Book Reviews

Unbreak My Heart: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Unbreak My Heart by Melissa C. WalkerClementine made a big mistake her sophomore year. It started with a series of little mistakes and foolish decisions but by the end Clemetine had broken one of the most important rules of friendship.

That was two weeks ago.

Now, heartbroken and friendless, Clementine is about to embark on a three month sailing trip with her parents and her little sister, Olive, on The Possibility. Last year the trip sounded like a horrible, faraway idea. Now that it’s here, Clem is surprised to realize it might be exactly what she needs.

Three months is a long time to be on a boat with nowhere to go and nothing to do. It’s a long time to have no one around except your family and the other boaters on your route. It’s an even longer time to be miserable. Not that Clem deserves to be anything else after what she did.

But as The Possibility sails farther from home and Clem really thinks about what happened, she begins to realize that being miserable won’t actually fix anything–if she wants to move forward, Clem has to do that herself in Unbreak My Heart (2012) by Melissa Walker.

Unbreak My Heart is a fizzy, adorable story about a girl who made a really bad choice and what she is doing to move beyond it. Alternating between scenes of Clem’s summer trip and memories of what happened during the school year, Walker tempers Clem’s past with a strong dose of retrospection so that she is always a sympathetic and approachable protagonist.

The reveal of what ultimately went wrong is also well-handled providing a good balance between teasing asides and actual facts. The pacing is excellent and Walker does an excellent job of unfolding Clem’s complicated motivations and choices throughout the story.

Although the core of the story comes from a complicated issue, the plot is charmingly simple as Clem comes back to herself on the sailing trip and meets other boaters (including a cute boy) who help her put her own mistake in perspective as she starts to heal.

I also loved that Clem’s family played such a huge role in the story with a sister that I would definitely hang out with and parents who are refreshingly present and helpful and supportive throughout the story. I know it’s hard sometimes to have excitement and growth in the same story as parents but I wish more books could find that balance as easily as Unbreak My Heart.

Another dimension is added to the story by Clem’s repeated attempts to write a letter to her best friend as she tries to explain herself. (Not to mention a totally realistic, unobtrusive integration of social networks.) I tend to be extremely skeptical of reconciliation plots because they seem simplified and idealistic but it works in this one. Unbreak My Heart features one of the only reconciliation plots that felt not only legitimate but necessary. I’m absolutely rooting for Clem and her best friend.

As the title might suggest, there is some romance and a whole lot of flirting but what I most enjoyed about this story is the romantic parts are very secondary to Clem’s own understanding of what she has done and what she wants to happen next. Filled with idyllic sailing scenes, lots of humor, and some very wise ruminations on what friendship really means, Unbreak My Heart is a surprising, enchanting story about fresh starts and healing.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu,  The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, Summer of Sloane by Erin L. Schneider, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Exclusive Bonus Content: It just occurred to me you never see books like this where two guy friends get into similar problems over one girl. Like “Jessee’s Girl” but a YA book. A nice, simple, relationship dilemma from a guy’s point of view. I want to see that book.

Also be sure to check back tomorrow for my interview with Melissa C. Walker!

Book Reviews

Between: A Review

Between by Jessica WarmanElizabeth Valchar has the perfect life. Pretty, popular and privileged–the world is hers for the taking. Even her eighteenth birthday party is ideal: a night on her father’s boat spent with her friends, her boyfriend, alcohol and maybe just a little pot.

Unfortunately when Liz wakes up the day after her party it’s obvious that her perfect life is over in every sense of the word.

Liz is dead. Left staring over the side of the boat at her own dead body and watching the horrible fallout as news of her death spreads to her family and friends, Liz has no clear memory of how she died. She doesn’t even remember much of her own life.

As Liz struggles to make sense of the person she used to be and what led to her drowning on her birthday, Liz realizes there are some things that are best left forgotten in Between (2011) by Jessica Warman.

Between is an uneasy blend of mystery and paranormal with the smallest dose of suspense thrown in. While the bones of the story are promising as Liz tries to decipher the events leading to her own murder, the execution was inelegant at best.

First and foremost, Liz is not a likable heroine. While she is at pains to tell readers she is a “good kid” Liz’s actions often speak louder. Even her transformation over the course of the book does little to make her an approachable narrator. Her sidekick throughout the  story remains similarly one dimensional.

While Between has some interesting aspects the writing felt repetitive as Liz explains things repeatedly at different intervals of the story in the exact same way. Other aspects of the story (particularly “Famous Richie” and why he is so famous) felt like gimmicks that added very little to the story. Combined with Liz’s often prickly narration these elements made it very hard to get into this book.

The mystery aspect was well handled but too drawn out. Warman also paints a painfully authentic picture of the havoc eating disorders can wreak but again this thread takes so long to develop that much of its potency is lost. The book was also littered with shockingly inadequate adults, adding another layer of frustration.

Fans of books about life after death, particularly The Lovely Bones, will likely find a new favorite read in Between. On the other hand, readers hoping for an eerie mystery would be better served with a different title.

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, More Than This by Patrick Ness, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Book Reviews

Girl at Sea: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review (in which I am wrong a lot)

Girl at Sea by Maureen JohnsonSeventeen-year-old Clio Ford has the perfect summer planned. She’s managed to snag a job at her favorite art store where her dream boy is already employed–the first time her crazy tattoo has been good for something. Working in the art store will give Clio a 30% discount, dibs on returned art supplies, and full access to Ollie. For an entire summer.

Clio has never been kissed but with this foolproof summer, she’s sure her time is coming.

The only problem is she isn’t going to be in the country this summer.

Instead of a summer romance she’s getting. . . . Clio isn’t actually sure what she’s getting. Life with her father can be like that. Madcap and reckless, he and Clio achieved a minor level of fame as creators of a popular board game. But that was another life. And Clio has finally gotten used to her new life. Without her father.

Until now.

The summer definitely involves a boat in Italy and one of her father’s ridiculous schemes. It will also feature Julia, his scary new girlfriend. To make the summer even more unbearable, Clio will also get to spend it with Julia’s daughter Elsa of the effortless charm and goddess-like beauty and Julia’s assistant Aidan of the strange haircut, extreme arrogance and really intense eyes.

Clio’s summer has all the makings of perfect disaster. Or maybe things can be disastrously perfect in Girl at Sea (2007) by Maureen Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Every time I start one of Maureen Johnson’s books, I expect to recognize her writing style or her voice. I spend so much time reading her blog and twitter updates that it seems reasonable to assume her books will all have that same voice. They don’t. Every time I start a new Maureen Johnson book I am amazed that every character has a totally different personality, every narrative sounds unique, and even each book’s design is something special.

For years I believed Girl at Sea was the sequel to 13 Little Blue Envelopes. It isn’t (although in my defense the covers are very similar–I prefer this one).

Now that it’s clear what this book is not, it is safe to say that it is excellent.

Clio’s life is anything but ordinary which makes her story really engaging. Part treasure hunt, part reconciliation, Girl at Sea blends a bunch of unlikely genres to create a story filled with adventure, romance and Johnson’s signature humor (the one thing that really does seem to come through in every book).

Possible Pairings: Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle