Finding Mr. Brightside: A Review

Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay ClarkAbram and Juliette have circled each other for a while the way people do when they go to the same school and live down the street from each other. Their lives only become inextricably linked when Abram’s father and Juliette’s mother die. In a car crash. Together.

In the wake of the crash Abram and Juliette are both left reeling with grief and confusion over their parents’ affair and sudden deaths. With few other coping mechanisms in sight Abram ends up on anti-depressants while Juliette self-medicates with Adderall.

They never should have been friends. Except Abram likes Juliette and decides to say hello to her at CVS. No one is more surprised than Juliette when she agrees to go with Abram to Taco Bell. That’s when what starts as a tenuous friendship might turn into something neither of them saw coming in Finding Mr. Brightside (2015) by Jay Clark.

Finding Mr. Brightside alternates between Abram’s and Juliette’s first person narration.

Because this book is so slim (224 pages, hardcover), much of the plot and character development is pushed off page with very little foundation to support the relationship between the two main characters. The plot also moves very abruptly from their first meeting to going off on a five day vacation together.

Juliette and Abram are both damaged, honest characters. Abram comes off as a likable slacker while Juliette is brittle and high-strung. Unfortunately they are also both thinly drawn beyond those key traits.

Juliette is particularly problematic. While her quirks and fears come from a very authentic place, the portrayal is fundamentally flawed. Every time Juliette contemplates her sexuality, even vaguely, she refers to herself as a whore. Furthermore, in asking Abram if he is attracted to another girl, Juliette repeatedly refers to a girl (a character referred to but never seen) as “that Asian.” With the proper treatment, both behaviors can have their place in fiction. Unfortunately they are presented here without further comment and serve only to leave a bad taste in a reader’s mouth.

Finding Mr. Brightside is a fast and sometimes sweet story. It is also not a romance in the truest sense. What this story is–and what it does well, flaws aside–is focus on the recovery process accompanying a tragic loss and the people that can help others move past those dark moments.

Possible Pairings: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin, How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman, The After Girls by Leah Konen, Rx by Tracy Lynn, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher*

This One Summer: A Review

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko TamakiRose has been coming to Awago Beach with her family every summer since forever. Rose’s summer cottage friend–and seasonal younger sister, of sorts–Windy, is always there waiting for a new vacation filled with fun and adventures.

But nothing is quite the same as it was even last summer. Caught uncomfortably between the familiarity of childhood and the wholly unknown world of growing up, Rose isn’t sure anymore where she fits in at Awago, with Windy, or even with her parents.

In a summer filled with things left unsaid–with change lurking everywhere–Rose and Windy realize that even as life threatens to shift in a new direction things like friendship can remain rock solid in This One Summer (2014) by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki.

This One Summer received a whopping six starred reviews over the course of 2014. It is also the first graphic novel to ever win Canada’s Governor General Award for Illustration in an English Language Children’s Book (for illustrator Jillian Tamaki). (As Mahnaz Dar explains on SLJ this award has usually gone to picture books.) This One Summer also received a Printz and Caldecott honor in 2015 (this might have happened before but I can’t think of any instances).

It’s hard sometimes to remember that illustrations are a key part of the reading experience when looking at something that isn’t a picture book. Graphic novels, of course, are uniquely suited to demonstrate a perfect blend of illustrative and textual storytelling. Given the ways in which readers interpret visual and written “texts”, it’s sometimes hard to notice how well the two integrate. It is also, sometimes, too easy to ignore what is being done exceptionally well.

This One Summer is a deceptive book due in part to the seamless integration of graphical and verbal storytelling. In doing everything so very well here–so effortlessly–the Tamakis often erase their own work. Instead of seeing the intricate line work in each full page spread, we first see a beautiful picture. Instead of paying attention to how changing panels and page design move the reader through the story as easily as through a storyboard for a film, we initially only notice how quickly this book can be read.

Throughout the novel the Tamakis capitalize on the graphic novel format to push This One Summer in new directions and stretch just how a story can be told. The motion and physicality, particularly whenever Windy is on the page, becomes palpable with each new frame. The varied design as the story shifts between full page illustrations, two page spreads and smaller panels also serve to move the plot smoothly along.

With intricate illustrations and a nuanced, meditative plot, This One Summer is a subtle story about growing up and facing change that will resonate with readers of any age long after they read the final page.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, The Summer of Firsts and Lasts by Terra McVoy, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa C. Walker

The Ten Best and Worst Summer Vacations in YA Books

August is already coming to an end, but there’s still time to get in one last vacation trip or two. As any seasoned traveler can tell you, not all vacations are created equal. For the characters in the books below, summer vacations cover the entire spectrum from epic adventures with sizzling romances to disastrous trips and even terrifying summers filled with murder and mayhem.

Best Summer Vacations:

The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara AltebrandoAll I Need by Susane ColasantiAn Abundance of Katherines cover13 Little Blue Envelopes coverUnbreak My Heart

  1. The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando: After an entire life spent in second place, Mary Gilhooley hopes the Oyster Point High Official Unofficial Senior Week Scavenger Hunt will be her chance to finally come out on top. One all-day scavenger hunt, two lawn ornaments, three meltdowns, four relationship fails, and one incredibly daring stunt stand between Mary’s team and victory. Or utter failure.
  2. All I Need by Susane Colasanti: Every summer Skye jokes that this summer will be different; something exciting will finally happen. Usually that isn’t the case. Then Skye sees Seth at a party and she knows, at last, that something big is going to happen. After one magical night Skye and Seth know they’re meant to be. But before they get to a happy future they’ll have to deal with a present filled with missed connections, worried parents, and  troublesome friends.
  3. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green: Colin Singleton excelled in school. He was special. Then he met a girl named Katherine and they started dating. Then she dumped him. Then eighteen more girls named Katherine dumped him. Suddenly, Colin is a teenager with no claim to fame except for his former status as a prodigy. No new ideas. No girl. No plans for the summer except wasting away in his room and moping. At least until his best friend Hassan drags Colin along for a cross-country road trip.
  4. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson: The rules were straightforward, sent to Ginny Blackstone in the first of thirteen letters from her eccentric Aunt Peg. Ginny is used to her aunt’s whims and willing to play along because Aunt Peg is the only person in the world who can make Ginny seem interesting–even if it is just by association. The letters will take Ginny to England and across Europe on an adventure that includes a behind-the-scenes tour of Harrod’s, youth hostels of various ilks and karaoke. At the end of the summer, Ginny might discover she’s more interesting than she thought–all because of those thirteen envelopes.
  5. Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker: Clementine made a big mistake her sophomore year when she broke one of the most important rules of friendship. Heartbroken and friendless, Clementine is about to embark on a three-month sailing trip with her parents and her little sister, Olive. 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.

Worst Summer Vacations:

A Little Wanting Song coverReunited by Hilary Weisman GrahamClarity by Kim HarringtonWherever Nina Lies coverPaper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

  1. A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley: Charlie Duskin lives and breathes music. At least, she does when she’s alone. Playing guitar or singing in front of anyone is impossible 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.
  2. Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham: Alice, Summer and Tiernan were best friends and the self-proclaimed biggest fans of the band Level 3. That was before high school. Before Level 3 broke up. Before the girls’ friendship imploded. Now, one Volkswagen van, two-thousand miles and a whole lot of problems are the only things standing between these three ex-best friends and the reunion concert of a lifetime.
  3. Clarity by Kim Harrington: Clare is expecting a typical summer in the small town of Eastport hanging around the family house to help her mother with psychic readings during the busy tourist season. Things get a bit more complicated when a girl is found murdered at the local motel and her brother becomes the prime suspect.
  4. Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten: When Ellie finds a drawing that can only have been done by her sister, Ellie knows it’s a sign. If she can follow the clues surely she can find Nina wherever she is and bring her home. Ellie sets off on a road trip following Nina’s trail. Along the way Ellie will meet some unlikely misfits, face some harsh realities, and realize that she might be more like her sister than she thought.
  5. Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff: Hanna Wagner wants to keep pretending she is the shiny, happy girl she used to be. But all of that pretending to be normal becomes nearly impossible when a girl is found murdered and her best friend’s ghost insists that Hannah should find out more about the investigation. Drawn into complicated dealings with ghosts, killers, and the enigmatic Finny Boone, Hannah begins to understand that nothing about dying–or living–is as straightforward as she once thought.

How do your own vacations stack up in comparison?