Holding Up the Universe

A month or so ago, a librarian friend was cleaning out her office and let me have a bunch of YA ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) and novels that had been taking up space.  One of the ARCs was the recently released Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven.  I finally got around to doing some reading now that my semester is over and I am taking some time to read for pleasure b20161204_163953_resizedefore starting my thesis.  And what a pleasure reading this book was.

This is a book told in alternating points of view, a format I don’t usually like, but in this case, both main characters are so well drawn that I was completely invested in each one’s story.  Libby is a high school junior, returning to school for the first time after being homeschooled.  At age eleven, Libby lost her mother to a sudden cerebral hemorrhage.  The trauma of that loss, coupled with bullying and other factors, caused Libby to become what would be known as “America’s Fattest Teen.”  She has lost a good deal of weight, and has undergone counseling, and wants to find a “normal” life.

Jack is hiding a secret from his world – he suffers from prosopagnosia, a condition in which a person can’t remember faces.  He has figured out “identifiers” so that no one knows they are strangers to him on a daily basis.  As a result of a stupid challenge within his group of friends,  Jack does something mean to Libby, she decks him, and they end up having to participate in group therapy together.

But what they learn as they get to know each other is that their lives intertwine in ways neither one had expected, and the twists and turns of the plot engage the reader to root for the developing relationship between the two.  Holding Up the Universe is about how we see the world and each other, and how sometimes, meeting one person can change your whole world (and theirs).

Definitely read this book.

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The Homecoming

If you’ve read Stacie Ramey’s debut novel, The Sister Pact (and if you haven’t, you should!), then you already know John Strickland, the main character in Ramey’s sophomore release, The Homecopsx_20161120_145113_resizedming.  John’s moved back home with his mother as the novel opens, a place he hasn’t lived in a while.  His girlfriend Leah has committed suicide, and John’s resulting bad choices have put him in a position where he has to answer to a probation officer as well as deal with the return to a home he doesn’t want to be in.

John, in his senior year of high school, has to readjust to a life he doesn’t want to have.  His little sister, Livy, is thrilled to have John home, and he has a new next door neighbor, Emily, who, despite his best intents, draws his romantic interest.  But the one thing we can never escape is our past, and John not only deals with the guilt of his girlfriend’s suicide, he also bears weight on his shoulders as a result of a childhood accident that changed his older brother, Ryan, forever.  Because of the accident, Ryan has center stage in their mother’s life, and John once again has to deal with a ton of anger issues as a result.

The Homecoming is a brilliantly told story of a young man trying to figure out where he fits in and who he wants to be.  His struggles are real, and that is a compliment to the author, whose details create a world that we believe.  She skillfully weaves John’s backstory – including The Sister Pact’s main character, Allie – throughout in such a way that we really understand where John is coming from, and there are some shocks and surprises in store as the plot winds its way from the beginning to the very satisfying ending.

Read this book. 🙂

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Spin the Sky

In Jill MacKenzie’s debut novel Spin the Sky, dancer Magnolia “Mags” Woodson wants to change her life.  Not just because she suffers from typical teenage angst – no, that’s not Mags’ issue.  For Mags, living in a small Oregon town with the small-town mentality means she and her sister, Rose, are looked down upon because of something they didn’t do.  Their mother’s act and psx_20161114_172739_resizedsubsequent disappearance have made the townspeople turn on Mags and Rose.  And soft-hearted Mags wants to prove she deserves better.

When her best friend, George, talks her into trying out for a televised dance competition reality show, Live to Dance, Mags wants to go.  She sees it as an opportunity to prove she’s not a “no-good Woodson girl.”  Rose doesn’t want her to go, but Mags goes anyway.

In the quest to win the show and thus, the respect of her town, Mags risks everything – her relationship with her sister, with George, with new friends made during auditions, and with herself.  Can her friendship with George survive?  Will she lose everything in her unsinkable desire to make good?

MacKenzie’s gifted storytelling weaves Magnolia’s tale so skillfully you won’t want to put the book down.  The twists, turns, and surprises of the plot are satisfying and fulfilling.  The dance knowledge MacKenzie clearly has sculpts Mags’ character deeply.  This is a heroine we care about, and want to succeed in her quests.  But will she?

You’ll have to read the book to find out. 🙂

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Saving Red

Sonya Sones made me cry today.  Her new book, Saving Red, is a beautiful glimpse into the life of20161023_150830_1477250958799_resized a struggling young girl whose encounter with a homeless girl changes much about her perspectives.

Molly has a secret.  It’s not one she wants to tell anyone, but it is the reason she has an emotional support dog, Pixel, and also why Pixel is her only friend.  Her mother is continually stoned, and her father is a workaholic.  As part of a community service requirement, Molly helps with her city’s homeless count one fateful evening, and that’s where she first encounters Red, a woman not too much older than she is who sparks a need in Molly to take care of her.  In fact, since she can’t save her own family, Molly makes it her mission to reunite Red with her family in time for Christmas.

While on this mission, Molly also meets a young man named Cristo.  They are randomly seated together on the Ferris wheel and they are immediately attracted to each other.  Molly has one “date” with Cristo before he goes away with his family to New York for a vacation. Cristo is on board with “Operation Red,” and tries to help Molly from afar.

There is so much to love about Saving Red.  Sonya Sones has a gift with books in verse, and this one is no exception.  The carefully crafted poems that weave this story lead the reader from one plot point to another.  I could not put the book down.  The characters are so deeply constructed that they feel like people in life, not just on the page.  And when I reached the end (no spoilers, I promise!), which was INCREDIBLY satisfying, the tears sprang from my eyes.

Sonya Sones is far and away my favorite verse novelist, and Saving Red does not disappoint.  I highly recommend this book.

 

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The Lovely Reckless

Francesca “Frankie” Devereux comes from “the Heights.”  After witnessing the beating death of her boyfriend, Noah, Frankie develops selective amnesia and PTSD – she can’t remember any of the details surrounding the incident, and she’s subjected to harrowing flashbac20161021_092425.jpgks to that night.  Frankie starts taking more risks than the “old” Frankie would, and one of those risks – driving while intoxicated – lands her in a lot of hot water.

Frankie’s mom sends her to live in “the Downs” with her undercover cop dad, who works a lot and doesn’t spend much time with Frankie.  In her new public school, Frankie still has the allies of her two closest friends, Lex and Abel (who are both also attending the public school), and she’s meeting new people.  One of those people is tattooed and sexy bad boy, Marco Leone.  As part of Frankie’s probation, she works at a rec center after school, and one of her charges is Marco’s little sister, Sofia.

Through the book, Frankie tries to figure out who this “new” Frankie really is – she’s not the same girl that she was before Noah was murdered – and find her way through a minefield of challenges.  Her mother is still trying to push her back into the girl she used to be, her father wants her to stay out of trouble (and Marco is trouble with a capital T), and Frankie just wants to remember what happened the night Noah died.

Getting mixed up with Marco exposes Frankie to a dangerous crowd.  Can she make the right decisions to keep herself and those she loves safe?  Kami Garcia’s The Lovely Reckless takes us on a fast-paced journey through the world of street racing, car thefts, and kids just trying to find their way.

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What Light

In Jay Asher’s brand new novel, What Light, we get a sweet holiday story with some beautiful emotional rollercoasters thrown in for fun.  Sierra, the main character, has spent her life living two lives – one, living on a Christmas tree farm in Oregon for most of the year, an20161016_160807_resizedd two, traveling down to California each “tree season” to work with her parents on their family tree lot.  She has two best friends in Oregon, Rachel and Elizabeth, and one bestie in California, Heather.

Finances indicate that maybe this will be Sierra’s final season in California.  Her Oregon friends would love for Sierra to stay in Oregon year-round and experience the winter holidays with them, but Sierra is torn as she loves Heather, too, and the life-long routine of visiting California each Thanksgiving-to-Christmas.  This year, Heather wants Sierra to find a holiday fling so she can double-date with Heather and her boyfriend, Devon.

Of course, this means a dark and handsome potential love interest.  Caleb comes in to the tree lot to purchase a tree, and Sierra is instantly intrigued by him.  However, Heather warns Sierra that Caleb is not fling material.  No better love than the forbidden, right?  Sierra continues to get to know Caleb, and obstacles ensue from all sides.  The biggest obstacle of all is that Sierra is leaving to go back to Oregon after Christmas, so why fall in love now, especially with a boy who everyone is vehemently opposed to Sierra dating?

Too much more will spoil the plot, so I will wrap this up by saying Asher’s characters are so well portrayed and the plot so skillfully woven that I was crying by the end.  And if you can make me cry with a story, you’ve effectively done your job as an author.  Read Jay Asher’s What Light.  You won’t regret it (except when you finish and there’s no more to read!).

Buy the Book – Amazon