Review: The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

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This was an interesting nonfiction book. There are many different things going on, many instances of social injustice.

It’s the story of Sasha who doesn’t identify as either a boy or girl. As a teenager, this has got to be incredibly difficult. However, Sasha is lucky to have the complete support of both parents and support systems at school. It’s also the story of Richard, a black teen who lives a completely different life than Sasha. Their paths cross one afternoon on the 57 bus, and things will never be the same for either of them.

You’ll feel so bad for what Sasha has to go through, but you’ll also feel bad for Richard and his circumstances. Go into this one with an open mind, and be ready to honestly examine your preconceived ideas.

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  The 57 Bus

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Review: The House at 758 by Kathryn Berla

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A late-nighter for me.  That’s what this one was.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I finished it in less than a day.  It was that good.

Krista’s life isn’t going so well.  Still grieving the unexpected death of her mother, she’s also trying to cope with her dad’s new live-in girlfriend.  Her best friend is gone for the summer leaving Krista with nobody to confide in.  Rather than facing her problems head on, she escapes.  To a tent she’s pitched on her roof, to her car, anywhere but where her issues lie.

Her dad has tried to convince her to resume therapy but she’s not interested.  She’d rather, quite obsessively, watch the house at 758.  Why does this particular house hold her interest?   And what is she hoping to accomplish?

When she meets Jake, she begins to have a purpose.  Still, she has so many things she’s dealing with that having any kind of a romance proves difficult.  Then her grandpa comes for a visit.  He’s also mourning the loss of her mother, his daughter.  Can he help Krista find her way back to those she cares about?

Lots of things going on with this story, but they blend together seamlessly.  I loved reading Krista’s thoughts, especially in her self-imposed isolation on the roof.  She’s grieving but also avoiding grieving at the same time.  And the house at 758?  There’s a reason she can’t stay away.  It won’t take you long to connect the dots, but the full story doesn’t come until closer to the end.

Note:  Although this is the debut novel from this author, the Spanish version was released several years ago.  This new release is the English version.

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  The House at 758

Review: The Lives of Desperate Girls by MacKenzie Common

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Two girls.  About the same age.  Both missing.  And then one is found dead.

Nobody seems to pay that much attention to Helen’s death, except those people hoping it may somehow be related to Chloe’s disappearance.  Because, after all, Chloe’s the important one.  Helen’s just a poor girl from the reservation.  Chloe’s rich, white, and popular.  So of course people are going to be more concerned about her.  At least that’s the way Jenny sees it.  And it bothers her.

It bothers her so much that she begins to dig deeper, hoping to uncover the truth about what happened to Helen.  At the same time, she has to face the truth about what happened to Chloe and the part she played in it.

This was a good, solid story for me.  The suspense is there, but it also has a very humanistic approach.  The author delves deeply into societal divides, across races and classes and even high school cliques.  A good read!

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  The Lives of Desperate Girls

Review: Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel

Adults can usually see the big picture, but all Caleb sees are the obstacles of Cystic Fibrosis and the shadow of his older brother. Kit’s big picture life is dysfunctional and challenging, and in order to survive it she creates a smaller, magical world … and invites Caleb in. 

Every Beth Vrabel book I review includes the caveat that I’m not really a YA/middle grades fiction fan. Well call me a convert. I just can’t say it anymore, because I truly love Vrabel’s tales of kids living with a disability, finding their place, figuring out who their true friends are, and growing into independence and self-advocacy. 

Vrabel uses humor to explain Caleb’s CF troubles, in a way that any middle-grader will find entertaining (i.e. there’s mention of poop). She also creates a family that loves Caleb so much it’s stifling — a feeling most tweenagers know well. Reading Caleb and Kit, I was totally schooled on how much effort it takes to get through a day when you have a medical condition – or, in Kit’s situation, a dysfunctional home life. And Vrabel writes it all very casually and brightly… no gloominess allowed when describing the facts of someone’s daily existence. 

When Caleb and Kit find each other, they create a special kind of friendship that isn’t based on dependence, but on believing in each other so they might believe in themselves and grow to be independent. As Vrabel explains scientifically, just look at the trees and you’ll see! 

You’ll have to read the book to find out where their friendship ends up, but know this: Over the course of the chapters, my heart grew tender for Caleb and Kit, and yours will too. 

-calliope

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Review: Before Everything by Victoria Redel 

This book is a lot of work to read. It’s emotionally taxing (although I didn’t even cry until near the end) and, frankly, depressing. Anna is dying of cancer. And that’s no spoiler, pal. That’s the premise of the book. 

Before Everything is also about love and friendship and family and a few secrets. Victoria Redel designs Anna’s friendships so realistically that the secrets the women have make me remember secrets I have with my friends … not contrived or hyperbolic or beyond belief, but just stuff we know about each other because we’ve been friends for so long. 

I read this book in hopes that I’d come to a better understanding of what it’s like for the family of a person dying of cancer. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let myself feel it 100%. So instead I read with my shoulders tensed, my mind rushing to get to the next scene, and only half my heart with Anna. 

It’s a good read if you can let your guard down. I held back because otherwise it would’ve been too painful. Thinking about that, well, maybe I did learn what it’s like to be close to someone who’s dying. 

-calliope

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Review: All the Ways the World Can End by Abby Sher

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Funny.  Sad.  Relatable.  Unbelievable.  This book covers all this and more.  And then it goes back and repeats.

Lenny has a lot going on in her life.  A LOT.  Her dad is dying from cancer, mom is a busy attorney who uses her job to escape that harsh reality, and sister Emma is away at college. That leaves Lenny to deal with the day to day stuff.  Still, she’s in denial about how sick her dad actually is.  She copes by keeping a list of all the different ways there are for the world to end.  Oh and her crush on one of her dad’s doctors.

I went back and forth on how much I enjoyed this book, alternating between liking it very much and just liking it.  It’s good, heartbreakingly so at times.  But there are some underlying issues I didn’t feel good about.  Lenny’s behavior at times borders on mentally unstable.  Understandable with all she’s dealing with but still.  And her obsession with the doctor is over the top. Nevertheless it’s a good read, a realistic picture of life and dealing with death.

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  All the Ways the World Can End

Review: Under a Summer Sky by Melody Carlson

This is a cute summer read set in Savannah, where we find art teacher Nicole house-sitting for a family friend and working at an art gallery. Nicole thought she’d have a quiet summer with plenty of time to paint, but instead finds herself overwhelmed with a difficult co-worker, childhood friends-turned-handsome-men, and a teenager who just needs a little love and direction. 

I loved all the references to art and architecture, the Savannah sunsets, and the diplomatic way Nicole finessed her way through a few unexpected situations. As usual for her novels, Carlson includes a little bit of God to illustrate his presence, but doesn’t use the novel to preach or proselytize. And as usual for my favorite summer reads, this one ends in a happily ever after. 

-Calliope 

Buy UNDER A SUMMER SKY