Wildlife: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The only person you should be is yourself. You can’t control perception. All you can control if how you treat someone else.”

Just before her term at her school’s outdoor education campus, Sibylla unexpectedly winds up on a billboard advertisement near her school. She also kisses the super popular and super cute longtime crush Ben Capaldi.

Lou is the unexpected new girl at school when the new term begins. She isn’t at the school to make friends or to fit in. Mostly she just wants to be left alone and get by without having to think about her old friends, her old school, or the fact that her boyfriend Fred is dead.

Sib thought going through a term of outdoor education at her school would be upheaval enough. But adding the billboard, the kiss, and her often rocky and now definitely changing relationship with her best friend Holly makes everything even more complicated. Lou thought a term in the wilderness would give her a chance to hide and grieve. Instead, she slowly finds herself drawn into the dramas of the girls around her like Sib and finds that she doesn’t want to stay quiet as she sees a betrayal unfolding in Wildlife (2014) by Fiona Wood.

Widlife is Wood’s second novel. It is a companion set in the same world as Six Impossible Things and Cloudwish although it does function as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles. (For the most impact I do recommend reading these in order though.)

Wildlife‘s narration alternates between Sib and Lou. Sib relates her story to readers in conversational prose while Lou’s story is written in journal form–a coping mechanism suggested by her therapist as she transitions to a new school and out of therapy.

While Sib spends a lot of the novel trying to make sense of her confusing relationship with Ben and Lou is mourning Fred, the crux of Wildlife is really the growing friendship between these two girls. Sib and Lou are unlikely friends and both are reluctant to take a chance on adding a new person to their lives. But in the wilderness where most of their coursework is about building strength and stepping outside of their comfort zones, both Sib and Lou realize it might be worth the risk to trust someone new.

Wildlife is a thoughtful story about friendship, first love, and all of the complicated moments in between. Recommended for readers of contemporary novels, fans of humorous narratives with a lot of heart, and anyone who loves the great outdoors.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

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.

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: 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, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

The Possible: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“What if life was all about letting go?”

Kaylee doesn’t remember much from when she was really young. She knows her biological mother is in jail but the details of her arrest for killing Kaylee’s brother and the trial are memories from another life.

Kaylee is happy now with her adoptive parents and her perfectly normal life. She’s a rising star on the school softball team and she is working on a plan to attract the attentions of her longtime crush. Simple.

Until a woman shows up at Kaylee’s house wanting to interview her for a podcast investigating Crystal.The Possible podcast is going to spend a season looking into the telekinesis claims that made Crystal a media sensation as a teen, her trial after her son’s death, and what she’s like now in prison.

Kaylee is desperate to be special. To be noticed. Being involved in the podcast seems like the perfect chance to see if maybe, just maybe, she might have some of Crystal’s powers. As the podcast starts to air Kaylee gets exactly what she wants. But she does’t count on the bitter taste of notoriety or the secrets that begin to surface when she looks into her own past in The Possible (2017) by Tara Altebrando.

In her latest thriller Altebrando taps into the wide popularity of investigative podcasts as she and her characters ask a simple question: “What if?”

Kaylee is a totally reliable narrator but she’s also eager to be swept away and believe that some of the hype surrounding Crystal, and by extension herself, might be true. Kaylee is athletic, a little self-centered, and striving for that elusive better, more popular, and generally more appealing version of herself. In trying to embrace telekinetic powers and familial connections that may or may not exist Kaylee realizes that she has to let go of what she wants other people to see when they look at her and focus on being herself in whatever form that takes.

The Possible is a tense, fast-paced story focusing squarely on Kaylee and the podcast. Most of the novel is narrated by Kaylee with pieces of the story being told in newspaper articles, podcast excerpts, and interview transcripts. While Kaylee reaches some conclusions for herself by the end of the story, the narrative stops short of actual answers leaving readers to decide the truth for themselves in this gripping story. Perfect for fans of psychological thrillers, true crime, and anyone who’s ever asked themselves “what if . . . ” Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Breaker by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier,  We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Soulprint by Megan Miranda, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

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

Be sure to check out my interview with Tara!

I Believe in a Thing Called Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Unexpected things happen,” I said into the microphone. “But it’s how we react to them, how we learn and evolve from these things that shapes us into who we are.”

Desi Lee is known for a lot of things. Like being Student Government President and getting straight As and being solidly on track with her plan to go to Stanford. That’s not even counting her knowledge of engines thanks to her car mechanic dad or her large and varied list of extracurriculars (Arbor Day Society anyone?).

There’s one other thing Desi is known for, at least with her best friends Fiona Mendoza and Wes Mansour. Desi has never had a boyfriend. In fact, thanks to her spectacularly disastrous attempts at flirting (Flailures. Get it?) she’s never even come close.

When Luka Drakos (AKA the hottest guy she has seen in her entire life) breezes into Desi’s high school she knows she’s a goner. But she’s also motivated. And, thanks to the Korean Dramas her father loves, Desi has a plan.

All she needs to do is follow her “K Drama Rules for True Love” to convince artsy Luka that they’re perfect for each other. Desi’s path to true love is filled with disasters (both manufactured and otherwise) and the kind of charming mayhem that might be impossible to resist in I Believe in a Thing Called Love (2017) by Maurene Goo.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is Goo’s sophomore novel.

Desi narrates this standalone contemporary in her singular voice. Inspired by actual K Dramas (featured in a list at the end of the novel) Desi’s story takes on the structure of her “K Drama Rules for True Love” with each chapter following one step as she tries to use them to win Luka over.

Desi dreams of becoming a doctor. She is athletic, driven, and she doesn’t have an artsy bone in her body–something that becomes all too clear as she tries to bond with Luka over his art. Luka, meanwhile, is a sensational artist without much interest in school or sports. While the pairing seems unlikely at first, these two complement each other well throughout I Believe in a Thing Called Love while effortlessly flipping some traditional gender roles seen in romantic comedies.

Desi’s story is an unapologetic love story–just like the K Dramas she comes to love. But this isn’t just a story about a girl pursuing the boy of her dreams. It’s also the story of a girl trying to do the absolute best she can for a father she adores and the story of that father adjusting to life in a new country–especially after his wife’s sudden death. It’s a story about dreaming and also realizing that sometimes dreams change. And that’s okay.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is filled with madcap adventures, romance, and an abiding admiration and respect for all of the forms love can take. Don’t miss this striking story. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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

The Fashion Committee: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Find something that makes your heart sing and your brain expand, and let it carry you past all the ugliness and low spots.”

“Measuring someone is borderline invasive. You have to touch them and record their physical presence in the world. It’s a pretty specific way to understand someone.”

Charlie Dean lives and breathes fashion and she strives for style in all things. John Thomas-Smith is a metal sculptor and he could not care less about clothes. They have one thing in common: they desperately want the chance to attend the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design on full scholarship.

When Green Pastures announces that this year’s scholarship will be awarded to a fashion design student, Charlie thinks the stars have finally aligned to make her dreams come true. John, meanwhile, is disappointed that the scholarship isn’t for metalwork but he also knows that fashion is a joke. How hard can faking his way into the competition really be?

Charlie and John have nothing in common except for art and ambition. They are both determined to win and they won’t let anything stand in their way. Not a soul-killing job at Salad Stop or an unsympathetic girlfriend. Not a dad’s girlfriend’s drug-addicted ex-boyfriend. And definitely not a very minor case of kidnapping.

Two very different artists. One life changing competition. And only one winner in The Fashion Committee (2017) by Susan Juby.

Although set in the same world as The Truth Commission, Juby’s latest novel is a standalone contemporary with an entirely new cast of characters (and illustrations by Soleil Ignacio).

This epistolary novel features alternating chapters from Charlie and John’s fashion journals written over the course of the competition. Charlie’s sections each start with one of her signature bright ideas (“Dress for the life you want!”) while John’s sections finish with quotes from the fashion industry and his own scathing indictments. Although Charlie and John often share physical space, their narratives have little overlap as the plot focuses on their own paths through the competition from developing their concepts and designing their garments to the final fashion show.

Juby introduces two very different characters in The Fashion Committee. Charlie Dean has been curating and shaping her own persona from a very young age. She values fashion above most else and she believes in deliberate sartorial choices to create a facade to present to the world. Charlie uses that facade to offset some of the things she’d prefer to forget like her father’s struggle with drug addiction. John, meanwhile, considers himself a straight shooter with a hard knock upbringing. He is very aware of the privileges of those around him (especially those attending Green Pastures) but turns a blind eye to his own good fortune being raised by two loving and conscientious grandparents. Despite their differing opinions of fashion (and almost everything else), Charlie and John’s journeys mirror each other well with a variety of ups, downs, and even a littler romance for both protagonists.

Charlie and John both have to deal with some stereotypes and preconceptions about themselves and, through meeting the unique group of students competing in the fashion show, they also learn to acknowledge their own biases. Does everything go perfectly in The Fashion Committee? No. Not even with Charlie’s efforts to impose beauty and positivity on the world through sheer force of will or John’s deliberate choice to always expect the worst.

The Fashion Committee is a thoughtful novel about fashion, privilege, and perspective where Charlie and John learn to appreciate what they have and also strive to get what they deserve. A must-read for fashionistas of all levels of expertise and anyone who seeking a book that will leave them laughing. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Black Friday: The Collapse of the American Shopping Mall by Seph Lawless, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Flannery by Lisa Moore, Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 1 by Hope Nicholson (editor), Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, D. V. by Diana Vreeland, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

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

Be sure to check out my interview with Susan about this book too!

Windfall: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Alice buys a lottery ticket for her best friend Teddy–the boy she has loved from afar since freshman year–for his eighteenth birthday. It’s a small gift and it’s not likely to finally make Teddy reciprocate Alice’s feelings or even notice them. But it seems like a fitting gift.

Everything changes when Alice’s silly gift wins Teddy a whopping $140 million dollars.

Alice’s life already changed once when her parents died and she moved in with her aunt, uncle, and her cousin Felix. She isn’t sure she wants everything to change again even if the money is exactly what Teddy and his mother need after years struggling to overcome his father’s gambling debts.

Teddy has always been a constant in Alice’s life but in the wake of his luck changing it starts to feel like Teddy is changing too. But as Alice learns more about herself she starts to realize that maybe they’re both changing. And maybe that isn’t always a bad thing in Windfall (2017) by Jennifer E. Smith.

While Windfall is all about a big lottery win, this change of circumstance is often a backdrop in this character driven story. At eighteen, Alice is used to being an orphan and the stigma that sometimes comes from explaining her family history. What she isn’t used to, she realizes as she throws everything she has into her application to Standford, is defining herself without her parents.

Alice has always turned to the memory of her parents and their life in San Francisco as a guide for her own life which she has filled with tutoring and volunteering. But as Alice begins to make decisions about college and what comes next she realizes that modeling herself on her parents offers more questions than answers.

Alice’s confusion about her future and who she wants to be is complicated by Teddy’s lottery win. As questions of how to split, spend, and otherwise share the money come up Alice and Teddy’s previously breezy friendship becomes strained. In the midst of this Alice’s cousin Leo is dealing with the more concrete dilemma of what happens next when his boyfriend is in college in Michigan while Leo is still in Chicago.

Smith’s multifaceted story focuses on Alice and uses her grief and development as a lens for the rest of the story. Alice spends a lot of the novel viewing herself as an island set apart from the rest of her family–something that doesn’t always ring true when the loss of her parents is taken in the larger context of a familial loss affecting multiple people–but the ways she and her family come together by the end of Windfall is sweet and satisfying. Alice’s relationship with Teddy is similarly complex and a driving force of the plot.

Smith tackles questions of fate, privilege, and love in her latest standalone contemporary. Windfall is a smart and compulsively readable story about what happens when the impossible is suddenly not just possible but reality. A great choice for readers seeking a realistic romantic story with a healthy dose of escapism.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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

Who Killed Christopher Goodman?: A Review

“The finger that tips the first domino is guilty, not the dominos themselves.”

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan WolfChristopher Goodman wears ridiculous bell bottoms. He plays trombone in the school band. He introduces himself to every person he meets and shakes their hands. No doubt, Christ is a little eccentric, but he’s a genuinely nice guy. Which is why everyone in Goldsburg, Virginia is shocked when Chris is murdered during 1979’s Deadwood Days, a western street festival that draws tourists to the town every summer.

Classmates Doc Chestnut and Squib Kaplan find Chris’ body during a cross country run. The entire school, the entire community, is stunned by the murder.

Doc and Squib along with Hunger McCoy, Hazel Turner, and Mildred Penny carry the burden of knowing they were together on the night of the murder and may have inadvertently played a part in the tragedy. All five of them are haunted by the events of that night and the ways things could have turned out differently as they try to make sense of their grief and guilt in Who Killed Christopher Goodman? (2017) by Allan Wolf.

This mystery is inspired by an actual murder that occurred when Wolf was a teen himself as explained in an author’s note. Although Wolf was not as connected to that murder as his characters in Who Killed Christopher Goodman? he never forgot about the murder and always wondered about that lost chance at friendship.

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? features six narrators including Chris’ killer. While readers might guess who the killer is early on, Wolf does an excellent job of maintaining just enough tension and suspense over the course of the novel to still keep readers wondering.

Scenes with group dialogue are written in a screenplay style which ties well with the way the cast of voices are listed  in the beginning with quick identifiers: David Oscar “Doc” Chestnut, the Sleepwalker; Leonard Pelf, the Runaway; Scott “Squib” Kaplan, the Genius; Hunger McCoy, the Good Ol’ Boy; Hazel Turner, the Farm Girl; and Mildred Penny, the Stamp Collector. Wolf helps to differentiate between the large cast of narrators with distinct dialects including long-winded sentences for Squib who has Tourette’s and verse passages for Leonard.

Wolf uses this unique format to excellent effect to create a gripping mystery as well as a thoughtful character study where each of the six main characters grapple with their actions on the night of the murder and their blame, if any, in Christopher Goodman’s death. Who Killed Christopher Goodman? is a fast-paced novel that will appeal to reluctant readers as well as fans of mystery and suspense. (In fact, I wouldn’t surprised to see this get an Edgar nomination.)

Possible Pairings: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Game of Love and Death by Martha A. Brockenbrouch, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Sorcery and Cecelia by Caroline Stevemer and Patricia C. Wrede, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the January 2017 issue of School Library Journal as a starred review*