Special Price: $7.99 (Regular price: $9.99)
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Reviewer: Melissa on April 18, 2013
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
It starts off intense, like nothing Clara had experienced before. But soon Christian’s devotion devolves into obsession, and it’s almost too late before Clara realizes just how gone Christian is and just how far he’s willing to go to make her stay. That was then. Now, Clara has left the city and her chilling relationship with Christian behind. In fact, no one back home even knows where she’s spending her summer, but she still can’t shake off the fear that no matter how far she runs, it may not be far enough…. Stay is the first book written by Deb Caletti that I’ve ever read, but it’s quickly made me (and probably you if you decide to pick it up after reading this review) a fan.
Over the years, I’ve read several YA novels that deal with unhealthy and abusive romantic relationships. They all introduce the romance and subsequent fear in different ways, including starting off with a seemingly innocent relationship or beginning at the possible end and moving backwards in time, but Caletti does something different. While starting with a Clara who has been through it all, the love, the jealousy, the pain, and the fear, she tells a story that moves back and forth through time, alternating from the beginnings and subsequent scariness of her relationship with Christian to her summer away from him at the beach. Interspersed within these two timelines, Caletti uses foreshadowing to bring attention back to the overarching narrator and to amp up the fear and concern in the reader for Clara. Maybe readers suspect that she’ll make it through, but Caletti’s use of foreshadowing consistency raises the stakes and makes the reader question what state the main character will be in by the novel’s end, turning the story from a simple contemporary YA novel to a verifiable thriller.
Stay is written in the second person and directed either to the reader or possibly an unknown person who Clara trusts. Why do I say that she must trust the reader or the unspecified audience of the novel? Well, at key points in the novel, she specifies that the story she’s telling has never been told in its entirety to anyone she knows; not her father, not Finn, not even her best friend. This authorial decision means that not only are readers placed in the privileged position of witness to Clara’s tale, but also readers will feel intimately connected to her story right from page one. Moreover, while some abuse narratives reach a point where the reader may distance themselves from the protagonist, thinking why doesn’t she just get our of this obviously creepy relationship, the alternating timelines of this novel and Clara’s overarching narrative presence prevents this from occurring because she’s always already broken up with him and done everything in her power to escape from his clutches by running off to Bishop Rock with her father for the summer. When combined, these characteristics ensure that readers will connect to Clara in a way that may have eluded them in other similar stories.
In addition to the narrative structure and instant connection that I had with Clara, I really loved how utilizes postmodernism writing techniques in this YA novel. As an adult reader of teen fiction, I’ve occasionally found that readers of literary fiction look down upon this category of books, whether or not they’ve partaken in current offerings. While I, personally, value all young adult fiction, I think its imperative that advocates of YA can point to books like Stay to introduce readers of literary fiction to the fabulous worlds that I inhabit when I pick up a book. With Caletti’s use of metafiction, including footnotes that recount everything from keeping count of the number of famous people Clara name-drops throughout the book to giving additional information about the storyline, Stay proves that both YA writers and readers of these novels, teen or otherwise, aren’t getting anything less literary than typical literary fiction.
If you are in the mood for an atmospheric, creepy, and suspenseful read that combines great characters with a great structure and aspects of metafiction, then make sure you pick up Stay now. You may just find yourself recommending it as wholeheartedly as I am now.
Buy Stay today and save 20% off the regular price!
Buy Power Play
Regular Price: $14.99
Publisher: Harper Collins Canada
Reviewer: Melissa on April 16, 2013
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
No one’s tougher than Cody: his teammates, his rivals on the ice, and even his alcoholic father all pale in comparison. Cody knows he needs to be tough because he has his eyes set on the prize – to make it to the NHL – and he won’t let anything get in his way. When a Junior A League scout picks Cody to make the draft and becomes his new coach, he can’t believe his luck! Finally someone sees the potential he has to go pro! In bestselling, Canadian YA author, Eric Walters’ Power Play, however, Cody will soon learn that the person who he thought was his champion is planning to take as much (if not more) than he gives, transforming his big break into a nightmarish world of secrets, lies, and the unthinkable abuse of power.
In hockey, a power play occurs when one player has been issued a penalty, and thus, his or her team is forced to play with only five players (including the goalie) against six on the opposing side. With one additional player, it’s easy to see which team has the upper hand, or the power, in this situation. In Power Play, a book that tackles the disturbing relationship that occurs between Cody, a talented young hockey star, and his coach, it’s easy to see why this was the perfect title. With a subject like this one, Power Play has the potential to be a harrowing, uncomfortable novel, and I have to say that it certainly lives up to that description. That said, I highly recommend it for teens 14+ and adult readers of YA because it’s a really important subject, especially in Canada where hockey has become so ingrained in our cultural identity and playing in the NHL is the dream of so many teen boys. Might I even suggest that you read it along with your teen to answer any questions that come up with this topic, too? Sometimes the reason a book makes you uncomfortable is that it’s true, and Walters’ 2013 release certainly qualifies.
This is only the second novel I’ve read by Walters – the first was The Taming, which he co-wrote with Teresa Toten – but just from this brief introduction, I can already say that he knows voice. Cody’s story is told in a psychologically complex and interesting way that I believed completely. As the book blurb suggest, he isn’t a weak guy by any stretch of the imagination, but readers soon learn that part of the reason he’s so angry from the beginning has a lot to do with the poor relationship he has with his father, an alcoholic who has taken to yelling at Cody’s rivals, the refs, and even his own son during a game after he’s had one too many drinks. And of course, Cody is driven to succeed in the game. For a predatory character like Coach Conners, these qualities and Cody’s past issues at school make him a prime candidate for the extreme type of manipulation that Walters depicts on the pages of Power Play.
Saying anything more would give away too much of the story, but suffice it to say that Power Play is compelling look at what happens when the player-coach relationship is abused. Pick it up today, share it with a teen, and spread the word about a book might help teens see through the disturbing power politics represented in the novel if it ever happens to them or their friends because the more we talk about important books like this one, the more likely we’ll see lives saved.
Buy Power Play today!
Buy Live Through This
Special: $14.07 (Regular price: $17.99)
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Reviewer: Melissa on April 9, 2013
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
From the outside, Coley’s Sterling’s life seems pretty normal…if there really is such thing as a “normal” life. Not everything is perfect – her best friend is mad at her and her dance team captains have been giving her a hard time – but Coley’s crush on Reece helps distract her. Plus, her mom and stepdad would stop at nothing to keep her and her siblings happy. But what they don’t know is that Coley has a lot of secrets – secrets that she keeps even from herself. She won’t admit that her nearly perfect life is a carefully-constructed facade to hide the shame and guilt she feels about a relationship that crossed the line. Just when Coley has a chance to start dating her first boyfriend, the lies that she’s been keeping for a decade start to unravel. Mindi Scott’s Live Through This is a powerful novel that both teen and adult readers of young adult fiction won’t soon forget.
I first heard about Live Through This on a Canadian radio show, called The Current (NOTE: Spoilers on the radio show for this novel), which was debating the term, “sick-lit” to define a range of YA fiction with dark themes or illness as one of the major plot points. The interviewee who brought up this novel mentioned that it was one of the only teen books that deals with this topic, and thus, is an important book to have at school and public libraries in case a student is going through something similar. Readers of contemporary “issue” YA novels, like myself, know that these types of books not only help readers become more empathetic to others, but also help teens who aren’t able to talk about what they’ve experienced with anyone yet to feel less alone. In Scott’s second teen novel, Live Through This, she creates a character, who is going through something taboo with an authentic and realistic psychological perspective that could be exactly what another 14+ teen needs. In my opinion, a book like this one proves that young adult fiction can save lives, and thus, the term “sick-lit” is a poor description of this genre of realistic teen fiction.
Many authors need to do a lot of research to get the voice of their main character right. However, Scott lived through something similar to Coley, so any required research was backed up by her own memories of the insidious nature of the abuse that the main character suffers. She understands not only how confusing Coley’s feelings about her nightmarish life are to her as they would be to most, if not all, teens in the same situation, but also how worried she is that by not coming forward about her abuse that she might be putting someone else in her family at risk. Scott also understands how keeping this secret could destroy Coley and any chance she might have to be a happy teen with a regular boyfriend. And finally, she also understands Coley’s fear that if anyone ever found out about what’s happening in her own house, they would blame and think she was disgusting. Each of these psychological elements comes through in startling detail in a book which may be difficult to read, but is ultimately worth reading.
In the interest of not giving too much away about this story, I’m not going to say much else other than that YA readers won’t find a novel that is as brave, haunting, and well-written as Live Through This for quite some time. However, you might want to pick it up on a day when you have a lot of free time because you might end up staying awake well past your bedtime to finish this one. And if you enjoyed this book, you might also want to check out my review of her debut novel, Freefall, as well.
Buy Live Through This today and save 21% off the regular price!
Buy That Time I Joined The Circus
Reviewer: Melissa on April 2, 2013
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Lexi Ryan ran away to join the circus, but not on purpose. After making a huge mistake – and facing a terrible tragedy – New York City girl, Lexi is on her own with no choice but to track down her long-absent mother. Rumor has it that Lexi’s mom is somewhere in South Florida in a travelling circus, so that’s where she heads. However, when she arrives at her new three-ring reality, her mom isn’t there, but her destiny just might be. Surrounded by elephants, tigers, and trapeze artists, Lexi finds friends, and maybe even true love, in surprising places. She even gets a chance to predict people’s futures as the circus’ new fortune teller, but when someone from her past shows up, Lexi’s own future is up in the air all over again. In J.J. Howard’s That Time I Joined The Circus, readers get an inside look into circus culture, love, and betrayal, but keep in mind there’s always more to the story than meets the eye.
Some of you may not know that in addition to being a book blogger, I’m also a vegan, which is something that’s a big part of my life and informs the way I read books. As you can imagine, animal-based circuses (and the way they treat animals) aren’t my thing, but when I first saw the cover of That Time I Joined The Circus, I really wanted to read it. Perhaps it was nostalgia for my non-vegan childhood, which did include a trip to the circus once or twice and the magic that this setting had for me then. Perhaps it was just because the cover was pretty. While I know that not everyone will agree, this contemporary YA novel didn’t quite live up to the expectations that I had for it.
You see despite being a vegan, I really wanted to love this novel, but I didn’t. It was just okay for me. Perhaps it was the angsty quality of Lexi’s thoughts and statements that rubbed me the wrong way initially. Her perception that a circus is only a circus if animals are involved probably didn’t help. However, that said, both of these aspects wouldn’t have been an issue for me when I was a teen myself. In fact, I think that I would’ve found some sort of kinship with Lexi as a teen, but now, as an adult, I found her snarky demeanor to be a little off-putting, which made it harder to empathize with the difficult circumstances that she was going through. And if you read my reviews regularly, then you know that being able to relate to the main character in some way and/or feel like I’m being completely immersed in their head is of the highest importance for me. If it isn’t for you, however, then you may just be able to get passed one of my biggest issues with this book.
In addition to Lexi as a character, I think I was also a little disappointed in the fact that this book wasn’t quite as magical as I expected. Maybe I should’ve anticipated that the setting would be described in ways that drew back the magical veil since Lexi’s role is of a behind the scenes nature. Nevertheless, I did assume, mistakenly, that the performative aspect of the circus would be the chief way the novel could connect with the reader’s understanding of this travelling show, and it turned out not to be. In fact, some of the most nerve-racking aspects of the circus acts, including the fire-eating show, the trapeze, and the high-wire act, seem to be presented to us mainly during rehearsal, which has a distancing effect. I guess the takeaway is that the circus isn’t the most important thing about this novel – the focus, instead, is on the familial relationships, friendships and romantic entanglements with which Lexi has to deal.
Finally, I personally found the music references and quotations at the beginning of each chapter to be distracting. If I was familiar with them all, then maybe it wouldn’t have felt this way, but I can’t say for sure since try as I might, I couldn’t connect to them. I suppose that if I was really invested in this novel, then I might have searched for the songs online to listen to them, but in this case, it just wasn’t to be.
If you don’t mind angsty teen reads that are really just behind-the-scenes vignettes with a great focus on the main characters’ perspective, likes, and dislikes, then you ought to check out J.J. Howard’s debut novel, That Time I Joined the Circus.
Buy That Time I Joined The Circus today!
Buy Lost On Brier Island
Special: $11.01 (Regular price: $12.95)
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing
Reviewer: Melissa on June 21, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Brier Island is a small island community on the westernmost point of Nova Scotia. It’s a place where everyone knows who you are and what’s happened to you, which makes it exactly the kind of place that 14-year-old Alex would want to be after experiencing a terrible tragedy. Instead of doing things like going to the mall, she comes to visit, or rather, her parents make her visit her aunt on this small island for the summer. What Alex didn’t expect was that she’d get attached to a baby whale that she names Daredevil. When she and Daredevil are in danger, can Alex save him and herself before it’s too late?
Lost On Brier Island might be JoAnn Yhard‘s first YA novel, but she isn’t new to writing for a younger audience. Her first middle grade novel, The Fossil Hunter of Sydney Mines, was a Canadian bestseller, and after reading her most recent novel, I’m confident that it’ll be successful as well. Her writing captures the character and beauty of the Canadian distinct setting in a way that will evoke nostalgia for a place that is familiar to some of the novel’s readers or a desire to visit it for the first time. In particular, the animals and flora that inhabit the landscape are sure to be a hit with a younger preteen and teen audience, just as they are with the main character.
While Yhard has a beautiful backdrop for her story, her story isn’t without it’s difficult moments. When writing about difficult subject matter, like the tragedy Alex faces, many authors broach the topic immediately in a forthright way. However, Alex doesn’t want to talk or even think about the experience that brought her to Brier Island right away. She pushes her aunt away in a realistic way when she suggests that Alex can talk with her about anything. Thus, Yhard doesn’t reveal the circumstances with which Alex is dealing immediately through the character’s thoughts or otherwise. Instead, she stays true to the character, and slowly reveals more details about what Alex is going thorough with her thoughts, dreams, and finally, words. By giving Alex a chance to come to terms with her experience, Yhard develops her audience’s trust in her understanding of teens and will likely become an author that readers come back to repeatedly.
Finally, I think readers will be as enamored with Yhard’s depiction of her secondary characters as they will be with Alex. Details that are unexpected, such as Gus’ – a whale watching tour guide – immaculately clean hands are never for naught. In the writing of some other authors, they might become a detail that is never fully utilized, but Yhard offers up a realistic back story for it later in this novel. If smaller details are drawn so vibrantly, then you might imagine that larger aspects of these characters would be even more rich, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
From the richly-drawn characters and psychologically realistic behaviors to the well-defined setting and plot, Lost On Brier Island will reward readers looking for a contemporary novel that deals with emotionally difficult issues in a thoughtful and realistic way.
Buy Lost On Brier Island today and benefit from free shipping and 14% off the regular price!
Special $8.98 (Regular price: $15.75)
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Reviewer: Melissa on February 7, 2011
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
On the day that the blizzard started, no one expected that it would last for a week. For those in it’s path, it was more than a snow day or two. It was a matter of self-preservation — of keeping warm, of keeping alive. In Trapped by Michael Northrop, Scotty, Jason, and Pete are three friends, who are among the last seven students waiting to be picked up that day, but they soon realize that no one will be coming for them. Of course, the idea of a sleepover at school with two freshman girls, Julie and hot Krista, doesn’t sound like too much of a hassle. However, the longer they stay inside the school with no power, no heat, and the snow piling up higher and higher, the closer they get to having to make a drastic decision. Will they make the right choice or will something go horribly wrong?
When I first received a copy of this novel to review, I must admit that I was pretty excited. As someone who had grown up in the Niagara Region of Southern Ontario, Canada, I was used to hearing terms like “lake effect snowstorms” and the seemingly tall tales of the blizzard to end all blizzards before I was born, known as the Blizzard of ’77, in which I was told it wasn’t unlikely to find snow piled up to the top of the telephone poles or cars completely buried under the weight of snow. It has always seemed like something rather awe-inspiring to me as a child, and perhaps that was what I expected from reading Trapped for the first time. Not only that but the book design adds to the image I had of the book, with snow-covered pages marking the passage of time and the progress of the storm. However, I have to say that while I liked the novel overall, it didn’t reach the grotesque or Gothic fascination of the childhood stories I heard of a similarly overwhelming snowstorm.
On one hand, part of the problem was that I was expecting to read a story that relied more heavily on the Gothic aspects of the situation and that just didn’t happen. Rather than a suspense story, it’s much more closely aligned with the genre of contemporary YA novels. This information made a lot more sense when I realized that this is one of the novels for the Contemps Challenge, which I’m participating in, so keep that in mind if you decide to pick it up. In fact, at a key point towards the end of the novel, the main character Scotty suggests that him and the other six students were a pretty random assortment of students, which brought to my mind the 80s movie The Breakfast Club. I guess you could say it’s the brat pack with a whole lot of snow and updated slang (which is a good thing in my opinion).
Looking for more positive points? Well, at times, the contemporaneity of this novel surprised me. Cell phones, iPhones, text messages, and Facebook profiles I expected, but some of the jokes and other allusions to popular culture, including various popular apps, were great and unexpected. Another thing that I loved was the author’s decision to demonstrate that teens can be ingenious and have a great amount of inner strength as, in that way, it can be a very empowering novel. I don’t know if I would ever have such great survival skills as they all seem to have, but I think that the general teenage “invincibility” explains a great deal of how they are to do what they need to, when they need to do it.
Finally, you can’t review this book without emphasizing that Scotty and the rest of the boys in this novel really do think and act like one would expect a teen boy would. Does this mean that, perhaps, it would appeal more to teen boys than girls…yeah, I think that is accurate. Even if this novels didn’t quite live up to my expectations, there are a number of gems throughout this story that will charm all readers.
Buy Trapped today and save 42% off the regular price!
Buy The Rules Of Survival
Special $7.60 (Regular price: $8.99)
Reviewer: Melissa on February 3, 2011
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
For Matt and his two younger sisters, Callie and Emmy, everyday is a struggle to survive from the unpredictable nature of their mother, Nikki. Nikki was called “[o]ne of literature’s most despicable mothers” by a reviewer at Publishers Weekly when The Rules Of Survival, and Nancy Werlin was a finalist for the National Book Award when it was originally published. If these recommendations haven’t won you over already, then read a little further because I have a feeling that this powerful story will win you over too.
The Rules Of Survival is Matt’s recollection of the Walsh children’s harrowing day-to-day life, written two years after they’ve left their mother’s care as a letter/explanation of the events to Emmy. Matt thinks that maybe she will need to know the details of what happened to them as she gets older, and at the same time, it gives him the chance to think through the events for himself. Events like the time when Nikki brought home the ingredients to make seafood paella and hit Matt repeatedly across the face because he was trying to clean up and any number of other times that she put her children’s lives in danger or caused them to live in fear all the time.
While there are some really upsetting moments in this novel, this is also a story about hope and survival. Matt lived until he was 13 years old without ever thinking hope was possible. However, when he and Callie witness a scene in which a man named Murdoch stands up to someone who is screaming at a young boy, things change. He saw something in Murdoch that night, which made him think that this man could save them. And so begins this tale, a tale that is fragmented as is to be expected from a narrative about a young teen’s survival from devastating emotional and physical abuse. The glimmer of hope that he feels that night blossoms into a life that Matt feels is almost good when Nikki begins dating Murdoch several months later, but of course, the “good life” is short lived. Hinging on whether Murdoch will agree to help them out or will look the other way just like the other adults in their life and force Matt to take care of the situation himself, this story will keep you in its grip till the very end.
I couldn’t put this book down, but I didn’t love everything about it. One of the things that I really loved about this novel was the way in which Werlin demonstrated how draining and manipulative Nikki’s behavior was. If Matt, Callie, Emmy, or her sister Bobbie tried to do something nice for her or for their home, they could never tell how she would react to it: one time she might join in, while the next she’d be moody and insist on doing something else. In this way, Werlin is great at showing how Nikki’s behavior affected those around her.
At the same time, since the entire novel is written as Matt looks back on his past, it often felt like the reader is very much distanced from the action. Is this meant to reflect Matt’s desire to distance himself from the action as much as possible…yes, perhaps that is the case. From the way in which Matt attempted to shield both Callie and Emmy from Nikki as much as possible, it may have been a means of censoring some of the information from his youngest sister as well as from himself. Of course, censoring the info for his sister and himself means that there are, inevitably, things that the reader doesn’t know about. I’m still not sure how I feel about that aspect of The Rules Of Survival even though I finished this novel a few days ago.
What do you think…in stories of emotional and physical abuse, does there need to be some distance from the reader? Should the author make it obvious to the reader that some periods of time were skipped over or should they just go unnoticed and unmentioned? I’d love to talk this over with my readers, so feel free to leave your thoughts.
Buy The Rules Of Survival today and save 15% off the regular price!
Buy Prom & Prejudice
Special $11.99 (Regular price: $17.99)
Reviewer: Melissa on January 11, 2011
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single girl of high standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date.” So begins the tale of Lizzie Bennet, one of the few scholarship students at the prestigious Longbourn Academy for girls, in Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulong. As winter break ends, the girls at Longbourn are all vying for the attentions of the Pemberley Academy boys, eager to secure one of them as a date to the all-important junior prom. All of them except Lizzie that is. She isn’t interested in designer shoes or expensive dresses, but her best friend Jane might since Charles Bingley has just returned from a semester abroad. Too bad Lizzie thinks that his best friend Will Darcy is a complete jerk…or does she?
Now, I want to admit that I don’t typically read contemporary YA books like, PromAndPrejudice. Although I have watched the Bridget Jones movies as well as some modernizations that are specifically targeted to the teen audience, the realistic retelling of a classic novel like Pride And Prejudice has never been my thing before. This year, however, I wanted to expand my reading horizons and I thought, why not check out Eulberg’s new YA novel. I do, afterall, love the original by Jane Austen. While this novel won’t be my favorite one of year (if only because it started off a little slow for my taste), I’m pretty happy that I took a chance on it. The more I read, the more I wanted to read, which is a pretty good sign.
As you may have guessed from the brief synopsis, Eulberg does more than merely take the text that was written around 200 years ago and update the context. She completely removes some characters and makes liberties with the relationships of some of the other key characters, for example Jane and Lydia are sisters, but they aren’t Lizzie’s sisters. Some of the novels original comedic elements are removed, but others, like the ironic opening line, has merely been modified to accommodate the updated plot and the fact that girls are more enthusiastic about prom than their male counterparts. Rather than taking away from the existing classic by making these changes, the author makes her story more believable to today’s teens, including the fact that wealthy, educated individuals are far more likely to have fewer children. When a book like Austen’s most beloved classic is at the center of your narrative, you have to make some hard decisions. Eulberg understands not only that she needed to make these types of choices, but also she proves to have a relatively soft hand that fans of Pride and Prejudice will appreciate.
If you’ve already read PrideAndPrejudice, then you’ll have some idea of what to expect, but without giving away any spoilers, I can say that there will still be a few surprises. If you haven’t read the original, then perhaps you’ll enjoy the love-hate relationship between Lizzie and Will enough that it’ll be the next book you read. At least, I think that this novel would have than effect on me where I in the same situation. This is a fun, light read to get your mind off the cooler winter months and will make you either look forward to your own formal or look back on your own prom planning memories with fondness. And to top it all off, the book jacket and overall book design is a great mix of super pretty, Cinderellaesque magic and mischievous pranks – what’s not to love?!?
If you keep in mind that there won’t be anything ground-breaking about this novel and just let yourself enjoy the rhythm of the story, you may very well feel your pride and/or prejudice slipping away. You may very well enjoy yourself, Lizzie, Will, and the rest of the Longbourne and Pemberley gang.
Buy Prom & Prejudice today!
Buy Girl On The Other Side
Special $7.97 (Regular price: $10.99)
Publisher: Dundurn Press
Reviewer: Melissa on January 7, 2011
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Tabby Freeman and Lora Froggett may go to the same high school, but they exist on opposite sides of the social spectrum. Tabby might be pretty, rich, and the most popular girl in school, but she has secrets that are tearing apart her “perfect” life. On the bottom of the social ladder, Lora is shy, smart, and the continual target of bullying. While she’s struggles to make her way through life at school, she’s increasingly anxious that someone – a teacher or student – will learn the secret about what’s going on with her family. While Tabby and Lora seem really different, they both share secrets that are tearing them apart. When a series of events causes their lives to become intertwined and their secrets to be revealed publicly, will they be destroyed or saved?
Told in alternating, first person narration on specific days over a four month period, Girl On The Other Side is a powerful novel, which takes a penetrating look at people at both ends of the high school social strata. Whereas many YA novels about high school life and bullying stick to a single person’s perspective on the subject, usually the individual who is facing constant bullying from his or her peers, Deborah Kerbel‘s decision to look beyond this particular story enriches the reading experience.
Both of these girls recognize the pain that the other is facing, however, because of their places in the social sphere of school, they only think to themselves about what they witness. Tabby doesn’t usually participate in the constant bullying that Lora faces everyday, but she judges her. She thinks if only Lora would wash her hair more often and stood up for herself, she’d receive much less harassment from the other students. Similarly, Lora’s intimate knowledge of hiding her pain and sadness makes it easy to spot the same despair in Tabby for one brief moment. Rather than attempt to connect with her enemy, Lora looks away because “[h]er pain is so ugly, raw, and familiar” and secretly wonders what the richest and most poplar girl in school could know about despair (63). Anyone who has ever been a teen in either Tabby or Lora’s position will identify with not only their experiences, but also their reactions to seeing another girl in pain.
Stepping into another person’s perspective is hard. Other than through reading, we – as human beings – are socialized to connect with people who are “like” us. For teen girls, this issue is even more pronounced because, generally speaking, they’re still developing a sense of self and standing up to the ring leader would only mean that the bullying would be directed in your direction. While Kerbel illustrates this complex social structure with a keen eye for the details, she also demonstrates that one’s perspective on someone who is outside your social circle can be flawed. For example, Lora assumes that nothing could be wrong in Tabby’s life, but the reader already knows intimately that this is far from the truth. At the same time, Kerbel portrays a way that the social ladder can be breached, and in so doing, demonstrates that sometimes the people who understand us best may not be “like” us in the traditional sense.
I would highly recommend GirlOnTheOtherSide to teen and adult readers alike. In short, anyone who has ever been bullied, bullied someone else, or thought that the bullying of others was wrong will be moved by Kerbel’s story.
Buy Girl On The Other Side today!
Yesterday, I wrote about a number of great YA fantasy, paranormal romance, and dystopian novels that caught my eye over the last year. Each of the novels I mentioned could help readers of teen fiction, no matter what their age, to escape from a stressful situation into another world entirely when the going gets tough. In part, I got the idea from an article by Melissa Taylor, called “Percy Jackson Is My Therapist”, which quoted my thoughts on part of the reason that adults turn to YA novels.
While yesterday’s post spoke about novels that can help people escape from their reality to ease stress, I also mentioned a second way that YA books can ease stress, by offering proof that someone else understands the experience we’re going through. Sure, some escapist novels can offer this as well — I’ve said hundreds of times that Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy is a shining example of the post traumatic stress disorder that Katniss and many of the other area victors suffered long after they left the game for example. However, the novels that I think might have the greatest impact on the family member or friend, who is going through a rough patch, are those that give a realistic and honest portrayal of the situation, no matter what it is. Of course, you know your loved ones better than I do, so if it’s complete and utter escape they need, then definitely take a look at the books I recommended yesterday. If, on the other hand, a shoulder to cry on or an understanding soul to lean on is closer to what they’re looking for, then here are some of my favorites. (Please note, this is far from an exhaustive list because I haven’t read every book, but I think you’ll find I mention books with a wide range of issues that might correspond to the experience of someone you know.)
Some books discuss the death of a loved one like the following:
Others are about eating disorders:
- Purge by Sarah Darer Littman
In a couple of books that I loved, the main character struggles with love and understanding their sexuality:
Or struggles with various forms of self harm or other self-destructive behavior:
An experience with date rape:
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Tthe stress of college applications:
Do they know someone who committed suicide or are they depressed themselves:
Or who has a form of autism:
Maybe they are being bullied:
Or are they struggling with the divorce of their parents or parents remarrying:
Any one of these books might be just the thing to help a young adult get through a rough patch in their lives, and who knows, maybe reading them along side a teen will help you understand them better too, which might just be the best gift of all.