From the Morris-Award winning author of Charm & Strange, comes a twisted and haunting tale about three teens uncovering dark secrets and even darker truths about themselves.
When nearly killing a classmate gets seventeen-year-old Sadie Su kicked out of her third boarding school in four years, she returns to her family’s California vineyard estate. Here, she’s meant to stay out of trouble. Here, she’s meant to do a lot of things. But it’s hard. She’s bored. And when Sadie’s bored, the only thing she likes is trouble.
Emerson Tate’s a poor boy living in a rich town, with his widowed mother and strange, haunted little brother. All he wants his senior year is to play basketball and make something happen with the girl of his dreams. That’s why Emerson’s not happy Sadie’s back. An old childhood friend, she knows his worst secrets. The things he longs to forget. The things she won’t ever let him.
Haunted is a good word for fifteen-year-old Miles Tate. Miles can see the future, after all. And he knows his vision of tragic violence at his school will come true, because his visions always do. That’s what he tells the new girl in town. The one who listens to him. The one who recognizes the darkness in his past.
But can Miles stop the violence? Or has the future already been written? Maybe tragedy is his destiny. Maybe it’s all of theirs. – Goodreads
Charm & Strange was one of my favorite books the year it came out. I love a good YA novel about troubled teens, especially if it includes an unreliable narrator. This book centers on three characters, Sadie, Emerson, and Miles. Sadie sounds like a bit of a sociopath, someone who hurts others because she’s bored, who gets off on making people uncomfortable, who knows just how much to say or not say. She’s a rich kid with a past, a missing father, a penchant for being kicked out of boarding schools, things like that. Emerson and his brother Miles are different. They live on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak, though Emerson has now joined the rich kids in the cool crowd due to playing basketball. Their father killed himself when they were younger, so there’s some leftover baggage from that. Miles, though, is truly different, in that he is constantly sick and believes he is having visions. These visions appear to often be accompanied by a panic attack or a seizure. Miles sees violence in his future, but is having trouble seeing it clearly. They are all connected, both by their past and their present, and you can see the disaster coming from a mile away.
Each of these kids are disconnected in some way, though Sadie is perhaps the worst. She has no real feelings other than boredom and the joy she feels when she is in control, hurting others, or getting what she wants. I’m sure there’s a reason Kuehn chose to name her protagonist something similar to “sadist.” She is hard to rile, very slow to anger, and she sees no point in most of the baser emotions that rule the lives of the average teenager. She enjoys trying to manipulate and shock her school therapist, she uses information to blackmail and control other students, and she is, in her heart and at her base, cruel. She is the kind of person who believes people are born as they are and nothing can change them, even if they are born “bad.” Sadie is the worst kind of apathetic, and we slowly discover her roots and her experiences, which only sort of explain why she is the way she is. Emerson, on the other hand, seems to be all base emotion, all pride, lust, and anger. He is afraid of Sadie and also drawn to her, running from a past full of hate and pain, and yet also seeming to want to jump back into it. Emerson does things differently than Sadie, but they’re still terrible. In fact, I liked him even less than Sadie, even though it seemed like Sadie was being set up as the villain. Miles is a bit of an enigma. He doesn’t do terrible things, isn’t a ball of anger or indifference, but he is in pain and his past is sort of shrouded in mystery. Something is there, something has happened, but we don’t know what it is. At first, I wasn’t sure Miles himself knew what it was.
This book is a heartbreak. There’s really nothing happy or fulfilling about it, but that doesn’t make it a bad read. Just a hard one, one you have to brace yourself for, even if you see it coming.
Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . . – Goodreads
Holly Black is one of my favorite YA/MG authors ever. I’ve loved everything I’ve read of hers, from the Modern Faerie Tales to the Curse Workers to the Spiderwick Chronicles, and I’ve had this one on my list since it came out. I love how Black blends the creepy and the funny. She’s a master at that kind of thing. I mean, there’s a cat named “The Party.” Come on! So we start with Alice, Poppy, and Zach. Alice lives with her overprotective grandmother, Alice lives with her seemingly neglectful parents and wild siblings, and Zach lives with his parents, though his father has just moved back home after three years away. Each of these environments offers problems and hardships for the kids, but their friendship is strong and based on a love of make believe and play. Until Zach’s father throws away all his action figures, sending Zach into a spiral of rage and despair. He can’t think of any other way to deal with it than to stop playing with Alice and Poppy. Since Zach is only twelve, he can be forgiven these terrible coping skills. Soon, though, he’s pulled back in when something happens with the china doll they call The Queen.
The ghost of a little girl named Eleanor visits Poppy, imploring her to bury the girl’s bones, threatening her with a curse if she doesn’t. The kids decide to travel to Ohio to do so. As a mom, this would freak me the hell out. No kid of mine is traveling to another state on a bus by themselves. Of course, they don’t tell anyone where they’re going.
This book, despite being superficially about a quest and spooky dolls, is really a coming of age story. Alice is the most mature of the three and has gone through the most. She is the most aware of her feelings, actions, and intentions. Poppy is the most immature. She isn’t good with change and she’s easily angered. Zach falls somewhere in between them. These kids are learning about life and hardship and love and death. That’s what the story is about, not some doll or some ghost. Holly Black is SO GOOD at incorporating these elements into her stories, and the flow is just so smooth and normal. It feels like you’re watching it happen in real-time. This is why I love her so much and have read literally everything she’s written.
Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters. – Goodreads
I wanted to love this book. I am a Rainbow Rowell fangirl. I don’t hide from this fact. I’m proud of the fact and that I own far too many copies of Fangirl. (My BFF doesn’t hide from the act that she’s trying to get me to get rid of them. Because I only need..one?) That being said I struggled with Carry On and that kills me. I think it stems from the fan that it’s a chosen one story. A Harry Potter story and to be honest, Harry Potter has never really worked for me. I know. I know. Sacrilege. But it’s true. I read Harry Potter too late in life for it to touch me in the way it touched all my friends. Because of this fact I struggled with Carry On.
Carry On is the story of Simon Snow, the kid who does not want to be the chosen one. As a reader, we learned a bit about Simon from Fangirl, but this is really his moment to shine. I also want to be clear there is nothing wrong with Carry On. It’s solid story, which characters that I adored and a plot that wasn’t too shabby. It’s the chosen one stereotype where this fell flat for me..I just didn’t care about the storyline or Simon. By the time I did ultimately care about Simon, the story was almost over.
I may go back and re-read the story sometime because I did find it enjoyable, it was just more of a me problem than the book.
Every October Cara and her family become inexplicably accident-prone. Some years it’s bad, like the season when her father died, and some years it’s just a lot of cuts and scrapes. They know what they need to do—stock up on bandages and painkillers, cover sharp table edges with padding, banish knives to locked drawers, switch off electrical items. They buckle up, they batten down.
But this accident season—when Cara; her ex-stepbrother, Sam; and her best friend, Bea, are seventeen—none of that will make a difference.
Because Cara is starting to ask questions. And the answers were never meant to be found.
A haunting, untethered, addictive read that perfectly captures that time in our lives when our hearts crack open and the raw secrets of our true selves burst forth—whether we are ready or not. – Goodreads
First of all, I want to state that this book cannot be strictly considered YA even though it follows the lives of four teenagers. Obviously I love YA, but I am realistic enough to realize that a lot of YA will not appeal to a large audience. This book, however, is a gem, and I think anyone can read and enjoy it. I even recommended it to my mom, who is more of a murder mystery and chick lit kind of reader. It is absolutely a brilliant read for all ages.
We start with our narrator, Cara. She lives with her mother, sister Alice, and ex-stepbrother, Sam. Cara’s best friend is Bea, a tarot card reading eccentric who I just adored. Sam’s father left Cara’s mother four years prior, but the accident season has been around for as long as Cara can remember. One year, the accident season killed Cara’s grandfather, and another, her father. Her family has broken bones, they are hit by cars, they fall into rivers. They are truly accident-prone. But the accident season is taken as a given by the family, so it’s almost an afterthought for us as readers. It is presented as something that always happens, so it is in the background of the actual story. The actual story is about Cara. She is a bit of an outsider in the life of her sister, but they are all very close, a foursome. Cara is flipping through her photos on day and notices that they all include a girl named Elsie, who Cara hasn’t spoken to in many years. On the day Cara notices this, Elsie disappears, and no one knows where she is. In fact, no one seems to remember who Elsie is at all.
There is more though, and it’s complicated, not only because you get the sense that Cara doesn’t know everything, or that she’s hiding something, but because there is a magic that hovers above these kids and the places they go. A frozen river in the middle of a mild October night, an abandoned house that whispers to them, Tarot cards that are always on point. The mystical nature of what’s happening around them is tempered by the very real violence that seems to always happen to them during the accident season. They made stupid decisions because they’re kids, and they each struggle with an emotional burden so heavy they’re lucky they’re not crushed. Who wouldn’t want to escape that to act like normal kids every once in a while?
Elsie is frequently an afterthought, then she is right up in your face. Cara turns away and forgets, turns back and there Elsie is, waiting. Who is Elsie? What happened to Cara’s uncle Seth? What is no one saying, what secrets are they keeping? Is the accident season real? Is it magical? You know what is for sure magical in this book? The friendships. So while this novel is about secrets and how to unravel them, it is also about the friendships forged between three girls and one boy, the closeness, the security, the absolute love they all share. It is amazing. There is a little romance, but the friendship takes center stage, and it is so refreshing to see.
When the truth comes out, when the magic unravels, it’s powerful and painful and it hurts, but it also feels so, so good. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It is the kind of book anyone can read and enjoy, and everyone should read it. I loved this book so much.
On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.
On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.
Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…
What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?
In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other. – Goodreads
My love of Nova Ren Suma is well-documented. I’ve read all of her YA novels, and I have loved them all equally. I think the thing about Suma is that you either love her writing style or you don’t, you either love an unreliable narrator or you don’t, you either love being led down a misleading path that shrouds the truth in shadow or, you know, you don’t. It’s polarizing. But Suma’s characters are always introspective and unreliable; the fun part is figuring out what is it they’re covering up. I noticed that they rarely outright lie. They just speak in circles or leave things out.
I’ve read that some reviewers think the summary gives too much away, but I don’t agree. It’s hard to give too much away about a Suma novel, because there’s so much there. This is a novel about Orianna Speerling, told through the eyes of two girls who knew her in very different circumstances: Amber Smith, teen juvenile accused of murder, and Violet Dumont, teen ballerina headed soon to Juilliard. Beyond that, everything is a mystery, and all you know is what you’re told.
A book like this is hard to review because you want to turn it into a recap. Here’s what happened to Amber on that weird night, here’s how Violet feels about her first encounter with that football player, here’s what happened to make them both the way they are. And I think that’s a disservice to the story, to the experience of watching it unfold, to the magic of wondering what will come next, what happened next, how it will end. Suma has a great writing style, not too much description, not too much dialogue, just the view of the world from inside the narrators’ heads, however misleading that view might be. The best part about a Suma novel is even if you think you have it all figured out, you don’t. Or if you do, there will always be a twist to throw you off, sometimes right at the end.
I loved this one, as I expected to. It’s a quintessential Nova Ren Suma novel, and I mean that in the best and most complimentary of ways.
Life is almost back to normal for Harper Price. The Ephors have been silent after their deadly attack at Cotillion months ago, and her best friend, Bee, has returned after a mysterious disappearance. Now Harper can focus on the important things in life: school, canoodling with David (her nemesis-turned-ward-slash-boyfie), and even competing in the Miss Pine Grove pageant.
Unfortunately, supernatural chores are never done. The Ephors have decided they’d rather train David than kill him. The catch: Harper has to come along for the ride, but she can’t stay David’s Paladin unless she undergoes an ancient trial that will either kill her . . . or make her more powerful than ever. – Goodreads
Although Rebel Belle took me a bit to get into Miss Mayhem held me until the final moment. I almost didn’t know it was possible to read a book as quickly as I did. Harper is the same neurotic character from the beginning the only thing that changes is she is now aware of her power and how nothing is ever going to be the same again. No matter how hard she tries.
What I loved about this book is that it didn’t feel like the dreaded middle school book. It felt like Harper’s world and she was just having a new problem thrown at her. From trying to figure out David (no longer her enemy but her love) to supernatural problems. And while Bee has come back from vanishing at Cotillion, she isn’t the same. She isn’t the Bee that Harper knows and loves and that of course worries Harper. Harper is like a normal, everyday teen, she’s juggling everything while trying to keep her head above water. That is the most relatable teenage moment in the world: juggling and trying to keep your head above water.
Interesting enough Miss Mayhem was more contemporary instead of supernatural. While there was nothing particular wrong with this book it did go back and forth between moving too slow and moving too fast. I do wish the pacing would have been more consistent.
Will I be reading the third book? HECK YES I WILL BE. With the killer hook/cliffhanger I cannot wait to know how this book series will end.
Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who adored him completely. And then, one day, he was lost… Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the bedside of an ailing child to the bustling streets of Memphis. Along the way, we are shown a miracle–that even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again. – Goodreads
I am back to school this semester, and I’m taking a Literacy in Schools course. I was pretty thrilled to realize that there is some required reading, and most of the novels are middle-grade! They are pretty universally novels that I wouldn’t choose to read myself, but I kind of like that I’m being forced to read outside my comfort zone (meaning there are no witches or wizards or ghosts in any of these novels). This is the first of the semester. Edward the china rabbit thinks very highly of himself and not at all highly of most humans. He likes two people, Abilene and her grandmother, Pellegrina. The world revolves around Edward in his own mind, even though all he is is china, wire, and a bit of rabbit fur. If he was a human protagonist, he would be highly and immediately unlikable, but because this is a children’s book, and Edward is just a naive little toy, he gets a tiny bit of sway. I imagined this book would be about Edward’s growth and redemption, which makes his beginnings easier to swallow.
Our professor warned us that most of the stories she’d assigned would make us cry. Pampers commercials make me cry these days, so I didn’t think much of her statement at the time. Edward’s story, however, is a hard one, as most of these redemption stories are. What makes it bearable to me is that there is not enough background on any of the characters to make you really like them before bad things start happening to them. The story is eminently readable, quick and precise, and the chapters are very short. It does not feel like a 200 page novel at all. I read nine chapters in maybe 25 minutes.
We first meet Nellie, an older woman living with her fisherman husband in a tiny house near the sea. She dresses him in girls’ clothes and calls him Susanna. He has learned to listen and to appreciate what the humans around him give to him, and he has almost learned to love someone. It only took nearly a year at the bottom of an ocean for him to figure it out. I was almost afraid to keep reading, because I knew bad things would eventually happen, and Edward would experience true heartbreak for the first time. He eventually ends up in the trash, awaiting another rescue, except now he is changed and has known love, and his isolation is much more painful than before.
This is all just the beginning of Edward’s journey, and a lot happens. This book made me cry a bit, as my professor promised, because of Edward but also because of the people Edward meets. He touches all their hearts in some way, and they all have deeper issues of their own. Some are lost, some are sick, some have children who don’t appreciate them. All appreciate Edward though, and he learns to appreciate them. He becomes almost real, which reminds me of the Velveteen Rabbit and his discussion with the Skin Horse:
“What is REAL?” the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. But once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”