The Vanishing Season: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“This is my work. This is the one thing I have to do.

“I am looking for the things that are buried.”

The Vanishing SeasonMaggie Larsen doesn’t know what to expect when she and her parents move from Chicago to Door County. But then, it’s not like there is another choice with her mother having been laid off and money being tight.

Although Maggie is sorry to leave Chicago behind, it is surprisingly easy to find a new place for herself in the small town of Gill Creek. As the days turn into weeks their ramshackle house on Water Street starts to look like a home. As the weeks turn into months, Maggie realizes she has found friends here in carefree, beautiful Pauline and Liam who is as kind as he is introspective.

While Maggie lives her new life, girls in Gill Creek are disappearing. No one knows who the killer is. No one knows who might be next. No one knows if it will stop.

All the while, a ghost is tethered to the house on Water Street. She can see the danger circling. She can even see some of the pieces of the story–a scorched key, a love letter, a bracelet with a cherry charm. But even the ghost isn’t sure why she is still here watching the season unfold to its final, disastrous conclusion in The Vanishing Season (2014) by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

The Vanishing Season is a quiet, aching read that builds slowly to a conclusion that is both shocking and inevitable. Anderson expertly weaves together Maggie’s story with the first-person narration of the ghost to create a haunting puzzle of a story. Even readers who think they have predicted every plot point may well be surprised by the way everything fits together by the end.

This story has romance and suspense. There is a foolish girl who breaks things sometimes by accident and sometimes because she can. Vignettes of small town life are interspersed with thoughtful commentary on privilege and ownership.

Anderson’s pacing is spot-on as the story builds to the denouement which is handled both eloquently and cleverly. The Vanishing Season is a beautifully written and subtle story about friendship and love and even heartbreak as well as a meditation on what living a life, and living it well, really means. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Frost by Marianna Baer, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

The Impossible Knife of Memory: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse AndersonHayley and her father Andy have been on the road for the past five years. Sometimes riding in Andy’s rig. Sometimes laying low while Andy tries to hold down a job and Hayley does her version of homeschooling. But then everything stopped and Hayley has been moved back into a life she doesn’t want in a childhood home she refuses to remember.

Being home gives Hayley a chance at a normal life with friends and maybe even a boyfriend. Unfortunately the more the Hayley lets down her guard and allows herself to imagine a future, instead of living day-to-day, the more obvious it is that Andy is still haunted by memories of all the demons and friends he left behind after his last tour over seas. With monstrous memories looming for both of them, Hayley begins to wonder if having a normal life is something she and her father are even capable of in The Impossible Knife of Memory (2014) by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Hayley is an unreliable who lies both to the reader and herself as pieces of her past unfold in memories that cut like knives and unwanted visitors from her past. Slowly, with flashback-like memories from both Hayley and her father, the story of how they returned home unfolds. At the same time, Anderson manages to ground this book in the present with a fledgling romance and a grocery list of other problems that, in the hands of a less skilled writer, would feel trite as the perfect facades of Hayley’s friends also fall apart.

The Impossible Knife of Memory is an interesting book. But it’s also an incredibly difficult read at times. My mother was very sick last year and it took a toll on both of us–so much so that, as I read this book, I saw much more of myself in Hayley than I would have liked. That said, Anderson’s writing is excellent and returns here to the quality found in Speak with the same surprises and another fresh, surprising narrator. Although Andy is deeply troubled it was also nice to see a parental figure in a book with genuine affection for his daughter and interest in her well-being–even if it is mostly mired in the hardships that come with dealing with his own psychological traumas.

On the outset The Impossible Knife of Memory sounds like an issue book with its focus on Hayley’s father’s PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Anderson, however, brings her usual skill to this topic offering a well-rounded story that encompasses more than this one timely topic. I probably won’t re-read this book because of the personal slant that made it hard to read. I am actually painfully certain I don’t even want a copy in the house. That said, The Impossible Knife of Memory is an important book that is never heavy-handed or obnoxious. Instead Anderson offers an honest, unflinching portrayal of one family’s difficulties with PTSD as well as the promise of not just a way through but also even a chance at a happy ending.

Possible Pairings: I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt Bell, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Friends With Boys: A Graphic Novel Review

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin HicksAfter years of homeschooling, Maggie McKay is starting high school. She’s kind of freaking out.

She can’t get a ride from her dad, the new chief of police, but does that mean she has to walk to school alone? Sure her big brothers will be there to watch her back, but will they have time for her with all of their other friends? Being friends with her brothers used to be enough. But now that their Mom left, it’s not the same. At all.

Luckily, Maggie meets Lucy and her older brother Alistair right away. Lucy and Alistair keep to themselves but soon they start eating lunch with Maggie. Together they even go on some small-town adventures.

All in all, things seem to be on the up and up for Maggie. At least, they are if she ignores the ghost that’s haunting her in Friends With Boys (2012) by Faith Erin Hicks.

Friends With Boys is an awesome graphic novel. Happily for all of you who don’t have access to the actual book through a store or library, it is also available online as a webcomic at friendswithboys.com! So cool.*

It’s always hard to decide where to start when I review a graphic novel and determine what is more important to the reading experience. This is doubly hard with a book like Friends With Boys which works so well on every single level.

Hicks’ drawings are filled with details and bring her characters to life with her beautiful black and white illustrations. The story is filled with charming tidbits about Maggie and her family as well as tantalizing additions to the plot.

I really enjoyed Friends With Boys it’s a guileless novel that is sweet and just filled with fun. With hints of a mysterious past for the McKay family, strong secondary characters, and a subtle supernatural twists Hicks leaves plenty of room for a sequel. I, for one, hope we get to see a lot more of Maggie and all of the boys she’s friends with (and Lucy too, of course).

*That is to say most of the story is available online. I didn’t check but I think it’s intact except for the last few pages.

Possible Pairings: Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova, Sea Change by Aimee Friedman, Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, Library Wars by Kiiro Yumi and Hiro Arikawa

Alice, I Think: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Alice, I Think by Susan JubyAlice, I Think (2003) is Susan Juby’s first novel. It is also the start of her Alice series (not to be confused with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series). Before going into the details of plot and why I love this book, I want to address some of the issues I saw in negative reviews by saying this: The book is fiction and it is in the vein of satire. Juby uses hyperbole, sarcasm, and caustic wit to create this story. That doesn’t always create realistic situations or accurate portrayals of “real” people. But it does create a good novel. As long as readers go into this novel with what the film industry would call a willing suspension of disbelief, I genuinely believe most of them will be able to find something to like about this book. So, why am I saying all of that? Because Alice is awesome of course.

Alice MacLeod, our intrepid Canadian hero, read The Hobbit when she was very young. This led to a strong desire to attend her first day of school as a hobbit which is well and good creatively, but doesn’t work out so well in actuality. In fact it works out so badly, that Alice’s non-conformist parents decide to pull her out of school and teach her themselves at home.

Flash forward to the present. Alice is fifteen and talking her new therapist Death Lord Bob at the Teens in Transition (not trouble) center in town. In a misguided attempt to cheer Bob up, Alice finds herself agreeing to return to “normal” school among but one of many items placed on a “Life Goals List.”

As Alice leaves the shelter of her home, she embarks on a search for a new haircut, new clothes, a boyfriend and lots of other things. These hunts lead to hilarity of a high degree along with not a little bit of mayhem. In the end, Alice comes out maybe a little worse for wear but no less enthusiastic about checking items off of her list in the future. As Susan Juby suggests on her newly designed website, Alice shows that sometimes oddballs make the best characters.

As I started reading, I was surprised that I liked Alice, I Think as much as I did. (Although I am not alone in my enthusiasm. The book inspired a Canadian TV series as well as the entire trilogy receiving heaps of praise and award nominations.) The novel is written in a diary style, which usually doesn’t appeal. But Juby handles the style creatively, not letting it limit Alice’s narration or how events are conveyed to the reader and, most importantly, Juby still includes lots of hilarious dialogue.

Juby’s characters are also amazingly handled. Yes, a lot of them might sound more like cartoons than true-to-life people. But that’s okay. In a novel this funny, a lot of things have a cartoonish exuberance to them. Aside from that, the characters are endearing no matter how silly they might be.

As Alice works through the issues inherent to starting at a new school and tries to find new friends, readers watch her simultaneously learn how better to engage with the world at large (a revolution that continues in this novel’s two sequels Miss Smithers and Alice MacLeod: Realist at Last). Then there’s the fact that it’s literally a laugh out loud funny book. Definitely worth a look for anyone who wants a good, funny, entertaining novel.

Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, Skinny by Donna Crooner, Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough,  I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Living in the now: a review of Love, Stargirl

Love, Stargirl by Jerry SpinelliI just finished Love, Stargirl (2007) by Jerry Spinelli (find it on Bookshop). And I have not been able to pick up another book because I don’t want to lose the feeling of satisfaction that came from finishing it. At first, I didn’t think that this book could be as good as it’s “prequel” Stargirl, but now I’m hard-pressed to say which was better.

Love, Stargirl picks up where Stargirl left off. She has left Mica High in Arizona and, more importantly, her boyfriend Leo. The story reads as a year-long letter to Leo as Stargirl lives life as only she can and tries to understand how things went wrong with Leo and what her feelings are for him now.

Spinelli brings in a lot of memorable characters. My favorites are Charlie and Betty Lou. Betty Lou, particularly, has a special place in my heart because she gives some of the best advice I have ever heard when she tells Stargirl to live in the now and make the most of each today that she finds. Which, being Stargirl, she does. As the story progresses, Stargirl changes from a stranger to an integral part of her new hometown. Through small kindnesses, unexpected friendships, and leaving behind lots of oranges, Stargirl makes as much of an impression here in Pennsylvania as she did at Mica High–maybe even more.

The entire novel, especially the ending, is magical. I am as enchanted with Stargirl now as I was when I read Spinelli’s first novel about her. It was refreshing to see this amazing girl’s thoughts and hear things from her point of view (the first book is told in Leo’s POV). If you aren’t touched by Stargirl and her little kindnesses and the beauty of this book, then you are beyond all help. These books are fairly quick reads with straightforward prose, but both are the rare books that I feel strongly everyone should read. I think that if everyone tried to be a little more like Stargirl the world would be a better place.

Possible Pairings: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Blue Girl by Charles De Lint, Paper Towns by John Green, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Holes by Louis Sachar