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Book Review: Boy Most Likely To

Book Review: Boy Most Likely To

Book Review: Boy Most Likely To
The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: August 18th 2015
Pages: 416
Source: NetGalley, Publisher

Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To:
- find the liquor cabinet blindfolded
- need a liver transplant
- drive his car into a house

Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To:
- well, not date her little brother’s baggage-burdened best friend, for starters.

For Tim, it wouldn’t be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the “smart” choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard.

Then the unexpected consequences of Tim’s wild days come back to shock him. He finds himself in a situation that isn’t all it appears to be, that he never could have predicted . . . but maybe should have.

And Alice is caught in the middle.

Told in Tim’s and Alice’s distinctive, disarming, entirely compelling voices, this return to the world of My Life Next Door is a story about failing first, trying again, and having to decide whether to risk it all once more

This book is like chocolate that slowly melts in your mouth; the kind you wish would never end. It’s no secret that I loved and adored My Life Next Door and was excited to walk back into that universe. And while I didn’t quite get what I expected, Fitzpatrick delivered a fantastic book and reminded me all over again why I love her writing and these characters.

Before I get much further, let me say that this book does kind of push the YA envelope. Not so much in that it’s inappropriate, because it’s truly not, but the tone and the way it’s written made it feel more like an upper YA pushing into the New Adult region. Tim falls in that definite grey area of life; not really a kid, but not quite an adult yet either. He should be attending his last year of high school, but instead finds himself kicked out of school (yet again), kicked out of his house, and then hit with another big surprise. I often had to remind myself that he was still under 18 due to situation, but there is still plenty that the “typical” teenager will be able to relate to. And while we get dual POV, this is without a doubt Tim’s story.

Tim, under all his bad boy, messed-up exterior, is truly a good guy. He’s been handed a crap sandwich in life and up until this point he hasn’t handled it so well. He lost his himself in drugs and alcohol and no one truly thinks he’ll amount to anything. After all, he is the boy likely to do something stupid. When the book starts, we find that Tim has been clean for several months already, but still has a lot of stuff to straighten out. His father has just given him an ultimatum to get his life back on track in the next 6 months or he’ll find himself cut off completely. Tim has lived so long without anyone thinking positively of him that it’s hard for him to see it either. His “Boy Most Likely To” list broke my heart and just made me want to hug him and tell him it wasn’t true.

Of course, that’s kind of what Alice does. While she is used to seeing him as her younger brother’s screwed up friend, she slowly gets to see another side. She takes the risk allowing him to be “more” and offers him the support he’s been missing in his life. Alice isn’t the one to fix him–only Tim can do that–but she starts to show him all his positives. While their romance is a bit hidden among the other storyline, it’s still an enjoyable one. They work well together and I do wish there had been more of them falling in love/going on dates. I do hope that Fitzpatrick writes another book in this universe because I would love to see them more relaxed and without the heavy burdens they had to handle.  And, of course, it would allow me to see all the Garrett’s again; a family I love and adore maybe a little too much!

Warning: If you don’t want to be spoiled please don’t read on.

View Spoiler »

Final Verdict: Not quite the love story I was expecting, but a great read anyway. I highly recommend it, even if you haven’t read My Life Next Door.

Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave

Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave

Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave
Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Release Date: June 9th 2015
Pages: 320
Source: NetGalley

Survival Strategy #50: If You Can, Be Brave.

After their mother's recent death, twelve-year-old Liberty and her eight-year-old sister, Billie, are sent to live with their father, who they haven't seen since they were very young. Things are great at first; the girls are so excited to get to know their father – a traveling photographer who rides around in an RV. But soon, the pressure becomes too much for him, and he abandons them at the Jiffy Company Gas Station.

Instead of moping around and being scared, Liberty takes matters into her own hands. On their journey to get home, they encounter a shady, bald-headed gas station attendant, a full-body tattooed trucker, free Continental breakfast, a kid obsessed with Star Wars, a woman who lives with rats, and a host of other situations.

When all seems lost, they get some help from an unlikely source, and end up learning that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.

There is nothing “almost” brave about Liberty. Without a doubt, she is one brave twelve year old. While internally she is freaking out about being abandoned at a gas station, she mainly keeps it together as she tries to get her and her sister back to the only home they’ve known. Her strategies, while dubious, keep both her and her sister alive and mostly out of harm’s way on their adventure.

As they make their way across the states, you can’t help but cheer them on. Every turn of the page, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the time they’d finally get caught. Maybe they’d finally reach their mother’s friend, Julie, back home. Liberty’s quick thinking gets her and Billie out of many sticky situations. Just as often, though, they find themselves in equally dire circumstances.  Not everything can go according to plan.

I love how the story used flashbacks to fill you in on the missing pieces. It was done in a way that wasn’t confusing and only enhanced the story. I’ll admit that my heart broke several times learning what had landed them in their current predicament. Both Liberty and Billie were so desperate for their father’s love, but he just wasn’t capable of giving it. His mental illness/obsession took over, and he could barely perceive that the girls were there most days. There are glimmers that make it obvious that he wants to be the father they deserve, but he falls short time and time again. I appreciate how White shows how mental illness can take over and entrap a person even as they fight it, and how everyday things quickly become all-consuming and overwhelming.. Mental illnesses are rarely easy for the person or loved ones to deal with, something that White shows with grace.

The only thing that made me hesitate a little was the girls’ fear of the authorities. I could understand avoiding the creepy gas station man, but I never fully understood why they were so scared of the police catching them. Liberty’s fear kept them running and lead to stealing, lying, and many other questionable acts. I got a sense that Liberty was scared they’d be separated, but there was nothing in their past that would cause that nagging fear. If they had been placed in foster care after their mother’s death it would have worked, but it seems like Julie took over care right away. The only other explanation is that her mom said she was responsible for Billie now, but I don’t think that should have driven her to avoid all adult help. Of course, it was a necessity for the plot, but I wish there had been more explanation/backstory to it. I doubt the intended audience will be bugged by this, but it was something that annoyed me a little as an adult.

Final Verdict: A nice, fast-paced middle grade story that has humor, adventure, and a lot of heart.

Book Review: Alex as Well

Book Review: Alex as Well

Book Review: Alex as Well
Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman
Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: January 20th 2015
Pages: 224
Source: Library

Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents. Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex—the boy Alex—has a lot to say about that.

The description of this book is a bit misleading. At first glance, I thought this book  dealt with a transgender character, but the truth is that Alex is intersex. She was born with ambiguous gentialia (small penis, no scrotum, & ovaries), but has been raised as a boy by her parents. Now that Alex is 14 years old, she realizes that she is a girl, not a boy. The book has a great premise and could have been phenomenal, but instead ended up being so problematic that I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone.

My biggest issue with this book is Alex’s parents, especially her mother, Heather. They take her declaration that she is a girl horribly; they call her a weirdo and pervert and act as if she is ruining their lives. Both of them act as if this is a surprising revelation and not something that could have happened all along. They chose to raise her as a boy with the help of testosterone medication. Heather herself even mentions that she had to keep logs and watch Alex to make sure they made the right decision. Everything points to them knowing this could happen, but by the way they act you’d never know it. Had Alex been transgendered and not intersex, their actions would have worked, but as written it didn’t make sense. (Note: please know that while it would have worked if Alex was transgendered, their responses/actions would have still been horrible!) Not to say that parents don’t act this way, it just felt odd how blindsided they were when it seemed most of Alex’s early life was about documenting their decision.

While Alex’s dad does seem to come around, Heather just won’t accept the change. I have never wanted to punch a character as much as I did Heather; via her forum/blog posts it becomes clear how horrible she really is.   Not only does she refuse to call Alex her, but she forces medication on her by sticking it in her food. She claims that Alex has always been a selfish, difficult child, even at the age of 3. She wallows in self-pity, but never once stops to look at things through Alex’s eyes. She tries to play herself off as loving, but that women is nothing but hate. Worse that that, I can’t stand how  her actions were tied to a “mental breakdown”. By the end of the book, she’s been admitted,  and it’s almost as if that explains why she can’t be loving and supportive of Alex. Of course, it could also be implied that Alex’s decision drove her to that point, which is equally as disturbing.

Alex, herself, is problematic as well. She splits herself into boy-Alex and girl-Alex and there is a lot of self-loathing at times. At one point, she even calls herself a transgendered freak. This is where I wish I knew so much more about the intersex community. Both the splitting of the personality and calling herself transgendered feels off, but I’m not sure if I’m correct or not in my thinking.Of course, even if the personality separation is a normal occurrence among people, I hate how many gender stereotypes were  used. Boy-Alex disrupts the class and makes lewd comments and gestures to other girls. On the other hand, Girl-Alex loves all things sparkly and can admit to be inept at using tools. It felt as if she was doing nothing more than putting all her traits into little boxes, much as her mother had been doing for years. I’m not even going to touch the dressing room scene at the start of the book, which really disturbed and creeped me out.

The last thing that really bothered me were all these little plot devices that made things too easy. Switching schools without parental consent? No problem! Join the school fashion show and become a sought after model making mad bank? Piece of cake! Find a lawyer who will act as a father figure and make things happen with a snap of the fingers? Done! I mean, I’m glad that Alex got out of her situation, but it all felt a little too easy. And what 14 year old is really ready to move out on their own? I suppose there may be a rare case out there, but Alex was not one of them. It just seemed so unrealistic. If  Brugman was going for a fairy tale ending, I would have rather seen Alex end up in a supporting foster home rather than going at it all alone.

Final Verdict: A book I wanted to fall in love with, but couldn’t. While the topic held such promise, it ended up being highly flawed and problematic.

Book Review: Seeker

Book Review: Seeker

Book Review: Seeker
Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton
Series: Seeker #1
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: Feb. 10, 2015
Pages: 448
Source: Edelweiss

The night Quin Kincaid takes her Oath, she will become what she has trained to be her entire life. She will become a Seeker. This is her legacy, and it is an honor. As a Seeker, Quin will fight beside her two closest companions, Shinobu and John, to protect the weak and the wronged. Together they will stand for light in a shadowy world. And she'll be with the boy she loves--who's also her best friend.

But the night Quin takes her Oath, everything changes. Being a Seeker is not what she thought. Her family is not what she thought. Even the boy she loves is not who she thought.

And now it's too late to walk away.

This has got to be one of the hardest reviews I’ve written in a long time. I’ve deleted and retyped almost everything I’ve written several times over. But, let me start off by saying I liked this book. I know there’s been a lot of mixed reviews about this book, but I don’t have the same complaints as other reviewers. In fact, I’ll easily pick up the second book when it comes out.

First off, the descriptions only give half the story. While Quin is one of the main characters, there are three others that are followed as well. The chapters rotate between them giving the reader a good view into their world and thoughts.  Quin, and maybe even Maud, are the heart of the book, but the story is really driven by John. He made a promise to his dying mother when he was seven and it literally is the focus of everything he does. He is determined to keep that promise, even if it means hurting those who cares about. The others are mainly dealing with the consequences of his decisions.

I’ll be honest, I had lukewarm feelings about most of the characters. I really liked Maud, but the others I was a bit meh about mainly because of the decisions they made. I love Shinobu, but he totally took a downward spiral once in Hong Kong. I understand it to a point. Drugs would have helped him escape the past. I can only imagine that the things he saw and did were soul crushing. However, he had a great opportunity to restart his life with family. He had the chance to have a much better life where he was truly loved, but he wasn’t willing to let go or forgive himself. Quin suffered the same problem that Shinobu did, although, she did it differently. Neither was willing to face what had happened and wanted to simply run away. While she doesn’t turn to drugs, her decision is just as bad. By the end, I feel like they were both in a better place and I look forward to, hopefully, seeing them grow even more in the next book.

A lot have complained about the setting, which can be a bit jarring. The Scotland estate feels quite medieval, but there is a lot of modern, and even futurist, technology. Honestly, it felt very steampunk to me, which may be why I didn’t give it a second thought. Also, it felt like the manor was of it’s own world. It was very secluded and a place where they followed their own set of rules, which fit in with the ancient protectors vibe perfectly. I would say just to roll with the setting and not try to pin it to a time period as doing so will only make you upset.

Also, if you want a book that has every little thing spelled out for you, this is not the book for you. There is a lot of reading between the lines and putting the pieces together on your own. Dayton does eventually reveal most of it, but you have to figure it out yourself for a while. One particular scene will be flashbacked several times, revealing a little more each time until you fully understand the horror of the situation. Of course, even though some questions are answered, you are still left with many more in their place. There are several things I’m dying to know about, which I hope will be covered in book two.

The only thing that made me eye raise an eyebrow was Shinobu being in love with Quin. They’re supposed to be third cousins, well half-third cousins, and it feels a bit weird. We’re reminded over and over that they’re really distant cousins that hardly share any blood, but it still felt a bit icky. Dayton could have easily had the relationship be the same without making them related. Often times we don’t see what is in front of us, especially if it’s been there all our lives. Of course, Cassandra Clare had 2 books were we thought Clary & jace were brother/sister, so maybe the teens won’t mind it. And maybe Dayton will spin it in future books that they’re not really related after all. That seems unlikely, but I suppose it could be a possibility.

Final Verdict: An intriguing fantasy book that can be confusing at times. However, stick with it and I think you’ll be rewarded in the end.

Book Review: Pink

Book Review: Pink

Book Review: Pink
Pink by Lili Wilkinson
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: Feb 2011
Pages: 320
Source: ALA

Ava is ready for something new. Tired of a wearing black and remaining outside of the social norm, she wants to reinvent who she is. She wants to wear the pink Argyle sweater hidden in her closet. Maybe even date a boy. When she transfers to Billy Hughes School for Academic Excellence she thinks she’s found the perfect opportunity; a place where no one knows her and she can try on a new “Ava”. The only problem? She must hide it from her changes from her parents and her girlfriend, Chloe. They’d never understand her new desires, plus they’re a nice safety net in case her new personality doesn’t work. The thing about secrets is they’re hard to keep and Ava risks everything if her two worlds collide. But as the dust settles Ava will discover who her real friends are...and maybe even a step closer to discovering who she truly is.

 

The Short of It: Hands down one of my favorite books! I’ve been gushing about this book to so many people since I read it in January (including the publisher and author!) I can’t remember the last time I was THIS excited about a book. In other words, why haven’t you bought it yet?

Plot: The first thing that sold me on this book was that it was about a lesbian. Can I say there are just not enough books featuring teen lesbians out there? Seriously, I wish there were tons more, so when I hear of one I usually jump on it. But…but…this book goes way beyond that. It’s not about being gay, bi, or straight; it’s about discovering who you are. Ava’s parents are so much about sticking it to the man and thinking outside the norm, that they have painted her into a new sort of box. The gothy lesbian look is all good and dandy, but Ava really just wants to wear pink. She wants to know what it’s like to be part of the “in-crowd” and maybe even date a boy. Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems, which is a lesson Ava learns the hard way. There are many bumps–okay potholes–and detours along the way as Ava tries to make things work. Of course, the end of the book was not the end of Ava’s journey. She still wasn’t sure exactly who she was and may not know for a while, but she’ll continue to try to figure it out. Honestly, this is my favorite part; a school year is not enough time to firmly stamp you are and what your sexuality is. Kudos to Wilkinson for keeping it real and not tying it all up in a nice little bow.

Characters: Ava is far from perfect. She makes mistakes. HUGE mistakes. I understand the desire to be someone new/start over fresh though. Been there, done that several times over now. While I don’t condone all the lying that Ava does along the way, I can sympathize and understand how she got to that point. One little secret turns into another and another and pretty soon it’s out of control. However, I love that Ava is brave enough to admit her mistakes and apologize to everyone she wronged. She may have gone about many things wrong, but she tries her hardest to make them right again. And it’s not a quick fix, either; she’ll have to rebuild some of those relations, but Ava is willing to do what she can. I also love that she didn’t buckle under pressure and return to how others saw her. She had the chance to return to how everything was before, but she stick to her instinct, even if it meant losing someone she cared about.

Before I move on, I have to mention the side characters, especially the Screws. Being a theatre stag-crew/props/behind the scenes person myself, the Screws where my people in high school. While none of my friends where anything quite like them, it did bring back happy memories. I will say that Jen was my favorite character overall. The whole geek girl is my world and I kind of wish she were real so I could make her my new BFF (or more). But seriously, if you finish this book and not have an intense love for the Screws, well, something just isn’t right! (I’ll still love you, but I’ll have my serious doubts.)

Romance: Okay, so I’ll be honest. Ava is not single for most of this book. She and Chloe are in a relationship from the get-go, but honestly, Chloe does not have much page time. And when she does, you kind of wish she’d just go away. She’s too stuck in the thought that her opinions are law and is kind of a big bully. Her words are cutting, brutal, and very hurtful, especially when aimed at Jen. Not to mention her ultimatum to Ava is pure bs. So yes, Chloe exists but she is a predominant character.

Now there are other flirtations that are in the book, but nothing that evolves to a full out romance. There is definitely the possibility of more, especially with one character, but Ava still has a lot of figuring out to do before she crosses that line. If nothing else, there is still a great friendship–even if more never comes from it.

Writing: Wilkinson does a superb job at pulling readers into her world and making this world universal for anyone. I know this book took place in Australia, but for most of the book I forgot that detail, except when they mentioned what university they wanted to go with. Seriously, though, I could have seen this story taking place in my own home-town, which is the beauty of it. Wilkinson is quite spot on for the entire book. There was not a single time where I thought the pacing was off or a character would do this or that. And just how realistic everything thing is. . . Ah, really, I’m going to quit now before I get too gushy!

Librarian-Mode: Okay, pairing time. So there are a lot of books I think this one would do well next to. I truly believe it should be a GLBTQ staple and is a nice read-a-like for Keeping You a Secret, Ash, and Geography Club. However, this is a very good coming-of-age story and would work with realistic romances as well.

So, now it’s your turn…have you read Pink? If so, be sure to let me know what you thought.