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Category Archives: Contemporary fiction

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

51-HArKnTQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Lara Jean is approaching the end of her senior year. She and Peter are still happily together, and all of her classmates are planning their futures. Lara Jean has dreamed for years about going to the University of Virginia, with its classical architecture and picturesque library. Peter is already headed to UVA after signing with the lacrosse team, and Lara Jean can’t imagine a better future, especially since she’d be only fifteen minutes from home and still watching her little sister Kitty grow up. She does have a few other schools she’s applied to, but in her mind, nothing compares to UVA. Even her best friend Chris is planning on being untraditional and traveling somewhere to work like Costa Rica to explore and enjoy life while she’s young. It seems like everyone has the perfect future planned out, and Lara Jean is anxiously waiting on hers.

She’s also experiencing new changes in the rest of her life. Her father gets engaged to their neighbor and Lara Jean throws herself into wedding planning to keep herself distracted. However, when Lara Jean finally hears from UVA, she hasn’t been accepted and suddenly she doesn’t know where she’s going to go or whether she and Peter can stay together.

It’s our final story about Lara Jean *crying emoji!*. I’m terribly sad about it, but also because I don’t know what Jenny Han is going to write next! I love her books. What I love about this one is how every teen can relate to the feelings of uncertainty about their future–their college plans, their relationships if they decide to move away, the unknown possibilities that could occur. Plus, it all feels very real and heartfelt for Lara Jean and the turmoil she’s in at the end of senior year faced with some big life changes and the unknown. This novel has a lot of great advice for teens approaching this step in life without being about giving college advice. In fact, everyone in Lara Jean’s life sort of teaches her some truths, whether about her relationship, herself, or just good advice for the future.

One of the biggest hurdles in the book (and in the series) is her relationship with Peter. Though she and Peter have been together for quite some time (and gotten back together after the events of the last novel), this new unknown future has affected both of them. Their relationship, while important, may not survive. And Lara Jean’s mother once told her, don’t go to college with a boyfriend because you’ll lose out on a true freshman experience (Articles discussing the case in point: The Guardian, the Independent). When they were both potentially going to UVA, it was easy to see themselves being together, albeit with different lives led at college (lacrosse and fraternity for Peter, friends of her own for Lara Jean and studying at the library and on the grounds). However, Lara Jean’s other choices mean a long-distance relationship for much of the time, even when she is trying to convince herself to transfer to UVA soon after being accepted somewhere else. Plenty of teens have this battle where they know, realistically, their relationship may not survive the stress of being long-distance and/or they might meet someone better suited at college. However, as Lara Jean and Peter discover, it’s not up to others and their opinions. They are the two in the relationship and those decisions are up to them.

The ending was beautiful, and perfectly wraps up the series that began with a love letter by ending with another love letter.

Further note:

This is also one of the few books out there that has racial diversity of an Asian American family but doesn’t deal with issues or a lens caused by race. It’s normal, and that’s great because just a few years ago, there were not books with racially different characters who didn’t have problems through a racial lens. Yay for #weneeddiversebooks.

 

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Posted by on July 13, 2017 in Contemporary fiction, Romance, Young Adult/Teen

 

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Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

23305614Finding Audrey

Fourteen-year-old Audrey has had a traumatic past few months. She’s left school due to a bullying incident, one that left her hospitalized and living with an anxiety disorder. She wears dark glasses, can’t leave the house except to visit her therapist, and reacts badly to everyone else except her family. In trying to get better, Audrey begins a film project where she has to view her family in their ordinary life and in so doing starts to tell her own story. Her brother Frank is a gamer, her mum is obsessed with the Daily Mail and convinced something is wrong with Frank and his computer games, her father is sweet but dragged along with her mother’s hysteria and her little brother Felix is a typical preschooler–one minute loving and delighted with the world and the next minute a demanding little dictator. When Audrey’s therapist Dr. Sarah tells Audrey she needs to make more effort in contact with others, Audrey begins to talk to Linus, her brother’s best friend, and she finds him to be a real friend who understands some of her “lizard brain” symptoms, the description she uses for her ‘flight’ response and anti-social reactions. Through her relationship with Linus and at Dr. Sarah’s direction, Audrey begins to really gain momentum in her recovery and understand how to cope with her extreme anxiety, making this an inspiring and relatable story for any tween or teen.

I listened to this book on audio and it was hilarious. Spectacular audio acting job. Audrey’s mum sounds just like a more hysterical Molly Weasley. The characters are well-drawn and real-to-life, though the romance between Linus and Audrey is a bit too predictable. This book will appeal to both teens and tweens and depicts dealing with a mental disorder with frankness and careful consideration. The one downside is we never discover the real scenario where Audrey was bullied or see her in her new future. Otherwise, readers will find this refreshing, real, and delightful.

 

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The Season by Jonah Lisa Dyer and Stephen Dyer

25094429The Season

In a fun twist on the classic Pride and Prejudice tale, The Season follows Megan McKnight as she is reluctantly drawn into a debutante ball to please tradition and her mother. All Megan wants to do is play soccer, but since she thinks her parents might be fighting about their ranch and pressures to sell, she agrees. Megan must go through a series of events in a month designed to teach her how to be a debutante and act like a lady to best show herself off for her family and to young men with the best pedigrees looking for wives. However, Megan is not your typical Southern belle, unlike her twin sister Julia. She’s got attitude and determination, and this gets her into some trouble. Megan has to learn to be the perfect debutante also while avoiding the drama and scandal from other contestants, but when she meets Hank Waterhouse and her sister has an upset, Megan must set things right for her family, or they could even lose all of their futures.

Recently this novel has been optioned for film! This is sure to be a hit, rather similar to She’s the Man. I’m pretty excited to watch that when it comes out. It’s funny, unique, engaging, and sure to tempt girls who like sports as well as those who like traditional romance and contemporary/realistic fiction. You’ll be surprised at how the book fits in with the Pride and Prejudice tale, but I really enjoyed it! There’s some sex and alcohol mentioned. This is also great for teens anticipating going off to college/graduating/leaving home, right on the edge of figuring out their future.

 

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Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why – the Show’s Critics

Netflix's_13_Reasons_Why_title_screen
I’ve just finished watching Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why yesterday (read my blog post on the book), and I’ve seen posts (like Fox News, USAToday, etc.) going around warning people about watching this show and how it glorifies suicide, especially since the show depicted Hannah’s suicide in real time.

I am not a mental health or other professional who deals with suicide and suicide prevention, but I want to share why I disagree with these posts as a teen librarian and a reader.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

First, I don’t think this show OR the book argue for suicide as a choice. Obviously, 13 Reasons Why stands for Hannah’s 13 reasons why she chose to go through with her act of suicide. As the audience hears these reasons, told by Hannah, about her peers and the things they’ve done to hurt her and watches them play out in the past and in the present day, the real focus is how a series of events can affect a person to be pushed so far into depression, isolation, and a desperate desire to find any way to stop the pain. This person can easily feel like they have no self-worth through this process and that the only way out–to make it stop–is to stop living.

“Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds in the US…As an adolescent, [teens] are a part of a particularly vulnerable group that can encounter pressure from [their] family and peer groups. Some problems [they] may face include family breakdown, sexuality, body imagery (anorexia, bulimia, obesity), and social, school, and peer pressures. These problems could lead to a state of depression, which is the most common cause of suicide” (Teen Health & Wellness, “Suicide”).

Instead of arguing that this is a validated way out, the lessons drawn from the show are really how having a friend, someone to talk to who really cares and listens, can make a difference in the life of a person who is thinking about suicide.

“When people talk about suicide, listen, as it can be a cry for help” (Teen Health & Wellness, “Suicide”).

The show also reflects the reverberations of suicide on other people around them (called “survivors”) through Alex’s choice to shoot himself, which illustrates that a person thinking about suicide and their choice DOES affect more than themselves, sometimes causing a chain effect of other suicides or attempted suicides.

Suicide prevention training tells you to notice the people around you, if someone has changed a physical appearance drastically or given away their possessions or withdrawn from things. If they mention suicide or have a fascination with death. How your interest can really make a difference in this person’s decision to act.

The show encourages teens to recognize the effects their behaviors and words can have on others and take responsibility for those actions. Sure, Hannah made the decision and act of suicide, but each of her Reasons gave her pain and so much that she finally felt she couldn’t live with it. You never know how someone else is feeling and how something you did negatively can affect them. It’s better to have a positive impact than leave a possibility of hurt.

Also, I want to state here that the point is not that teens being kind or friendly can save someone who is having suicidal thoughts. It’s that noticing someone having suicidal thoughts and taking the step to get them help that can save them. I don’t think this help always has to come from a mental health professional for teens, especially, because “every 100 minutes” a teen is thinking about acts of suicide (Teen Health & Wellness, “Suicide”). However, the more powerful, meaningful, and impactful connections a teen has to, say, parents, friends, and other positive associations who are willing to listen to the teen’s feelings and be there for them can make a difference in that teen’s decisions on whether to attempt suicide or find suicide as an option. It’s not simply being kind. Teens already might have a distrust of other adults or people whom they are not familiar with saying they can help them. It is that much more important to have someone a teen trusts to be there for them and listen enough to maybe stay with them while they do seek the professional help they might need.

Finally, the show adds a must-watch final statement after the finale called “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons” that goes in-depth about the show, their efforts, and has mental health professionals talking about suicide and how the viewer can help others who might be in this situation and gives resources if they themselves feel this way. 

Don’t just judge this book and series off posts intending to incite anger or censor viewership. Take the chance to learn about empathy and what teens or other people might be experiencing that you might never see. See their world through their eyes and make it better and hopefully recognize these signs in others. (However, if you are a survivor of suicide or have been assaulted or have ever self-harmed or might experience trauma from the graphic scenes, please do use your own judgment whether to watch or not!)

 

For more information on suicide and suicide prevention, see these resources:

National Institute for Mental Health

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Project Semicolon

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

American Psychological Association’s “7 Essential Steps Parents Can Take to Prevent Teen Suicide

 

Works Cited:

“Suicide.” Teen Health and Wellness, Rosen Publishing, October 2016, www.teenhealthandwellness.com/article/316/suicide. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.

 

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

coverThe Sun Is Also a Star

A 2017 Michael L. Printz Honor Book and highlights Nicola Yoon as the John Steptoe New Talent Award!

Natasha refuses to give up on the day her family is supposed to be deported to Jamaica due to her father’s one DUI, and though she’s been trying to convince immigration officers for months, she’s still trying. Natasha believes in science, in logic, in Observable Facts. She wants to stay in the US and go to college, not leave the only life she’s ever known just because her father made one mistake and her family is undocumented. When the security guard at the immigration office makes her five minutes late for her appointment and she’s missed it, another man gives her a chance, sending her to an appointment with a lawyer to hear of her case. On the way there, she meets Daniel…

Daniel has always been overshadowed by his older brother Charlie, until now when he’s been suspended from college for awhile. His Korean American parents used to hold his brother up as a measurement to gauge how good Daniel was, and now Daniel has an interview for Yale to live up to his family’s expectations and be a doctor. As he’s making his way into the city, his train conductor forces everyone off the train to “go find God” and Daniel decides to make the most of it. When he gets off, he notices a stream of people making their way around a girl, Natasha, on the sidewalk who is completely oblivious and zoned out to her headphones. Daniel follows her into a record store and intervenes in a conflict with her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend who is caught shoplifting. When he saves her life a few minutes later, they start and make a deal. Since Natasha believes in science and Daniel is a romantic poet, he challenges her that he can make her fall in love with him scientifically.

This deal results in one day that changes their perceptions, forces them to confront things they never imagined and ultimately shows how powerful love can be if only in a short time and how it can change the future.

I could read this book over and over again! The minute I read it I knew it was something special and not just because of the diversity of the main characters (though that is wonderful) and the story. Nicola Yoon writes beautifully and with such feeling for the backgrounds and possibilities of even the minor characters and shows how the universe around Natasha and Daniel relates into the past and future. I’ve been pushing this book at everyone possible because it really stays with you and is a eye-opening glimpse at the lives of this Korean American family and undocumented immigrant families like Natasha’s. Perfect for fans of Eleanor & Park and for high school age teens and adults.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2017 in Contemporary fiction, Romance, Young Adult/Teen

 

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