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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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All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

all the bright places by jennifer nivenAll the Bright Places

Atop their school’s bell tower, the notorious freak (so termed by his peers) Theodore Finch rescues Violet Markey who has frozen on the ledge from thinking about what it would be like to jump off the bell tower. Once Violet is safe, however, the school gathers and it is Violet who Finch lets get credited as a hero for talking the unpredictable, violent Finch from his latest stunt. In an assigned class project, Finch volunteers to partner with Violet where they must visit natural wonders of their state of Indiana and write about their experiences. Finch has another idea though and makes the assignment more about wandering, life, and finding the unexpected and under-appreciated areas of their state.

Pre-Finch Violet is still suffering the effects of her sister Eleanor’s unexpected death in a car accident nine months before, and everyone keeps giving her excuses or “extenuating circumstances” for not being normal. She does nothing besides go to school and go home. She doesn’t write, and before Eleanor’s death, she and Eleanor used to be well-known for their website EleanorandViolet.com with its conflicting opinions on boys, fashion, life etc.

On the other hand, Finch is the eldest boy in his broken family who lives with his exhausted and downtrodden mother; an older sister Kate who has terrible luck with boys, secretly smokes, and pretends to be Finch’s mother; and younger sister Decca who is also troubled but only eight. His father who also has anger, physical and alcohol abuse issues, recently divorced from his mother and has a new family, a wife with a bright house and her son Josh Raymond (who may or may not actually be Finch’s half-brother). Most of his father’s wrath used to be directed towards Finch who seems to be a constant disappointment. Add in his issues at school with violence and bullying and limited number of friends, and Finch with his episodes of mental illness (that is later revealed to be bipolar disorder).

When Finch and Violet start working on their project, Violet discovers the real Finch, a curious, hopeful, and gregarious boy who loves music and poetry and finding beauty in the world. Slowly, they fall in love, and Violet’s relationship with Finch puts her in compromising positions with her family and friends. As Violet’s world opens once more because of Finch’s influence, Finch’s struggle grows harder as his love for Violet becomes his only hope and yet a heavier burden. Two broken and unforgettable teens forge a deep connection in love and loss that leads them both to brighter places.

I listened to this on audio and the audiobook was fantastic! So, if you can’t read it in print, know that the audiobook narrators give a real teen voice to Violet and Theo and are energetic, fun, and truthful to the characters. I will find this book hard to recommend to most readers, but it is beautifully written and the characters will stay with you. Jennifer Niven writes with a gentle but persuasive and real touch about the heavy topics of death, suicide, and mental illness. This is a book like Thirteen Reasons Why or The Messenger I would suggest for teens to read because it’s a book that is meaningful and real but ugly, messy, and carries a message about life that will stay with them when they witness or live through bad experiences in their own lives. It’s a book to read if you’ve faced or been affected by mental illness, suicide, death/grief, or abuse. And please don’t think this book is terribly depressing. Just like life there are highs and lows and this deals with them so honestly…there is hope because just like Theodore Finch finds — the bright places (or the smallest things) can give you hope during the darkness.

To make your own bright places like Finch and Violet, make a post-it wall of everything that makes you happy or hopeful or you think is beautiful. Share your post-it wall on Twitter or Instagram with #allthebrightplaces. If you need help/are suffering a crisis, here are some resources that are readily available to help you. The first step is admitting that something might be wrong. If you want to learn more about mental health or helping others in crisis, go here. And remember, you are not alone. There is always someone who will miss you.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2017 in Contemporary fiction, Romance, Young Adult/Teen

 

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Jesse’s Girl and Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally

16045315Jesse’s Girl

For her senior year shadow day (career day), musician Maya Henry gets to shadow country teen heartthrob Jesse Scott, winner of three Grammy’s. For a girl who loves eighties rock and plays a killer guitar, a country boy singer with an attitude is pretty far from her goals, and since Maya just lost her kind-of boyfriend, her band, and her dreams of winning a nationwide music competition, she’s reluctant to try anything with her broken heart. Jesse too is hesitant to make a friend because as a star, most girls try to take advantage of his fame that has resulted in embarrassing situations in the past. However, despite their misgivings, they discover their make each other better. A reluctant friendship turns into best friends and more until neither Jesse nor Maya really remember what life felt like without the other.

22846823Defending Taylor

When Taylor Lukens makes one mistake that gets her kicked out of her private school and forced to go to the local high school, everything she’s worked for has been destroyed. She was on track to be valedictorian, soccer team captain, president of the debate team…but when she’s accused of taking drugs, not only her reputation is ruined but also that of her senator father who is running for re-election. As Taylor faces pressure at her new school, she also feels like her family is against her. The only one she feels like she might be able to trust is her older brother’s best friend, Ezra, but he’s also betrayed her in the past…

One thing I love about Miranda Kenneally’s books is that she writes about something she’s learned about life so that teens can learn from it and try to apply it to their own lives. Make sure you read her acknowledgements. They show you the writer behind the page, and one that has hopes and dreams and ups and downs as an adult that is very relateable as a teen. So often, I think teens feel that adults have everything figured out at least with their identities and goals, but often it takes a lifetime to understand. Jesse’s Girl was one of my favorite Miranda Kenneally books, possibly due to the author’s past desire to be a musician. The reader can really pick up on the passion for music.

Note: Sexual situations, language, drug abuse

 
 

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What Light by Jay Asher

Happy Christmas, readers! I’ve been away a bit, but have somehow wrangled some time to write recently! Great news, right?! Here’s a lovely Christmas title full of generosity, hope, and second chances by the author that wrote Thirteen Reasons Why.

51vnabl1eql-_sx330_bo1204203200_What Light

Once a year, Sierra and her family travel from Oregon to California to open their Christmas tree lot, but because the costs are getting too high to open their lot themselves, this will be their last year. For Sierra, this special time means living two lives–one in Oregon with her friends Elizabeth and Rachel and one in California with Heather. However, this year, Sierra meets Caleb, and despite her father’s best efforts to discourage the boys, this one he can’t drive away with a promise of cleaning the outhouses.

As Sierra’s friend Heather warns her, Caleb has something of a reputation. The story goes that he pulled a knife on his sister who no longer lives with him and his mom. Ignoring the gossip but still being cautious, especially when this news makes it to her parents, Sierra can’t reconcile this Caleb with the Caleb she sees buying Christmas trees with his tip money for families who can’t afford it. She notices that he seems to be in pain when the topic of his past is mentioned, and Sierra can’t help but feel the need to help him. As they navigate gossip and judgment, Caleb and Sierra find out that love can create second chances and change everything.

This book is like a sugar cookie, warm from the oven, slowly melting in your mouth. Curl up with this one by the fire tonight (if necessary, a fire on tv) and a cup of hot cocoa or wassail and be happy. After finishing this book, I’ve discovered I love this cover and the message it sends. The Christmas lights? Just look at the cover again once you’re done reading it and see what you notice.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2016 in Contemporary fiction, Romance, Young Adult/Teen

 

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Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

EverythingEverythingCoverEverything, Everything

Part of this year’s Teens’ Top Ten voting (currently ongoing!), and such a sweet book full of first (maybe forever) love, new experiences, and making choices for your own life. I highly suspect this book will stay with me, and I’ll be trying to put it into everyone’s hands. (Thanks to Rachel from my TTT group who so highly recommended it!)

When a new family with an interesting teenage son moves in next door, eighteen-year-old Madeline cannot stop watching them from her window, firstly because Olly is captivating with his street gymnastics and secondly because she has SCID – Severe Combined Immunodeficiency – and cannot (read: never) leave her house. Basically, she is allergic to almost everything: chemicals, spices, perfumes, etc. Her only interaction with the outside world is through her mother and nurse, Carla, and occasionally (rarely) a teacher, like her architecture professor. Schooling, friends, other social interactions–all done online. However, when Olly notices her peering out her window at them, he can’t leave it alone. He and his sister Kara try to bring Madeline a bundt cake, which fails spectacularly (good thing too, because the bundt was as inedible as Hagrid’s rock cakes). Since Maddy’s mother refuses to allow contact with Olly, they begin to write messages to each other, first on their windows and then by email and IM. Carla finds out, but instead of telling her mother, she helps Maddy and allows him to come in. Their friendship blooms into love despite Maddy’s illness and prompts her life to change in unexpected ways. When Olly’s alcoholic father has a particularly bad episode of domestic abuse that causes a face-off between him and Olly, Maddy cannot stay in her bubble. She runs out the door to help him, shocking herself, him, Olly’s family, and most of all, her mother. Luckily, Maddy doesn’t get sick, but she does get grounded. Severely grounded. She cannot see Olly, IM, or email. Suddenly, there was life before Olly and now life after Olly. She can no more go back to her old life and her isolation than stop breathing. As her distance from Olly grows and she watches him bring home another girl and even cry on his front porch, she realizes she has two choices: the choice to be protected and safe forever with her mother but without Olly and the new Maddy that created, or the choice to live. Ultimately, her life is up to her.

(Maybe Spoilery talk below)

This book is so perfect for fans of Eleanor and Park, Hazel and Gus, and fans of Stephanie Perkins or Huntley Fitzpatrick. It is uplifting and light yet carries a deeper, inspiring message. Maddy is everything that is innocent and yet joyful, like a child. She just delights in her experiences. Olly is practically perfect in book form (definitely book boyfriend material), but is still a complex character. I loved how Maddy kept discovering things about him, and yet didn’t learn of a few of his secrets until after he was gone. One of the best things about Everything, Everything is the artwork. It is gorgeous. From the cover which is like a microcosm of beauty, life, and possibilities. It shows perfectly the symbolism of Maddy’s life before vs. after Olly. Don’t mistake me however. This is not a book all about the boy. It has feminism and Maddy merely learns what it is like to live – from the time of her isolation to her world expanding. Below are a few other gems of the unique nature of this story, which actually reminds me of the varied media of Illuminae. I am terribly excited to read my ARC of The Sun Is Also a Star now (coming Nov 1st).

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