Book Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Madeline Whittier has been sick her entire life.  Born with a rare disease that makes her allergic to basically everything, she spends all her time in her sterile house, sealed off from the rest of the world.  She spends her time reading, attending school through online classes, and playing games with her doctor mother.  Her only other friend is her nurse, Carla.  When a new family moves in next door, Madeline watches with fascination as their family dramas play out rather publicly.  She catches the attention of their teenage son, Olly, and the two eventually begin an email friendship.  It isn’t long before Maddie is in love and considering the risks of giving up the safety of her entire world for a chance at freedom with Olly, even if it means risking her life.

Nicola Yoon’s debut novel is a beautiful exploration of love in all its forms.  This gorgeously written novel is enhanced by pieces of art drawn by Yoon’s husband.  Bits of the novel are written in text conversations and lists, helping add dimension to Maddie as a character.  The novel is paced well and absolutely flies by.

The character of Maddie is particularly well drawn.  She’s a good kid, and she’s very bright, limited only by her disease, which keeps her from fully experiencing the world.  She’s witty and well-read and full of thoughtful observations, and she really shines when she starts communicating with Olly, who offers her a chance to really display her humor.  The other characters in the novel are also well-drawn, and Yoon allows the relationships to be authentically complex.  There are no easy answers here, and the story is the richer for it.

The novel is wholly absorbing, and many readers will read it in a sitting or two.  This is a unique situation, and Yoon stays in firm control of the narrative throughout.  There’s plenty of romance and heart to this one, and readers will devour it.  It’s a wholly satisfying read.  Yoon is an author to watch.

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon. Delacorte Books for Young Readers: 2015. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.

Book Review: Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian

Will Caynes has a fairly complicated life.  Thanks to his divorced parents, he spends his time shuffling between the city and the suburbs of Minneapolis.  His father is drinking again while sort of aimlessly renovating his old house, and his mom has a new family in the suburbs and seems to think that buying things is the same thing as parenting.  When Will meets Brandy, a sophomore girl he finds surprisingly easy to talk to, he can’t believe his luck.  The two start to see each other, but there’s a complication: Will and his best friend Angus, who is openly gay, have been hooking up on the sly.  Will is attracted to both of them, and he cares for them both, too.  So what does that make him?

Carrie Mesrobian’s latest offering for teens is a knockout of a novel.  Mesrobian is a master at capturing the authenticity of being a teenager, and in her latest offering, that is on full display.  With Cut Both Ways, Mesrobian offers her teen readers a thoughtful, nuanced look at bisexuality while also delivering a super complex, smart novel about growing up and facing life’s hardest truths. This is a phenomenal book that deserves a place on library shelves all over the country.

The novel is fearless in its exploration of complicated, messy topics.  It approaches the subjects of sex and sexual identity without shame, and is unapologetic in its frankness.  Although Will never actually uses the word “bisexual” to describe himself, it is clear he is struggling with his sexuality and what it means, not only to him but to the people he cares about.  Mesrobian allows for the teens in her novel to have authentic sexual experiences and writes about these interactions in ways that are funny, moving, and sometimes a little awkward.  It is clear that she has enormous respect for both her characters and her teen readers.

Although the novel has several very dramatic moments, Mesrobian keeps such tight control of her narrative that these events never feel overly-sensationalized.  Will’s narration has just the right of emotional distance to help readers understand how worn out he is by playing the middleman in his parents’ divorce, and this same apathy plays out in his relationships with both Brandy and Angus.  This is an intense read, but it’s also intensely satisfying.

Highly, highly recommended.  One of the best books of the year. A must-read for older teens who like their YA realistic and complex.

Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian. HarperCollins: 2015. Electronic galley accepted for review via Edelweiss.

Book Review: From Where I Watch You by Shannon Grogan

Kara McKinley is committed to becoming a professional baker.  Her cookies are already at the professional level, and she uses her mom’s restaurant kitchen to practice her craft.  There’s a national competition that seems to be her way out of Seattle, but in order to get there, Kara needs her mom’s permission, something she is not willing to give since Kara’s older sister died in a drowning accident away from home at college.  Kara’s whole life has changed since Kellan’s death, and baking is her only escape.  But her life holds a lot of secrets, one of the darkest of which is that she’s being stalked.  As the mysterious notes escalate in their frequency and threats, Kara grapples with the fact that her life might be over before she even really gets a chance to let it begin.

Shannon Grogan’s debut is a tense, beautifully written thriller that is guaranteed to hook readers from the start and not let them go until the book’s breathless, suspenseful conclusion.  In this thriller, Grogan successfully captures the fast-paced necessity of “whodunnit” while also writing prose that is resonant, characters that are realistic, and a heroine who is authentic, a little broken, and someone readers will root for.

Told from Kara’s perspective, the book shifts back and forth in time to help readers get a sense of who Kara was as a child, as well as what her relationship was with her dead sister, Kellan.  Spoiler alert: like most relationships between sisters, it was a thorny, complicated one.  Allowing readers access to Kellan through Kara’s eyes as a child helps illustrate Kara’s complex feelings about Kellan’s death, and the slow reveal of the thing that finally divided the two of them is very well done.

The escalating threats of the notes from Kara’s stalker are the thing that helps propel the story forward, but Grogan also uses Kara’s desperation to escape Seattle–and the fact that Kara has pinned all her hopes and dreams on winning a cookie contest–to build even more tension.  The plotting is tight and the pacing is pitch-perfect.  There isn’t a flabby moment to this book, and the narrative succeeds all the more because of it.

This is a must-have on library shelves, and it’s perfect for readers who like their YA fiction dark and mysterious.  This is a standout of a debut, and Grogan is an author to watch.  Highly recommended.

From Where I Watch You by Shannon Grogan.  Soho Teen: 2015. Library copy.

Waiting on Wednesday: From Where I Watch You by Shannon Grogan

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:

From Where I Watch You by Shannon Grogan

Expected Release Date: August 4, 2015

Sixteen-year-old Kara McKinley is about to realize her dream of becoming a professional baker. Beautifully designed and piped, her cookies are masterpieces, but also her ticket out of rainy Seattle—if she wins the upcoming national baking competition and its scholarship prize to culinary school in California. Kara can no longer stand the home where her family lived, laughed, and ultimately imploded after her mean-spirited big sister Kellen died in a drowning accident. Kara’s dad has since fled, and her mom has turned from a high-powered attorney into a nutty holy-rolling Christian fundamentalist peddling “Soul Soup” in the family café. All Kara has left are memories of better times.

But the past holds many secrets, and they come to light as Kara faces a secret terror. Someone is leaving her handwritten notes. Someone who knows exactly where she is and what’s she’s doing. As they lead her to piece together the events that preceded Kellen’s terrible, life-changing betrayal years before, she starts to catch glimpses of her dead sister: an unwelcome ghost in filthy Ugg boots. If Kara doesn’t figure out who her stalker is, and soon, she could lose everything. Her chance of escape. The boy she’s beginning to love and trust. Even her life.

(summary via Goodreads)

First off, the cover is super gorgeous.  But more than that, the book sounds so compelling.  Early buzz has been largely positive, and I can’t wait to get my hands on this one and read it.  I love the exploration of oppressive faith and the secrets of the past, as well as the complicated relationship between sisters.  I can’t wait.

What are you waiting on this week?


Book Review: I Take You by Eliza Kennedy

Lily Wilder is a New York lawyer who seems to have it all.  In the week leading up to her wedding to brilliant, charming archaeologist Will, Lily returns home to her Key West family for the first time in over a decade.  Once there, she’s confronted with the harsh reality that she might not be marriage material–or is she simply not marrying the right guy?  As she boozes it up and makes some decisions that might seem questionable at best, Lily is forced to face her demons head on, and ends up with some surprising conclusions.

Readers looking for a straightforward romantic comedy are going to be disappointed here.  Eliza Kennedy’s debut novel has teeth, and it isn’t afraid to show them.  The result is a frequently funny, smart, subversive take on the romantic comedy.  Despite a few implausibilities, this is an entertaining romp with a hidden intellectual side, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.

Kennedy has an ear for snappy dialogue, and each page is chock full of one liners and zingers.  There are a few standout scenes, mostly between Lily and her best friend Freddie, and there are moments where Lily is so audacious it’s astonishing.  She’s one hundred percent herself always, and she shines brigtest when she’s taking down sexist old-boy’s-club lawyers.

The novel’s main misstep is when it tries to tackle Lily’s sexual proclivities.  She opines at one point that women sometimes just want sex because they want sex, but it doesn’t seem that it’s totally true for her throughout the course of the novel.  It’s also not a particularly astounding revelation in a post-Sex & the City world.  Here is where the novel’s biggest weakness is, but it’s not enough to derail the rest of the novel, which is so, so much fun.

Eliza Kennedy is an author to watch, and this subversive, smart little novel is the perfect antidote to the well-trodden happily-ever-after.  This would make for a great movie (can we make that happen, actually?) and would also make for a great book club discussion book, as there’s likely to be differing views (and strong ones at that) about the characters and their actions.  Recommended.

I Take You by Eliza Kennedy. Crown: 2015. Library copy.

Book Review: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller

All Arcadia wants now that she’s graduated from high school in her minuscule Florida town is to embark on some sort of adventure.  Feeling trapped in her life as primary caregiver to her four-year-old brother and absentee father, Cadie jumps at the chance for some fun when she meets a pair of cute cousins in the midst of a road trip.  But what starts out as a fairly innocent trip turns dangerous when Cadie realizes that one of the boys isn’t exactly how he seems.

Doller moves outside her normal genre with a romantic thriller that is guaranteed to have readers frantically turning the pages to see what happens next.  Tight plotting and excellent pacing make this one a totally entertaining read from start to finish.  Doller is an author to watch, and she proves it again and again.

In the character of Cadie, Doller has crafted an authentic, head-strong heroine who is still flawed.  But she’s smart, and her desires to break free of a life she views as suffocating feel authentic, even when the story strains a bit at credulity.  Her palpable chemistry with the mysterious Noah helps propel the story forward, and their scenes are both romantic and steamy.

The novel’s rising action builds to a breathless climax that will grip readers completely.  This is a read-in-one-sitting type of book, and it doesn’t disappoint.  Doller allows the tension to build by dropping small hints that things are amiss, but it never feels over-the-top or overly obvious. The result is a tense, scary thrill ride.

Highly recommended.

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller.  Bloomsbury Childrens: 2015. Library copy.

Book Review: Chase Me by Tessa Bailey

Roxy Cumberland is a struggling actress in New York.  She thinks she’s hit rock bottom when she takes a gig as a singing telegram, but when she shows up dressed as a giant bunny and a super hot dude answers the door, she knows she’s hit a new low.  Louis is hot, all right–hot and rich, and everything Roxy says she hates.  So why is she so drawn to him?  The feeling is mutual, especially after the two share a steamy kiss.  Louis is determined to track Roxy down, but it’s going to require quite the chase.

For readers who like their romances steamy and their dialogue witty, Tessa Bailey is an author that should be on their radar.  In this novel, one being hailed as “new adult romance,” she’s crafted vivid characters whose chemistry practically leaps off the page.  It’s fun, fast, and sexy, and it’s perfect for a day at the beach (or an hour, because this one reads very quickly).

The book’s strengths lay in its characters and their interactions.  Both Roxy and Louis are well-drawn as far as characters go, and there are some nice touches with regard to Roxy’s roommates (both girls have their own spin-off sequels) and Louis’s twin sisters.  The dialogue is genuinely funny and often very qitty, something that can be difficult to pull off without readers being able to see how hard the author is working.  It’s got a whip-fast plot (sometimes to its detriment) and the love scenes are sexy as hell.

All of this makes the incredibly abrupt ending all the more frustrating for readers looking for a bit more closure.  There’s not much practicality in how it ends, which will leave some readers scratching their heads.  Also frustrating is how predictable the book’s central conflict is, because it’s a trope so well-worn even the most forgiving reader will see it coming from a mile away.  Even so, readers will stay for the characters.  It’s still a hell of a lot of fun.

Chase Me by Tessa Bailey. Avon Impulse: 2015.  Library copy.