Friday, February 27, 2015

A List of Things That Didn't Kill Me by Jason Schmidt

From inside jacket:

"Jason Schmidt wasn't surprised when he came home one day during his senior year of high school and found his father, Mark, crawling around on the kitchen floor in a giant pool of blood. Things like that had been happening a lot since Mark had been diagnosed with HIV three years earlier. From watching Mark get arrested in their living room when Jason was three years old to enduring a series of house fires, homelessness, and a bout of flesh-eating staph infection, Jason had figured out a long time ago that his home life wasn't like most other people's."


This book may not be for everybody, that being said I think this memoir is great. Jason seriously lives through some ordeals that you can't even fathom happening. This isn't a very PG rated book. There is swearing. There are situations that some parents may not want younger teens to read, but ironically many of those situations happened to Jason when he was even younger. 

This is a great read for teens that thinks their family is dysfunctional, have issues in their home life, or even feel lost.  Many of us have lived a sheltered life compared to Jason, but there are plenty of times while Jason is growing up that we can all relate to him. I think the major benefit of reading memoirs like Jason's is being able to step back from your own life. We are all egocentric but it's memoirs like these that we can appreciate people like Jason for their perseverance and honesty about their struggles in life, and ultimately reevaluate our own major problems in life and downgrade them to annoyances or, better yet, take them on with a new sense of tenacity.   

My only issue is that while Jason takes the majority of the 419 page book to tell us about his childhood and teen years, once he is on his own really struggling with his future, we only get the last page in the book tackling that. I would have liked to read about his struggle with adulthood and how he eventually came to peace with his dad (if he really did forgive him) and how much he has "settled down." 

my rating: A-



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

Jacket Art Copyright: The Heads of State

Inside jacket summary:
"Here's what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, Sam's best friend is dead. All he left Sam was a playlist and a note, saying that he took his own life. But what Sam doesn't know is: why? To figure out what happened, Sam must rely on the playlist and his own memory. But the more he listens, the more he realizes that his memory isn't as reliable as he thought."

Based off the jacket, you really expect the story to center around the significance of this playlist Hayden leaves Sam before committing suicide. Very disappointingly, it really doesn't. The chapter names are songs on the playlist and while they are mentioned briefly at the beginning of the chapter, there is no real significance to the playlist in the story. So while some very cool songs are picked, there is no real meaning there and seems to be just a selling point for the book. Lame. 

There is no answer to why Hayden killed himself, which I understand the author choice in not answering that for Sam or any of the other characters, because ultimately with suicide one can't really ever know for sure. That being said, the author never really explained why Hayden kept something a secret from Sam. We are told that Sam and Hayden are more like brothers. Despite Hayden's awful parents and brother, he is able to find escape by being at Sam's house where he liked it more. Nothing that Hayden was facing really gives you the sense that he lead the worst life, especially when he had Sam. 

That wasn't the worst offense by the author. In the end, the author throws in the character of Astrid, who is a "friend" of Hayden, unbeknownst to Sam. After Hayden's death, Sam's search for answers really then just turn into a romance with Astrid. Which ultimately doesn't work out because Sam finds something out about Astrid that he simply can forgive. There was just way too many things and characters that just didn't do anything for the story which a shame. The premise of learning about your best friend through a playlist is interesting and is why I picked up this book, but don't be fool.

my rating: C-


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Twisted Fate by Norah Olson

Sometimes I think that authors are trying too hard to be original and cutting-edge that they end up failing in the final product. This one of those books that "uniqueness" made the novel confusing and a general struggle to get through.

The book starts off with the revelation that something happens to Syd's sister, something she wished she'd been able to prevent and it all had to do with their next door neighbor Graham. Syd's fascinated by him because he's odd and she knows there's something off about him, whereas her sister Ally is falling in love with him. Graham, though, is odd. He's moved next door to these sisters because of something that happened in his last town, something that has caused him to lose his best friend and have a juvenile record. To deal with this, he has an interest in recording people - making a record of the world and selling these films online. When Syd learns the truth about these videos and the consequences of them, she knows she has to do something to protect her sister.

This novel is told through different narrators, a number of them foreshadowing that something awful happens to Ally. With the different narrators, my first observation was the contradiction of stories. It made me think about the saying how every story has three sides - his side, her side and the truth. I thought this book was just about finding the truth, but there was something else going on. The contradicting chapters, however, bordered on confusing. To be honest, I peeked at the end of the book and knowing the truth helped a little. It made the signs more obvious, but yet it also made other things more confusing - especially the final scene. With the revelation at the absolute end of the book, the sequence of events in the final scene make little sense. So if anyone could explain it to me, I'd greatly appreciate it. Aside from the twist and the creative storytelling, another thing that bothered me was the prevalence of drugs in this novel. Graham gladly talks about altering prescriptions and combining drugs. Syd is always smoking weed. While I understand this happens, in my eyes, there's no need to glorify it. It'd be one thing to say he did it or to say she was high, but the novel goes into details about what drugs to mix and what he's doing. I didn't feel as if it was necessary, but maybe I'm too much of an innocent to accept these things.

In the end, this novel was a struggle to get through for me. Since I found the storytelling confusing (sometimes it read like a novel, sometimes it felt like telling the events in a documentary), it was hard to get into this book. The story as a whole is interesting and intriguing, but I think it could have been told differently and would be more successful.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho

Al and Ollie have been friends since childhood.  Ollie's father is gone, Al's mother is gone.  They have both been quirky kids.  Now in high school things are changing.  Oliver has come down with a brain/sleeping disorder that sends him into sleep for several weeks at a time.  He partially awakens to do things like, eat, pee, embarrassing things, sexual things that he does not remember.  Althea has come to feel a deep romantic love for Oliver that he does not feel.  He goes into a medical study at a New York City hospital for his disorder.  She goes into a tail spin with him unavailable.  She dates around, she smokes, she does a little drinking, she punches out a classmate and gets expelled from school.  Desperately hoping for Ollie she lies to her father about where she is going and vanishes into New York City from North Carolina, hoping to see Ollie, hoping to get him to profess his love.  Instead, he is sleeping when she arrives, she ends up in a houseful of underemployed college drop outs, vegans, who feed the hungry in central park each day, who live very non traditionally, who help Althea see a different future, one with Ollie only as a friend, possibly having grown out of his disorder, possibly on medication to help him.  So, in the end the two once inseparable friends are growing up and growing apart.  Neither knows where the future will take them.  They are saddened and looking to the future.  The course of true love did not run smoothly in this quite interesting book.  I just have two comments,  there is a lot of "language" in this story.  I tend to weary of those words.  The writing style is quite different, switching from first, second, third person narrative frequently, took me a little getting used to.  Hope it doesn't turn off the teens its a good story.   JDW 2/18

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Getting through high school is difficult for a number of people - and I'm not talking academically. As much as school is about class, it's about fitting in, and when you don't, the struggles can seem insurmountable. This novel isn't as much about finding your place in high school, but about find out who you are.

Ever since the fourth grade, Elise has known that she was unpopular. At the start of sophomore year, she's determined to be popular and did everything she could think of to succeed. When she fails, she believes that suicide is the only option, but even that doesn't work out like she planned. Now she's just as unpopular and lost until she runs into a pair of girls who invite her to an underground dance club where Elise can get lost in the music. While there, Elise discovers a passion for DJing, some real friends, and a boyfriend. All of this, though, is still a secret, and her real life is exploding with the discovery of a fake diary in her name that points out how unpopular she is in school. Just when she thinks that things are finally going her way at the club, everything falls apart and she risks losing everything that had finally made sense to her.  Had she really discovered who she really was, or was this just another act to try and fit in?

Elise has a great voice throughout this book. From the very beginning, she's someone you can relate to as this girl desperate to be liked. I was a little bothered by how casually she treated suicide given how serious of a situation it is, but I guess it fit with her personality and the fact that she really didn't want to die. You really felt for this character and her struggle to be liked that you cheer when she gets accepted and crushed when it seems like she's been rejected again. You want her to find her niche and she does. This book is heavy with music references. The problem I had is that some of them are obscure - at least in the eyes of someone not into the music scene. If it was all popular songs, it could easily date the book, but I only knew a handful of the songs and that left me feeling like I was missing out on something. Does that detract from the telling of the story, not really. 

This book has a great message about finding out what makes you "you" and embracing it. You can't let other people tell you what's cool or not or be afraid of who you are. Elise finds this awesome talent which also makes her psuedo-popular. It almost makes me wish her talent and experience was a little bit more realistic for the average person to relate to and see how "easy" it can be to find yourself because I think the message of the book is so important. Not everyone is going to become DJ Elise, but everyone has the chance to love who they are. Definitely a book to read.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Wildlife by Fiona Wood

This is told in alternating chapters/voices of Sib and Lou.  They are doing their one semester in outdoor camp for school.  This means gardening, cooking, hiking and such things.  There are strict rules about boys and girls intermingling.  But they find ways.  Sib is cautiously interested and with her friend Holly to help has some first romantic experiences with Ben.  Holly's motives may not be in the best interest in her on again off again friendship with Sib. Sib has always been friends with nerdy, self assured Michael but does not realize the depth of his feelings for her.  Lou in camp just to get through after experiencing a tragic loss of her friend, slowly comes out of her shell, becomes friends with first Michael then Sib and understands all too well the personalities of the girls in her cabin and of Ben and his crowd and of Michael.  I think that Sib and Lou did too much analyzing of their own situations and personalities.  But, here is a cast of likeable characters growing and changing and maturing while not always doing what is right but coming out ok anyway.  And, I liked this story.  It is very real.  I liked the foreign (for me in the U.S.) setting with references to wallaby's and exotic trees and landscape.  This is decent realistic fiction, very unlike the last couple of books I read.