Book Review: The Secret Year

Book Review: The Secret YearThe Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard
Release Date: Jan. 2010
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 208
Source: Library

One year. That's how long Colt and Julie secretly dated without anyone knowing. Not their family or best friends, and certainly not Julia's boyfriend.  Even at school, Julia would go out of her way to ignore Colt; after all, she was a county-club goer and he was "white-trash". But when they met on Friday nights down by the creek, none of that really mattered. They become teens who connected, and possibly loved, like they never had before. However, everything changes when Julia dies in a car accident. Not being allowed to mourn in public, Colt soon learns the price of secrecy. His only saving grace is a journal that Julia wrote during their relationship that ends up in his hands. It gives him the chance to relive the past as he mourns. The only question is what was he to Julia? Did she really love him or was he just a fling? And will the journal finally answer his lingering doubts or will it just add more?

The Short of It: I’m beginning to believe I’m one of those readers who is not the norm. After all the rave reviews, I expected to love this one. Instead, I found myself in neutral ground where I neither loved nor hated the book. The storyline was interesting, but it didn’t quite click with me. However, while not one of my favorites, it will still be one I’ll recommend.

Plot: I was certainly intrigued by the secret romance and Julia’s journal, but something about the plot felt short for me. I really can’t put my finger on it, but I never felt as if I was completely drawn into the world created. Maybe because I didn’t feel as if I knew enough about the before to truly care about the after. There were so many whispers of possibilities that could be that I was sad to never see fully see bloom.

Of course, perhaps the real reason I didn’t fall in love with this book is my own fault. Before chapter one had even ended the thought of “Oh, hey, this is like Twenty Boy Summer, but from the boy’s perspective” had entered my mind. I know, I know, I shouldn’t have, but I really couldn’t help it. The basic story of the secret love that dies kept pulling me there. I kept expecting so much more, but it just never appeared.

Characters: This is one of those instances where I cared about the secondary characters more than the main ones. Julia was too wishy-washy; one of those girls who could never make up her mind. She was a big-name around the school, but I don’t think anyone ever truly saw who she was. And I still haven’t decided if she was a master manipulator or someone who was too scared to publicly step out of her box. I’m leaning towards the latter, but the way she played with Colt’s emotions was maddening. I wish she would have just made up her mind instead of believing she could have the best of both worlds.

And Colt. I liked Colt, I really did, I just wanted to snap him out of it. I know he was grieving and what not, but the boy needed to let go. I feel like a jerk saying that, but he grieved almost as long as they were together.  He was obsessed with this girl that was never really his. And when he got the opportunity to have the real thing he blew it because he was still too wrapped up in a dead girl. I guess I just can’t understand having such deep feelings for someone who would only acknowledge you when there was no one around. If it were me, I would feel pretty worthless and I don’t think I would really want to continue to be in that situation.

However, I did like the secondary characters, especially Syd, Tom, and Kirby. I enjoyed when they made their way into the story and would have loved to see more of them. Perhaps because they were everything that Julia and Colt couldn’t be. They had their issues, but when it came down it they were afraid to let the truth be known or stand up for what they believed in. I was definitely cheering on Tom and Kirby as they stepped out and did what they thought was right, no matter what the consequences were.

Romance: I feel like I’ve basically stated how I feel about the romance issue. As far as Julia and Colt go, I never truly felt the depth of their love. There were hints about how their world felt different when they were alone, but it still felt like a sham to me. How can you spend a year hiding something and consider it to be real? There were hints of how Julia and Colt both loved each other, but if that were true, wouldn’t they have come out of the shadows much sooner? I know we’re supposed to believe that Julia was going to break-up with her boyfriend, but I’m not sure I believe she ever would. She was too comfortable with the perfect image in the light and the perfect fling in the dark. And while it was supposed to be something with no strings attached, I think we all know that never really works.

There were other hints of romances with Colt, especially with Kirby, but they never got the chance to fully develop. I was really rooting for these two, hoping that Kirby could break him out of the endless obsession that he had. And while I think she ultimately did help him, it was too little too late. I suppose that their relationship was a very realistic approach, but the happily-ever-after part of me had hoped for so much more.

Writing: I have absolutely no complaints here. Hubbard weaves a good story that will easily keeps the reader interested. I can’t remember anything that bothered me or pulled me out of the story. My neutral attitude really does have more to do with the characters than the actual writing. Yes, the characters weren’t really intriguing to me, but Hubbard delivered them well. I really did enjoy her style and look forward to picking up future works.

Librarian-Mode: This is going to do well with your realistic-loving crowd. The ones who don’t care about happy endings and want something real. I would easily recommend The Secret Year to those who enjoy books like Play Me, You Know Where to Find Me or Twenty Boy Summer.

Ok, now it’s your turn! Have you read The Secret Year? If so, what did you think?

Mini Reviews

Mini Review Time. Here are some books that I devoured during my reading spree that I thought were fantastic. However, many of them have been all around the blogosphere already, so I thought I would just do some mini-reviews.

Mini ReviewsLove Is the Higher Law by David Levithan
Release Date: 2010
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 167
Source: ALA

Everyone will always remember where they were on September 11, 2001. For three New York area teens, Claire, Jasper, and Peter, there will always be a before and after. But don’t let the 9/11 theme scare you away. This story is about how one event can change our lives and redefine how we connect to people during tragic times. It’s about discovering new friendships and bonds as lives intertwine in ways they wouldn’t have before. This has easily become one of my favorite solo Levithan books, second only to The Realm of Possibility. I felt connected to each character and thought their emotions were raw and honest. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey with these three teens and was a little sad to leave them as the story ended.

Mini ReviewsAsh by Malinda Lo
Release Date: September 1st 2009
Pages: 272
Source: ALA


Say hello to the newest Cinderella retelling. Wait, wait, this isn’t your average Cinderella story. This is a world filled of old magic and fairies. Stories that Ash’s mother use to tell her as a child. It’s those stories that keep her going after her father dies and she is left in the care of her step-mother. Forced from her family home and to be a servant, Ash dreams of dancing and belonging to the fairies. That is until she meets Kaisa, the king’s huntress, and finds herself falling in love and having to decide which world she longs for more. Ash was slow-moving at times, but I really enjoyed the little twists that Lo added. It was refreshing to not have Cinderella chase after the prince. And while I will admit the lesbian aspect is what first drew me to Ash there is much more to it. It’s about self-discovery and finding love and where you belong. While I wish Lo would have explained the fairy world just a little more, I understand it was not what the book was really about. If you’re looking for a new look at Cinderella I would highly recommend trying this one out.

Mini ReviewsFire by Kristin Cashore
Series: Graceling #2
Release Date: 2011
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 461
Source: ALA

Fire is the last human monster left in the Dells. Fire, with her multi-colored hair, irresistible beauty, and mind control, is considered a huge threat. The danger of being hunted exists even the secluded land that she lives through. The danger only increases when her gift is needed by Young Nash at the capitol. Her powers may just be the thing that can help them win the war that is coming. It the midst of political struggle and power plays, Fire finds herself falling for Brigan, the one person she can’t control…if only she can get him to look past what to is to discover who she really is. While I think Graceling is still my favorite, I really enjoyed Fire. While there were some similarities between the two, the approach is very much different. Fire is more about strategy through political and mind games where as Graceling was all about the action and adventure.  The political games is interesting to me, but it slow-moving and I can see how others can get bored. I really adored Brigan and wish he would have been in the book then he had been. (And so I’ll never repeat this, but I think I may even like him more than Po *gasp*) All in all, Fire was amazing and I can’t wait to see what Cashore has in store with Bitterblue!

Book Review: Willow

Book Review: WillowWillow by Julia Hoban
Release Date: April 2009
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 336
Source: Own

It’s been seven months since Willow has allowed herself to feel. Seven months since she was the driver during a tragic car accident that took her parents' lives. Unable to bear the grief or guilt, Willow finds a new way to cope with the pain through cutting. At a new school and living with her older brother, no one knows the secrets her arms would tell. No one, that is, until Guy. The only one to know the ugly truth, Guy promises not to tell anyone her secret. But as strangers turn to friends to even more, Willow discovers that Guy’s love will push her beyond the safe, numb world she created. And amongst it all, she’ll have to decide which she loves me: Guy or the razors?

The Short of It: Liked it, but didn’t love it. Although, I would be hard pressed at anytime to say I loved a book about cutting. Hoban does a good job at handling the difficult situations. A few things did bother me, but nothing to make me dislike the book. An easy recommendation for those who like the nitty gritty issue books.

Plot: This is one of those low action, high emotions books. Where the day to day activities are not exciting, but the emotional struggle is what keeps you reading. While Willow deals with cutting, it is not the heart and soul of the book. It is more about grief and coming to terms with an overwhelming loss. About those months after and how a person learns to cope with the pain. An honest view into the world of grief, guilt, cutting, and the consequences it has on cutters and those that love them.

Characters: I had a bit of trouble loving Willow as a character. Most of the time I just wanted to shake her, hoping it would knock some sense into her. I found myself becoming annoyed at how she convinced herself that her own self-loathing/guilt was how others saw her. Even when others showed kindness repeatedly, she was still so hesitant to believe that they weren’t out to hurt her. However, I can’t say I hated Willow all the time. When she relaxed around Guy, I got a glimpse of what the old Willow must have been like. She was quite charming, intelligent, and caring. I only wish I could have seen much, much more of her.

Now Guy….well, Guy I basically loved. He’s that guy who will always have your back no matter what time you call. The type that girls go to mushy romance movies to sigh and dream over. My only problem with Guy is that he kept Willow’s secret. Here’s this girl he hardly knows and he promises not to tell anyone about her self-mutilation? Ok, so maybe as a stranger you wouldn’t care, but I tend to believe that Guy did from the first moment. And you see the signs how deeply he cares the more they get to know each other. Maybe he really thought he could heal her? Or maybe I’m just expecting too much out of a teenager? I’ve never been in that situation myself, but I would hope I would have enough courage to help that friend seek professional help. I just feel so torn on this point. Anyone else feel this way about Guy?

Romance: The romance between Guy and Willow is full of contradictions. If you look at it one way it’s a completely healthy, normal teenage love. Yet, at the same time, it’s built around something that is very unhealthy and causes both physical and emotional stress. And I still haven’t decided if I think Guy is insane or admirable. To willing walk into a relationship that involves someone who is such a wreck is mind boggling. I don’t know that I would ever have the strength to do it myself. Relationships are so difficult as it is without adding in all the elements Willow was battling. Although, Guy really was a perfect boyfriend. While the cutting obviously bothered him, he never allowed it to hinder his ability to be there when she needed him. And he almost always seemed to know the right things to say or do to help Willow inch closer to her old self.

The only issue I really have with their romance is the message is sends. That Willow can throw away the razors because she loves Guy that much. What happens when the romance ends? What if Guy breaks her heart? Will she go back to the razors who have been so faithful before? I’m just so worried that Willow is not truly free of this habit. That if things get to be too much, she’ll pick them right back up. I guess that’s also the reason why I wish Guy would have told her brother. I keep thinking that Willow really could benefit from professional help (even without the cutting issue!) and that without it she’ll never fully heal. I can only hope that down the line Guy will urge her to get that extra help she needs.

Writing: I really have no complaints in this category. The third person present tense did throw me off a bit, but after a while I was able to ignore with only the occasional distraction. I will warn that it does give off a distant and detached vibe. However, it works well as a reflection of how Willow herself is. It allows a reader to understand Willow a little better without actually being in her mind. The other thing I really noticed was how mature Hoban’s writing was. This is by no means a bad thing, but I often felt like I was reading a literature book and not an YA novel. It was quite nice to see, even if it meant I had to read a little slower!

Librarian-Mode: No problems here. I think this will be an easy sell to those teens who like the issue books. Those who adore Ellen Hopkins, Wintergirls, or any of the other down and dirty books will snatch this one up in a heart beat. I already had a copy in at my main library, but after finishing it I made sure to order a second copy for my branch. While Willow deals with some serious issues, I’ll have no hesitation recommending it to my teens. It’s one that I’m sure to push more in the future.

Ok, now it’s your turn! Have you read Willow? If so, what did you think?

Book Review: You Are So Undead to Me

Book Review: You Are So Undead to MeYou Are So Undead to Me by Stacey Jay
Release Date: Jan. 2009
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 272


Megan Berry is a Zombie Settler by birth, which means she’s part-time shrink to a whole bunch of semi-dead people with killer issues. All Megan really wants is to go to homecoming, but when you’re trailed by a bunch of slobbering corpses whenever you leave the house, it’s kinda hard to score a date. Let’s just say Megan’s love life could use some major resuscitation. Megan’s convinced her life can’t get any worse – until someone in school starts using black magic to turn average, angsty Undead into scary, hardcore flesh-eating Zombies. Now it’s up to Megan to stop the Zombie apocalypse. Her life – and more importantly, the homecoming dance – depends on it.

First, I’m going to have to admit that it has been quite a while since I first read this book. (I think it was back in Feb/March) I fell really behind in reviews around that time and would have just let this one go had it not been for Zombie week. So basically, I really apologize if this review stinks. That being said, I enjoyed this book, but didn’t really love it. Jay has a nice writing style and voice (the main reason I liked the book), but the plot didn’t sit well with me. I’m really not sure what’s up with this zombie invading school type plots, but I’m not sure I like it. There were times I wanted to slap Megan silly, especially when she was more concerned about her Homecoming dress and not the killer zombie after her. I mean, HELLO, dress = replaceable…your life = not so much. However, Megan does have this air about her and I can totally see the potential that her character holds. I also liked the little romance that was going on and am interested to see where it leads. And you can bet that when Undead Much comes out, I’ll be picking it up to see how the story continues. (That and I’m really hoping this whole zombie/high school thing starts growing on me.)

So tell me, have you read You Are So Undead to Me? If so, be sure to tell me what you thought!

P.S. This post is part of zombie week. Be sure to check out the September Zombie blog for even more Zombie-goodness.

P.S.S Yes, yes I know I usually write my own summaries, but I’m strapped for time lately. You may see a couple more product description summaries as I try to catch up, but I promise they won’t be here to stay.

Book Review: Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies

Book Review: Models Don’t Eat Chocolate CookiesModels Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies by Erin Dionne
Release Date: February 2009
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 243

Eighth grader Celeste Harris is no stranger to being the big girl. At school, she is taunted by mooing and nicknames like “Burrito Grande” by many of the popular kids. And while Celeste may not be picture-perfect, give her comfy sweatpants, a stack of Oreo cookies, and her long time best friend (Sandra) and life isn’t so bad.  Well, that was until the HuskyPeach Modeling Challenge entered her life. Thanks to her aunt, she finds herself trapped into a contest she wishes to be no part of. Sure, everyone would love to be a model, but when you add the word plus to it…well, Celeste would rather not think about it. Thankfully, she has plan on to get out of the competition without quitting.

Launch Operation Skinny Celeste. It’s all about no Oreos, no snacks, and certainly no big slices of her aunt delicious dessert with ice cream. After all, if she’s no longer husky there’s no way she can be Miss HuskyPeach, right? Right?! Striving to lose the competition any way possible, Celeste lands in humiliating and disastrous situations. Despite it all, she learns that what matters most is to do what you want (no matter what anyone else thinks) and to have fun along the way. With the chance to pull out of the final round Celeste must make a choice: will she run away or will she return to have fun no matter what the outcome may be?

My Thoughts

First, I have to state how much of a difference one year can make in my mind. Due to an error on the back of the book, I began Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies under the impression that Celeste was only twelve years old in seventh grade. This really warped my perception of the book. I kept yelling over and over in my head that no twelve year old should be worried about dieting and losing weight. I wanted to hug her, give her more cookies, and tell her it would be okay. Okay, I know this is illogical and that kids of all ages get teased and worry about body image, but something about actively dieting at twelve just didn’t sit right with me. Of course, the truth is that Celeste is really in eighth grade and is thirteen. When Celeste finally states what grade she’s in my defenses did lower a bit more. The story became more believable to me at that point. However, her grade level didn’t come out until I was a good way through the book and was at that point it was little hard to change my mindset. (I do realize it states early on that she is thirteen, but it didn’t fully sink in until much later. And I think the seventh grader part still irked me for somereason.)

I will also warn you that Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies is not really about body size acceptance. Celeste does diet, she does lose weight, and she does feel better herself due to it. However, she does it in a healthy manner. She switches cookies for apples, stops snacking so much, and starts walking more with her friends. It was really more about a healthy life style than a crash course diet. In fact, she probably only loses a fraction of her overall weight goal. Celeste’s self esteem does go up with her weight loss, but her happiness isn’t solely based on it. Sometimes new clothes and a new look can go a long way, but during her transformation she learns more about who she is. She discovers how to stand up for herself, what she likes, and to find enjoyment even in the most undesirable situations. It made for a very realistic approach to body image for teenage girls.

In the end, I’m very glad I got to meet Celeste. She was charming, humorous and very likable. Her voice is what really makes the book and even with my other issues I never stopped rooting for her. I look forward to seeing what future stories Dionne offers.