I’ve been in a Young Adult phase, but there are so many good books in this genre it’s hard to go back to staid Adult Lit. One of the better authors is Laurie Halse Anderson. She scores with Wintergirls, which is older, but excellent nonetheless. Lia and Cassie are best friends, competing to be thin. Lia is haunted by Cassie after she dies and wracked with guilt for not being there for her at the end. Although she is in “recovery,” Lia begins to backslide. Divorced parents don’t help. High expectations don’t either. Lia’s father is a professor and author; her mother a cardiac surgeon. Each is so busy, neither notices at first when Lia starts restricting food and cutting. This sounds like a depressing book about a subject that’s been well covered. It’s sad, but the writing is so immediate, it’s hard to put the book down. Lia is a real character who leaps off the page; one you root for to conquer her devastating illness.
This is a better than average addition to the pantheon of YA fantasy featuring young women with extraordinary ability. Born with the mark of those capable of wielding powerful magic, Elli is chosen by the Elders as the next Queen. Raised in luxury, a prophesy predicts she will be the most powerful ruler yet. But when the current queen dies defending the kingdom from invasion, Elli’s magic fails to manifest. Vilified, she flees, saved from certain death by a handsome outlander who possesses illegal magic of his own. It’s with his secretive people that she begins to question the known world and her role in it. This book captured my interest from page one despite too much unnecessary running around. I would also have preferred it to stand alone, and not be part of the ubiquitous three-novel trilogy, but it’s still a decent read. If you enjoyed Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas or Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, you’ll like this one, too.
I still remember the day Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris walked into Columbine High School in Colorado, killed twelve students, a teacher and wounded twenty-four others before committing suicide. It wasn’t the first such shooting, but it was the biggest at the time, ushering in a new era of fear for school aged children. Many of us wondered how such a tragedy could occur. Where were Dylan and Eric’s parents? In this book, Dylan’s mother, Sue, shares her grief and shame, and with unflinching honesty, describes the signs she might have missed. What’s truly alarming about her story, though, is that the Klebolds were a normal middle class family. There may have been subtle signs Dylan was in trouble, but no large red flags. The Klebolds could be any of us. And, until we remove all impediments to treating people for mental health, the scenario is bound to happen again and again. A frightening, yet fascinating, glimpse inside the life of a mass murderer in the making.
Okay, so maybe this isn’t one of the best books of all time, but it’s an enjoyable non-fiction read, an interesting glimpse into the life of an EMT/Paramedic. After 9/11, Kevin Hazzard feels something’s missing so he decides to train as an EMT, working his way into an ambulance position with Grady, a hospital serving the worst sections of Atlanta. Frightened at first, he quickly gains mastery and thrives on the adrenaline rush. He describes the calls: a car crash so devastating he finds his hand resting in someone’s brain; a heart attack victim who insists on walking to the ambulance and dies as a result; drug deaths and situations where he and his partner are in grave danger from dealers and unruly crowds; and domestic calls where responders are attacked by the women they are trying to help by arresting their abusers. Hazzard lasted a decade in an industry where months or a year or two is the norm. A very well written, fascinating look into an arena where any of us may suddenly be thrown.
This author is the queen of the dark, issue-driven YA novel. In this one, Melinda Sordino, high school freshman, is having the worst year imaginable. She called 911 at an end-of-the-year summer party, and is now a pariah in school. She has no friends, can’t respond to the boy who might like her, is frightened a good bit of the time, and clearly depressed. Added to her misery are neglectful parents with a lousy marriage. Although the story started slow for me, I thought about the book when I wasn’t reading-always a good sign-and it came to a satisfying conclusion. I wouldn’t have handled the situation as Melinda did, but people are different so the story line is plausible. Anderson’s book The Impossible Knife of Memory, about a girl whose father has frightening PTSD, is equally good. I look forward to reading more of this author’s back list. Speak was made into a movie starring Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame.
This author can write and has a Newbery Medal to prove it. She quickly draws us into this historical Middle Grade tale about feisty Joan Skaggs, 14, a girl whose mother has died leaving her with a father who believes in nothing but hard work. Joan must quit school, can’t attend church, and has no friends. When her father burns her beloved books, she runs away, ending up in Baltimore where she is fortunately found by Solomon Rosenbach, a good man from a wealthy Jewish family. Solomon’s mother agrees to hire her as a maid providing she can get along with their housekeeper, cranky old Malka. No stranger to hard work, Joan quickly makes herself indispensable. As she observes the family’s religious traditions, she’s prompted to attend mass herself, but finds the prejudice she encounters toward Jews confusing. Matters come to a head when the family’s charming, flirtatious son David appears and Joan falls in love. This book explores the differences between social classes and religions in 1911 through the eyes of a quirky yet lovable character who won’t be cowed. A thought-provoking read for all ages.
Major Ernest Pettigrew, 68, a despondent widower, lives in a rural English village. He has one son, Roger, who is self-important, indulged and thoughtless. The Major deplores the lack of manners in the modern age. Roger, who works as a London banker, is obsessed with success and shuns his father’s Britain. The story begins when the Major answers the door in shock having just heard of his brother’s death. He’s so upset he doesn’t realize he’s wearing his wife’s house coat. The woman at the door, Mrs. Ali, 58, a widow a of Pakistani origin, pretends not to notice and makes tea. They bond when she describes her nephew who has many traits like the Major’s son. A late-in-life romance blossoms between the two despite racial prejudice. People in the village call Mrs. Ali “that Pakistani woman” and act like she’s a foreigner even though she was born in England. In the end, the Major must decide between society, and the woman he loves. He must make his last stand.
Many of the Young Adult dystopian novels that came out after The Hunger Games were disappointing to say the least, but this book explores the theme of totalitarianism better than most. In outer space, two ships are on the way to populate a distant planet after Earth’s collapse, except onboard the New Horizon the women are all sterile. Desperate to procreate, the crew mount an attack on their sister ship, Empyrean, killing all the adults and kidnapping the female children. Held captive, fifteen-year-old Waverly wages careful resistance. Onboard the Empyrean, her captain-in-training boyfriend, Kieran, fights to get her back with nothing more than a crew of boys to man the ship. Can Kieran, who uses to religion to maintain strict control, fend off the brilliant Seth who is of a much more liberal mindset? Which boy will Waverly prefer if rescued? There’s a depth to this book not present in most YA novels. The author masterfully weaves in themes of religion, good versus evil, and reproductive rights, while still managing to provide a thrilling, technically proficient Sci-Fi adventure.
In 1936, boys from the University of Washington vied for gold in the eight-man crew in the Berlin Olympics. They had to beat the heavily favored Ivy League to represent the United States. Their efforts were impressive given German and Italian teams were government-sponsored. The boys, including the coxswain, came from lower middle class families, and struggled to earn their way through school during the Depression. This magnificently written non-fiction saga, chronicles their quest for glory, illustrates the importance of teamwork in rowing, and showcases the grueling sport of crew which is equal parts exhaustion and pain. Rowing was big news in the 1930s. Millions followed the sport on the radio. This team put Seattle on the international map. Also covered, are Hitler’s efforts to gloss over the inhumane treatment of Jews and other “undesirables,” and win public support for the Third Reich. Although lengthy descriptions sometimes slow the narrative, it’s worth the read as the book builds toward a breathtaking showdown in Nazi Germany.