Tag Archives: High School

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

What goes on in the minds of the people who surround us, individuals who are there but invisible, going about their daily lives while we are involved in our own personal minutia so that even if we notice their presence they are an afterthought?

That is the case in the novel Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka, a murder mystery which slowly reveals the guilty party via the personal reflections of three troubled souls who are somehow interconnected within the borders of the small town of Broomsville located in Northern Colorado. Fifteen year old Lucinda Hayes has been murdered on the carrousel at the playground of the local elementary school found by the night janitor, Ivan, an immigrant from Mexico with a criminal past. Cameron Whitley, Lucinda’s next door neighbor, has been obsessed with this beautiful teen, spending his evenings as a stone statue watching her movements. Cameron’s thought processes are a little strange as he has difficulty relating to others, becoming “Tangled” when situations are ltoo stressful for him to handle. Detective Russ Fletcher, a colleague of Cameron’s dad (a man who deserted his family several years previously), has vowed to watch over his former partner’s son keeping a promise to someone who ended up on the wrong side of the law. Cameron fears he will one day develop the evil characteristics which sealed his father’s fate, despite his inner sense of love for his long departed dad. Then there’s Jade Dixon-Burns, a girl who exhibits no empathy, not since she was rejected by her childhood friend who decided he’d rather hang out with the alluring Lucinda than remain cohorts with his fat, pimply companion from elementary school days. Through their collective thoughts the details of that fateful February night are slowly revealed with their paths intersecting as the surprising truth – clearly visible the entire time – finds its way to the surface.

Slowly is the key word. The reader must be patient as each trail is examined to see if it is a true path or a dead end. The bizarre contemplations of theseo three characters lead us to false conclusions time and again, yet within these premises are the clues necessary to solve the mystery. While I was curious to see how the author would reveal the perpetrator, I do wish she was a bit more purposeful and a little quicker in wrapping up a story which left a few too many strings dangling at the conclusion.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears as on Goodreads.

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All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler

Pornography – a shortened up plot focusing on the sex and neglecting the actual story. All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler is just this sort of book, a XXX movie version of literature. Main character Cole is a randy high school student who has mastered the art of wooing the pants off his female classmates. His less successful friends want him to reveal his secrets, but he’s only willing to share the details with his best friend Alec while they jerk off watching “those kind of movies” on the Internet (perhaps one of the reasons the Internet was invented and definitely the cause behind the discovery of the VCR/video camera). Whether from his numerous one night stands or multiple girlfriends of the week, Cole gets a well deserved rep. Yet he doesn’t feel the need to force any of them, they seem to expect his attentions and he is more than happy to oblige, aiming to please and refusing to feel guilty when they express remorse for their lewd behaviors. When a dry spell hits and there’s no girl available willing to risk her reputation, Cole discovers relief with Alec, but ruins their relationship when he returns to pursuing females claiming he is not homosexual, not even bi. Then Grisaille enters his life and their amazing sexual escapades leads to his first actual experience with love. When she dumps him he is heartbroken and can finally empathize with the multitude of girls he’s left behind. As a friend quipped – “The Poetic Justice Series”.

Don’t expect much of a story since, as the title suggests, the content is mainly about carnal confrontations, with short, incomplete sentences and not much of a narrative despite an occasional mention of soccer, art, music, or homework. Unfortunately, I fear there is a limited audience for this sort of book. It’s not quite graphic enough for lovers of porn, but contains too little of a plot to qualify as a story (not even a romance). I’m sure horny teenage boys will find this book entertaining, but the rest of us would prefer to read something a bit more substantial. Someone thought this novel reminded her of a cruder version of Judy Blume’s Forever, but it’s a bit closer to her adult novel Wifey focusing on just the steamy, vulgar sexual encounters. Its “For Mature Audiences” content is not recommended for school libraries, despite Handler’s reputation as a children’s author with his Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events.

Two stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

All we know is that Tanya Dubois is on the run and that she didn’t kill her husband, he fell down the stairs, hit his head, and died. Slowly as the narrative progresses we discover that Tanya has a past life which continues to haunt her. Via email conversations, we gather she is wanted for murder in her old home town and her former lover keeps her informed on the skuttkebutt which might be of interest. He’s the only means she has to connect to her past – he “owes” her, but the hows and whys are a mystery. Lisa Lutz takes us in a journey as Tanya tries to once again establish a new life under a new name in the novel Passengers.

Labeled a psychological thriller, the reader is kept in the dark so that unexpected events come as a surprise. At her first stop, Tanya, now Amelia, frequents a bar run by Blue who knows a thing or two about maintaining a disguise. Whether this relationship helps or hinders Tanya’s cause is a matter of opinion. In any event, you can tell by the chapter headings that names are frequently swapped out to enable a fresh start when there is even a hint that her past might be revealed. Tanya travels back and forth across the country, always discovering convenient dives where her drink of choice changes to meet her current persona. This is where she meets the majority of individuals who have an impact on her adventure, for better or worse (usually worse). The conclusion has a few surprises and some events which tarnish what could have been a perfect Happily Ever After Ending.

The plot moved along at a quick pace and it was interested how Tanya changed her appearance with each new identity, but the concept of living on the run was anything but glamorized. My body ached along with hers at the numerous hovels she visited to survive on a minimal cash flow. Ten years on the run did not seem to lead to much wisdom and I question some of her actions, because for such a nice girl, she was forced into some bad situations where her reactions weren’t so nice at all.

On the plus side was some witty dialogue, but clever doesn’t trump over the top plot twists used to add suspense to an otherwise straight forward story. In additional, the big reveal at the end of the book was so obvious I wouldn’t call it a surprise. Less scene changes and more character development would have been an improvement, but overall, a quick, light read. Three stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert

If you enjoy Christian books with a capital C, then you might like The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert, but don’t expect a squeaky clean story. This novel deals with issues such as alcoholism, failed relationships, sex before marriage, teen drinking and drug use, and swearing. Yet interspersed between these “sinful” behaviors are various scriptures and reflections about God and Jesus (which at times become a bit preachy). It’s easy to see why the main characters have doubts about their religion when they can relate better to the Book of Job than to the Gospels.

Two estranged half sisters end up together battling their personal demons. Carmen, a successful meteorologist on a local news channel, is numbed by her inability to have a child, lashing out while keeping her distance from a loving but clueless husband. Gracie is compulsive in her actions reflecting her anger at the world, but she gets a fresh start at a new high school and even begins to make friends despite her negative attitude.

Yet life is not fair and this is definitely not a fairy tale as even simple solutions are unattainable. Despite the hard work and dedication towards setting things right, more often than not failure is the result. Watching the hypocritical achieve their desired outcomes without a struggle, the sisters each wonder about God and why he doesn’t seem to be there for them.

A series of “coincidences” leads one sister to save the life of the other, but there is no resolution to their dilemmas, just more questions.

Three stars for an interesting, though depressing read.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Sixteen by Jen Estes

Here is a tale of teen angst with a twist. You have the social misfit who despite her lack of popularity, is best friends with the prom queen and dating the Captain of the Football Team that she met while fulfilling her court mandated community service as punishment for buying drugs (sleeping pills) from an undercover cop. To complicate matters, the one person who provides emotional support has run off with her obnoxious foster sister. Sounds like your typical YA novel, yet there is a whole other story written between the lines which moves Sixteen by Jen Estes up a notch from normal expectations.

Those of you who read Fifteen, the first novel in the Dreamwalker Diaries Series by Jen Estes are familiar with Ashling Campbell, a Dreamwalker who is the only one that can stop the depraved Jumlin from achieving immortality for himself and his spawn, thus gaining the ability to enslave or destroy mankind. Luckily this can only be attempted once every fifteen years and requires the help of the reincarnated Laughing Bear who is human despite being a descendent of the Jumlin. The Dreamwalker is able to travel 15 years forward through time in order to find a way to thwart these potential cataclysmic events. Their progeny is then burdened with the same task until the Jumlin either succeeds in his task or is destroyed.

In Fifteen, Ash discovers that the Jumlin is actually, Walker Smith, the supposed father of best friend Skykar (who was actually switched at birth with his real daughter – Nadette – by the predecessor Dreamwalker). In order to prevent her horrific recurring nightmares from becoming true, Ash convinces Nadette (her foster sister) to run away, not realizing her buddy Tate would go along for the ride. It’s not that she totally resents his attraction to her malicious “adopted” roommate, it’s that she doesn’t have anyone else with whom she can share her most intimate nightmares without being declared insane.

Sixteen advances the saga as Jen tracks down her half brother who has the key to finding another way to “redo” her previous feat in order to “undo” the accidental shooting death of her mother. Success in this quest would result in a boring plot, so the unexpected repercussions of her actions alert the Jumlin to her presence, endangering her friends and family. Forced to expand the circle of individuals who know the truth, they must band together and make some difficult decisions on how to keep the demon Walker from unearthing any further secrets while destroying the minions who make up his empire – all without being thrown into prison for murder or ending up hospitalized/dead.

The trouble the author, Jen Estes, faced was how to weave the two stories together. It’s been two years since Fifteen was published, so a little refresher was welcome, but as Ash explains the whys and wherefores to a widening circle of people in the know, the reader is forced to hear the details over and over. Flashbacks and old diary entries fill in additional blanks as Ash solves some of the remaining riddles. While the repetitions get annoying at times, the plot has enough booby traps to keep it interesting along with some gratuitous violence to appeal to readers who additionally enjoy stories with vampire or dragon slayers. Of special interest was the blending of past, present, and future as Ash interacts with various individuals from her life at different stages in their existence.

Expect an abrupt culmination with a cliffhanger ending leading into the next novel where the teens, armed with what normal people would consider insane facts, are determined to spend the summer tracking down and destroying this evil which threatens the world.

Not quite as groundbreaking as the first novel, three and a half stars and a thank you to Curiosity Quill for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads and Amazon.

Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor

I hated (in a good way) this book about two teenagers who develop a common bond while picking up some Zoloft at the local pharmacy to help relieve their symptoms of clinical depression. Reggie (see: Regina Mason) refuses to feel anything after the loss of her two closest friends while Snake (see: Matthew Elliot) is dealing with the after effects of inadvertently impregnating fellow classmate Clara Banks whose father owns the ice cream joint where they all work. This impending fatherhood puts a crimp in any sort of relationship these two lost souls might cultivate even though they both exhibit a growing attraction (see: bearability) towards one another. Who else recognizes the various phases of depression, especially when the wicked Stage 3 (see: Disconnect) immobilizes the sufferer? Clara, while she wants her boyfriend to love her, recognizes that there is an irresistible allure between Snake and Reggie, despite his sense of loyalty towards her and the baby. The triangle becomes even more bizarre when Clara turns to Reggie to be her partner in birthing class when Snake, in the grips of the paralyzing Stage 3, stands her up, resulting in an atypical alliance amongst the three outcasts.

Add in a droll, provocative, sometimes hurtful dialogue, a bunch of compelling minor characters (Side note: Snake’s two moms), and some intense psychological musings with a morbid overtone to convey the premise for Definitions of Indefinable Things by Whitney Taylor.

The fast moving plot covering only a couple months of their junior year in a small town high school moves from point A to point D with more than a few intersections of various disasters (see: self inflicted) encountered along the way. While there is a somewhat HEA at the conclusion, the future is realistically open ended concerning the destiny for these young teens.

Four stars for a unique approach to examining the issue of deep depression and family dynamics as well as dealing with the topic of rejection by ones peers, not to mention the repercussions of teen pregnancy,

A thank you to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian

The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian is a teen romance with a twist. Their school is being dismantled during the last months before summer vacation and the entire town is steadily evacuating in anticipation of the purposeful flooding and destruction of Aberdeen to make way for new construction (all for the “good” of the folk).

Keelie has her best friend, Morgan, and her best friend’s other best friend, Elise, and then, at the Spring Formal, she actually attracts the attention of childhood crush Jesse. Keelie uses humor to deflect her true feelings, making others laugh at her often inappropriate actions to boost her own ego. Jesse, the cute boy who everyone adores, also has a warped sense of the bizarre, so they are able to feed off one another and develop some sort of relationship with a few kisses here and there and a lot of pranks. Of course, their entire life is basically ending, in essence the cessation of their known universe, so abnormality seems to rule the day. If your parent(s) were packing and your home was about to expire – dancing in formal attire outdoors in a downpour, belly flopping down a slip and slide, wearing a snorkel and flippers to graduation, or attending secret prom – all seem like perfectly normal ways to pass the time.

Of course, not everything is fun and games. Keelie’s dad accuses the Governor of taking advantage of the excessive rainfall and resulting flooding conditions to annihilate the whole town for his own personal economic plans. Many others side with him, refusing to sign the buyout deals. Everything gets complicated for adults and children as their world is turned upside down.

Even Keelie’s relationships are affected by all the goings on, and she discovers herself alone, trying to deal with an uncertain future. While on the surface, Keelie gets what she deserves, the girl is not all bad, she just doesn’t always make the right choices and overcompensates to cover her insecurities. In the end she learns her lessons, hopefully not too late to mend all the broken fences.

An interesting concept (even though I just finished Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen which also deals with a small town being flooded against the will of the residents). I enjoyed the emotional rush of young love although I thought the entire plot started to drag about two thirds through the book. I liked both the beginning and the ending and didn’t mind the dysfunctional main characters. Teens are often unpredictable, acting out to gain attention, unintentionally hurting themselves socially and thus emotionally. Adults can behave in ways contrary to their own well being, as well. Yet once the reader gets the point it is time to begin wrapping things up.

Still, well worth reading. Three and a half stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.