Tag Archives: High School

Venn Diagram by Wendy Brant

Zenn Diagram by Wendy Brant is as cute as the title suggests. High School Senior Eva (pronounced “ever” without the “r”), is gifted in mathematics and helps tutor other students who need a leg up. A PK (Pastor’s Kid), she has extra responsibilities involving her quadruplets siblings, the eees, who at three are a handful requiring more than one set of hands. With so many mouths to feed, her dreams of attending a top notch college hinge on receiving a hefty scholarship. Then she meets Zenn, (pronounced like Zenn Diagram), who captures her heart as she helps him up his math grades. Zenn is a true artist who also has dreams of attending a prestigious college despite his lack of funds to pay the all-too-expensive tuition.

Sounds like your typical teen novel, but there are a bunch of twists starting with a terrible car accident which occurred when Eva was a baby, killing her parents and leaving her with a rare gift/curse – the ability to decipher the emotions of people through physical contact with them or the objects they have touched. With small children it’s all pastel colors and sweet thoughts, but adults radiate complicated vibes which often leave Eva prostrate as their angst can be overwhelming. Eva fantasizes about touching Zenn, a feat she fears is beyond her ability due to the anticipated negative reaction. Somehow she must figure out how their relationship can move beyond the pupil/teacher stage, especially when Zenn seems to feel a mutual attraction. Of course, Eva is not the only one with a secret, and the mystery in Zenn’s life threatens to affect the future of both of their lives. Add in a lifelong best friend who kinda goes MIA when the popular athletic boy shows an interest and an interesting home dynamic which interferes with any thoughts of romance, and you have a fun little YA novel.

While this debut novel by Wendy Brant is well worth the read, the author needs to watch out for repetitive thoughts (Eva too often laments about her inability to touch Zenn and her difficulty going to her first choice college). However, there are several twists which will keep the reader guessing and a hopeful conclusion which seems reasonable without being too sicky-sweet. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Family Dynamics! The interpersonal relationships within a family create a complex pattern complicated by the cross purposes of each individual as they forge their own pathway towards the fguture. A mother, while she loves her children, has a slightly different connection to each based on their unique personalities. Sometimes there’s one who never seems to get things right and remains an irksome reminder of that illusive impeccable life we all daydream about in our youth. As my own offspring grew, I was amazed at the other parents whose unblemished children never caused them a moments anguish – always behaving appropriately, earning honors at school, scoring the winning run or goal on the sports team. My own children fell far short, although I loved them anyway and urged them to work hard and do their best in every endeavor. I concluded that either my children were subpar, or the other parents were liars (or at the very least in denial). In my experience there are ups and downs in each of our lives, joys and tragedies which pop up on occasion, and it’s the family unit who sticks together that helps us celebrate the highs and get through the low points of our existence. Such is life reflected in the theme of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.

Elena Richardson is one of “those” mothers. She created the perfect life in the perfect community with the perfect husband and three perfect children. Unfortunately, she has four offspring. The youngest, Izzy, is a thorn in her side, resisting motherly (smothering) concern, choosing the contrary side of an argument, and just not quite jelling with her siblings. She’s not an evil child, just a soul who marches to the beat of her own drummer which drives a Type A personality like her mother to distraction.

Mrs. Richardson always planned to be a journalist but was not unhappy at her job as a reporter for the local paper which would never win her a Pulitzer but still gave her access to important information and people. Plus when she needed her credentials to do some sleuthing she was not afraid to call in those favors she had easily doled out over the years, assisting others yet keeping a tally for future reference. Things really start happening in her idyllic life once the nomadic Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl become tenants in their rental house. The photographic genius of Mia delights Elena who generously offers the super neat tenant a job as housekeeper/cook in exchange for enough salary to cover the lease agreement. Mia soon becomes a fixture in their home and Pearl develops into a sibling of sorts to the four teens, enjoying the luxuriously lifestyle which is the opposite of the normal hand to mouth existence of her daily world. Izzy latches on to the supportive, common sense manner of Mia, finding in her a comfort which is missing with her own mother. As the plot unfolds, the inner thoughts of each of the characters are revealed clarifying the life altering decisions which affect the outcome of all concerned.

The idea of motherhood is explored through various stories involving mother/child relationships. In a secondary subplot, Mr Bill Richardson, a lawyer, represents Elena’s friends the McCulloughs who are caring for and hopefully adopting an Asian child who was abandoned at the local fire station. The real mother, a coworker of Mia’s, now has a job, albeit for minimum wage, and wants her daughter back. The question remains – “Who will be the better parent?” – the struggling single parent birth mother or the well-to-do loving family who can provide for the baby’s every need? This issue divides the town, leaving even the presiding judge in a quandary about the best verdict.

I felt a connection to this story since Little Fires Everywhere takes place in the 1990s in a suburb outside of Cleveland during the some time period I was raising my own four children in an upscale community outside of Buffalo. Cultural references brought back memories of those days which compensates for the slow start of this novel. The author Celeste Ng has a talent for skillfully interweaving the lives of the secondary characters flawlessly into the narrative enriching the entire plot. However, while this well written book brings up some interesting questions, it also has some disturbing turn of events which leaves the reader in a wistful mood. There is more than enough finger pointing and blame which doesn’t distract from the pit-in-the-stomach feeling when things fall apart as secrets are revealed, tarnishing the golden glow of sublimeness and recognizing the reality that there is no such thing as smooth sailing. While there are promises of a positive outcome for some, the ambiguity of the future for others is disturbing and I’m not sure even the fire department can put out those flames.

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

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

What are the elements an author uses to create suspense? One dramatic devise is to slowly release “clues” throughout the narrative leading up to a “big reveal” at the optimal climatic moment. The ultimate success of any thriller is when the reader is kept confused and clueless right up to the proper “ah ha” moment with a surprised “I didn’t see that one coming”. Failure results when the plot is either too obvious (I figured the ending out in the first couple of chapters of the book) or too erroneous (What the ???? This doesn’t make sense.) In the mix is the author’s artistry in creating the perfect “gimmick” as a means of imparting the necessary details.

In All the Missing Girls, the author, Megan Miranda, uses reverse chronology. Along with both an introduction and epilogue, the story counts backwards from day fifteen to day one of events with each chapter adding a bit of background about the details surrounding the disappearance of two girls, ten years apart. The story is told from Nicolette Farrell’s point of view as she revisits her hometown of Cooley Ridge in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina to help her brother Daniel in the care of their aging father who is at a facility. With his apparent encroaching demensia, it is time to repair and sell their no-longer-needed family home. Yet the process brings back old memories of the disappearance of her best friend Corinne after their celebration at the local fair following their high school graduation. The resulting accusations and recriminations from the local community led to Nic’s flight from home and relocation to Pennsylvania. Yet her brother Daniel and pregnant wife Laura, along with her Dad, remained a link for her to touch base from time to time allowing an occasional reconnection with her high school sweetheart Tyler. Now, ten years later, she’s engaged to Everett, a high end Philadelphia lawyer, and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter. It isn’t long though before Nic’s world turns upside down when Annaleise turns up missing, rekindling all the horrors associated with the loss of Corrine. As the tale “progresses”, Nic reveals specifics about both mysteries through her analysis of past events as she revisits the sites containing the ghosts of her past.

There were various problems inherent in this type of format. It was harder to keep track of events necessitating repetitions and calling for a quick read to keep the various particulars front and center. The opportunity for in depth character development was also hindered, since too much information would take away from the end result, especially since Miranda wanted to maintain a sense of mystery as we tried to figure out the guilty party. There were also a lot of dead ends left dangling as Nic’s thoughts rotated from present to far past to recent past.

For me the results were muddled. None of the characters were particularly likable, especially the two victims, and even the townspeople were petty and judgmental. Outsider Everett was the only one who had my sympathy as he tried to do the right thing and ended up getting kicked where it hurts. The conclusion, while acceptable, didn’t blow me away, but overall, a worthwhile read.

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

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.

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.