The Night She Disappeared: A Decent Thriller, But Too Much Was Unnecessary

I’ll be returning to Tuesday and Friday uploads for the next couple of weeks until school starts up again in late January.

The Night She Disappeared is written by April Henry. It was published in 2012 by Henry Holt. Henry’s website can be found here.

Genre: Realistic, Tough Read, Mystery, Suspense Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

“Gabie drives a Mini Cooper. She also delivers pizzas part-time. One night, Kayla, another delivery girl at Pete’s Pizza, goes out with an order and never comes back. To Gabie’s horror, she learns that the man who called in the fake pizza order had asked if the girl in the Mini Cooper was working that night. Was Kayla’s fate really meant for Gabie? Obsessed with finding Kayla, Gabie teams up with Drew, who also works at Pete’s. Together they set out to prove Kayla isn’t dead—and to find her before she is.”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

“Excuse me,” Amber says. She only works weekends. “I heard he asked for the girl in the Mini Cooper. Doesn’t that mean he really wanted Gabie?” She looks over her shoulder at Gabie and whispers “Sorry!” as if she has revealed a secret. And it’s clear that for some people in the room, this is the first they are hearing about this.

Gabie freezes. At least the top part of her body does. Even her knees still for a moment.

~Henry 44

How long can he keep me here?

Will I ever see the sun again? Will I die here?

Is there going to come a point when I want to die?

Will they find my body, years from now, and wonder who I am? That thought is the worst, that I might become some nameless dead girl, a stranger’s pile of bones. I finger the label on an empty water bottle. I could write on the back, and leave it in my pocket so people will know who I am. Only I don’t have anything to write with.

What does he want from me?

~Henry 144

Cover Art

Warnings: Violence, kidnapping, suicide.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Rating: 2/5

What I Liked:

The plot has a definite thrill aspect to it, and a sense of time ticking down and running out. It’s a decent thriller, although I’ve read better. It’s a page-turner, and that’s a good thing. The alternating viewpoints are done well and serve to heighten the suspense. I liked the way the characters dealt with their fear throughout. The kidnapper was suitably creepy and not pathetic at all. Probably my favorite part was the newspaper articles, paper clippings, and other miscellaneous things that were scattered throughout the book which gave it an air of authenticity.

See? Things like this really lend well to the ambience.

What I Didn’t Like:

Gabie’s parents are the stereotypical doctors: health-freaks, coldly rational, and machine-like. And the stereotype is so thick I found it humorous. I suppose you’re supposed to feel sorry for Gabie, with such cold, busy doctors for parents, but I just kept snickering at the author’s description of them. Organic skim milk? Yeah, okay. Lay it on some more, why don’t you?

Also present is the stereotypical romance. It was also an unnecessary romance. Sometimes I feel that authors think that they need to put romance in a book to make it appealing, or to make it YA. You actually don’t. Don’t get me wrong, when done right, I like romance. But in times like this, when it’s a romance that’s been done a million times before and does nothing to the plot…I’d prefer that it wasn’t there. It’s just distracting, and it doesn’t lend itself nearly as well to character development as people think.

Nice job having the police officer blackmail teenagers as if it was a regular, normal activity. I find it hard to believe that this is a normal police activity. Maybe it was just that particular officer. One thing I dislike about  current literature is that police officers (and law in general) are now viewed in a generally negative light, as opposed to the positive light in older works.

Overall Review:

The Night She Disappeared is a decent thriller/suspense/mystery. It’s just burdened down with a lot of stereotypical characters and an unnecessary romance that distracts from the plot. The kidnapper was creepy, though. I wish there had been a bit more revealed about him, but he was a good villain. And Kayla has got a lot of spunk, so kudos to her.

You can buy this book here: The Night She Disappeared

Coming Up Next: The Revenant by Sonia Gensler

If I Tell: The Decent Development Does Not Redeem The Unoriginal and Boring Characters

Merry Christmas, everyone! I’m back to my schedule of Tuesday posts!

If I Tell is written by Janet Gurtler. It was published in 2011 by Sourcebooks. Gurtler’s blog can be found here. Her blog can be found here.

Genre: Tough Read, Realistic, Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

“IF ONLY…If only I hadn’t gone to that party. I never would have seen what I did. Jackson wouldn’t have driven me home. I wouldn’t have started to fall for a guy just out of reform school. I could go back to pretending everything was normal. I wouldn’t be keeping a secret from my mom that could blow our family apart…”

~Back Cover

Passages/Quotes:

I sighed. Didn’t she get it? Simon was almost family. Last year when some kid at the mall called me an Oreo, it was Simon I went to. He was the only person I could talk to about things like that.

“You’re a strong, beautiful girl with talents and smarts,” Simon had said when I told him. “Not a cookie.” He’d rubbed the top of my head. “No one can take away who you are inside or out. Don’t let other people make you feel bad about who you are.”

I’d dropped my head. “I look black on the outside. But I’m not.”

“You are black,” Simon said, standing straighter. “And that’s something to be proud of.”

I couldn’t look at Simon. I didn’t feel like I shared or deserved that heritage. That pride in being black. I wasn’t the real thing, one way or the other.

~Gurtler 31-32

Simon leaned forward, his broad smile mocking the rage inside of me. “Of course I can. Some of us guys are good ones. Let’s face it. You’re stuck with me now.”

Anger flushed my cheeks. Stuck with him and keeping his secret. I started to stand and Simon reached for me. Almost in slow motion, as if on its own accord, my hand lifted. Simon’s smile turned into a puzzled frown. Then a long bang like a gun being fired filled the air. My hand smacked against his flesh.

“Jaz, what’s wrong with you?”

~Gurtler 142

Cover Art

Warnings: Drinking, swearing, and Ashley’s character may be controversial to some.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 2/5

What I Liked:

I liked the family dynamic portrayed (all angles of it) and how it affected Jaz and the secret she was keeping. Her struggle with her biracial identity led to some good character development, and her relationship with Jackson had its cute moments. The ending was (obligatorily?) hopeful and even happy.

It wasn’t bad. It was just very…formulaic and generic.

Janet Gurtler

What I Didn’t Like:

This book is overflowing with stereotypical (maybe “cliché” is a better word) characters. All the popular girls are nasty, because of course popular girls can’t be nice. Jackson is the stereotypical hot love interest/boyfriend (who also conveniently has something in common with Jaz that conveniently helps her through her crisis), who has a bad/mysterious/dangerous past to whom the main character is immediately attracted. Jaz’s mom is the stereotypical single mom who has her bouts of good parenting in between all her mistakes. Even Jaz herself is the stereotypical conflicted heroine.

Ashley was also stereotypical, in a way that I’m not sure I want to bring up. Let’s just say she was the stereotypical “good” person, or the stereotypical character that’s placed there to make a statement, not because she’s actually necessary. She was also simply an incredibly boring character. Heck, the town itself is the stereotypical “conservative” small town where everyone is racist and “intolerant” to people who are different (the nurse, even? Really? Really? Was it that necessary to bring the point home (again) that no one likes biracial relationships even though it’s been mentioned a kajillion times before by the protagonist and the obligatory nasty popular girls?).

Talk about excuse of behavior all over the place! Lacey’s behavior is excused, Simon’s behavior is excused. Granted, it’s handled better than most other books, especially the resolutions, but it was enough to make my teeth grind at first (I did like Jaz’s confusion with this, especially in her conversations with Jackson, her repetition of “Does that make it okay?”).

Overall Review:

The stereotypical characters and the at times almost exaggerated conflict mostly ruins the character development and the (obvious) family dynamic. If I Tell is just a little too formulaic and generic, with an almost appallingly convenient plot. The 10% that was good, however, was done fairly well.

You can buy this book here: If I Tell

Coming Up Next: The Night She Disappeared by April Henry

After: The Summary Made Me Hesistant, But The Ending Was Glorious

After is written by Amy Efaw. It was published in 2009 by Viking. Efaw’s blog on Goodreads can be found here.

Genre: Tough Read, Realistic, Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

“Who would leave her own baby in the trash to die? Certainly not someone like Devon—straight-A student, soccer player with Olympic dreams, more mature than her own mother. But desperation and panic drove her to do what most people can’t even imagine. Now Devon’s in a juvenile detention center, charged with attempted murder. If she’s tried as an adult, she faces life in prison.

Does Devon deserve that punishment? Your answer depends on whether you believe her story—that she didn’t even know she was pregnant. Was she buried in a denial so deep that she was unable to register the seemingly obvious signs of pregnancy? Or were her actions the result of a more devious, premeditated plan?”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

The woman’s eyes are locked with Devon’s. “Your charges,” she says again. “Attempted Murder in the First Degree.”

Devon feels her thighs tighten, quiver. Somehow she had managed to avoid hearing any of this in the courtroom.

“Abandonment of a Dependent Person in the Second Degree.” She pauses, gauging Devon’s reaction. “Criminal Mistreatment in the Second Degree, and Assault in the Third Degree. That makes four charges, total.”

Murder? Murder? And there were others, too. Abandonment. Mistreatment. Assault. A whole horrible list. This is what they think she’s done?

But how? How did she do these things? She can’t remember any of it.

~Efaw 75-76

“These are steps, Devon! When you have steps, you have a plan. When you have a plan, you have what’s called premeditation. Premeditation points to guilt. And guilt equals going to jail. For a long, long time.” Dom pulls her finger away from Devon’s chin and takes a step back. “That, right there, will be the prosecutor’s argument.” Dom crosses her arms. “And right now, even I’m buying it.”

Devon’s head drops. She wraps her arms around herself tight, trying to control her shaking. Her breaths come rapid and ragged. “I didn’t know any of that, Dom. I swear. I didn’t know I was pregnant.”

Dom throws her hands up. “When, Devon? When didn’t you know you were pregnant? During the appointment? Because—”

“Ever!”

~Efaw 155

Cover Art

Warnings: Graphic descriptions

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 4/5

What I Liked:

Spoilers for the ending.

I was expecting to really dislike this book when I read the summary. But Efaw handled this issue really well and I was impressed. She didn’t try to excuse or hide things away or beat around the bush; she dealt with the topic starkly, and realistically, and refreshingly. Having the plot of the book center around a court case was a great idea, because it showed both sides of the situation. Often, books misrepresent or simply neglect the other side, but this book dealt with both sides, and did it well.

Great issues dealt with in After: the consequences of your actions; responsibility for your actions (and the consequences); meaning and intent; right and wrong; dependability; and acceptance. And Efaw handled all of these brilliantly. The ending, in particular, was fantastic. It was wonderful. It made me feel relieved, and glad, and that might seem strange to those who know what happens in the end. But Devon’s words,  “I want to plead Guilty because…I am guilty” are fantastic. It’s Devon accepting responsibility and the consequences for her actions, even if she wasn’t in her right mind when she did those actions. Devon realizes that, despite the denial, she did throw her baby away, and nothing could change that. It wasn’t premeditation and it wasn’t malicious, but she still did it. And she realizes that she needs to accept the consequences. And think of me however you want, but I think that is a fantastic ending, and a truthful one.

Efaw

What I Didn’t Like:

Third person present tense is really hard to get into. I don’t mind first person present tense, because it’s done so much in YA these days, but third person? Yikes.

I wish there had been more resolution with Connor. A brief mention by Dom of having spoken with him, or something. Actually, I wish there had been more resolution with all of Devon’s friends and family.

Overall Review:

Despite thinking I would hate it, After impressed me. The ending, in particular, was one of the best endings I’ve ever read because there were no excuses. It was stark, sad, and utterly refreshing. This is a book I would recommend to friends because it is thought-provoking, and an excellent candidate for discussion.

You can buy this book here: After

Coming Up Next: Series Week V!!! I’m going to keep the series a secret, but expect it up Thanksgiving week (that’s next week!). After that, it will be Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, possibly my absolute favorite fantasy novel (and author).

The Butterfly Clues: Reminding Me How Much I Love Mysteries

The Butterfly Clues is written by Kate Ellison. It was published in 2012 by Egmont. It is Ellison’s first novel. Ellison’s website can be found here.

Genre: Young Adult, Tough Read, Realistic, Mystery

Summary/Blurb:

“Penelope “Lo” Marin has always loved to collect beautiful things.

But in the year since her brother’s death, Lo’s hoarding has blossomed into a full-blown, potentially dangerous obsession. When she discovers a beautiful antique butterfly figurine and recognizes it as having been stolen from the home of a recently murdered girl known only as Sapphire, Lo becomes fixated.

As she attempts to piece together the mysterious “butterfly clues,” with the unlikely help of a street artist named Flynt, Lo quickly finds herself caught up in a seedy, violent underworld—a world much closer to home than she ever imagined.”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

Mario reaches for the butterfly figurine still glittering on the table, mid-afternoon sunlight casting shapes in marigold across everything. He hands it to me. “For you,” he says. “Thank you. Thanks for being cool.”

I nod but say nothing, and that’s that. Our unspoken contract. As he turns around, searching for something in a bag on the ground, the urge rips through me, fierce, insatiable. My arm shoots forward to the table, and I pull the horse pendant necklace into my fist and walk quickly, sharply away. Clutching tightly to the butterfly in one hand and the necklace in the other, I move through the market, passing tables of food and tables of fabric and trim and creatures made of wood and glass and metal and baseball memorabilia and faded T-shirts and old headdresses of satin and lace, but all I can really think about is her. Sapphire.

~Ellison 32-33

I stay still. Watching, listening, trying to make myself invisible, crouched low to the ground as the car door slams shut, a hard hollow sound. I feel breathless gain. The bouncer: he’s the one who’s been watching me. Could he have killed Sapphire? But why?

I think of those words, violently scrawled: Now you know what curiosity did. Be careful….

The words spin and slur around me, twisting blood-red between the leafless branches of the trees. Be careful be careful be careful.

I tap my feet against the gravel. Nine times. Again. Eighteen. Again. Twenty-seven.

I pull myself up from between the cars and count the cracks in the sidewalk as I walk the final block home. Every few seconds I whip around, terrified that I’ll see the sedan racing toward me again, the bouncer looming out from the shadows. My head is still whirring as I approach my house, climb up the clean white porch stairs. Tap tap tap, banana, open the door and walk inside, triple bolt it.

~Ellison 141

Cover Art 1

Warnings: Swearing, seedy bars, death, violence

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 5/5

What I Liked:

Wow! I am super, super impressed with this book. It grabbed me and pulled me right in from page one. Penelope is an engaging protagonist and the strength and courage she gets throughout the novel is wonderful to see develop; Flynt is that almost-fantasy, super-understanding, wonderful love interest that makes you want to “aww” every time he and she are together (and at the same time think that he’s way too perfect, but it fits so well that you almost don’t care). While I figured out the two main “twists” before they were revealed, the mystery was still pretty compelling and interesting, and served as more development for Penelope.

Cover Art 2

I also liked Keri and her role in the book. She was there not only as a potential friend, but as a reminder that Penelope can be wrong in how people view her and her OCD, and that her view is not always to be trusted.

For a moment, I was worried that Penelope’s dad would turn out to be like Valerie’s dad from Hate List, but, thank goodness, he proved me wrong.

What I Didn’t Like:

I would have liked perhaps a bit more resolution on behalf of Penelope’s school life (a.k.a Keri, and whether or not they become friends). Also, I felt like Flynt was more enabling Penelope’s OCD than anything.

Overall Review:

The Butterfly Clues is the best book with an OCD character that I’ve read yet. The mystery serves not just as a plot device, but as integral to character development. Penelope’s voice will suck you right in, and Flynt and Penelope are just darn cute. Also, cheers for Penelope’s dad not being one of those useless, stifling, etc. adults that are so prevalent in YA literature.

You can buy this book here: The Butterfly Clues

Coming Up Next: Cloaked by Alex Flinn

The Girl in the Park: Just Your Average YA Novel

The Girl in the Park is written by Mariah Fredericks. It was published in 2012 by Schwartz & Wade. Fredericks’ website/blog can be found here.

Genre: Realistic, Tough Read, Mystery, Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

“When Wendy Geller’s body is found in New York’s Central Park the morning after a rager, newspaper headlines scream:

Who Was Wendy Geller?

Life of a Party Girl Ends in Violence

But Rain, once Wendy’s best friend, knows Wendy wasn’t just another wild girl from an elite prep school. Wendy was the girl with the great smile and the huge heart. The girl who ate unbaked cookie dough—“The dough rocks raw, am I right?”—and faked a fainting spell in H&M as a prank. Who told quiet Rain not to be afraid to share her thoughts with the world.

As Rain struggles to separate the girl she knew from the tangle of headlines and vicious gossip, she becomes determined to discover who killed her friend. But if Rain—always a listener, a bystander—really wants to help Wendy, she knows she’ll have to speak up.”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

Cleft palate. Big deal. Okay, maybe you sound a little funny. Some. Times. But you need to forget about that and speak up, girl!

Wendy is dropping frozen cookie dough on a baking sheet. Turning, she says, “Because can I say something? Most people? Myself included? Talk way too much. You. On the other hand. Listen. And you think. So when you do speak? You’re brilliant. So, give up the silence, okay?”

~Fredericks 5

“Was it a pin or—”

“No details. What I want to know is, did it belong to Wendy?”

No, I think. No, no, no. Wendy was not the kind of girl to get an E. Ever.

Which means…

It belongs to Wendy’s killer.

Stella presses. “Come on, Rain. If it’s not Wendy’s, whose is it? Who is E, Rain?”

Not who, I think, what. But I’m not telling Stella that.

Wendy’s killer is not some random crazy person. He’s someone I’ve passed in the halls. Someone I’ve spoken to.

I know Wendy’s killer.

~Fredericks 96

Cover Art 1

Warnings: Sexual situations, swearing.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 3/5

What I Liked:

I liked the emphasis on speaking up and doing the right thing, no matter what other people think or what it might cost you. Rain was a very good protagonist and the way she conquers her fear is heartwarming.

This was a fairly good mystery, even though it was extremely obvious who the killer is. The progression of ideas and thoughts related to the mystery was well-done, though.

This book was fairly well-written and decent. Nothing really stood out to me, but it had a good mystery and I liked Rain’s development over the course of the book.

Cover Art 2 (Hmmm…I don’t really like either of them, but I prefer the first)

What I Didn’t Like:

I hate it when people’s bad behavior is excused for some reason or another. In this case, Wendy’s bad behavior was excused by Rain and others, multiple times (“She just wants attention” or whatever). Sorry, but it doesn’t matter how much she inspired you, instigating affairs with people’s boyfriends is not cool or good, and it made me so mad when Rain said, “She’s a good person,” because, uh, no. Wendy’s not a good person. A confused, deceived person, maybe. But not a good one. You know who else isn’t a good person? Stella. Nico. The boyfriends who slept with Wendy. The killer. And pretty much everybody else.

Overall Review:

The Girl in the Park has some good character development, and I especially liked the end with Rain and Stella. The mystery is fun, although obvious, and Rain’s struggle with the killer’s identity reflects her development nicely. It’s a little banal, and there’s too much excuse of people’s bad behavior, but it’s a fairly decent book.

Coming Up Next: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

Hate List: The Material Doesn’t Deserve This Ending

Hate List is written by Jennifer Brown. It was published in 2009 by Little, Brown and Company. It is Brown’s first novel. Brown’s website can be found here.

Genre: Tough Read, Realistic, Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

“Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently save the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends, and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

“Is there a problem?” Mrs. Tennille asked. “Kelsey? Meghan? Is there a reason you’re not in your chairs?”

“It’s Ginny,” Meghan said, pointing at the crying girl, who I now realized was Ginny Baker. I’d heard on the news about all the plastic surgery she’d had, but hadn’t really realized how much it had changed her face until now.

Ginny zipped her backpack and stood. Her whole body was shaking.

“It’s her,” she said, without moving. Everyone knew who she was talking about, though, and they all turned to look at me. I put my face back down toward my hands and squeezed my fingernails into my palms even harder. I sucked my lips inside my mouth and bit down on them hard from the inside, clamping them shut. “I can’t sit here with her without thinking about…about…” she sucked in a breath and then let it out with a stream of anguish that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. “Why did they let her come back?”

~Brown 69

“Valerie,” she said and tugged my elbow lightly. “Just give them a try. Jessica really wants to make it work.”

“Make what work?” I asked. “Am I the class project now? Am I some sort of big joke? Why can’t she just leave me alone? They were fine leaving me alone before.”

Mrs. Tate shrugged, smiled. “I think she just wants to be friends.”

But why? I wanted to scream. Why does Jessica Campbell suddenly want to be my friend? Why is she suddenly nice to me? “I don’t need friends,” I said.

~Brown 240

Cover Art (the original, before they changed it to reflect her other books)

Warnings: Violence, mentions of suicide, general feelings of angst, swearing.

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 3/5

What I Liked:

Brown had some good things to say about truth and reality through Dr. Heiler’s advice to Valerie about seeing what was really there. Really (ha), the whole book is based on reality and the way people really are, not how they are perceived to be.

There’s some really intense material dealt with in this book, but for the most part it’s handled really well by Brown. This is Brown’s first book, and it really sets the stage for her next books in terms of content, topics, and resolution.

The emotions of Valerie, her friends, and her family are well-portrayed. There are the people who blame her completely and can’t get over it (like Ginny), the people who think she had something to do with it marginally (like Stacey), and the people who don’t think she should be blamed at all (like Jessica), which is way more realistic than just having everybody hate her while she wallows in angst and self-pity. People call her out for her actions, too, which is also really well done.

Quote from the book

What I Didn’t Like:

I don’t really like the way Brown decided to end it. It sounded like Valerie was running away from anything, which went against what she had learned throughout the book. Also, no one seemed to care that she was just going away like that.

There wasn’t really much resolution in regards to her art, her encounter with Troy, and that confusing encounter with Josh. The Josh one especially needed resolution, I felt. At least a brief mention or conversation between the two.

I strongly disliked the way that Valerie’s dad’s behavior was just excused away. I don’t care what tragedy your family has just been through, no father should treat his daughter that way. And Valerie/Brown just kept excusing it away for different reasons, as if it was okay/acceptable for him to be acting like that. Um, NO.

Overall Review:

Hate List deals with most of its intense material well, with realistic emotions and actions. Valerie’s development is strongly seen throughout the book and the overall topic is handled with care and respect. However, the ending just does not feel right with respect to what Valerie has learned, and the lack of resolution with some things and the excuse of Valerie’s dad’s behavior leaves a sour note on the otherwise good novel.

Coming Up Next: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Beginning of After: Another Blog Post, Another Average Book

The Beginning of After is written by Jennifer Castle. It was published in 2011 by HarperTeen. This is Castle’s first novel. Her website can be found here.

Genre: Tough Read, Realistic, Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

“Sixteen-year-old Laurel’s world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laurel navigates a new reality in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overwhelming memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel’s life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss—a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways.”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

“Laurel?” he asked.

I wanted to look up and smile, wipe away my tears, then wink at him for some damage control. But I couldn’t. I was just staring at his hand on my knee, and I was wailing.

“oh my God…,” said Joe, standing up. Backing away.

I put m face in my hands and let the top half of me fall toward the lounge chair, a violent crumple. Noises were coming out of me that I didn’t think I was capable of. Noises like I was being physically attacked, afraid for my life, a girl in an alley at midnight.

The pressure of my hands against my eyelids was making me see starbursts, yellow and red, but I was seeing David’s face too.

A freaking corsage. You’re an orphan.

~Castle 110

“Sometimes I play that night over in my head, with things going differently,” he said. It came out sounding distracted, dreamy.

I didn’t answer.

“You know, like, instead of going to Kevin’s to piss of my parents, I do the decent thing and go with them to Freezy’s. We would have had to go in two cars.”

He looked at me, and I tried to hide the shock on my face.

“It might have changed everything,” he said.

I thought of my Wondering Well. It had been Suzie’s suggestion. Every time I felt myself drowning in what-ifs, I wrote them down on a piece of paper, folded it up, threw it in an old mayonnaise jar, and screwed the lid back on tight. It was a way of getting them out, letting them go.

My Wondering Well was getting full, and I’d need to find another jar soon.

Swallowing hard, I finally said. “It might have. But it didn’t.”

~Castle 247-248

Cover Art

Warnings: Death

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Rating: 3/5

What I Liked:

Kudos to Castle for not going for the conventional romance here, or at least, the conventional writing of the romance. I actually enjoyed it, for the most part. Also, thank you, thank you, thank you, for Laurel’s “No” at a certain point. That was very refreshing to read. For once, sex wasn’t the central focus of the relationship.

Castle handled the topic really well, and Laurel’s emotions were dealt with nicely and realistically. I really liked the ending and the decisions that Laurel made about college and other things. It reflected her growth as a character and the things that she learned throughout the novel.

All in all, a pretty good book.

Good things aside, however, it was pretty average.

What I Didn’t Like:

It didn’t really stand out too much; nothing really blew me away. It was a good book, but an average one.

Overall Review:

The Beginning of After handles the emotions that are felt after a traumatic event really well, and Laurel’s growth is really nice to see. Her relationship to David is somewhat refreshing and handled slightly differently than normal, which I liked. It’s not too angsty, but it’s not flat, either. It is, however, more than a little average.

Coming Up Next: The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong

Freeze Frame: Intense Material, But Gripping And Wonderful In Its Own Way

Freeze Frame is written by Heidi Ayarbe. It was published in 2008 by HarperTeen. It is Ayarbe’s first novel. Ayarbe’s website can be found here.

Genre: Realistic, Tough Read, Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

“No matter how many times Kyle rewrites the scene, he can’t get it right. He tries it in the style of Hitchcock, Tarantino, Eastwood, all of his favorite directors—but regardless of the style, he can’t remember what happened that day in the shed. The day Jason died. And until he can, there is one question that keeps haunting Kyle: Did he kill his best friend on purpose?”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

Igor raised his left eyebrow. “Did you aim the gun at Jason?”

Did I? Did I point and aim and shoot and kill? I squeezed my eyes shut, only to see the red lens and a pool of blood.

“Can you tell us who taught you how to shoot a gun?” Gollum smiled. His lips stretched thin across yellowed teeth.

“I—I—I never—” I stuttered. “I don’t know.” I didn’t even know I had shot the gun.

~Ayarbe 35

“So, Mr. Caroll, I think our trial period went well. I’ll expect you here very day after school as well as at lunch. On time.”

Our trial period? Every day? On time? What about Chase?

“Uh, Mr. Cordoba. I can’t.”

“You can’t what, Mr. Caroll?”

“I, um, I can’t be on time.”

Mr. Cordoba arched his eyebrows and cracked his knuckles. “Because?”

Because I stand behind a Dumpster to watch out for my dead best friend’s brother. Too weird. I didn’t want to sound like a stalker. “I just need a half hour.”

~Ayarbe 183

Cover Art

Warnings: Death, attempted suicide, swearing

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 5/5

What I Liked:

This book just messes with your emotions. If you don’t cry at least once while reading it, then…well, you’re a lot tougher than I am. This book will tear your insides out and then jam them back into your body. Several times over. Sorry for that gross imagery.

I love Kyle’s developing relationship with Mr. Cordoba and how Mr. Cordoba helps him out, I like Kyle’s friendship with Kohana, I like the tension and the emotions that run high all throughout the book until the very end. Ayarbe did a fantastic job with this book. Wanted was written better, but this one tugs at your heartstrings more. Also, I loved, loved, loved the ending.

Oh! And Kyle being the Orange Dragon/bodyguard to Chase and Mike was great, too. This book was just great. It’s a very heavy, dark subject that it’s dealing with, but it’s handled really well. Things do get worse before they get better, but it ends on a hopeful/happy note.

What I Didn’t Like:

This is more of a warning than an actual dislike, but there is intense material dealt with in this book.

Overall Review:

Freeze Frame is still my favorite Ayarbe novel, despite the fact that the topic is extremely heavy. Ayarbe expresses Kyle’s emotions and thoughts really well through the text, and she also handles the material very realistically in regards to process, conflict, and all the rest. Don’t read it if you don’t like heavy content or don’t like crying while reading books.

Coming Up Next: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

LIE: It Tries, But It Lacks Enjoyment And Likeable Characters

LIE is written by Caroline Bock. It was published in 2011 by St. Martin’s Griffin. Bock’s website can be found here.

Genre: Tough Read, Realistic, Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

Everybody knows, nobody’s talking…Seventeen-year-old Skylar Thompson is being questioned by the police. Her boyfriend, Jimmy, stands accused of brutally assaulting two young El Salvadoran immigrants from a neighboring town, and she’s the prime witness. Skylar is keeping quiet about what she’s seen, but how long can she keep it up?

But Jimmy was her savior…When her mother died, he was the only person who made her feel safe, protected from the world. But when she begins to appreciate the enormity of what has happened, especially when Carlos Cortez, one of the victims, steps up to demand justice, she starts to have second thoughts about protecting Jimmy. Jimmy’s accomplice, Sean, is facing his own moral quandary. He’s out on bail and has been offered a plea in exchange for testifying against Jimmy.

The truth must be told…Sean must decide whether or not to turn on his friend in order to save himself. But most important, both he and Skylar need to figure out why they would follow someone like Jimmy in the first place.”

~Back Cover

Passages/Quotes:

“Everybody knows, nobody’s talking,” I repeat firmly. I must keep everyone on the same page. We must hang together. It was a terrible mistake, what happened. It was supposed to be all in fun. I don’t know what went wrong last Saturday night, none of us really do. But it can’t be entirely Jimmy and Sean’s fault. Jimmy can’t be guilty of—he’s not. Neither is Sean. They don’t deserve this. They’re my friends. That’s what I keep telling myself.”

~Bock 9

Sorry is a word to be pitied, that’s what my mother always said. Nobody truly knows the true meaning of that word, she said. Better to focus on hope, she said. I hated anyone who said they were sorry about my mother’s passing. Were they truly full of sorrow? Isn’t that what sorry means? You know, I’ve been asked to give another statement. It was hardly a request. Police Officer Healey said it should take thirty to sixty minutes. Lisa Marie says that her father thinks I should get a lawyer if I go. She says I don’t have to go, that I shouldn’t say, do anything else unless I’m subpoenaed, and even then I can still say that I don’t know anything about anything. It’s true. I mean, I don’t know anything anymore.

~Bock 114-115

Cover Art

Warnings: Violence, swearing, death (murder and suicide).

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 2/5

What I Liked:

There are some good messages in here about morality and doing the right thing. Bock also shows pretty well the effects of a father’s actions on his children. Jimmy acts the way he does because of the way his father acts and the way his father treats him.

The different points of view were interesting. Even more interesting is that we never got a viewpoint from Jimmy, so, alas, he remains somewhat of an enigma. Did he really love Skylar or not? What’s really going on in his head?

For a moment, I thought the ending would be different and I would have been so mad. But, luckily, Bock ended it the right way.

Double-meaning title: LIE, as in the characters are lying, and LIE, as in the L.I.E., the highway. Heh.

Now that I think about, naming a book after the initials of a road is…interesting.

What I Didn’t Like:

This book wasn’t too bad. It just wasn’t that great. I didn’t like the writing style and the characters were annoying and didn’t really develop at all, except for Skylar. It’s also just really not fun reading a book about people trying to pretend that they weren’t involved in a beating/murder. I didn’t enjoy it that much; hence, the low rating.

Overall Review:

LIE has some good messages and shows the struggle of the characters to come to terms with their actions/reasons (or lack of) well, but overall, it’s not an enjoyable book. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be so, but I can still enjoy a book if the content is a little tougher than usual, and this book did not have that enjoyment factor.

Coming Up Next: The Raft by S. A. Bodeen

Wanted: Ayarbe’s Best Novel By Far

Wanted is written by Heidi Ayarbe. It was published in 2012 by Balzer + Bray. Ayarbe’s website can be found here.

Genre: Tough Read, Realistic, Young Adult

Summary/Blurb:

“A one-word text message: That’s all Michael “Mike” Garcia needs to gather a crowd. Mike is a seventeen-year-old bookie, and Sanctuary is where she takes bets for anyone at Carson City High with enough cash. Her only rule: Never participate, never place a bet for herself.

Then Josh Ellison moves to town. He pushes Mike to live her life, to feel a rush of something—play the game, he urges, stop being a spectator.

So Mike breaks her one rule. She places a bet, feels the rush.

And loses.

In an act of desperation, she and Josh—who has a sordid past of his own—concoct a plan: The pair will steal from Carson City’s elite to pay back Mike’s debt. Then they’ll give the rest of their haul to those who need it most. How can burglary be wrong if they are making things right?”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

I believe him. Like by being with Josh I’m covered in lucky fairy dust. He splits a chocolate graham cracker in two, handing me the bigger half. “Living in the land of the exiles isn’t so bad after all, right?”

“Depends on who you’re talking about. I don’t think Napoleon was too into Elba or the Jews were particularly fond of Babylonia.”

“Nah. But our little Babylonia isn’t so bad.” He raises his eyebrows. “Right?” he says through a mouthful of graham-cracker crumbs.

I nibble on the chocolate cracker. “No. Not too bad.”

“That’s it,” Josh says. “Babylonia.”

“What about it?”

“That’s us,” he says. “Babylonia.”

“Babylonia,” I say. He’s right.

~Ayarbe 113

Back at home, Lillian and I eat our pot pies and salad. The games are over. I organize the bets, payoffs—a spreadsheet of wins and losses. Nim lost. Again.

I’ve done an extra-credit assignment for calculus and one for physics, and I was considering writing an essay on the Donner party for AP History. Somebody should rescue me from me.

Night falls. Messages have been sent—losers and winners notified.

Josh hasn’t called.

I listen to the wind outside my window and stare out the black square of night. It feels like normal again. Like how things were just a couple of weeks ago.

A life of predictability. That’s what I want, what I like. That’s what makes sense to me, how I’ve survived.

Others’ lives unfold. Great sideline view.

~Ayarbe 164

Cover Art

Warnings: Swearing, gambling, death, violence

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 5/5

What I Liked:

Personally, I think this is Ayarbe’s best novel. I enjoyed Freeze Frame more, but this is superior in character depth and development, writing, and everything else. This was a really, really good book. I didn’t even enjoy it that much, but it was still really good.

Ayarbe tackles some great issues in this book: identity and right vs. wrong are the two main ones that I noticed. She also portrays the addiction of gambling really well. Really, there are just fantastic things going on with this book. There’s the whole Robin Hood principle going on: stealing from the rich to give to the poor or to those who need it, but Michal constantly wonders if they’re doing the right thing when more and more people seem to be getting hurt by it. Ayarbe also brings up illegal immigration, which is a more controversial topic, but is handled decently well.

Almost every chapter ends with a six-word memoir, an on-going assignment for Michal’s Creative Writing class. If I ever become a Creative Writing teacher, I want to use this. It’s a great idea. It teaches someone to be concise, but also to have some sort of depth and meaningful content.

The ending was killer. In more ways than one. I don’t know whether I liked it or not. It was definitely impactful, and maybe even necessary and/or inevitable. It was…shocking. But also not shocking.

I applaud you, Heidi Ayarbe!

What I Didn’t Like:

Ayarbe tackled some great issues, like I said, but I’m not sure if I like the way she handled/resolved them. Actually, I’m not sure if she even resolved anything. She just left it up in the air.

Um, was there some sort of romantic vibe going on with Michal and Mocho, or was that just my imagination? The whole “I’ll marry you, Moch” and “Te quiero, hermana” made me wonder. Maybe I’m just imaging things and/or really bad at Spanish. Also, it’s not that I didn’t like this; I’m just wondering.

Overall Review:

Wanted is, in my opinion, Ayarbe’s best novel. While I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I thought there was great character development and important issues being addressed, and the ending was definitely something that you will remember because not a lot of authors end their books this way. Also: double meaning title for the win!

Coming Up Next: LIE by Caroline Bock