ALAN Picks November 2015
The Possibility of NOW by Kim Culbertson
Point, Scholastic, Inc. 304 pp., $17.99
Social Issues/Family and Friends/Romance
Goal-driven Mara has it all in San Diego- a great family life, private school, good friends, yet she is driven by stress to make lists in order to survive the pressure and daily grind of teen life and to keep herself on track. To make things worse, her mom continually sends Google calendar alerts on the hour as reminders. Then, IT happens and a bad day becomes worse as a result of social media. Mara decides to escape by moving to Tahoe to live with an absent father she barely remembers, and once there, institutes a “hands-off social media” policy. The fast pace of San Diego behind her, Mara begins “The Now List,” and an exploration of self.
Can Mara move forward and shed her goals of past? Will the NOW List help provide the answers? In The Possibility of NOW, Culbertson addresses teen angst and combines one adolescent’s need to be the best with family drama and secrets to create a story that will connect with teen readers’ common experiences and emotions.
Reviewed by Kym Sheehan, Port Charlotte, Florida
The Secret Language of Sisters by Luanne Rice
Point, Scholastic 2016, 352 pp., $18.99
Family/Siblings/Love and Romance/Social Issues/Friendships
One text message changes everything. Roo–beautiful, artistic, and intelligent–just wants to reassure her younger sister that she is on her way. Just five minutes away. Three seconds of looking down. She doesn’t see the dog until it is too late. And then the car is careening out of control, flipping, landing in the icy creek. When Roo wakes up in the hospital, she can’t move. She can’t talk. She is locked inside her own body. No one sees. No one knows. Tilly, her brash, impatient, passionate sister, is her only hope. But will the secret language of sisters help the rest of the world recognize that Roo is still here?
Rice’s young adult debut novel tackles the heartbreaking consequences of a moment’s distraction. Told from the perspectives of both Roo and Tilly, the story reveals each sister’s struggles with guilt, blame, and sisterhood. The contrasting and complimentary personalities of the sisters blend together into a seamless tale of love, forgiveness, and resilience. The Secret Language of Sisters is a beautifully written glimpse into the life of two sisters who fight to hang on to each other despite everything.
Reviewed by Brandi Sellers, Prairie Grove, Arkansas
My Name is Not Friday by Jon Walter
David Fickling Books, Scholastic, 2016, 376 pp. $18.99
Civil War/Slavery/Christianity/Brothers/Historical Fiction
Twelve-year-old Samuel and his younger brother Joshua are being raised in an orphanage under Father Mosely’s care. Samuel, the good brother, takes responsibility for Joshua, who more often than not is influenced by the work of the devil. In an effort to protect Joshua from Father Mosely’s punishment, Samuel finds himself severed from the community and ends up on the auction block and sold into slavery. The reader is taken on a journey with Samuel, who, in spite of the inhumane cruelties that he endures, finds strength through his belief in God and his acceptance of slavery as his Christian duty.
Walter’s story engages the reader immediately. The author’s decision not to reveal Samuel’s race until well into the story is similar to the way the role of religion is at first downplayed. Both, however, become major themes. In Samuel, Walter has created a unique character who willingly accepts a life of slavery in order to do good for others.
Reviewed by Nancy Rankie Shelton, Catonsville, Maryland
The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016, 336 pp., $17.99
Social Issues/Depression/Mental Illness/Death and Dying/Friendship
Victoria Cruz, sixteen years old, has lost her mother to cancer and has seen her father remarry. The only person she feels she has a real connection with is her nanny. One day, Victoria wakes up in a mental ward of the local hospital after a failed suicide attempt. Here, she meets an array of fellow patients who illustrate the full spectrum of mental illness for Vicky and for the reader.
The Memory of Light is beautifully written, but difficult to read because of the content it describes. Depicting the harsh reality of suicide attempts, living with depression, and other forms of mental illness, this is an important book that shows teenagers how to thrive despite life’s challenges.
Review by Pauline Schmidt, West Chester, Pennsylvania
It’s All Your Fault by Paul Rudnick
Scholastic, 2016, 304 pp., $19.99
Social Issues/Adolescence/Humorous Stories/Friendship
Being seventeen-year-old is all that Caitlin Mary Prudence Rectitude Singleberry and her cousin Heller Harrigan have in common. Except for the fact that they used to be best friends. That is, until Heller became a teen television and movie star sensation and went off to live a wild and glamorous life that left no room for Catie’s home-schooled, good-Christian-girl ways. But now Heller is in serious trouble, and Catie is the only one who has any hope of talking some sense into Heller, so off she goes to Manhattan to save Heller from self-destruction. What ensues is a hilarious adventure filled with unexpected and life-changing surprises for both of them.
Rudnick, whose comedic credits include writing the screenplay for The Addams Family movie, has written a funny yet poignant novel for adolescents. Drawing on pop cultural icons, Rudnick turns the reader’s expectations and stereotypes upside down as the two main characters discover that despite their differences, family always comes first.
Reviewed by Jennifer W. Shettel, Millersville, Pennsylvania
Unbecoming by Jenny Downham
David Fickling Books, 2016, 384 pp., $17.99
Girls and Women/Family/Social Issues
Having been completely absorbed in her academic career and recently demoted to social pariah, seventeen-year-old Katie is shocked to learn that she has a grandmother, one who appears to be causing great distress for Katie’s overly protective and rigid mother. By helping her grandmother ease the confusion of living with Alzheimer’s, Katie unlocks family secrets her mother has carefully guarded for years. When Katie finally brings herself to stand up to her mother, she also finds strength to be true to herself and be the unbecoming person that will enable her to be true to her own character.
Jenny Downham has given readers a gift in the novel Unbecoming. As perfect as most parents want to be, their faults pervade and each of them does what is needed to protect children from those same faults. Readers will find themselves drawn into the personae of all three of the female characters, rooting for each of them as they find comfort in the woman that each of them has become.
Reviewed by Anne Shealy, Columbia, South Carolina
Believarexic by J.J. Johnson
Peachtree Publishers, 2015, 464 pp., $18.95
Psychiatric hospitals/Anorexia/Bulimia/Depression/Family Problems/Fiction
Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Johnson, with the help of her mother, admits herself to the Samuel Tuke Center after struggling with an eating disorder she cannot seem to regulate. Binging, purging, and starvation consume her life. Although Jennifer meets several adolescents dealing with similar disorders, one of the head nurses challenges her every move which triggers outbursts of emotions from the onset of the treatment period. Readers are left wondering if Jennifer will indeed fulfill her torturous treatment requirements and accomplish her goal of admission to begin the healing process.
Based on Johnson’s own treatment when she was fifteen-years-old during the winter of 1988-1989, the author delicately opens the door to a world known only to those who suffer from various psychiatric diseases by allowing readers to witness intake procedures, therapy sessions, rules, groups, and stipulations that govern the therapeutic process. The plot twists and turns as Jennifer discovers how to become independent of food, friends, and family and how to manage her disease. The beginning leads readers into the stages of a treatment plan first through free verse and then closes with prose, setting a different tone and pace for the various stages of the treatment plan. Believarexic is story that will expose readers to genuine struggles that young adolescents face as they try to find their place in this world.
Reviewed by Denise Sanford, Pearland, Texas
Finding Someplace by Denise Lewis Patrick
Henry Holt and Company, 2015, 212 pp., $16.99
Hurricane Katrina/Family Life /Louisiana/New Orleans/African American/Fiction
On the eve of Reesie Brown’s thirteenth birthday, the only things worrying her are her friends, her older brother’s antics, and whether or not the birthday outfit she designed and made will turn out the way she planned. It is 2005 in New Orleans, and Reesie’s birthday coincides with Hurricane Katrina. Separated from her parents, the newly minted thirteen-year-old must not only survive the storm, the flood, and the immediate aftermath, but also the rebuilding of lives and families.
Patrick does an excellent job of portraying these horrific events through the eyes of very young woman. Reesie is not only dealing with the trials of teenage relationships, but now must navigate a traumatic experience and recovery as an evacuee. Patrick’s engaging narrative does an excellent job of describing Reesie’ struggles with her emerging identity and how this effects her world and her relationships. Readers will root for her.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Shults, Birmingham, Alabama
The Leaving by Tara Altebrando
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016, 416 pp., $17.99
The end of the first day of kindergarten finds anxious parents waiting for their children at bus stops throughout the school community. One bus pulls up and one by one the children slowly file out, but six children are not among the group of five-year-olds standing by the curb when the bus pulls away. Every parent’s worst nightmare is the premise of The Leaving, a mystery by Tara Altebrando. The book opens eleven years later when five of the six missing children–now teenagers–are dropped off at the park in their old neighborhoods with maps to their homes. None of the children have any memories of who took them or where they’ve been, and worse, they have no memories of Max, the sixth victim. Avery is determined to find her brother Max and is sure that the five returned victims must know something. How, she wonders, could they just forget a whole person?
The Leaving is told through multiple narrators and as the mystery unfolds, Altebrando provides intelligent clues in just the right places to keep the reader turning pages. The conclusion is extremely satisfying. Readers will be drawn to the picture on the cover, an abandoned swing set that conveys feelings of sorrow and emptiness, and forebodes a sense of lost childhood. They will be hooked when they read the tagline: “Six were taken. Five came back.” The Leaving is a must read!
Reviewed by Nancy Gillis, Kennesaw, Georgia