Six Impossible Things: A Review

1. Kiss Estelle.
2. Get a job.
3. Cheer my mother up.
4. Try not to be a complete nerd/loser.
5. Talk to my father when he calls.
6. Figure out how to be good.

Six Impossible Things by Fiona WoodFourteen-year-old Dan Cereill (pronounced “surreal”) is reeling from moving and changing schools when the family’s fortune, such as it was, is completely gone. On top of that Dan’s father has announced that he is gay leaving Dan to wonder if his father ever wanted to be a father.

Inheriting a house should be a godsend. And in some ways it is because Dan and his mother have nowhere else to go. But the house is old, drafty, and filled with strange museum-quality possessions that cannot be sold for some much-needed cash. His mother sets up a wedding cake business in the kitchen but that seems to repel more clients than it retains.

Dan has enough problems without an impossible crush on the girl next door. But he knows he’s a goner for Estelle from the moment he sees her–especially once he realizes how much they have in common (although he doesn’t want to talk about exactly how he knows that).

Dan narrows all of his problems to six impossible things–with a penchant for making lists and following through, Dan is optimistic about fixing at least some of them in Six Impossible Things (2015) by Fiona Wood.

Find it on Bookshop.

Six Impossible Things is Wood’s first novel. It is a companion set in the same world as  Wildlife and Cloudwish although it does function as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles.

There is something very soothing about Fiona Wood’s writing. Her blend of humor and pathos as Dan struggles with the changes in his life make a winning combination. Dan’s narration is authentic and understandably sardonic as he adjusts and tries to make sense of his new home, new school, and new life.

Dan’s relationship with his mom is refreshingly two-sided as they both try to pull themselves together. Their challenges are realistic while also still feeling manageable in a narrative that is overwhelmingly hopeful.

Dan starts Six Impossible Things with no one. His support system is fractured and his everyday life is unrecognizable. Over the course of a rocky few months in a new house and a new school, readers watch Dan rebuild and regroup only to come out stronger than before. The slowly developing friendships with Estelle and other characters are wonderful additions to this charming story. No one captures whimsy and moments of everyday magic quite like Wood. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi; Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo; Boys Don’t Knit by T. S. Easton; I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo; Tweet Cute by Emma Lord; When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon; I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson; Kissing in America by Margo Rabb; 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario; The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider; The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle; Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes; Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner; Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Words in Deep Blue: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“And if there is no hope of saving the thing we love in their original form, we must save them however we can.”

“Sometimes, the end begins.”

Rachel Sweetie lays her heart bear when she writes Henry Jones a love letter and leaves it in his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. It is the ultimate grand gesture before she moves away with her family.

Henry never acknowledges it.

Years later Rachel is moving back to the city and, unbelievably, picking up a job at Howling Books. But nothing is the same as when she left because her brother Cal drowned months ago. She knows she isn’t the girl she was before–failing Year 12 and abandoning her dream of becoming a marine biologist prove that well enough. But she isn’t sure how she can be anything else when her brother is gone.

All Henry knows is that his best friend is back and, he hopes, willing to pick up their friendship where they left off. Henry could use a friend right now. He is perfectly content working in the family bookshop, hunting for secondhand books to buy and living upstairs with his father and his younger sister George. Henry’s comfortable world is shattered when his girlfriend dumps him and his parents start arguing about selling the bookshop. With everything changing, Henry’s perfect if unambitious future is threatened.

Howling Books is filled with memories in used books, love letters, and messages exchanged through the shop’s Letter Library. As she rediscovers the bookstore and the boy she left behind, Rachel realizes that is is possible to breathe and keep going even when everything feels broken. She and Henry both begin to understand that second chances can be as beautiful as new beginnings in Words in Deep Blue (2017) by Cath Crowley.

Find it on Bookshop.

Crowley explores familiar themes of grief and reclaiming what was lost. Words in Deep Blue alternates between Rachel and Henry’s first person narrations. The lighthearted banter and romance of this story belie the deep melancholy and sadness that has settled over Rachel like a shroud after her brother’s death. Rachel’s pragmatic and introspective tone contrasts well with Henry’s more boisterous narration filled with references to books and poetry.

Rachel and Henry’s fragile relationship mends itself in front of the backdrop of the bookstore and its own uncertain fate. As Rachel works to catalog the notes and memories in the shop’s Letter Library other stories unfold and reveal secrets about longtime customers, Henry’s sister George, and even Rachel’s brother. These threads come together by the end of Words in Deep Blue in a neat but ultimately bittersweet conclusion as Rachel and Henry realize that some losses cannot be avoided.

The scope of the plot leaves little room in this slim novel for fully realized characters but the sketches readers do receive are more than enough to make this story crackle with potential. The evocative setting, particularly the world within Howling Books, adds another dimension to this story. Words in Deep Blue is a thoughtful story about healing and reunions as well as memory and salvaging that which is lost–whether it’s a beloved person or a cherished place. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett, What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Flannery by Lisa Moore, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

Cloudwish: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Cloudwish by Fiona WoodVân Uoc is used to walking a tightrope between her Vietnamese immigrant parents’ expectations for her to become a financially secure doctor and her own dreams of becoming an artist.

During a creative writing class Vân Uoc could have wished for less schoolwork as she works to maintain her scholarship to her fancy private school. She could have wished for her parents to talk more about the PTSD her mother has struggled with since they emigrated from Vietnam. But she doesn’t. Instead Vân Uoc wishes for Billy Gardiner to find her fascinating and like her more than any other girls.

When Vân Uoc‘s wish impossibly (magically?) comes trues, she doesn’t know what to think. She isn’t used to finding magic in her world and she isn’t sure if she should ignore it or embrace this strange bit of wonder while it lasts.

As Vân Uoc and Billy get to know each other, Vân Uoc realizes there’s more to her longtime crush than she expected. As she confronts the possibility that her wish came true (or even stranger that it didn’t), Vân Uoc realizes that there might be more to her than everyone expects too in Cloudwish (2016) by Fiona Wood.

Cloudwish is Wood’s third novel. It is a companion set in the same world as Six Impossible Things and Wildlife although it functions as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles.

Before discussing anything else about Cloudwish it’s important to note that Fiona Wood is a white Australian author writing about a Vietnamese-Australian heroine. Wood has clearly done her research and had Vietnamese readers look at her novel, but as some reviews (notably Kirkus) have pointed out, some of the cultural elements in this novel do not ring true. I can’t speak to any of that and, for me, it did not detract from the books merits. But it’s worth keeping in mind while reading.

Like many children of immigrant parents, Vân Uoc faces added responsibility at home where she acts as interpreter and caregiver making sure her mother takes the medication she has been prescribed for her PTSD.

Vân Uoc‘s parents have struggled and saved to make sure that Vân Uoc has advantages that were never a possibility for them in Vietnam. They don’t talk about their struggles or their harrowing flight from Vietnam because it’s the past and things are better now. They’ve survived. Compared to their struggles, Vân Uoc‘s own difficulties with mean girls at school and her relatively low social status seem trivial.

When Vân Uoc inexplicably attracts Billy Gardiner’s attention, she doesn’t know what to think. Her school friends worry that Billy is going to hurt her when he inevitably loses interest. She and her best friend Jess wonder if Vân Uoc could possibly be the subject of a long-term joke Billy is planning. But Vân Uoc has no experience with boys and Jess is a self-prescribed “lesbian-in-waiting” so neither of them are sure.

As Billy starts following her around, Vân Uoc wonders if her crush was misplaced. Billy is certainly attractive and funny. But he also has a habit of making mean-spirited jokes and a complete lack of awareness when it comes to his own privilege–something Vân Uoc has no problem pointing out to him.

While contemplating the possibility of her wish being granted and of Billy genuinely liking her, Vân Uoc also begins to reassess her life choices in other areas with an eye toward her literary idol, Jane Eyre. As Vân Uoc embraces Billy’s attentions and her own dreams for a larger life beyond studying and waiting for college.

Cloudwish is a thoughtful and meditative novel that contemplates both the everyday and the place (and possibility) of magic in the real world. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb, Birthday by Meredith Russo, As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Odd One Out by Nic Stone, Frankly in Love by David Yoon, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Love and Other Perishable Items: A Review

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura BuzoAmelia is fifteen and chafing under her stunning lack of control over her own life. She is also painfully and completely in love with Chris who works checkout with her at the local supermarket.

Chris is twenty-one.

Amelia is a smart girl and she knows that Chris is a smart guy. She knows that Chris talking to her about literature doesn’t mean much beyond the fact that no one else working at the Land of Dreams actually reads. She knows that being his confidant about his studies at university or even his partner for witty banter does not magically mean she’ll ever be his girlfriend.

But somehow when Amelia is with Chris, anything seems possible. Especially when, as time passes, it starts to feel like maybe Amelia isn’t the only one feeling the effects of this crush.

In a year filled with a lot of change and a lot of new things for both Amelia and Chris, this improbable pair will learn that friendships–and sometimes even more confusing feelings–can blossom anywhere in Love and Other Perishable Items (2012) by Laura Buzo.

Love and Other Perishable Items is Buzo’s first novel (published in 2010 in Australia before making its way to the US in 2012). It was a finalist for the Morris Award for YA Debut Fiction in 2013.

Love and Other Perishable Items is an incredibly smart book with not one but two introspective narrators who are as approachable as they are authentic.

Amelia is sharp and clever as well as utterly endearing. The first part of the novel, called “Spheres of No Influence,” aptly highlights the breadth of her world as well as its limitations in a way that makes sense within the context of the plot as well as for an actual teenaged girl.

Spending so much of this novel seeing Chris through Amelia’s rose-colored glasses, it’s hard to view him as anything but perfect. In the frame of Amelia’s adoring descriptions, who wouldn’t fall in love with Chris just a little? Buzo brings Chris into sharper focus by presenting parts of the story through his journal entries. Chris is broken. He is lonely. He hurts. He is, like many young adults, lost and trying to find his way to adulthood in whatever form that may take.

The incredible thing here is how well Amelia and Chris’s stories come together. Their frustrations and hopes, on many levels, mirror each other as both characters struggle to figure out who they want to be and how to get to that version of themselves.

Love and Other Perishable Items is a melancholy, buoyant novel about looking for love and finding oneself with equal parts letting go and holding on. Nothing in this book is especially neat or clearly defined, but neither is real life. In many ways this story is only the beginning, for both Amelia and Chris, as readers are left to imagine what other marvelous things life has to offer these two well-realized protagonists. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner

The Midnight Dress: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

themidnightdressRose Lovell doesn’t expect much from the small seaside town of Leonora. Then again, the town doesn’t expect much from her either. Rose has seen towns like this before. She’ll likely see even more when her father’s wanderlust kicks in and they drive off in their caravan again.

In all the towns, in all the schools, Rose has never seen anyone quite like Pearl Kelly. Pearl who thinks everyone is nice. Pearl who writes in highlighter and dreams of Russia. Vivacious, popular Pearl who organizes the high school float for the annual Harvest Festival Parade.

Rose never could have guessed in those first moments that she and Pearl would become friends. She couldn’t have known that Pearl would convince Rose–a lonely hailstorm next to Pearl’s sunshine–to make a dress for the Harvest Parade.

Edie Baker, the supposed town witch, is known for her dressmaking as much as her strange, ramshackle house. Together she and Rose piece together a dress of midnight blue and magic as Edie reveals pieces of her own past to Rose while they bend over the stitches together.

By the time the parade draws near they will have created an unforgettable dress. A dress of mystery and beauty, but also one that will become woven into the fabric of a tragedy that will forever mark the town of Leonora and leave both girls changed in The Midnight Dress (2013) by Karen Foxlee.

The Midnight Dress is a haunting blend of mystery and beauty as the events leading to the Harvest Festival and the aftermath of that night unfold simultaneously. Foxlee expertly knits the two stories together in chapters titled for different stitches.

Lyrical dialogue and poetic descriptions lend a timeless air to this story of an unforgettable friendship between two girls who are lonely and yearning for very different things in a small Australian town in 1987.* Moments from the near and distant past blend seamlessly as Edie’s own story is revealed over the sewing of the dress.

There is something half-wild about the characters in The Midnight Dress. That same sense of dangerous allure and an underlying dignity comes through in Foxlee’s writing as she describes the sometimes brutal town politics and the wonders found in the rain forest bordering the town.

The Midnight Dress is a beautiful story of the many forms love can take and the enduring power of positive thoughts. But at the same time it examines unspeakable loss and the fact that tragedies never leave people unmarred–actions, however small or well-meant, have consequences. It’s hard to call this book a happy one, or even an optimistic one. Many of the characters here are broken; many of them will remain that way for a very long while. At the same time, however, this story offers moments of beauty with deceptively ornate and electric writing.

Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year and highly recommended. Just make sure you have a happy book lined up for right after.

*The time period doesn’t matter ostensibly because this book is largely timeless. I just felt very clever for figuring out the year and wanted to share it.

Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Moonglass by Jessi Kirby, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Teach Me by R. A. Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Tamar by Mal Peet, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Graffiti Moon: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Graffiti Moon by Cath CrowleyLucy has been chasing Shadow for years. An elusive graffiti artist, he’s left his mark all across the city and all across Lucy’s life. She knows Shadow is someone she could fall for. Hard. She knows, finally, she is close to finding him.

At the end of Senior Year Lucy’s friends Jazz and Daisy want an adventure. Lucy doesn’t. She wants to find Shadow and tell him how she feels. She doesn’t want to spend the night with Ed–not after she has finally escaped the gossip and rumors surrounding their first and last disastrous date two years ago.

But when the adventure Jazz wants turns into what Lucy wants, she knows she has to go along. Even if Ed is the person who might finally bring her to Shadow.

Ed thought his life was finally coming together after he left school. Instead it’s all falling apart. No job. No girl. And definitely no prospects. Haunted by all of the places he isn’t going, Ed leaves his mark across the city walls as Shadow saying with pictures what no one seems to hear in his words. Doesn’t matter anyway. His best friend Leo is the perfect Poet to his Shadow.

Too bad Leo is better with words than with life choices. Instead of a night spent working on another wall, Ed is drawn into Leo’s horrible plan to hang out with girls from school before making yet another terrible decision that could get them both in big trouble.

The prospect of spending a night with the girl who broke his nose is bad enough. When Leo offers to help that girl find Shadow and Poet, he knows it’s going to be trouble. But he goes along anyway.

As Ed walks Lucy through Shadow’s art, the night that promised to be a disaster turns into something else. In a city filled with missed connections and opportunity, Ed and Lucy are right where they’re supposed to be in Graffiti Moon (2012) by Cath Crowley.

Find it on Bookshop.

Set over the course of one night, Crowley takes readers on a journey through Shadow’s art and also through each character’s background. At 257 pages, Graffiti Moon is a deceptively short book. Its length belies the broad range of things Crowley packs into this one marvelous novel.

Crowley uses a dual narrative structure to great effect here (as she did previously in A Little Wanting Song). Chapters alternate between Lucy and Ed’s narrations. Poets from Leo are also scattered throughout. With voices all their own, Lucy and Ed’s narratives sometimes overlap to show both of their interpretations of events and each other.

Filled with art, poetry, and humor Graffiti Moon is an evocative story filled with beautiful writing and characters that are achingly real. Immediately inspiring and refreshingly hopeful, Graffiti Moon is completely engrossing and a brilliant reminder that everyone has time to become exactly who they’re meant to be.

Possible Pairings: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, When It Happens by Susane Colasanti, Paper Towns by John Green, Before I Die by Jenny Downham, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Damaged by Amy Reed, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Exclusive Bonus Content: In addition to loving this book, I loved all of the art it mentions and I loved hunting it down to see what all of the characters were really talking about. If you don’t feel like doing that, you can find what I believe is a comprehensive list of all of the art mentioned below. Click “more” to see it in no particular order. Continue reading Graffiti Moon: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Piper’s Son: A(n excited!) Review

The Piper's Son by Melina MarchettaThomas Finch Mackee is many things to many people. Musician, friend, and most recently complete jerk.

Five years ago his world seemed certain. He was friends with the girls from school. He wanted to be something more to Tara Finke. He would follow his charming father anywhere–most people would, Dom has always been a pied piper. That was before London.

That was before his family had to bury another empty coffin, this time for Tom’s uncle lost in the London bombing.

After London nothing is quite so sure. Tom’s father is gone. His mother and sister are in another city. He’s lost touch with his friends. Tom’s life is falling apart.

When Tom moves in with his pregnant aunt and finds a job working with the friends he abandoned he might also find a way back to himself. Everything is broken. But with a little time, and a lot of forgiveness, some of it can probably be fixed in The Piper’s Son (2011) by Melina Marchetta.

Find it on Bookshop.

What a beautiful book. I’ve cried because books are funny, because they are sad, but this is the first time I ever felt teary at the end of the book because everything is so perfect and so beautiful.

The Piper’s Son is Marchetta’s fifth book. It is also a sequel to Saving Francesca–a book that has a permanent place in my top five all time favorite books. Interestingly you can see hints of Marchetta’s earlier works in this novel. You can see nods to Jellicoe Road in the snappy beginning*, Finnikin of the Rock in the things not overtly said, and of course nods to Saving Francesca (and even Looking for Alibrandi in terms of family dynamics). Much as I love Marchetta’s earlier books, especially Saving Francesca, this one might surpass them all.

Set five years after Saving Francesca this is an interesting book that is being marketed as Young Adult but where all of the characters are, technically, adults (Tom and his group are in their early twenties). The story also alternates between Tom’s view and his aunt Georgie who is 42 and pregnant. The alternating voices work to flesh out the story and make sense of Tom’s complex family. Their stories in tandem also work to highlight how much both characters change from the beginning of The Piper’s Son to the end.

Although The Piper’s Son is a sequel you can almost read it before Saving Francesca** because Marchetta has so masterfully built in Tom and his friends’ backstories into Tom’s story has readers learn what happened between the two novels. Everyone reader’s loved from Saving Francesca (Francesca and the girls and even Will Trombal) returns in this novel along with a lot of great new characters (Ned, Anabel). This book truly made me love Francesca and her group even more than I did before.

As always Marchetta has left me completely floored and truly enchanted. The Piper’s Son is a wonderful story that is both optimistic and utterly enthralling.

*And in a certain violin player named Ben! Thanks to the inimitable Karyn Silverman for pointing out Ben’s cameo to me!

**Don’t do this because part of the charm of Saving Francesca is meeting these characters for the first time. But if you feel you must ignore my advice, know that you could.

Possible Pairings: A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Reuinted by Hilary Weisman Graham, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner

Exclusive Bonus Content: I also want to say that I love the cover which is very different from the covers found on Saving Francesca but also in a way very Tom. It also ties in well with the scenes of the prologue. I also wanted to mention that Tom’s email is “anabelsbrother” and Anabel’s email is “tomssister” and it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in a novel. I’m glad I’m an only child because I’d be crushed if I had a sibling and they didn’t want to do that kind of email with me.

Will: A Review

Will by Maria BoydIn retrospect, mooning the Lakeside Girls’ bus was probably not the smartest thing to do.

But, at the time, seventeen-year-old Will Armstrong thought it was a brilliant idea. So did all of his mates.

Unfortunately the principal was not as impressed.

To make up for (once again) sullying the reputation of St. Andrew’s College, Will is sentenced to two months hard labor as a man of all work . . .

For the high school musical.

Will can play guitar fine, so it isn’t the music that’s the problem. It’s more the giving up all of his free time, hanging out with a bunch of geeks and generally being a laughing stock for being involved in a dumb musical production.

As if that isn’t bad enough, the trombone player from Year 7 seems to be permanently attached to his hip declaring Will his best friend, the male lead is annoyingly perfect, and the leading lady makes Will go soft in the head. It’s hard enough navigating high school as it is, Will has no idea how he’s supposed to negotiate all this extra musical nonsense in Will (2010*) by Maria Boyd.

First things first: Will joins the ranks of Australian books brought to the US by wise publishers. Unfortunately in this case, that means a lot of this book felt like reading a foreign language. A lot of the school culture is a wash in understanding. The grades for students seem to be different. The kids seem to play soccer and football–which I thought were the same things everywhere but in the US? And the  slang is often unknowable.** In other words, a lot of the nuances of this story were very likely lost on me.

Adding to the jarring nature was the book’s style (at least in the advanced reader’s copy I read): Instead of conventional dialog with quotation marks, the story features dialogue in bold. This approach gives a fast and loose feel to conversations, but it also makes it a bit hard to follow who is speaking. It was also, for me, just a bit . . . off putting.

Confusion aside, Will is an interesting slice-of-life book about the culture of an Australian boys school (I’d imagine) and also about putting together a musical (I’d imagine). But Boyd’s book is also a bit more than that as she explores Will’s relationship with his mother and his complicated feelings about his father. Will is a funny and compelling story about Will going, almost literally, from zero to hero in his own eyes and in the eyes of the St. Andrew’s community as he works on the musical.

While Will had its high points (and low, poignant, points), the writing was often repetitive with a lot of talk about Will’s gut churning in lieu of describing actual feelings. While the middle of the book was great, the start and finish dragged a bit with an ending that bordered on the trite. Boyd is at her best while writing the humorous parts of the story. The young trombonist who attaches himself to Will, for instance, is particularly funny and developed to a point not seen in many of the other secondary characters.

All told, Will is a genuine and amusing male narrator in a heartfelt and sometimes even hilarious story.

*This book was originally published in Australia in 2006. 2010 was the publication date of the first US edition.

**Racial slurs and curse words may have been thrown around at one point but not being Australian it’s impossible to say (1) if that was the case or (2) if any of the words were as “bad” as their equivalents in this country.

Possible Pairings: Skinny by Donna Crooner, Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Exclusive Bonus Content: Although I got the feel that this was a great “guy book” with an authentic male narrator and realistic depiction of male friendships, I’m not sure how many boys would want to read a book about a guy helping with the school musical. Similarly, although I love the magenta cover with the guitar partially shown (Will’s guitar is an important part of the story), it is still magenta. Not sure if there are any boys who would see this and think, “Ah, this is a book written for me.”

A Little Wanting Song: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Little Wanting Song by Cath CrowleyCharlie Duskin lives and breathes music. At least, she does when she’s alone or taking lessons. She’ll talk music with people, but playing guitar or singing in front of them is impossible except for her mom or Gran even though she is not entirely without talent. Charlie doesn’t mind so much because music can be enough most of the time–especially during a summer in the country surrounded by old ghosts and locals who want nothing to do with her.

But Charlie also wants more. She wants a friend. She wants someone, maybe Dave Robbie, to look at her the way Luke looks at Rose Butler. She wants her dad to notice her. She wants to show everyone she’s not entirely unspectacular. Especially Rose Butler.

Rose lives next door to Charlie’s grandfather. She watches cars drive through town on the freeway and tries to keep her reckless boyfriend out of trouble. She’s mad about science. And she wants out of her nowhere town so much that it hurts.

After winning a scholarship to a school in the city, Rose might finally have her way out. If she can convince her parents to let her go. If she can convince her parents she has a responsible friend to stay with in the city. If she can befriend Charlie Duskin and convince her to take her back to the city. It’s brutal, but brutal’s what it is.

Charlie and Rose have nothing in common but by the end of the summer they might help each other get everything they’ve been longing for in A Little Wanting Song (2010*) by Cath Crowley.

Find it on Bookshop.

This book was so amazing.

Told in alternating voices, Crowley has created two strikingly unique narrators with completely individual voices and a stunning story with humor and wit. As Charlie and Rose tell the story of  their summer the narratives overlap and intertwine coming together to create a story about friendship and longing and ultimately about optimism as they both realize the world is theirs for the taking.

Written with a lyrical style and interspersed with lyrics from Charlie’s songs, A Little Wanting Song is a fast read but its prose and story will linger with readers for much longer. Truly, this book will not disappoint. Highly recommended.

*2010 is the date of the first publication of this book in the United  States. This book was originally published in 2005 in Australia under the title Chasing Charlie Duskin. I haven’t seen the Australian book but from the cover images and the actual text I’m comfortable saying this is one of those moments where the American repackaging was really spot on. The book’s American cover and design capture the essence of the book in a way book design usually doesn’t. The title, I think, is also much more appropriate for all of the characters and the story itself. The original title works, but A Little Wanting Song fits.

Possible Pairings: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, , King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, Reuinted by Hilary Weisman Graham, Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, After the Kiss by Terra McVoy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Love, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Harmonium by Vanessa Carlton, Wreck of the Day by Anna Nalick

Exclusive Bonus Content: I know I’ve been harping on book design a lot lately but this one also has a really cool design. The cover has flowers and scroll work as well as paint splatters. Inside the book the narration is split between Charlie and Rose. Charlie’s segments (and her songs) are denoted with the the flowers and scroll work while Rose’s have the paint splatters. The spine also has the scrolls and flowers when you remove the dust jacket. Anyway it’s all really well put together.

Jellicoe Road: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Jellicoe Road by Melina MarchettaMelina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road* (2008**) won the 2009 Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature. Find it on Bookshop.

Jellicoe Road is not a novel with one protagonist. Rather, it is one with many. The story starts on the Jellicoe Road with a tragic accident that will have far reaching repercussions for each character in the novel. Then, abruptly, the story starts again twenty-two years later at the Jellicoe School–the boarding school located farther down the same road–when Taylor Markham is chosen to lead the school’s faction in a secret territory war that has spanned a generation between the school boarders, the Townies, and the Cadets.

The Jellicoe School is the only real home Taylor has ever known. She has been at the school since she was eleven, when her mother abandoned her on Jellicoe Road and Hannah drove by to pick Taylor up and take her to the school. Now seventeen, Taylor is in many ways still a young girl afraid of being abandoned by those she loves. Which is why, at the start of the story, Taylor balks at the authority thrust upon her and the relationships it will necessitate. Leading the Jellicoe School through the territory wars is bad enough, but being in charge of an entire dorm of students seems truly unbearable. Taylor’s resolve to live a life apart is tested, and in many ways broken, with the efforts of well-meaning friends and the appearance of Jonah Griggs–the one person Taylor never expected to see, or need, ever again.

As the territory wars escalate, Taylor’s life is thrown into disarray with the sudden disappearance of Hannah–the only adult Taylor would come close to calling family. With Hannah gone, Taylor begins reading Hannah’s unfinished novel for lack of anything else to cling to. Marchetta weaves Taylor’s story and the events of Hannah’s novel and even the histories of other characters together to create one haunting narrative where, the more Taylor reads, the more it feels like she is looking not at fictitious characters but at people she has known her entire life.

While trying to understand Hannah’s sudden absence, Taylor also starts to understand herself. Eventually she realizes that living life at a distance offers no protection from abandonment and provides even fewer options to heal scars from past betrayals.

The novel starts with rapid fire narration as Taylor throws out events and names at the reader without any frame of reference. Later in the story the importance of the Cadet, the Hermit, and the Brigadier becomes painfully obvious. But in the first pages the narrative comes closer to painfully confusing and unwieldy. By the end of my reading I had a marker at almost every page to indicated important points and favorite passages. However, if you can roll with the uncertainty, you will be rewarded. At a little over four hundred pages, Marchetta still creates a page-turner that moves quickly and weaves together every single narrative thread by the final page.

Because Taylor is not forthcoming with explanations, the novel reads like a mystery (fitting since my two Printz Award predictions were also mysteries of sorts). However a good portion of the story is also simply about friendship and love. Taylor expects neither from her time on the Jellicoe Road even though they might be exactly what she was supposed to find there all along. Marchetta blends moments of humor and gravitas in her unique prose style to create another really great read.

* Jellicoe Road was actually originally published, I assume in Marchetta’s native Australia, with the title On the Jellicoe Road. For various reasons, upon finishing the novel, I feel that this title is superior to the American edition’s shortened version.

** The book was originally published, again I assume in Australia, in 2006.

Possible Pairings: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, The Wessex Papers by Daniel Parker, Past Perfect by Leila Sales, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin