met. She’s traveling to see the Northern Lights, and Hudson is awed by her bravery, her ability to take life as it comes, and to do what she wants. He wishes he could do the same. While she’s in town, he does. He decides to live a little before his big interview. Hudson shows Leila the town he loves, he shares pieces of himself with her, and he begins to reevaluate what he really wants. Is he ready, though, for the fallout of his night with Leila and what it could mean for his future?

Bree meets Leila on a lonely stretch of highway in Kansas. Bree is a runaway who lives for the next adventure, the next surge of adrenaline. She thinks she’s met a kindred spirit in Leila, the girl who took pity on a poor hitchhiker. Bree introduces Leila to the thrill of shoplifting, auto theft, and, eventually, spending some time in a jail cell. Through all this, Bree reveals her story to Leila, who wants to do whatever she can to help this girl find whatever it is she’s looking for. Is she really looking to run away, or is she trying to find her way home again?

Elliot, a young man in Minnesota, just told his friend, Maribel, that he’s in love with her…and was essentially shot down. This is not how his prom night was supposed to go. It was supposed to end like all the great romantic movies, with the girl revealing that she’s always loved him too, and then they have a dramatic kiss and live happily ever after. Yeah…not so much. Instead, Elliot is getting hammered and doing stupid stunts in the middle of the street. And that’s were Leila runs into him–literally. After a mild run-in with Leila’s car, Elliot unloads his troubles on this strange girl. Leila, in turn, vows to help Elliot win the girl he loves. What follows is a night reminiscent of a John Hughes film. Every time Elliot thinks he’s finally done something to win his Maribel’s affections, he’s rebuffed. It’s just when he’s all but given up that he has a glimmer of hope…and it’s all thanks to Leila, a girl he’d never met before this night but one who gave him the push he needed to follow his heart.

Sonia is a young woman struggling with her feelings. She’s in a wedding in British Columbia this weekend, but she’s very conscious that someone is missing from this important occasion. Sam, the boy she loved so much, passed away months ago, and his absence is weighing on Sonia. It’s Sam’s sister getting married, and his family that has taken Sonia in as one of their own, but how would they react if they knew she was moving on? Sonia doesn’t want to risk losing Sam’s family, but she knows that Jeremiah–who happens to be the best man in this weekend’s wedding–deserves more than she’s currently giving. The pressure gets to be too much for Sonia, and she needs some time alone. That’s when she meets Leila, a girl who takes pity on Sonia (who is now a tear-streaked mess), and what follows is a quest to reclaim Sonia’s life, save a wedding, and finally acknowledge that it’s okay to love again.

Leila has met quite a few interesting people on her journey to see the Northern Lights. She’s helped people–simply by caring about them–and she may have even experienced the beginnings of love, but it’s now time to see the Lights that she’s been so focused on. As she waits for the Lights to appear, she finally reveals her true reason for this long journey…and it’s not something that most people can fully grasp. Will the Northern Lights–in all their majestic glory–finally make things right for Leila, or will she discover that what she’s looking for has been within her reach all along?

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Let’s Get Lost is a good read for those interested in travel, meeting new people, and throwing caution to the wind. I am definitely not one of those people, but I still enjoyed the book a bit. It was just a little difficult to understand the appeal of so much spontaneity.

I would say that this book is more suited to high school/YA collections than those for middle grade readers. It does include some alcohol/drug use, law-breaking, a little profanity, and a fair amount of disobeying (or outright ignoring) parents and other authority figures. (I think I was bothered more by the lack of respect for parents than by any of the other “bad” stuff in this book. Of course, I’ve always been a rule-follower. On the other hand, many of the adults in this book were almost completely out of touch with what was going on in their kids’ lives. Many young people will be able to relate to that.)

I know summer is winding down for most people, but Let’s Get Lost would be a great read if you’ve got a road trip ahead of you. It may just inspire you to slow down and get to know the people you meet along the way.

For more information on Let’s Get Lost and author Adi Alsaid, check out the author’s blog, Twitter, or Goodreads.

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!

Going Bovine

What can I say about Going Bovine by Libba Bray?  It’s weird.  (That’s a good thing in my world.)  I can see why it won the Printz medal for young adult literature.  It’s an awesome book.  The best description of the events of this tale occur on page 257 of the book:

“As a kid, I imagined lots of different scenarios for my life.  I would be an astronaut.  Maybe a cartoonist.  A famous explorer or rock star.  Never once did I see myself standing under the window of a house belonging to some druggie named Carbine, waiting for his yard gnome to steal his stash so I could get a cab back to a cheap motel where my friend, a neurotic, death-obsessed dwarf, was waiting for me so we could get on the road to an undefined place and a mysterious Dr. X, who would cure me of mad cow disease and stop a band of dark energy from destroying the universe.”

Yep, that’s Going Bovine in a nutshell.  This book has it all:  New Orleans jazz, Norse gods disguised as yard gnomes, self-obsessed teenagers, a cult with headquarters in a bowling alley, fire giants, goth angels, DisneyWorld, weird physicists (and I do adore some weird physicists), and many, many other things that seem random to readers…and turn out to be a bit random to the book’s main character Cameron, too.

Everything about this book is great.  Even the acknowledgments and the chapter titles were hilarious.  And, although the story is a little crazy (or a lot crazy) at times, readers will root for Cameron and his friends even when they have no idea what is going on.  Definitely a winner!

North of Beautiful

What is true beauty?  That is something that Terra Rose Cooper would like to know.  Born with a port-wine stain on her cheek, Terra has always considered herself to be ugly.  The comments from her verbally abusive father don’t help matters.  She’s undergone many surgeries to “fix her face,” but none have worked.  She just wants a way out of the stifling path she seems to be on.

In the blink of an eye, Terra (almost literally) runs into someone who will change the course of her life.  Jacob is a Goth kid with his own issues, but he helps Terra to see that she is responsible for traveling her own path in the world, and, if she’ll only look, true beauty is all around her.  Through this eye-opening relationship, Terra begins to see the value in being unique and learning to really express herself, and her relationships with those around her begin to evolve in some surprising ways.

Initially, North of Beautiful was hard for me to get into.  As soon as Terra met Jacob, however, the story really picked up.  I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between these two characters.  I also liked seeing how the relationship between Terra and her mother changed throughout this book.  I think North of Beautiful is a great book for those who are tired of magazines and other media trying to tell us what beauty should be.  This book may help some readers to see that true beauty can be in everything and everyone around us.  We just have to take the time to really look.

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.

All We Know of Love

What is love?  That is the question Natalie is trying to answer in Nora Raleigh Baskin’s All We Know of Love.  Well, if I knew the answer to that question, I would sell my knowledge to the highest bidder and live like a queen for the rest of my life.  I don’t really know what love is.  Can something like that really be put into mere words?

Natalie’s mother left in the middle of a sentence.  They haven’t seen each other or spoken in over four years.  This spring break, Natalie is going to try to change that, try to find out why her mother left and seemingly stopped loving her.  Along her journey, Natalie deals with her feelings about her best friend, her father, and her distant boyfriend.  Natalie is defined by her mother’s abandonment, so how can she describe her feelings for all of these people when the person who was supposed to love her the most left and didn’t look back?

Natalie encounters several people on her way to meet her mother.  Each of these people, in some small way, teach Natalie a little about what love is.  When she finally confronts her mom, Natalie finds that love is complicated, even the love between a mother and daughter.  There are no easy answers.

While I did enjoy All We Know of Love, I wish there had been a bit more resolution at the end of the book.  This was a short, quick read, and the language was simple and fairly realistic.  I can see many of my female students enjoying this book, but it will be a hard sell for the guys.  The book does make the reader attempt to answer the question of what love really is.