Review: Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

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*I received my copy of this book from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Six Impossible Things

Author: Fiona Wood

Publisher: Poppy, and imprint of Little, Brown and Company

Publication Date: August 15, 2015

ISBN: 9780316242165

Six Impossible Things

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Fourteen year old nerd-boy Dan Cereill is not quite coping with a reversal of family fortune, moving house, new school hell, a mother with a failing wedding cake business, a just-out gay dad, and an impossible crush on Estelle, the girl next door. His life is a mess, but for now he’s narrowed it down to just six impossible things… 

—–

I think what really made this book for me was the charming and wonderful boy that Dan Cereill is. It’s hard not to like this boy who has a crush on the girl next door. He’s hard working, he’s a little bit dopey, and he’s working hard to make positive changes in his life, even if he fumbles along the way. This story is a bit of a coming-of-age story where Dan decides that starting a new school means that he can reinvent himself. Things don’t go exactly to planned, but over the course of the novel, Dan starts to take control of his adolescent life, getting active, gaining confidence, and trying all sorts of new experience. With an intended readership of 12 yrs +, this is a great story about staying true to yourself and not pretending to be someone you’re not.

My main criticism with this book is that Dan doesn’t always sounds like the 14 going on 15-year-old boy that he is. His language and insights are often much more mature than he is. On the other hand, his language is often balanced with silly blundering errors. For example, he signs up for a job at the local thrift store, excited to start making money, but it isn’t until after the fact that he realizes that it’s a volunteer position. As a whole, he’s witty, smart, quick, and quirky. He’s just a typical kid trying to get his bearings on his parents’ recent separation and his father’s rapid abandonment and new sexual identity. He’s lost and confused, but Dan’s story is about finding his way and coming to terms with his new situation.

It’s cute, it’s fun, and it’ll bring a smile to your face. I hope you enjoy!

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Review: Alive by Chandler Baker

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*I received my copy of this book from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Alive

Author: Chandler Baker

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Publication Date: June 09, 2015

ISBN: 9781484706831

Alive

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Stella Cross’s heart is poisoned. After years on the transplant waiting list, she’s running out of hope that she’ll ever see her eighteenth birthday. Then, miraculously, Stella receives the transplant she needs to survive. Determined to embrace everything she came so close to losing, Stella throws herself into her new life. But her recovery is marred by strange side effects: Nightmares. Hallucinations. A recurring pain that flares every day at the exact same moment. Then Stella meets Levi Zin, the new boy on everyone’s radar at her Seattle prep school. Stella has never felt more drawn to anyone in her life, and soon she and Levi are inseparable.  Stella is convinced that Levi is her soul mate. Why else would she literally ache for him when they are apart? After all, the heart never lies…does it?

—–

Stella is given the gift of life when a heart suddenly become available for her. Overnight, those days of gasping and exhaustion from her strained heart are over as the new, healthy heart restores her strength and vitality. But the heart seems to almost be more of a curse than a blessing. Stella is plagued with nightly pains that nearly rip her apart, and the boy there’s something sinister about the boy she’s fallen head over heals for.

I have to say, I couldn’t stand Stella. She’s a self-absorbed, typical love-struck team. She’s a tease and walks all over her friends who seem to be pretty kind, selfless people. She passes up the romance with a long-time friend, stomping all over his heart in the process, for some dude she’s known all of two seconds. She falls into the typical, obnoxious, selfish teen stereotype and does nothing to break free of it. She refuses to listen to her parents’ concerns about her healing process and ignores any pains that she has in her chest to recklessly galavant around. The characterization is so blah and boring.

I was really interested in this story when I thought of it as a girl struggling to recover from a heart transplant and to regain her life, but Baker tries to take it to the next level by introducing…somewhat clumsily…elements of the dark and paranormal. There’s really no indication that this is what the story was about, and I was actually really annoyed that the story took this kind of turn. I’m very rarely one for ghost stories, and I’m not huge on the supernatural. I enjoy it when I know that’s what I’m getting into. But I’m frustrated that this book tries to pass itself off as “sick lit” so to speak,  and in the end is a haunting story. Bring in dark, sinister topics, but don’t disguise a book as one thing only to make it something completely and totally different. I love a great twist in a novel, but it’s all about consistency and continuity, two things that Alive lacks.

Definitely not one for me. I know others seem to really enjoy Baker’s story so perhaps you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

Review: Every Last Word

23341894*I received my copy from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Every Last Word

Author: Tamara Ireland Stone

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Publication Date: June 15, 2015

ISBN: 9781484705278

Every Last Word

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.
Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.
Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

—–

It’s always so refreshing to return to YA lit and this is my first experience with a story that deals with the topic of mental illness. This book had me on a roller coaster of emotions. Sam struggles with OCD. She’s beautiful, popular, and by all definitions “normal” from an outsider’s perspective. But on the inside, every day is a struggle. Everyday she’s got to talk herself through the obsessive thoughts. She sees a therapist weekly and takes medication to calm her anxiety and to help her sleep. All she want is to be “normal.”

What I loved about this story is that Sam doesn’t feel like a strong person, but she shows herself to be an incredible open, unique, and much-stronger-than-she-thinks individual. She joins a ragtag group of students in Poet’s Corner and among these true and wonderful friends, she finds herself. Sam finds an inner well of strength and understanding in herself over the course of the novel. She learns to embrace her illness as a unique side of herself…not something that defines her. She learns how to accept this side of herself, and in time, she’s able to show this side of herself–something she’s kept a secret for so long–to others in her life. She comes to find greater acceptance from her new friends than she ever experienced from her old friend.

Sam is a fascinating, multi-faceted character. She’s athletic, artistic, and kind. She’s seeking to make a change in her life and to become a better person. She develops clear goals and passions, and even find a bit of romance along the way. The romance is one where both characters have faced difficulty and both characters are extremely believable and open. Sam is super relatable and so entirely honest about everything in her life. The reader begins to feel more like her confident than an outside observer. It’s been a while since a book had me sobbing part way through, or raised goosebumps on my arms. Ever Last Word is everything I’d ever want in a YA novel.

Does any one have suggestions for other similar YA novels addressing mental illness? I love that this is a topic that’s so popular in YA lit today.

Review: God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

23602473*I received my copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: God Help the Child

Author: Toni Morrison

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: April 2015

ISBN: 9780307594174

God Help the Child

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child—the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment—weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.
At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

—–

Toni Morrison’s first novel to be set in our current time, showcases her talent once again. I’ve never been disappointed with her stories and you wont want to miss out reading this one. Bride is a child born with blue black skin who longs to gain the affection of her pale-skinned mother. Although race is a factor in this story, it’s not the central plot. At the heart of this story is child abuse and sexual crimes against children. It’s the sad story of recovery and coming to fully understand and accept oneself.

In an attempt to gain her mother’s fleeting love, Bride lies on the stand, condemning an innocent woman of sexually abusing the children she teaches. In tandem to this, the man that Bride loves struggles to overcome the rape and murder of his brother when they were young. This story looks at how we survive and how we deal with the sins we commit. Can we learn to forgive ourselves and to forgive those who have done wrong…and what are those crimes that are completely unforgivable?

Bride struggles throughout the novel, returning to the mental state that she occupied as a child as she struggles to come to terms with the terrible act she committed against her teacher. She acknowledges that she only wanted her mothers love, but that’s something that she was never able to fully and truly attain, and she is ashamed that committing such a cruel act was the only was she could connect with the woman she knows as Sweetness.

My main criticism of this story is that Morrison introduces chapters from the perspective of secondary characters–Sweetness, Brooklyn, and Sofia– whose perspectives add little to the overall plot. I commend her for wanting to give each character a voice, especially because the secondary characters are extraordinarily complex. This novel needs an additional hundred pages or more in length to further explore these other characters because instead of finding their contributions essential to the overall plot, I found they detracted from it.

Overall, however, I was not disappointed by Morrison’s new text. I hope you enjoy it as well!

Book Club 6: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

15841873Titles: Life After Life

Author: Kate Atkinson

Publisher: Bond Street Books

Publication Date: 2013

ISBN: 9780385671378

Life After Life
Synopsis from Goodreads:
What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath. During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale. What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to? Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, she finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past.
——
This has been one of the best book club books so far. Kate Atkinson is a wizard with a pen. If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently? Ursula Todd is blessed with the gift of rebirth. She learns of the Buddhist idea of reincarnation from her therapist at a young age, but she’s not sure if that word applies to her, or even if she’s been reborn. All she knows is that as she grows, an intense sense of impending doom hits her at various points in her life. This feeling assures her that death likely lurks around the next corner, and so she changes her behaviour, often resisting her own instincts.
There is nothing straightforward about this story, but Atkinson’s writing remains clear and pointed. Although we never know where Ursula is going to end up, Atkinson knows from the very beginning. What I loved about this story was that I could almost hear the universe thinking to itself how it could improve upon Ursula’s life. In some instances, it takes a few tries for Ursula’s story to progress. We can never be quite certain when, where, or how Ursula will die. Nor do we know when this cycle will end. It can be frustrating, but as an observer, we can see that although sometimes actions may change, the result may always be the same. It’s nearly impossible to change the inevitable.
I did find the beginning to be slow. It was difficult to get to know Ursula as a character as a child, especially in those strange and whimsical moments where here life would stall at a particular age. But as her life resets in various ways, we get to see all that Ursula is capable of. We see her worst possible outcome, and her strongest and best possible outcome. Her life only settles into place when she achieves the greatest possible manifestation of her best characteristics. Ursula is a character with a life-changing purpose. Only when everything goes the right way in her life is she able to fulfill that purpose. She may not be destined for great romance, or huge academic success, but she does pave the way for heard working women emerging and entering the work force post-WWII.
I liked how this was a story more of civilians during the war rather than a story of the war. There are so many stories about war, but it’s not often that you see how the war so gruesomely affected civilians. Ursula gets up close. She is affected by the war, entirely entrenched in the action. She does her part to help, identifying the dead and salvaging what she can of the living. The war is personal for her in so many of her stories. Her family is affected and she’s deeply involved no matter what life she’s living. She’s a woman who gets up, dusts herself off, and does what she has to do to survive.
The heaviness of the war and death is contrasted with the light-hearted character of Izzie and the safe haven of Fox Corner. Izzie lives her life doing exactly what she pleases. She makes it big off a serious of children’s books based off the life of Ursula’s brother. There’s humour laced throughout the story that provides relief from a story that precariously balances life and death. Atkinson displays her talent as a writer of a complex and intimate story.
Any fans of Kate Atkinson out there? With A God in Ruins just out, how do you find her other stories compare to this new book?