Book Review: Ghosting by Edith Pattou

One summer night in a small midwestern town, teenagers engaged in teenage shenanigans learn life’s hardest lesson.  A prank goes awry when guns, alcohol, and misunderstandings are involved.  All these separate lives converge in one moment, and the result will alter lives forever.

Edith Pattou’s novel-in-verse combines the lives of eight teens with mixed results.  While the verse itself is serviceable, it doesn’t feel essential, which might make some readers question the stylistic choice.  However, the verse makes the story fly by, which should keep readers turning pages.  A compelling narrative becomes more engaging because of the sparse prose.

But that doesn’t mean that the entire novel is compelling.  All of the characters are rather flat in their characterization.  While this is likely to happen with any story that attempts to tell a tale from the perspectives of many people, it does a disservice here because it becomes difficult to keep all the teens straight.

Of course, that won’t matter to some readers.  Pattou keeps the novel clipping along at a good pace, and the sense of foreboding that permeates the novel’s first half will keep readers turning pages to find out what’s going to happen.  It’s a perfectly fine title to add to a contemporary collection, but perhaps not wholly a must-read title.

Ghosting by Edith Pattou. Skyscape: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.

Book Review: The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin

Addison Stone was an enigma in life and continues to be one in her death.  Following the mysterious circumstances surrounding her fall (or did she jump? or was she pushed?) from a bridge overpass during an art stunt, writer Adele Griffin tries to make sense of Stone’s life through a collection of interviews with those who knew and loved her, images of Addison’s work, and transcripts of interviews Stone gave when she was alive.

Stone’s experimental novel presents a fictional biography of a rising star in the art world.  It is intricate, layered, and nuanced in a way many other books of its ilk are not.  This is a knockout of a novel and is guaranteed to attract legions of fans.  It’s addictive in its prose and absolutely unputdownable.  The characters–Addison especially–will stay with readers long after they finish the book.

Griffin is an author to watch, always, but this latest offering offers a fresh take on the oral-history genre.  Combining text and images in a seamless, fascinating way, readers are given insight into Addison’s art through the use of many of her paintings and drawings as well as descriptions of them.  It’s a perfect use of mixed-media, and it helps add dimension to a character who might otherwise be accused of being a bit too elusive.

What is especially remarkable here–and there are many things that are indeed quite so–is that Griffin is such a gifted writer that through her other characters, she is able to craft a multi-layered narrative that begs to be examined more closely.  Through others’ recollections of Addison Stone, she not only illustrates the fact that no one truly knew Addison, but also that they don’t fully know themselves.  The ability of Griffin to allow these characters to speak in ways that are authentic but also allow them to project their own fears, hopes, and beliefs on the novel’s narrative is truly masterful.

There are not enough positive things to say about this one.  This is a must-read, one of my favorite books of the year.  It’s going to have enormous crossover appeal for both teens and adults.  It’s one readers will sink their teeth into, and it’s one that will naturally offer up plenty to unpack and talk about.  Read it now.

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin. Soho Teen: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Edelweiss.

Waiting on Wednesday: How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon

Expected Release Date: October 21, 2014

When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.

(summary via Goodreads)

Even if this novel didn’t feel important and timely, given the state of race in the United States, this novel would still be on my radar because Magoon is such an outstanding voice in fiction.  There’s been some good buzz about this one, and I hope it continues, because I can already tell that this one is going to be an important one.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

Emma’s life doesn’t look anything like normal these days.  She lives with her stepfather because her mother is brain-dead but being kept alive by machines to give the baby she’s pregnant with a fighting chance.  Only Emma is sure that this isn’t what her mother would have wanted.  Emma is sure this is all her stepfather Dan’s doing, and she’s furious about it.  Then she meets bad-boy Caleb and realizes that she’s not the only angry, lost, grief-stricken person around.

Elizabeth Scott’s latest offering provides readers with a complex, heartfelt look at a controversial issue and frames it in a micro-setting.  By allowing readers to consider the issues facing Emma and her stepfather, Scott allows readers to explore their own feelings on a charged social issue.  The result is a strong piece of fiction with a convincing narrator.

It’s an intriguing story, and it gives readers a lot to think about as Emma navigates her own grief and anger over losing her mother.  For the most part, the novel is unswerving  in its authenticity.  There are a few small problems within the novel itself: Caleb’s parents are woefully one-dimensional and feel like a plot contrivance more than anything, and Emma’s turnaround happens so quickly that it lacks some of the emotional resonance it should have.  But these are minor issues.

Emma herself is a strong narrator.  She’s angry and lashes out, but it feels as though it comes from a real place.  Even as readers see things through Emma’s perspective, Scott masterfully allows readers to also see the realities of the situation Emma is blind to.  This is particularly well done.

Overall, this is a strong addition to a contemporary YA collection.  It’s a novel featuring an unusual issue and presents it in a complex, nuanced way.  Both haunting and hopeful, it’s likely to find a passionate readership.

Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott. Harlequin Teen: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Edelweiss.

Book Review: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi

Alex Winchester has enough on her plate in trying to navigate her junior year of high school.  She’s feuding with friends, dealing with a crush that might be something more, and attempting to overcome a crippling fear of getting behind the wheel in driver’s ed.  But then her mom starts acting strangely, and it isn’t long before she’s in a full-blown psychosis where she thinks she’s aviator Amelia Earhart.  As Alex struggles to help her mom while concealing her from other parts of her life, she worries that her mother will go out on Earhart’s final voyage and disappear forever.

Cardi’s thoughtful, authentic novel about a family struggling with the very real effects of mental illness is getting a fair amount of critical praise, and for good reason.  Cardi’s debut could veer into the too-quirky side of things based on the premise alone, but a firm grip on the plot, its characters, and the writing keeps this from ever happening.  The result is a realistic, gripping portrayal of a family in turmoil.

What works especially well is Cardi’s characterization.  Alex is a fully-realized, very flawed teen who uses humor to cope with the huge amount of responsibility she has to shoulder.  Notably, Alex’s younger siblings are also given enough page time to develop as secondary characters, and their evolution as they deal with their mother’s illness is particularly well done.  There’s a lot of exploration of different issues here, including concepts of love, acceptance, and identity.  All of this is woven seamlessly into the narrative.

One of the novel’s only weaker aspects comes in the form of the bantering dialogue between Alex and Jim as they get to know each other.  While it’s meant to be funny and witty, it never quite gets there, perhaps because Cardi is trying so hard to make it so.  But this is so minor a detail it almost feels unnecessary to mention.  The rest of Cardi’s dialogue largely works, and the light romance will satisfy readers who like their realistic tales to have a touch of love in them.

A very strong debut dealing with very real, very hard things.  This is a great example of a contemporary YA novel where the author doesn’t offer her readers nor her characters a neat, tidy ending.  While the novel ends on a hopeful note, it doesn’t sugar-coat anything.  Recommended.

The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi. Candlewick: 2014.  Electronic galley accepted for review.

Book Review: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Andrew Winston Winters has a monster inside him.  A wolf.  He’s convinced of it, and the full moon is approaching.  Torn between the teen boy he is on the outside–a loner at his Vermont boarding school, shrouded by the ghosts of his terrible past–and the monster he knows he holds on the inside, Win works hard to deal with his demons.  Over the course of one night at a party in the woods, Andrew deals with the painful memories of his past as well as the pain he inflicts on himself now in isolation.

It’s interesting to read Kuehn’s debut shortly after reading her excellent, chilling Complicit.  While both definitely explore some of the same themes, Charm & Strange is more of an experiment in exploring the psychology of someone completely, irrevocably damaged by their past than Kuehn’s sophomore effort.  It’s also a bit more uneven than her follow up, but her strong writing and excellent ability to build tension helps to distract from that.

Told in alternating chapters that tell the story of Andrew’s past with his family in Virginia (anti-matter) and the present at his boarding school (matter), the book pulls no punches when it comes to presenting Andrew as a teen who is dark, haunted, and maybe quite violent.  It’s clear to readers that he has a host of problems and could be diagnosed with a myriad of things, but Kuehn is smart and never labels Andrew’s issues.  The novel is about Andrew’s coming to terms with his past and present.  It’s not about a clinical diagnosis for him.

Kuehn is great at teasing her readers with details about what has happened to Andrew without ever really giving away the details.  This helps build suspense, but it also raises a great deal of questions for readers.  What happened to Andrew’s siblings?  Why is he so damaged?  Is he really a wolf?  Kuehn’s controlled prose makes all of this work much better than it would have in a lesser writer’s hands.

Because the novel flips back and forth in time, there is a little stalling with regards to the plot.  The novel is definitely a slow burn, and that is going to put some readers off of it.  But for those who love a dark contemporary–and make no mistake, this is not a paranormal story in the least–and don’t mind a slow burn of a novel, this is a must-read.

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn. St. Martin’s Griffin: 2013. Library copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin

Expected Release Date: August 12, 2014

Two-time National Book Award finalist Adele Griffin offers an ingenious fictional take on the “oral history” celebrity bio that defined a bestselling genre: Edie, American Girl by Jean Stein and George Plimpton. In presenting herself as interviewer and curator of memories, Adele paints the portrait of a tragic young celebrity who allegedly committed suicide—presented in a series of brief first-person recollections—that ultimately results in the solving of a murder.

Adele’s words: “From the moment she burst into the downtown art scene, seventeen-year-old Addison Stone was someone to watch. Her trademark subversive street art and her violent drowning left her fans and critics craving to know more about this brilliant wild-child who shone so bright and was gone too soon. By means of more than one hundred interviews with those who knew her best—including close friends, family, teachers, mentors, art dealers, boyfriends, and critics—I have retraced the tumultuous path of Addison’s life, with research that sheds new evidence on what really happened the night of July 28, 2013. With photo inserts and previously unpublished supplemental material.”

(summary via Goodreads)

I haven’t read an Adele Griffin book that I haven’t loved, so this one is high on my list of books to get as soon as they come out.  It took me several times to read the summary of the book and understand it.  I have to say, I think it’s already sort of brilliant: a fake oral history of a young girl, told by the people around her?  Amazing.  Totally unique and I’m already hooked.  I can’t wait!

What are you waiting on this week?