Young Adult

Two Amazing Books by Sarah Crossan

There is someone who I need to add to this blog and that is Irish author Sarah Crossan. I just discovered her books a few weeks ago and quickly flew through two of them. I’ve never seen anyone tackle heavy subjects like she does, and with such a deft combination of pathos and wit. And, even though her books are marketed for Young Adults, I highly recommend them for older readers as well.

The first I read is One, the story of conjoined twins Tippi and Grace. As we follow the sisters, we learn about what is required when two people share parts of a human body. Each movement of every day necessitates coordination, patience, and compromise. Grace, the physically weaker of the twins, is the dominant narrator, which I found to be a very interesting choice by the author. Once we get to know these two girls, however, it makes more sense. Grace is quiet and observant, even passive, while Tippi is fearless and vibrant. Now teenagers, the girls have proven everyone wrong in how long they’ve lived. Unfortunately, a crucial decision must be made, demonstrating Grace and Tippi’s emotional connection transcends even their physical bond. This is a story that will carve a place in your heart. The characters are fascinating, as is Sarah Crossan’s unique writing style. 9/10 Stars

Next I read Moonrise, (sometimes marketed as The Moon Brothers) a completely different story but just as touching. This novel deals with the controversial topic of capital punishment. The youngest of three children in an extremely dysfunctional family, seventeen year old Joe Moon makes the brave decision to travel alone to Texas to visit his older brother, Ed, who awaits execution on Death Row. After a ten year separation and numerous reminders from others that it’s best to cut Ed out of his life, Joe focuses on the kindness and protection his brother always showed him. Over several weeks, with Joe set up in a dingy apartment near the prison, the two brothers reunite and reminisce. Meanwhile, the end looms over them like an ominous cloud. I found this book absolutely gripping and like nothing I’ve ever read before. It’s a slice of life I hope most of us will never see. 9.5/10 Stars

I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I could’ve handled these books when I was a youth. Maybe, but only maybe. Certainly my perspective would’ve been different without the years of living I’ve known since then, but it isn’t like the experiences in each novel have been remotely on my radar. Interestingly, though, I don’t think we are meant to relate to any of these main characters. How could we? Instead, we are taught compassion and acceptance through the examples of characters more heroic than they’ll ever know. In the midst of their suffering, these young people exemplify courage and grace beyond their years.

I implore any reader who seeks a very special literary experience to read both of these books.

Young Adult

What To Say Next, by Julie Buxbaum

Different, not less…

Another triumphant Young Adult book by Julie Buxbaum! This time centering around a socially cloistered teenage boy with above-average intelligence and a high-achieving girl who just lost her father. Is it possible I liked this book even more than Buxbaum’s other emotional novel, Tell Me Three Things? Perhaps. I do know that I labored for a ridiculously long time writing this review. I’m not sure why. Maybe I felt like David and Kit deserved the extra effort.

David and Kit. High school juniors. There’s so much to love about these two. As the reader I feel fiercely protective of them, which just proves Julie Buxbaum’s skill as a writer.

David, with his high functioning autism and awkward genius adorableness. David, with his blunt, literal interpretation of the world and its inhabitants. David, who seesaws between wisdom beyond his years and paralyzing confusion at man’s inhumanity to man. David, who is confident in his strengths but also humble enough to ask for help. (With a special shout out to Miney, who might just be the best big sister EVER.) David, our brave knight in dented armor, but a knight nonetheless.

And Kit. So many Goodreads reviews unfairly tear her apart. Kit, who is dealing with a cacophony of family issues, and deserves nothing but our compassion. Kit, an only child, with heavy emphasis on “only.” Kit, with no sibling to lean on or commiserate with about her parents and their secrets. Kit, with her age-appropriate uncertainty, mired in an impossible situation. Kit, who is suffering in her own isolation and still manages to break through David’s invisible walls.

What To Say Next
is a gem. A very special read. In fact, the author has admitted it is her favorite book that she’s written. Character driven, but characters who touched my heart so deeply they transcend the page. I loved it and I loved them.

9.5/10 Stars

Fiction, Young Adult

Restart, by Gordon Korman

If you look up author Gordon Korman on your digital library site, you’ll discover two things. Thing 1: He’s written a lot of books. Thing 2: All of his books are checked out. Now I know why.

Because I loved Restart! I just heard about it yesterday, found the audio on Hoopla, bought the Kindle version for four dollars, and am now a huge fan.

Chase Ambrose is a thirteen year old alpha male at Hiawasee Middle School. Captain of the football team, world-class bully, proud delinquent, and king of the cafeteria, Chase has got game. Or he had game. Because now Chase is suffering from amnesia, the result of falling off of his roof and landing on his stupid head. Memories of his family, friends, sports accomplishments, and a laundry list of intimidating others–all gone. Yeah…his mother left out the last part when she dropped him off at school for the first time after the accident.

Now Chase is learning things all over again. He still knows how to walk, talk, and feed himself. But he doesn’t understand why kids scatter in the hallways when they see him coming or why they pick up their lunch trays and move to a new table. His buddies, Aaron and Bear, assure him that it’s all in a day’s work as the hulking pranksters of the school.

Meanwhile, past victims of the terrible trio are skeptical and confused. Their leader is different. He’s helpful. Polite. Kind, even. What is going on? Does he know what he’s doing? Does he know what he did? Does he understand the fear he’s instilled to the point that parents have even taken their kids out of the school? And then what? Is everyone supposed to pretend like nothing happened? Chase might have amnesia, but nobody else does.

And so, throughout the school, a ripple effect begins. Everyone has decisions to make. Forgive? Forget? Embrace the new guy trapped in the body of the old guy? The guy that would shove you, humiliate you, or make you wear your mac and cheese?

Yes, it’s funny and there were plenty of times when I laughed out loud. But Restart is also about being the bigger person. Not the bigger bully, but the person who takes the high road, the person who looks in the mirror and realizes that we all have our less-than-stellar moments, the person who is wise enough to know that it takes just one good example for everything to change. To be better than it was before.

This is a story for young people and adults. It is a story for young people and adults to read together and discuss. Never heavy-handed and brimming over with humor, this book makes us realize that everyone can erase their past mistakes even if we remember them. We just need a little pause and a little humility to Restart.

9.5/10 Stars

Fiction, Romance, Young Adult

Call It What You Want, by Brigid Kemmerer

Another fantastic read by Brigid Kemmerer. My goodness, I love how this woman writes!

No one wants to be defined by their mistakes. Especially as a teenager. Especially when the mistakes aren’t even his. But that is exactly what happened to Rob Lachlan, Jr. Why? Because after swindling half the townspeople (teachers, the librarian, and parents of Rob Jr.’s friends,) Robert Lachlan Sr. put a gun to his head, pulled the trigger, and failed his objective. Now he is a mumbling, drooling shell of a man who takes his meals through a tube. Meanwhile, Rob Jr.–once a high school alpha male and lacrosse champion–is the new face of a crime that left families in ruins. A crime he didn’t commit. A crime that, by proxy, took away his social status and made him an outcast. Life is pretty much in the toilet right now.

No one wants to be defined by their choices either. Unfortunately, overachiever Maegan made a bad one. Really, really bad. Tired of playing second fiddle to her golden older sister, Maegan cheated on her SATs, which caused a ripple effect to all the other test takers that day. Thank you for playing, Maegan. Here’s your new outcast badge.

But what makes these teens stand out? They are smart. Very, very smart. Not always socially smart, but definitely book smart, which is the hallmark of Brigid Kemmerer’s Young Adult characters. So when two very smart (and lonely) outcasts are rejected by everyone else to partner up for an Honors Calculus project, they have no choice but to work together.

And thus begins the story of two basically good teenagers who just want to reclaim some normality in their lives. But it’s a journey, one that involves testing boundaries of friendship, rules, and one’s own morals.

I’m leaving out a lot, but I will say that the one word that comes to mind when I read a book by Kemmerer is “brave.” This is brave writing. It’s layered. It alternates points of view, showing us the emotions and motives of both main characters. And what characters they are–brave writing calls for brave characters. Rob and Maegan have rock solid cores, refusing to let circumstances and choices beat them down, despite the detours along the way.

This is a terrific book. I highly recommend it. It’s marketed as a Young Adult novel, but I would say it is more for mature and older teens.

9.5/10 Stars

FYI: This is a book with multiple cover designs.
Young Adult

Favorite Young Adult Books

Yesterday someone in my online book group asked for recommendations of Young Adult books. I have discovered some fantastic selections this year, mostly with the help of others. If this is a genre you want to try, I highly recommend all of these titles. And if I had to choose my favorites from this group, they are definitely the four in the middle row. The Young Adult genre is for teens 13-18 years of age. Some contain language. All are stellar reads!

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Cozy Mysteries, History, Mystery, Romance, Suspense, Women's Fiction, Young Adult

October Reads 2022

OK, this turned out a bit blurry! Sorry about that…

The facts are these: sometimes I’m in a reading mood, sometimes I’m in a blogging mood. Lately I’ve been in a reading mood! A lot. I will highlight a few from this month’s literary adventures.

Best Thriller: Daisy Darker, by Alice Feeney. Yes, this extremely popular book lives up to the hype, even though it was nothing like what I expected. In true Agatha Christie fashion, a group of dysfunctional relatives gather at Grandma’s house for a weekend. Many go in, but few go out. All seen through the eyes of 13 year old Daisy. Great writing with a surprise ending. Recommended! (Some language.) 4.5/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Classic: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, by R.A. Dick. I only recently discovered that one of my favorite classic films was first a book. And it was great! There are definitely some differences, as to be expected, but I really enjoyed this as original source material. It was fun to watch the movie again after reading it. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Cozy Mysteries: Send in the Clowns/Watching the Detectives/Cold as Ice, by Julie Mulhern. These are books 4-6 in the Country Club Murders series and they are just as fun as the ones preceding them. If you’re looking for a smart, escapist series, this is a great one! The writing is terrific and you’ll love the main characters, the headstrong Ellison and Detective Anarchy Jones. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Romantic Comedies: Pumpkin Spice and Not So Nice AND The Accidental Text, both by Becky Monson. They’re clean, there’s depth, and they tug at your heart. Pumpkin Spice and Not So Nice is a companion book to Jennifer Peel’s The Pumpkin and the Patch (which I read last month and loved.) The Accidental Text is about a twenty-something young woman who has recently lost her mother. She texts her mother’s phone number, pouring her heart out, as a way to deal with her grief. What she doesn’t know is that the number has already been given to someone else. I really loved this one. I recommend both books for a combination of clean, light romance with a splash of emotion. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Clean Romance: Mulberry Hollow, by Denise Hunter. This is an author whose work I want to pursue more. I just finished this book yesterday morning. It’s proof that you can have a romance with attraction, emotion, tension, and a satisfying story without steamy scenes. It could be marketed as a “Christian Romance,” but the Christian aspect is pretty minimal. The main characters, Avery and Wes, felt so real. I loved the privilege of looking into their lives. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Steamy Romance: Yours Until Dawn, by Teresa Medeiros. To be clear, I don’t go looking for steamy books. Sometimes, like in this case, the steam shows up halfway through the story. But, despite the blush-worthy scenes (which just about hit my steam limit) this is a fantastic historical romance. A young woman is employed to care for a recently blinded soldier. He’s cantankerous, demanding, and stubborn. She is undaunted, but also a bit mysterious. Then there’s a shocking twist I never saw coming (and I’m usually pretty good at predicting twists.) Again, there are some R-rated steamy scenes. I really wish there was a sanitized version because this is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. 5/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Young Adult: Not If I See You First, by Eric Lindstrom. Another blind protagonist, high school junior Parker Grant is snarky, a runner, and bluntly honest. She’s high maintenance and she knows it. She also has a fierce love for those who stood by her in her darkest hours (literally) when she lost her sight at age seven. Navigating a new normal after she is orphaned, Parker must deal with her relatives, the drama of high school, and her own heart. The author does an amazing job writing the character of this complex girl. I was completely immersed in her world. (Some language.) 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

Best Fiction: Take Me With You, by Catherine Ryan Hyde. I love books that pair unlikely adults and kids together. Catherine Ryan Hyde is a master at this kind of story. Here we have a divorced science teacher who goes on a cross-country road trip, grieving for a son who recently died. While getting his RV serviced, he strikes up a conversation with the surly mechanic, a single father of two boys. When the mechanic reveals that he’s off to serve a prison sentence, he pleads with the man to take his sons on the road. It’s unusual, heartfelt, and keeps your attention. I recommend it. 4/5 Stars on Goodreads

The other 4 Star books are also worth your time, but these are the ones that affected me the most. Now, what will November bring? I have a few reads mapped out, but only time will tell!

Fiction, Romance, Suspense, Women's Fiction, Young Adult

September Reads!

Since it is unlikely that I will finish another book by tomorrow, here are the books I read this month! Any of the ones with 4 or 5 stars are worth your time. Some quick thoughts:

Thank You For Listening: This unique book, written by a woman who narrates audio books, is about people who narrate audio books! The main characters are great, a lot of their communication is through emails and texts, and the big reveal is very sweet. (Some steaminess.)

Rich Blood: This is a legal thriller with twists and turns aplenty! Jason Rich is a billboard-ambulance-chasing lawyer who must now defend his sister accused of murdering her husband. It keeps you guessing until the very end. I definitely want to read more by this author!

That Fine Line/Double or Nothing: These Cindy Steel books are fantastic, with a lot more going on than the covers would lead you to believe. They are clean romances with tons of hilarity, heart, and homespun characters that you will love. They are the first and second of a four-book series that I plan to continue. Extremely enjoyable!

A Pumpkin and a Patch/How to Get Over Your Ex in Ninety Days: Jennifer Peel is another author I was thrilled to discover this month! Her characters are smart, sensitive, and constantly learning from their mistakes. These clean romances are winners! Highly recommended!

The Deep End/Guaranteed to Bleed/Clouds in My Coffee: These are the first three books in a multi-book cozy mystery series. They are very entertaining, set in the 1970s among the Kansas City country club elite. Money might buy some nice things, but it can’t stop some people from being murdered…*cue sinister laugh* I plan to continue with this clever series!

The Bodyguard/What You Wish For/How to Walk Away: Books by Katherine Center, need I say more? You know I absolutely adore this woman. Hubby and I listened to all three of these in September, sometimes for hours. And guess what? We’re having a tough time finding other audio books we enjoy as much.

I hope you find something you love from this list! Happy Reading!!

One more thing,” as Detective Colombo would say… The “Most Messed Up Book Award” for September goes to Verity, by Colleen Hoover. If you’ve read anything by the popular and divisive “CoHo” then I can tell you that Verity is not within her “normal” style. Some people love it, some people despise it. I just wanted to vacuum that story out of my brain. It. Is. Twisted. And I know I’m not alone in that opinion. You’ve been warned!

Fiction, Young Adult

Letters to the Lost, by Brigid Kemmerer

Twenty days! It’s been twenty days since my last review. I guess I lost my mojo for a few weeks, despite reading some great books. I knew it would take one very special story to get the words flowing again, and this is it.

Letters to the Lost, by Brigid Kemmerer. I’m still experiencing a book hangover, having finished reading it at 6:30am. It is marketed as a YA (Young Adult) book, but the underlining theme is for everyone.

Incorrect assumptions.

We’ve all done it. I can think of some very specific times when I assumed something about someone based on their weight, or education level, or tattoos, or job, or just a less-than-put-together appearance.

And guess what? I was wrong. Very wrong. Extremely wrong.

And did I learn my lesson? Nope. It’s part of being human. Part of being flawed humans. Which brings me to this magnificent book that anyone reading this review should find and devour.

Some “trigger warnings.” (I really hate that phrase.) It does deal with losing a parent, losing a sibling, divorce, suicidal tendencies, and child abuse. But it is so redemptive and all of those subjects are handled with such tender care that I still say, no matter what your personal history may be–read it.

Our two main characters: Juliet Young is mourning her mother, Zoe, a famous war photographer. Her grief is all-consuming. She stops by the cemetery every morning on the way to school. Her mother was gone a lot on assignment, leaving Juliet to idealize her and get into the habit of writing her letters. She still does this, leaving letters behind on her mother’s grave. They are her last link. She’s lost interest in everything else.

Declan Murphy is mourning his entire life. Everything he knew is gone and, while it was far from perfect, it was a lot better than the way things are now. So much so that, in a moment of despair he downed some Jack Daniels, got into his dad’s truck, and plowed it into a building. Now he’s performing community service by mowing grass at the local cemetery…where, on a newer grave, he finds a letter from a girl to her mother.

I will say no more about the plot except to entreat you once again, to read this book. Symbolically, the idea of photography and snapshots figure prominently in the theme of assumptions we make. Are we defined by a moment? Do we do that to others? Do we do it to ourselves?

Like any great story, Letters to the Lost has many layers. As many layers as the reader is willing to uncover. I hope you do.

10/10 Stars

Some libraries use an alternate book cover, so it could look like this. Don’t make assumptions about this design. (See what I did there?) This book is a treasure.

Fiction, Young Adult

YA Theme: “Life Can Be Messy and Unfair”

I know. File this under “duh,” right? But, once again, two Young Adult novels absolutely nailed it, tackling difficult subjects with humor, pathos, and realism.

Subject #1: “Aging out” of the foster care system.

Subject #2: Dealing with the symptoms and stigma of schizophrenia.

Both intense topics, which makes me suggest that these novels are meant for the older teen–no younger than a mature sixteen year old. Plus they include the language you would expect from the general population at that age and observations about sex, religion, parents, school, and the future.

Interestingly, despite having different gendered narrators who are dealing with different challenges, they reminded me a lot of each other. In fact, in a world easier manipulated, I would love to see Muiriel (What I Carry) and Adam (Words On Bathroom Walls) meet and share a few pages together.

WHAT I CARRY, by Jennifer Longo: Muiriel has been in foster care her entire life. Left at a hospital as an infant, she is unique in that there is no biological family to miss or with whom to reunite. But now she is nearing adulthood. While other teens look forward to turning eighteen, Muiriel dreads it. She will be thrust out on her own by her legal parent–the state of Washington. But she does have skills, like living an absolute minimalist lifestyle, acclimating quickly to new places, and always being polite–twenty homes in seventeen years will teach you things. She’s also distanced and highly suspicious of any person or situation that remotely resembles love, comfort, and stability. Can you blame her? All she needs is the right combination of people to change her mind.

I loved this book. I wish there was a sanitized version of it (regarding some of the language) so I could recommend it for younger teens because it shows a slice of life that most of us will never know. Muiriel is intelligent, witty, sensitive, and profound. You root for her all the way. 9.5/10 Stars

WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS, by Julia Walton makes us privy to the patient-doctor diaries of sixteen year old Adam. After a scary outburst at his old high school that resulted in a schizophrenia diagnosis, Adam is starting anew. New meds, new school, new friends, and new secrets. No one can know that he carries an imaginary entourage of hallucinations around with him. No one can know about the voices. No one can know that he doubts everything he sees and hears until there is concrete proof that they’re real. No one, that is, except his mom and stepdad, who are loving and supportive, but still treat him like he’s made of glass.

Adam writes these diary entries to his doctor because he refuses to talk to him. Lucky us, because we can feel his sadness and sarcasm, the two most prevalent and conflicting feelings. His condition has no cure, so the only choices are to laugh or cry. When those fail, there is always the ridiculousness of the world in general. 9/10 Stars

Fiction, Philosophy, Romance, Short Stories, Women's Fiction, Young Adult

Ten Books-At-A-Glance

Here are 10 other books I’ve read recently with their 1-5 Star ratings on Goodreads. None of them made great impressions on me, but I still found the ones with 4 stars enjoyable. The biggest surprise was Someone To Wed, by Mary Balogh because the female main character was such a pillar of strength, despite her challenges. The biggest disappointment was the advanced copy (available Sept 20) of Lucy By the Sea, by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Elizabeth Strout. It is about a divorced couple co-habitating during the Covid pandemic. Personally, I think it is much too soon for a story on this subject. If you’re interested in any of them, I’m happy to answer questions in the comments.

Fiction, Young Adult

Theme: Forced to Grow Up Too Soon–Two YA Novels

As much as I cringe at some of the things young people are exposed to these days I must admit, there are some excellent Young Adult novels out there. “Young Adult,” or “YA,” meaning aimed at ages 13-18, where the main characters are navigating high school, first loves, decisions about the future, and parents. Yes, parents, because it is around that age that you come to terms with the fact that parents are not perfect, not using any sort of a rule book, and many of them are pretty messed up. I appreciate stories that show young people whose parents are divorced or suffering from addictions and mental illness, where the child is forced into an adult role at an unfair age. It happens all too frequently in real life, and young readers need characters with whom they can identify.

IF I FIX YOU, by Abigail Johnson tells the story of sixteen year old Jill Whitaker. She lives with her dad in the heat of Arizona, spending all her free time at his car repair garage. Her mother is gone, with only a sticky note as a goodbye. As often happens, we don’t realize how good or bad we have it until there is a viable comparison. This comes in the form of Daniel, the new next door neighbor, who is dealing with a volatile mother and some serious scars, inside and out. As Jill tries to assemble the pieces of her life, she also finds herself wanting to make things better for her new friend.

Overall I liked the book a lot. Jill and Daniel’s friendship is very sweet as they confide in each other, sitting up on the roof at night swapping words of support and advice. Her father is wonderful, a great contrast from her narcissistic mother. My only criticism is part of the ending, which did not follow the path I would’ve chosen. But that’s my own personal feeling. Jill is a good character who is dealing with a lot and still manages to keep her feet on the ground. 9/10 Stars

THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS, by Laura Taylor Namey gives us a glimpse into the life of Darcy Wells. Darcy Jane Wells–bibliophile, introvert, and super student with a near photographic memory. She can recite Shakespeare and knows children’s books from start to finish. Her afternoons are spent at the Yellow Feather, a used book store owned by a cranky boss who shares the building with his ex-wife. Not ideal, but Darcy loves it. It is better than being home, where her compulsive-shopper mother has filled their depressing apartment with everything under the sun. Only Darcy’s room remains untouched by her mother’s illness. Fortunately, there are some bright spots in Darcy’s life. Her best friend is the brightest. And there’s someone new, a quiet boy named Asher Fleet.

I really loved this book. It was a “couldn’t-put-it-down” 24 hour read. Poor Darcy, only seventeen years old, dealing with her mother’s compulsion, her father’s absence, bills that need to be paid, and decisions about college. But good things happen to good people, and the conclusion was extremely satisfying. 9.5/10 Stars

Fiction, Young Adult

Last Summer Boys, by Bill Rivers

“Don’t you ever do anything to make somebody feel like their life is no account to you, hear?”…”Yes ma’am…” “It’s the worst thing you can do to a person.”…”Worse than killing them?”…”It’s a kind of killing,” Ma says. “A killing of the soul. Don’t you do it.”

Summer 1968. The Vietnam War is raging. Sons are going off to fight and not coming home. The thought of losing his big brother, Pete, is more than 13 year old Jack Elliot can bear. His plan? Make Pete famous before he turns eighteen at the end of summer. Famous boys don’t get drafted, right? And, if they do, they get cushy assignments until the fighting is over.

Jack is our narrator and he, along with Pete, 16 year old Will, and their visiting cousin, Frankie, turn their weeks together into a summer to remember. They test the limits of each other, the elements, and their ever-patient parents. They react to the chaos of the late Sixties, conforming or rebelling as you would expect from growing teenage boys. Even in their rural Pennsylvania town, the reality of things escalating is inescapable.

Through it all, plus run ins with bullies, neighbors, and cute girls, the four boys stick together, supporting each other through thick and thin while experiencing their own growth.

This is a fantastic novel, appropriate for everyone, with special significance to those affected by that time in history. Every character is deep and multi-faceted, with his own inner turmoil and moral compass. I highly recommend it and look forward to others by this author. (Available free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription.)

9.5/10 Stars

Children, Fantasy, Young Adult

The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill

I know a book is excellent if its effects are still lingering days after I’ve finishing it. Few have accomplished this as much as The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill. Is it for kids? Yes. Is it for young adults? Yes. Is it for grownups? Yes. Yes, yes, and yes. It’s for everyone. If I could buy up a bunch of copies and pass them out on a street corner without looking like a weirdo, I would.

There is the Ogress. She has no name. She has no family. She has no friends. She cannot read. She has a great desire to belong. She has magical talents that benefit others and, even in her loneliness, she is compassionate and generous.

There are the Orphans. They have names that follow the letters of the alphabet. They are cared for by the Matron and her husband, Myron. They read and research. They closely observe. They are each other’s family.

There is the town, Stone-in-the-Glen. Once a lovely place where neighbor helped neighbor, it is now rundown and full of unhappy, suspicious people. Legend says it all began when a dragon burned down the library. Now the only bright spot is the colorful Mayor. He loves all and all love him.

What makes this book so special? What makes it a treasure for readers of any age? It is so layered with important messages that everyone will glean something from it. The writing is magnificent. The characters will remind you of someone you know.

Read it. Share it. Learn from it. Remember it. It’s marvelous!

10/10 Stars

Romance, Young Adult

Three Heartfelt YA Novels

Recently I joined a fun online book group! We do Bingo boards, read-a-thons, and scavenger hunts, all of which have pushed me out of my comfort zone. Young Adult novels are very popular with this bunch, so I’ve read a few lately.

These three are my current favorites.

PLACES WE’VE NEVER BEEN, by Kasie West brought back some childhood memories. Two families go on a road trip together after one family moved away a few years before. The kids all have their favorites, but Norah’s and Skyler’s friendship has been reduced to liking each other’s Instagram posts. (Boy, do I feel old.) Norah is excited to see her friend again, but Skyler is distant and apathetic. Only by communication, forgiveness, and working through misunderstands will they repair the friendship. 9/10 Stars

TELL ME THREE THINGS, by Julie Buxbaum is a novel I was introduced to by our book group admin, who is a connoisseur of the YA genre. I LOVED IT. It’s like a teenage You’ve Got Mail (oops, dated myself again) and I was completely swept away. Jessie is mourning her mother’s loss and adjusting to a new school, new state, and new step-family. An online friend introduces him (or herself) as “Somebody/Nobody,” offering to help Jessie navigate high school, with its angst and cliques. Is it a joke? Or can this person be trusted? Over time, Jessie and “SN” confide in each other more and three different characters become candidates for the anonymous friend. The story is extremely sweet with a great ending. 9.5/10 Stars

WHAT I DIDN’T SAY, by Keary Taylor is my favorite of the three, only slightly edging ahead Tell Me Three Things. After a horrific drunk driving accident, Jake Hayes’ vocal cords are irreparably damaged when a post goes through his throat. One of seven kids in a boisterous, loving family, Jake will never talk again. Back at school, his longtime crush, super student Samantha Shay, becomes his tutor and close friend. Sam has secrets of her own. She’s getting thinner, sadder, and more detached. Together, Jake and Sam help each other, filling in the gaps in the other’s life and creating an unbreakable bond. Did I mention how much I loved this book?? And Jake’s family is awesome. 9.5/10 Stars

Fiction, Young Adult

A Quiet Kind of Thunder, by Sara Barnard

It’s always unexpected to find a book that speaks to you on a very personal level, but that is how I felt while reading A Quiet Kind of Thunder, by Sara Barnard. And, although it is a Young Adult novel that explores much of the angst all teens experience, it is so much more.

Our narrator is Steffi Brons, age sixteen. Steffi has crippling social anxiety. Crippling to the point that she is a selective mute, which makes her an interesting choice as narrator. Steffi taught me a lot. For one thing, the word “selective” does not mean that the person selects when they do or don’t talk. On the contrary, she wants to talk, especially when the alternative is getting stared at and bullied. It’s her anxiety level that chooses when she speaks. Anxiety is not rational, but she’s usually OK with her family, best friend, and boss. But parties? Shops? And, Heaven forbid, school? Big N-O.

Steffi is fortunate to have some anchors in her life. Her dad is patient and kind. Her friend, Tem (September,) is her advocate and cheerleader. Her mom? Not so much. Speaking as someone who has anxiety (to a much lesser degree but still very real,) little victories are to be celebrated and pushing usually has the opposite effect. “C’mon, Steffi…just try harder…” Well meaning but definitely not helpful.

As a child, Steffi’s uncle suggested that she learn BSL (British Sign Language) as a way to compensate for those times when communication was necessary but speech was not forthcoming. This skill makes her the prime candidate to be paired up with Rhys Gold, a new student who is deaf. Rhys is friendly, outgoing, and fairly adorable.

Yes, you can guess correctly that Steffi and Rhys go from classmates to friends to more. But that does not make the story predictable. At the heart of everything is communication, its variations, its inclusiveness, and its means as a tool to validate people. Whether it’s speaking, signing, gesturing, writing, etc.–it connects us with others. And, in some cases, it isolates. The story is also about Steffi’s growth, her wavering confidence, the kind of support she gets, and its importance.

I loved this book. It has the language and sexual experimentation that you would expect from a contemporary Young Adult novel about teenagers and first love, but the explanation of anxiety is SO on point. I rooted for these two and appreciated the fact that there was no ridiculous drama, just the normal ups/downs/questions that we have at that age. A wonderful discovery that touched my heart.

9/10 Stars