Category Archives: Contemporary fiction

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

51j8ClOJzoL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Though it took John Green six years to write and complete this book, it was worth the wait! Besides my favorite The Fault in Our Stars, this is a close second for me in the beauty of writing and capturing a unique story in such a realistic way.

Aza Holmes has always been kind of stuck in her own head. She has severe anxiety and has been seeing a therapist for years to try different ways of fixing it. Her worst fear is to catch a quick-acting deadly infectious bacteria called C. diff. from, well, anything. She’s obsessed with her body being made up of different bacteria, and consequently suffering with an identity crisis. Is she the bacteria or the bacteria really her? Because of this incessant internal monologue, Aza also feels she’s a sidekick to her best friend Daisy’s life story. And Daisy wants to find the missing billionaire, whose son Davis used to be friends with Aza at Sad Camp, the grief camp for people who’ve lost a parent (Aza’s father and Davis’s mom). If they find him, they could win a hundred thousand dollars, which could help them attend a good college. Daisy pushes Aza to use her past friendship to talk with Davis, and Aza finds him one of the few people who can almost see inside her head, which is terrifying. He’s lonely and has a way with words. Though Aza tries hard, her anxiety gets worse and unfortunately it coincides with her new relationship with Davis and her uncertain best friendship with Daisy, who’s involved with her own new boyfriend. Aza feels like she’s in an ever-tightening noose of her thoughts and nothing can set her free.

This is kind of a semi-mystery as Aza and Daisy are trying to figure out what happened to Davis’s missing father. There seems to be a parallel in thinking between Aza and his father, making her able to associate her own feelings with ones he might have been having before his disappearance. Aza also has an usual relationship with Davis’s younger brother Noah; maybe because she’s different, she comes across as not threatening to Noah allowing him to open up to her about his own vulnerable feelings. This novel defines the perspective of vulnerability rather well with that constant feeling of being unsure and the thought spiral that can occur. One of the biggest strengths is how it illustrates mental illness with particular accuracy and sensitivity. You’ll see that in some of the quotes below. There is a bit of romance, a bit of teen invincibility, and a big element of the importance of friendship.

Favorite quotes:

turtles all the way down quote

“The whole problem with boys is that ninety-nine percent of them are, like, okay. If you could dress and hygiene them properly, and make them stand up straight and listen to you and not be dumbasses, they’d be totally acceptable.”

“One of the challenges with pain–physical or psychic–is that we can really only approach it through metaphor. It can’t be represented the way a table or a body can. In some ways, pain is the opposite of language . . . ‘The merest schoolgirl, when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry.’ And we’re such language-based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives at us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify, which is why I’d ask you to frame your mental health around a word other than crazy.”

“You feeling scared?”


“Of what?”

“It’s not like that. The sentences doesn’t have, like, an object. I’m just scared.”

“I thought about how everyone always seemed slightly uncomfortable when discussing their fathers in front of me. They always seemed worried I’d be reminded of my fatherlessness, as if I could somehow forget.”

“You are my favorite person. I want to be buried next to you. We’ll have a shared tombstone. It’ll read, ‘Holmesy and Daisy: They did everything together, except the nasty.'”

“It seemed surreal and miraculous to me that so many cars could drive past one another without colliding, and I felt certain that each set of headlights headed my way would inevitably veer into my path.”

24577931._SY540_“I started thinking about turtles all the way down. I was thinking that maybe the old lady and the scientists were both right. Like, the world is billions of years old, and life is a product of nucleotide mutation and everything. But the world is also the stories we tell about it.”

“‘The problem with happy endings is that they’re either not really happy, or not really endings, you know? In real life some things get better and some things get worse. And then eventually you die.’

Daisy laughed, ‘As always, Aza ‘And Then Eventually You Die’ Holmes is here to remind you of how the story really ends, with the extinction of our species.’

I laughed, ‘Well, that is the only real ending, though.'”

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Posted by on February 23, 2018 in Contemporary fiction, Young Adult/Teen


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The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

Amber Smith was another author I recently saw at an event, and I had been hearing such great things about her debut title. I hadn’t yet had a chance to read it until now, but it is unforgettable!


The Way I Used to Be

When her older brother and his roommate come home from college for winter break, Eden is sexually assaulted by the brother’s roommate, Kevin. As Eden tries to tell her family after it happened, no one lets her speak and she retreats further and further from them. Since Kevin has been his best friend for a long time, Eden comes to believe they will choose to believe Kevin if he denies it than her accusation. The novel follows Eden through her freshman to senior year in high school after the assault, showing her process of shame, grief, anger, and finally action. She gains boyfriends but pushes everyone who might care about her away, experiences sexual addiction, abuses drugs and alcohol, all in an attempt to numb herself to the pain of being assaulted. Eden’s emotional journey is the most compelling part of this novel, and is so empathetic that the reader will experience the same emotional path. Why would you read this? Because Eden could be every girl who has been sexually assaulted and harassed, and shows the invisible pain and consequences of such abuse. Hauntingly beautiful and raw, Amber Smith will crack you wide open.

Don’t forget to check out her new title The Last to Let Go coming February 2018.

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Posted by on January 18, 2018 in Contemporary fiction, Young Adult/Teen


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Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Recent Morris Award 2018 finalist, Dear Martin follows African American senior Justyce as he navigates a recent incident of racial discrimination that has him questioning his identity and writing to Martin Luther King, Jr. about his experiences and how they interact with MLK’s philosophy.

Dear Martin24974996

When Justyce McAllister tries to help his drunk ex-girlfriend by safely driving her home one night, a policeman arrests Justyce, believing he is committing a crime, and Justyce is not allowed to speak in his defense. It’s a rude awakening for potential Ivy League student Justyce to racial discrimination, especially since he’s been attending a prestigious mostly-white prep school on scholarship and highly involved in extracurriculars like debate team. To try and understand his situation, Justyce writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to compare Dr. King’s teachings with his recent experiences. Meanwhile, tensions heighten for Justyce as some of his classmates don’t understand racism, and the cop who arrested him is shot, setting off an explosive and heartbreaking chain of events that leads to Justyce’s character being defamed in the media. It’s a fast, honest, compelling look at current topics of racism, privilege, police brutality, and what it can mean to be black in America.

[Read an Excerpt]

This novel blew me away, especially reading so soon after The Hate U Give. One of the wonderful things about it is that it has an easier readability than THUG, and therefore might have greater appeal to teens who might not be reading books currently, a gateway book. I would love to do a book club with this title. There is so much to discuss in its pages about current events and could be an opportunity for teens to talk about their own experiences in light of Martin’s teachings. Underlying themes that occur in Dear Martin are:

  • white privilege – as evidenced frequently by Blake and Jared (the KKK costume and the Equality Brigade) and pointed out by SJ.

“When they get to Manny’s car and Blake pulls on the hood and raises his arm in the Nazi salute, Justyce knows the train he just hopped on is headed downhill in a major way. It occurs to him that the moment he said he was cool with the whole thing, he cut the brake lines and completely surrendered his power to stop it.”

“Whatever, Jared. Bottom line, nobody sees us [white teens] and automatically assumes we’re up to no good. . .We’ll never be seen as criminals before we’re seen as people.” – SJ

  • the viewpoint that some people in the black community have towards other people of color or in not noticing and combating racism

“There are people who don’t see a man with rights when they look at me, and I’m not real sure how to deal with that. Being treated the way I was and then hearing Jared insist there’s not a problem? And then hearing Manny agree with him? It sucks, Martin. It really does.” – Justyce

  • the acceptance or defeatism of some in the black community of the consequences of racism

“Why try to do right if people will always look at me and assume wrong?” – Quan

There’s no escaping the Black Man’s Curse.” – Quan

  • affirmative action and the potential for retaliation
  • police brutality
  • media bias

…and so much more. SJ and her family were great examples of how white people should act and support people of color when they speak out. I loved this book, and could have read more, but I understand Nic was told to cut much of it. This is a great book to challenge your own viewpoints in reading because only then can we see through others’ eyes and learn empathy. If you only read a few books this year, this is a great touchstone book for current society.

Interviews with Nic Stone:

Writer’s Digest

The Winged Pen

Adventures in YA Publishing

Dear martin quote


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Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to see Robin Benway at an author event. I had never read any of her books before, so when I knew I was going, I immediately rushed to find something of hers to read. I picked up Audrey, Wait!, her debut novel, and it was a such a fun book! If only I had picked this book up sooner! It is definitely a book I would have loved to read as a teen.

51VfOv6AC0L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Audrey, Wait!

When die-hard music lover Audrey planned to dump her musician boyfriend, she never anticipated the song he promised he’d write about her would be a song about their breakup, Audrey, Wait! which becomes an instant household hit. Audrey herself becomes somewhat of a celebrity as everyone wants to know about the girl who inspired a hit song. However, having a popular song written about you if you’re in high school means you’re socially doomed. Sure, Audrey suddenly gets a lot of attention, not just from those annoying paparazzi but classmates who never cared about her before. She’s finding it hard to be normal, except around her family who is clueless. Even her best friend is acting weird and her job at the ice cream shop at the mall is gaining notoriety. The only silver lining is her quiet coworker who doesn’t seem to care about fame, just old-fashioned hard work.

This was such a cute read. It was fast-paced, totally believable, and while touching on a few comments about today’s celebrity society, also light-hearted and humorous. Audrey has a unique voice and the supporting characters such as her best friend Victoria, her parents, etc. all are strong and memorable. The romance is sweet and down-to-earth, and the final twist at the end is both justifying and empowering.


Give this to any teen who is obsessed with music, bands, and concerts or those who enjoyed Ali Novak’s The Heartbreakers. I’m really looking forward to reading more of her titles, including the recently published Far From the Tree.

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Posted by on December 21, 2017 in Contemporary fiction, Young Adult/Teen


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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9fSixteen-year-old Starr Carter has two selves: one who attends an upscale prep school in suburbia, and the other who lives in a poor neighborhood in gang territory. One night while she’s at a neighborhood party, Starr escapes from gang-related gunfire with Khalil, an old childhood friend. As they are driving home, Khalil is pulled over by the police for a broken tail-light, and a horrified Starr is the only witness to his murder. He was unarmed.

As protests and riots begin and the media frames Khalil as a drug dealer and thug, Starr realizes she is the only one who can speak out for the truth and justice for Khalil’s murder. However, if she speaks, it will change her life and endanger her and her family…


This has been THE YA BOOK to read for 2017, so I’ve been waiting a few months to finally be able to get my hands on it.  I was SO not disappointed. This book was so real to me. It’s likely to be one I will never forget and must become a classic for YA, a touchstone for this point in history we’re experiencing. It was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and shows an example of why this movement has happened. Even if you’re against BLM, I challenge you to read this book, to see a different perspective, and then make up your mind on the movement.

It brings to life real people, true emotions, and gives a raw, heartwrenching glimpse into events that have been happening in places all over the country. It forces you to confront your own views or stereotypes of different ideas, such as Khalil’s being framed as a drug dealer and therefore his murder “negated” by him selling drugs.

Tempted to write him off?

Starr wrestles with the idea, because his own mother is a drug addict, and why would Khalil ever sell something he hated that deprived him of a mother? In short, *SPOILER* it was either do this and save his mother’s life or let her be killed for her debts. Mightn’t you do something desperate to save a parent? A sibling? A child?

Readers, be aware that this book pulls no punches. There’s violence, language, drug references…it’s for a more mature audience than middle schoolers. However, this book is full of so much empathy that I was crying and laughing in various points. There were some awesome quotes that I have to share, some are just ones I loved or laughed at (see quotes below slideshow), but others speak to a deeper meaning.

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Note: Some image quotes I created myself on my phone. That is small, so forgive me for not adding quotation marks or the book title. 🙂

* * *

“Problem is it would’ve taken Black Jesus to convince my parents to let me come [to a Garden party]. Now Black Jesus will have to save me if they find out I’m here.”

* * *

“But after Khalil I’m more like a Taylor Swift song. (No shade, I fucks with Tay-Tay, but she doesn’t serve like nineties R&B on the angry-girlfriend scale.)”

* * *

“‘She hasn’t acted like a mom to him! Now all of a sudden, he’s her baby? It’s bullshit!’

Momma smacks the counter, and I jump. ‘Shut up!’ she screams. She turns around, tears streaking her face. ‘That wasn’t some li’l friend of hers. That was her son, you hear me? Her son!’ Her voice cracks. ‘She carried that boy, birthed that boy. And you have no right to judge her.'”

* * *

“Daddy claims the Hogwarts houses are really gangs. They have their own colors, their own hideouts, and they are always riding for each other, like gangs. Harry, Ron, and Hermione never snitch on one another, just like gangbangers. Death Eaters even have matching tattoos. And look at Voldemort. They’re scared to say his name. Really, that ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’ stuff is like giving him a street name. That’s some gangbanging shit right there.”

* * *

“Maverick, I don’t give a flying monkey’s ass what your problem is, just be there for your daughter. Please?”

* * *

“A lump forms in my throat as the truth hits me. Hard. ‘That’s why people are speaking out, huh? Because it won’t change if we don’t say something.’

‘Exactly. We can’t be silent.’

‘So can’t be silent.’

. . .

This is bigger than me and Khalil though. This is about Us, with a capital U; everybody who looks like us, feels like us, and is experiencing this pain with us despite not knowing me or Khalil. My silence isn’t helping Us.”

* * *

“Others are fighting too, even in the Garden, where sometimes it feels like there’s not a lot worth fighting for. People are realizing and shouting and marching and demanding. They’re not forgetting. I think that’s the most important part.

Khalil, I’ll never forget.

I’ll never give up.

I’ll never be quiet.

I promise.”

* * *

Acknowledgements by Angie Thomas: “And to every kid in Georgetown and in all ‘the Gardens’ of the world: your voices matter, your dreams matter, your lives matter. Be roses that grow in the concrete.”



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