The Perfect Escape: A Review

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne ParkNate Jae-Woo Kim is a young entrepreneur with his eye on the prize. By which he means money. With college ahead, a much younger sister, and parents already stretched thin Nate’s main goal is to make lots of money so his family can stop struggling.

Which is why it’s so tempting when one of his entitled classmares offers Nate an obscene amount of money to help him cheat and manipulate the grading curve. The money on offer would be life changing. But so would the legal ramifications if Nate participates in this level of fraud.

Sometimes Kate Anderson feels like all she has is money. After her mother’s death Kate certainly doesn’t have her father’s attention. Or his support.

Which is why Kate’s new job at a zombie-themed escape room has to remain secret. Playing a zombie is exactly what Kate needs to stretch her makeup skills and keep a hand in when it comes to acting until she earns enough money to move out and try her luck in New York’s theater scene.

Surprisingly, a zombie-themed survivalist competition could help both Nate and Kate get exactly what they need. Together. Teaming up to win the zombie run would mean a big cash prize–even if it’s split. What neither of them counted on is the fact that secrets–and growing feelings–could be just as dangerous as zombies in¬†The Perfect Escape¬†(2020) by Suzanne Park.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Perfect Escape¬†alternates first person narration between Nate–who is Korean American–and Kate–who is white. The audiobook narrators–Raymond J. Lee and Kate Rudd–do an excellent job of bringing these characters to life.

Park’s background as a stand-up comedian is on full display in this laugh-out-loud funny story where all’s fair between love and zombies. Although Nate and Kate start with a lot of secrets between them their obvious chemistry comes across in banter filled dialog and their adventure filled trek through the zombie run.

Nate is a no-nonsense character very focused on his future (by which he still means money) and I knew he was my favorite as soon as he detailed his deep admiration of Scrooge McDuck (described by Nate: “Scrooge McDuck was rich, focused, and no-nonsense.”). Kate’s troubled home life and her own aspirations further flesh out this dynamic duo. Fast-paced action and a race that will test both wits and loyalty serve as the perfect backdrop for Nate and Kate’s blossoming relationship as both characters wonder if sticking together might be more important than sticking to their plans.

The Perfect Escape is a quirky, often hilarious story where getting what you want might mean incapacitating a few zombies along the way.

Possible Pairings:¬†This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry,¬†There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon,¬†The Knockout¬†by Sajni Patel,¬†Geek Girl¬†by Holly Smale, Love Decoded¬†by Jennifer Yen,¬†Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Week in Review: August 13: In which the blog turns fifteen

Blog Posts:

My Week:

This was quite a week. Bella has been part of the household for a whole year as of August 10–which feels like forever and no time at all. In other news, the blog turns fifteen today. I’ll have a more official post about it soon but for now I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has joined me along the way whether it’s been from the beginning or more recently. I’m grateful for each and every one of you and so glad to still be at it all these years later.

Lots of fun stuff happening on the blog lately including many, many author interviews in the works. Stay tuned!

Author Interview: Jeff Zentner on In the Wild Light

Jeff Zentner author photoJeff Zentner’s latest novel In the Wild Light is a quiet, meditative story about nature, poetry, love, and all of the things that can save us. I don‚Äôt have much in common with Cash, so it was a surprise when I identified so deeply with his story, his grief, and his dread of the next calamity. It’s hard to pick favorites in the “Zentner-verse” but I really love the journey Cash and Delaney take over the course of this novel, and I know I’m not the only one. Which is why I’m delighted to have Jeff back today to talk a bit more about¬†In the Wild Light.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for In the Wild Light? Did you always know this book would connect so closely to your previous novel Goodbye Days?

Jeff Zentner: Every time I go to write a book, I think about all the things I love and then I try to somehow write a story that weaves them all together. When I went to write In the Wild Light, I was in love with rivers, poetry, stories about boarding schools (“Dead Poets’ Society” and Looking for Alaska) and stories about geniuses and their best friends (“Good Will Hunting“). In the Wild Light contains all of that DNA. Did I know it would connect so closely to Goodbye Days? No. That’s part of the magic–finding out how my stories connect after I’ve already started them.

Miss Print: This book marks a big change in setting for you as Cash and Delaney travel to New England and far away from everything they know in East Tennessee. How did you go about bringing Middleford Academy to life? Did any real locations inspire the settings in the book?

Jeff Zentner: I did a lot of study of elite private schools like Phillips-Exeter Academy and the like. One of my author friends has a son who attended one of these elite schools on scholarship from Tennessee. He was a great resource to me. Ultimately, I decided I would have more control and creative liberty if I invented a school that’s a composite of several schools than if I used a real school.

Miss Print: One of my favorite things about¬†In the Wild Light is Cash’s journey to not just finding solace in poetry as he adjusts to his new surroundings but also how he finds inspiration to write poetry of his own. Did your own relationship with poetry help inform how you wrote Cash’s own feelings about it?

Jeff Zentner: Absolutely. Poetry has always been the final frontier of writing for me. The thing that scared me the most. I’ve written many song lyrics and then I’ve written several novels. But I’d never really written or publicly shared poetry. I’m wired to confront my fears and this was how I decided to confront my fears. It’s not a perfect way–I definitely hid behind Cash and borrowed his voice. But baby steps.

Miss Print: Working off the last question, what poems or poets would you recommend to readers interested in reading it for the first time? What poems would you recommend to Cash and Delaney?

Jeff Zentner: My favorite poet is a relatively unknown one: Joe Bolton. He has one book available, The Last Nostalgia, and I highly recommend it. Other favorite poets include Ocean Vuong, Marie Howe, Ada Limon, Jim Harrison, Jack Gilbert, T Crunk, Joanna Klink, and Kim Addonizio. I recommend the poems “The Name of Desire” by Joe Bolton, “Dead Stars” by Ada Limon, and “The Cinnamon Peeler” by Michael Ondaatje to Cash and Delaney.

Miss Print: Has living and working through the pandemic changed your writing process? How do you think Cash and Delaney would have managed the pandemic?

Jeff Zentner: I used to write on my phone on my bus commute to and from work. I wrote most of my four books that way. Now, though, I work remotely and I don’t have a bus commute, which means I have to find other times to write. But I do find the time somehow. I recently sold one manuscript and I’m getting ready to submit another to editors. So it’s working. I think Delaney would have spent the pandemic looking for a cure for COVID. Cash would have spent it writing poems. They would have done a lot of facetiming together.

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project?

Jeff Zentner: The manuscript I sold is a verse novel that I cowrote with an incredible YA author and poet friend. The one I’m submitting soon is an adult novel. I’m excited for y’all to read both!

Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can see more about Jeff and his books on his website.

You can also check out my review of In the Wild Light.

Finding Audrey: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Finding Audrey by Sophie KinsellaAudrey hasn’t left the house in mouths. How can she when she can’t even take off her dark glasses in the house? After everything that happened during her last brief moments in an actual high school, it’s all too much. Audrey doesn’t want to think about what the other girls did or the breakdown that came after. It’s hard enough to think about the anxiety she’s stuck with as a result.

Audrey knows it hasn’t been a picnic for her parents or her siblings either. She’s just not sure how to get from where she is–in her house, mostly alone, in dark glasses–to actually going out again.

Enter Linus, her brother’s friend and Audrey’s unlikely support as she tries to venture out into the world, or at least to Starbucks¬†in¬†Finding Audrey¬†(2015) by Sophie Kinsella.

Find it on Bookshop.

Finding Audrey¬†is Kinsella’s first YA novel. The audiobook is primarily narrated by Gemma Whelan but features full cast moments when Audrey is filming scenes of a documentary about her family as part of her therapy (which appear as film transcripts in print copies). All characters are assumed white.

This is a small story about big issues as Audrey tries to deal with the aftermath of intense bullying that led to a mental breakdown and ensuing mental health problems that primarily manifest as extreme anxiety. Nothing about this is sugarcoated and Audrey’s recovery (and pitfalls when she tries to stop her medication) feels earned through processing her trauma and work with her therapist.

Laugh out loud moments with her absurd parents and long suffering siblings add levity to what could have become an overly heavy and maudlin plot. The slice-of-lice nature of this story offers a brief glimpse into Audrey’s life as she learns how to cope with her anxiety and other challenging things like flirting with cute Linus.

Finding Audrey is an authentic story of recovery with genuinely funny moments throughout.

Possible Pairings: Off the Record by Camryn Garrett, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

A Disaster in Three Acts: A Review

A Disaster in Three Acts by Kelsey RodkeyEighteen-year-old Saine Sinclair prides herself on her ability to shape a narrative on film. Her eye for storytelling is why she knows her friendship with Holden Michaels has been over for some time now. As if him publicly rejecting her during a middle school game of spin-the-bottle wasn’t enough, Holden has also dated and broken up with Saine’s current best friend Corinne. In other words, both loyalty and pride dictate that Saine never speak to Holden again.

Which is what makes it so awkward when Saine needs Holden’s help to complete her documentary for a prestigious filmmaking program at Temple University after her original subject drops out. Her preliminary application has already been submitted and approved which means that Saine has to stick to her original topic–following a contestant through a series of live action gaming competitions to win a prototype virtual reality headset–which is where Holden comes in.

Following her ex-best-friend around to film everything he does while thinking she’s telling a familiar tale about a white boy getting what he wants is hard. Doing that while worrying if her current best friend is jealous is even harder.

Saine’s fixation on the success of her film makes it easy to put her growing feelings for Holden and crumbling relationships on hold while she tries to figure out how to shape real life to make sure her documentary wins a spot at Temple by inventing financial problems as motivation and even resorting to sabotage. As her lies and manipulations grow, Saine faces a reality check when she realizes that sometimes narrative growth hurts–especially when it comes to facing the consequences her actions in¬†A Disaster in Three Acts¬†(2022) by Kelsey Rodkey.

Find it on Bookshop.

Saine and Holden, like most main characters, are white with some secondary characters cued as BIPOC based on names/skin tones including Saine’s other best friend Kelsey and Holden’s best friend Taj. The cast also includes characters across the LGBTQ+ spectrum and a cute side plot romance between two girls in Saine’s friend group. Saine is self-described as fat and she and her mother are lower income both of which play into the plot.

While¬†A Disaster in Three Acts¬†has a well-rounded and nuanced cast of supporting characters, Saine remains deeply flawed throughout the story. Her fixation on the documentary seems to be excused by her grief over her grandmother’s sudden death and the confusing process of moving on alongside her divorced mother as they process the loss and try to move on. Unfortunately that’s a poor excuse for Saine’s choices to make up numerous plots for her documentary (notably manipulating footage and interviews to imply that Holden’s family is struggling financially and that he wants to win the competition to sell the prize), interview subjects without their consent while pretending her camera is turned off, and even outright sabotage when Holden needs her help during a competition.

As the story progresses Saine does have to contend with the consequences of her manipulative, self-centered behavior and her multiple lies to all of her friends. Unfortunately her contrition–even at the end of the book–seems to stem more from being caught behaving badly than from her actual bad behavior.

Saine spends a lot of the documentary lamenting that if Holden wins the competition his success in her documentary will not feel “earned” because he’s just another white boy succeeding. The irony of this is that, by the end of the novel, Saine’s own redemption arc feels similarly unearned and–compared to her egregious behavior–unjustified.

A Disaster in Three Acts is a fast paced story that is often humorous albeit with a main character whose singular focus often works against her character development.

Possible Pairings:¬†A Show For Two by Tashie Bhuiyan,¬†Lucky Caller¬†by Emma Mills, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, Field Notes on Love¬†by Jennifer E. Smith,¬†It’s Not Like It’s a Secret¬†by Misa Sugiura

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

Week in Review: August 6

Blog Posts:

My Week:

This week felt like it was a year long, but we all made it through. Last week I mentioned that I was moderating another panel–that happened on Thursday and went really well. You can check out the SLJTeen Live! landing page for full details and, if you missed it, you can still register to access all of the event recordings for the next three months.

Vespertine: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sometimes, if you want to save other people, you need to remember to save yourself first.”

Vespertine by Margaret RogersonThe dead of Loraille do not rest. Luckily, the dead do not bother Artemesia. Very little does in the convent where she trains to become a Gray Sister. Positions of more prestige wait in the city for those with a knack for manipulating the demonic spirits bound to Loraille’s holy relics but Artemesia has never craved status. She has the scarred hands to prove that she has had more than enough of demons after the dark years of her childhood. Instead Artemesia is content to tending to the dead so that their spirits will not return to torment the living.

Artemesia’s quiet life is changed forever when an army of the dead invade, forcing her to bind herself to a demonic spirit to protect the convent from attack.

Now Artemesia’s very self is tied to a revenant–a malevolent spirit bound to a high relic no one left alive knows how to control. If Artemesia can harness the revenant’s power like the vespertine saints of old it could help her turn the tides of an incursion threatening all of Loraille. If she fails, the revenant will possess Artemesia and add to the chaos pushing into the country from all sides.

Isolated and trapped within its relic for centuries on end, the revenant is willing to work with Artemesia if it means a chance to move freely. But bonding with the revenant means challenging everything Artemesia has ever learned about the demons, their relics, and the legendary saints who first bound them. With dangerous dark magic creeping ever closer, one surly nun and a petulant demon will be the only things standing between Loraille and utter ruin in Vespertine (2021) by Margaret Rogerson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Vespertine is the first book in a projected duology. Artemesia is white; other characters she meets throughout Loraille are described with a variety of skin tones. Fans of audiobooks will appreciate the excellent audio production narrated by Caitlin Davies.

High action and drama contrast well with the mystery surrounding both Artemesia and the revenant’s pasts particularly as Artemesia unpacks her trauma from a childhood demonic possession and the long-lasting impact it has had on her life since.

Rogerson explores feminism through a long history of female warriors and authority figures in Loraille as well as themes of community as Artemisia learns to trust her own power‚Äďand newfound celebrity‚Äďwhen Loraille embraces her as a saintly warrior. Artemisia‚Äôs role in her convent and her complex relationship with the revenant also work to present and expand themes of equality while Artemisia interrogates her country‚Äôs history of harnessing demons bound to holy relics. Humor and friendship add levity to this story as Artemisia learns the necessity of self-care with reluctant help from both the revenant and fellow novitiate Marguerite.

Vespertine is a richly developed fantasy infused with action and mystery as Artemesia slowly begins to find a place for herself with the revenant, in her newfound support system, and in Loraille itself.

Possible Pairings: Lore by Alexandra Bracken, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalo, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal, Sherwood by Meagan Spooner, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne: A Review

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan StroudScarlett McCain has been a formidable criminal for years; her reputation as a notorious outlaw growing with every bank robbery.

Far beyond the safety of the city walls after a particularly daring escape, Scarlett finds an abandoned bus. Typically this could mean danger or access to supplies which are always scarce. Or it could mean both.

The bus holds more than Scarlett bargained for when she finds herself stuck with the hapless, lone survivor of the crash. Albert Browne projects harmless naivete with every word out of his annoying mouth. Scarlett is fairly certain she could break him in half without much effort. And she is sorely tempted.

When Scarlett reluctantly agrees to escort Albert across the wilds of England to a rumored safe haven it changes the trajectory of both their lives forever.

Not necessarily for the better.

Even Scarlett is surprised by the dogged pursuit once she and Albert begin traveling together evading the law, trackers, and worse. Scarlett is no stranger to being on the run. But she isn’t sure what it means for herself or her strange new companion when it seems their pursuers aren’t chasing her at all in¬†The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne¬†(2021) by Jonathan Stroud.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne¬†is the first book in Stroud’s latest YA series. Scarlett and Albert are white, there is some diversity (as indicated by names and described skintones) among the secondary cast. The story alternates close third person perspective following Scarlett and Albert with a gripping audiobook narrated by Sophie Aldred.

Fans of Stroud’s previous novels, particularly his Lockwood & Co. series, will appreciate the same snark and reluctant bonding between these ragtag protagonists. The action-filled narrative contrasts well with both Scarlett and Albert keeping their pasts close as they learn to trust each other and slowly reveal their secrets.

With a focus on the main characters and their adventures some of the world building feels more like broad strokes than concrete details as Stroud paints a bleak future with England fragmented from societal instability and implied damage from climate change. New world orders and dangerous creatures roaming the wilds add further tension to this fast-paced story and leave plenty of room for expansion in later installments.

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne is a compelling origin story for two outlaws with hearts of gold and hopefully many more stories to tell.

Possible Pairings: Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, Dustborn by Erin Bowman, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Flood City by Daniel Jose Older, The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah, Ice Breaker by Lian Tanner, Blood Red Road by Moira Young

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

July 2022 Reading Recap

Miss Print's Reading Recap

Planned to Read:

  • The Stars Between Us by Cristin Terrill
  • Worlds of Exile and Illusion by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win by Susan Azim Boyer
  • Three Kisses, One Midnight by Roshani Chokshi, Evelyn Skye and Sandhya Menon
  • This Golden State by Marit Weisenberg
  • Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot
  • Edgewood by Kristen Ciccarelli
  • This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede
  • The Lies We Tell by Katie Zhao
  • Wild is the Witch by Rachel Griffin

Read:

  1. The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
  2. This Golden State by Marit Weisenberg
  3. A Disaster in Three Acts by Kelsey Rodkey
  4. The Bronzed Beasts by Roshani Chokshi
  5. Shine Your Icy Crown by Amanda Lovelace
  6. Unlock Your Storybook Heart by Amanda Lovelace
  7. A Disaster in Three Acts by Kelsey Rodkey
  8. The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh
  9. Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
  10. What the Fireflies Knew by Kai Harris
  11. Dream Annie Dream by Waka T. Brown
  12. Side Effects by Ted Anderson and Tara O’Connor
  13. Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz
  14. Ready When You Are by Gary Lonesborough
  15. Remind Me to Hate You Later by Lizzy Mason
  16. We Are All So Good at Smiling by Amber McBride
  17. Until We Break by Matthew Dawkins
  18. This Place is Still Beautiful by XiXi Tian
  19. Across a Field of Starlight by Blue Delliquanti
  20. The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones
  21. Miss Quinces by Kat Fajardo
  22. Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith
  23. PAWS: Gabby Gets It Together by Nathan Fairbairn, Michele Assarasakorn

You can also see what I read last month.

Week in Review: July 30

Blog Posts:

My Week:

Continuing to tweak things on here with blog design and functionality. I’m feeling good about where things are right now. Be sure to check out my panel announcement for details on where to find me at SLJTeen Live! next week.