The Careful Undressing of Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I’ve been waiting for one thing, but love can be anything.”

“When there’s nothing left to salvage, we have to save ourselves.”

The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann HayduEveryone knows that Devonairre Street in Brooklyn is cursed. Being loved by a Devonairre Street girl ends in tragedy. Just look at the number of war widows on the street or the concentration of Affected families left without husbands and fathers after the Times Square Bombing in 2001.

Lorna Ryder and her mother have never put much stock in the curse even though they pretend to play along. Lorna celebrates a shared birthday along with Cruz, his sister Isla, Charlotte, and Delilah. She keeps her hair long and wears a key around her neck. She does everything she is supposed to just the way Angelika has advised since Lorna was a child.

But none of it seems to be enough when Delilah’s boyfriend Jack is killed in the wake of the grief and confusion surrounding another terrorist attack across the country. Lorna and her friends are shocked by Jack’s sudden death. Grieving and shaken, Lorna has to decide what this new loss means about the veracity of the curse and her own future as a part of Devonairre Street and away from it in The Careful Undressing of Love (2017) by Corey Ann Haydu.

The Careful Undressing of Love is Haydu’s latest standalone YA novel. Lorna narrates this novel with a breezy nonchalance that soon turns to fear and doubt as everything she previously believed about love and the curse on Devonairre Street is thrown into question. The style and tone work well with Haydu’s world building to create an alternate history that is simultaneously timeless and strikingly immediate.

Haydu’s characters are realistically inclusive and diverse. An argument could be made that it’s problematic that Delilah and Isla (the Devonairre Street girls who are not white) are the ones who suffer more over the course of this novel filled with loss and snap judgements by an insensitive public. But the same argument could be made that privilege makes this outcome sadly inevitable–a contradiction that Lorna notes herself when she begins to unpack her own privileges of being white contrasted with the burdens she has under the weight of the supposed curse and living as one of the Affected.

This story is complicated and filled with philosophical questions about grief and fear as well as love and feminism. While there is room for a bit more closure, the fate of Devonairre Street and its residents ultimately becomes irrelevant compared with Lorna’s need to break away to protect herself and her own future.

A quiet, wrenching story about the bonds of love and friendship and the ways in which they can break; a commentary on the stresses and pressures of being a girl in the modern world; and a story about self-preservation first. The Careful Undressing of Love is smart and strange, frank and raw, and devastating. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

You can also read my interview with the author about this book!

Teach Me to Forget: A Review

Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. ChapmanEllery is going to kill herself. She has chosen the day and purchased the gun. She even booked a cleaning service to come right after so that her mother won’t have to deal with it. She has given away her possessions and broken away from her all of her friends except for Jackson Gray who remains frustratingly loyal. Ellery is ready to die until the gun breaks when she tries to shoot herself.

Certain that shooting herself is the only viable suicide option she has, Ellery tries to return the faulty gun. Except she brings it to the wrong store. And catches the attention of the security guard, Colter Sawyer who recognizes Ellery from school. Colter sees the warning signs despite Ellery’s best efforts to deflect.

Colter’s brother killed himself and Colter felt powerless to stop him. He refuses to let the same thing happen to Ellery and embarks on a one-man mission to save her. Colter uses the threat of telling someone her plans to get Ellery to promise to try to be present and live until the end of October.

But that’s fine. Ellery can play along for a few weeks. She can ignore the way Colter gets under her skin and makes her feel something for once. Because Ellery has already chosen a new date to kill herself–the night of Halloween in Teach Me to Forget (2016) by Erica M. Chapman.

Teach Me to Forget is Chapman’s debut novel and one that has to be considered in two lights. As a piece of fiction it is well-written and engaging. As a book about a character suffering from mental illness and considering suicide . . . it could do a lot more.

While Chapman does mention resources for help both in the book and on her website, I would have liked them to be a bit more visible within the text.

**Spoilers to follow as I discuss what did and didn’t work in the text.**

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Resurrecting Sunshine: A Review

Resurrecting Sunshine by Lisa A. KoosisAdam Rhodes, Sunshine’s boyfriend and backup guitarist, wishes he could process his grief in private for both rockstar Sunshine and the girl she used to be when she was still called Marybeth and they were growing up in foster care. Instead Adam settles for dulling his senses–and the pain–with alcohol.

When Dr. Elloran shows up at Adam’s door he expects her to be looking for a last piece of Sunshine. Instead, she offers Adam the impossible: Elloran plans to use cloning and Memory Archiving Port (MAP) technology to bring Sunshine back to prove to the world (and her investors) that Project Orpheus can resurrect the dead.

The project will go forward with or without Adam, but if he plays along–helping this new Sunshine remember the final days of her life and restoring other degraded memories–he’ll have the chance to see Marybeth again. And maybe this time he can keep Marybeth alive and well.

As Adam remembers the tragedy that led to his and Sunshine’s fame, he is forced to confront painful memories of her death and begins to question if bringing Marybeth along the same path is right for anyone in Resurrecting Sunshine (2016) by Lisa A. Koosis.

Simplistic and utilitarian world building ground this science fiction novel in the near-future of 2026. While Koosis is careful to name all of the relevant technology (most notably MAP technology) but never explains it enough to provide the proper backdrop or urgency for the story.

A slow start and weak execution detract from this potentially intriguing premise. Short chapters will appeal to reluctant readers willing to play along with the often tedious plot. Koosis raises some interesting questions about cloning, depression, and suicide but her prose falls short of insightful answers. Appealing for fans of this specific sub-genre of science fiction.

Possible Pairings: Where She Went by Gayle Forman, Loss by Jackie Morse Kessler, The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman, More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online.*

The Sky is Everywhere: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can tell your story any way you damn well please. It’s your solo.”

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy NelsonLennie Walker plays second clarinet, reads avidly, and always acted as a sounding board and companion for her dynamic older sister, Bailey. Lennie had always known that Bailey was the star of their family. She never minded.

When Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie feels like the world has tilted off its axis. Her grandmother and Uncle Big are both hurting too. But none of them seem to know how to talk to each other anymore let alone articulate the full scope of their grief.

Toby, Bailey’s boyfriend, offers Lennie an unlikely source of comfort. Toby is just as wrecked as her and might be the only person who can fully understand the enormity of Bailey’s absence. Lennie knows her sister wouldn’t approve of the physical turn their relationship has taken. But Lennie also doesn’t know how to stop.

Joe, a new boy in town, seems determined to befriend Lennie and lift her out of her sorrow, Lennie finds herself swept along with his exuberant enthusiasm for life. Joe makes Lennie happy and reminds her of the girl she used to be before Bailey died–and maybe even shows her an improved version she can be now. After. But Lennie doesn’t know how she can ever let Joe make her feel so happy and so alive when Bailey is gone.

Lennie knows that Toby and Joe can’t exist in the same world, that they can’t both be part of her life forever. But she also doesn’t know how to choose in The Sky is Everywhere (2010) by Jandy Nelson.

The Sky is Everywhere is frenetic, serendipitous, and sometimes painful–things readers will recognize in Nelson’s subsequent Printz/Stonewall Award winning I’ll Give You the Sun.

This story has the same sense of wonder, the same vibrancy found in I’ll Give You the Sun. Even Lennie’s narrative voice is familiar compared to that of Noah and Jude. Unfortunately, The Sky is Everywhere lacks the tight plotting and pacing. While utterly sympathetic, Lennie’s story often feels meandering and contrived.

This novel is peppered with memorable characters, especially in Lennie’s grandmother and local Lothario Uncle Big. Moments of share grief are contrasted sharply against these quirky and strong personalities.

Lennie’s hurt and grief are palpable as she tries to reconcile the fact that she is still alive and growing up with the reality that Bailey never will. Nelson expertly communicates the suffocating nature of that sadness in Lennie’s first person narration. Each chapter also begins with a poem Lennie has written and left somewhere around town.

Although Lennie spends the novel torn between two boys, The Sky is Everywhere is largely introspective and firmly focused on Lennie. In some ways both Toby and Joe often feel under-developed by comparison as they help Lennie’s development. Romantic elements aside, this book is very much about a character learning to find her voice and articulate her wants and feelings.

The Sky is Everywhere remains a solid debut and a thoughtful meditation on grief, loss, and moving on. Nelson includes a compelling romance with a bit of a love triangle and, of course, an empowering character who only grows stronger and more confident as the novel progresses. Recommended for fans of Nelson’s and readers looking for a story in this vein. (Just don’t expect it to measure up if you read I’ll Give You the Sun first.)

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Girl Against the Universe: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Girl Against the Universe by Paula StokesMaguire is cursed.

It all started when her brother and father died in a car crash that left Maguire without a scratch. Then there was the time a roller coaster jumped its tracks. And Maguire was fine. Everyone at a sleepover was hit with food poisoning. Except Maguire. Before their latest move, the house next door caught fire. Because Maguire had left a candle burning on her windowsill.

Maguire tries to mitigate her bad luck with dozens of good luck charms and rituals. She also checks her surroundings for accident potential and tries to stay away from other people to limit the damage. She won’t drive anywhere with her stepfather or stepsister because she’s terrified of hurting them. Even driving with her mother is a cause for slight panic.

Talking through her curse in therapy, and hoping to get past her fears so that she can visit family in Ireland, Maguire tries to make some plans to change her luck. Jordy, a lucky (cute) tennis star, is sure that he can help even as Maguire worries that her bad luck will rub off on him.

Maguire is used to keeping to herself and trying to survive alone. But as she gets to know Jordy and makes other friends, Maguire starts to realize that there’s more to life than just surviving in Girl Against the Universe (2016) by Paula Stokes.

Stokes balances Maguire’s genuine grief with bright moments of humor. Although Maguire is understandably frustrated by the limitations on her life because of her bad luck, she is still shown as a capable and strong heroine throughout. She reads a lot. She is well-versed in survival practices (forewarned, is forearmed). She’s athletic with a love of rock climbing and, as she discovers during the novel, has potential as a promising tennis player. Maguire’s own belief in the curse is never ridiculed. Her family and friends all try to convince her that she is suffering from survivor’s guilt (not a curse) but they also respect Maguire’s concerns.

Both Maguire and Jordy see a therapist in Girl Against the Universe and these scenes are informative and thoughtfully portrayed as Maguire works with her doctor to figure out how she might conquer some of her bad-luck-related fears with small, practical steps building toward her dream of flying to Ireland.

Maguire’s growth as a character is highlighted throughout the novel with her therapy, her growing support system as she gets to know Jordy and other new friends, her changing dynamic with her family, and her time playing tennis as part of her school’s team.

Girl Against the Universe is an unexpected and delightful contemporary novel. A funny, heartfelt, and ultimately optimistic read. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Tumbling by Caela Carter, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Summer of Sloane by Erin L. Schneider, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

The Art of Holding On and Letting Go: A Review

The Art of Holding On and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley LenzCara Jenkins is a nationally ranked competitive climber. Homeschooled by her mountaineer parents, Cara has always felt at home on rock faces and cliffs. When disaster strikes during a climb in Ecuador, Cara’s carefully ordered world is completely upended.

While her parents struggle to move on in Ecuador, Cara finds herself living with her grandparents in Detroit and entering a traditional high school for the first time.

Determined to give up climbing in her grief, Cara will have to figure out who she is on the ground as she makes new friends, discovers first love, and tries to figure out how to move past the one climb that changed everything for her and her family in The Art of Holding On and Letting Go (2016) by Kristin Bartley Lenz.

The Art of Holding On and Letting Go is Lenz’s first novel.

Cara is a thoughtful and methodical narrator with a voice that is as measured as her rock climbing paths at the start of the novel. Lenz expertly conveys the world of rock climbing and complex terminology while expanding Cara’s world with her move to Detroit.

While this story starts with a tragedy, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go is ultimately hopeful as Cara learns that there are many ways to find her place and leave her mark on the world.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Summer of Sloane by Erin L. Schneider, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

Tell Me Three Things: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Over email and text, though, I am given those few additional beats I need to be the better, edited version of myself.”

Tell Me Three Things by Julie BuxbaumJessie doesn’t want to live in California. She doesn’t want a new stepmother when her mother’s death two years earlier is still painfully fresh. She can definitely do without her snobby new stepbrother. She hates leaving her best friend behind in Chicago and wishes her dad would try to understand why she’s so upset.

Her new super fancy prep school in Los Angeles is filled with pretentious students, confusion, and very few potential friends. When she receives an email from someone, Somebody/Nobody to be more specific, offering to help her make sense of her perplexing new life Jessie isn’t sure what to think. Is his offer a genuine chance to get some help? Could it be an elaborate prank?

The potential of a new friend and some much-needed information win out. The more Jessie and SN email and text, the more she wants to meet him in person. But as she gets closer to discovering SN’s identity, Jessie also wonders if some mysteries should remain unsolved in Tell Me Three Things (2016) by Julie Buxbaum.

Jessie feels like a stranger in a very strange land when she is thrust into a higher income bracket at her predominantly white private school. This relative privilege is addressed and handled well over the course of the novel while Jessie tries to reconcile her middle class sensibilities with the new luxuries she is starting to enjoy. Jessie’s online friendship with SN and her real life struggles to befriend her classmates serve as another contrast in this story where perception can change everything.

This novel also ruminates on the nature of grief and moving on as Jessie struggles to hold onto memories of her mother while watching her father start a shiny new life. The awkward and often frustrating dynamics of becoming a (reluctantly) blended family add depth to this already absorbing story.

Tell Me Three Things is filled with humor and wit as a sweet romance unfolds. Jessie’s narration features a singular voice with a unique perspective on her surroundings and her new classmates. She is self-aware enough to acknowledge her shortcomings in struggling to reconcile herself to her new step-family and home while also harboring a healthy dose of naiveté about other aspects of her life.

Buxbaum breathes new life into a familiar premise in Tell Me Three Things. Readers may be quicker to guess SN’s identity than Jessie but that journey, like the rest of Jessie’s story, is all the more satisfying for the serendipity and potential near-misses along the way. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz, In Real Life by Jessica Love, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West