Review: We Are All That’s Left by Carrie Arcos

36106979*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: We Are All That’s Left

Author: Carrie Arcos

Publisher: Philomel Books

Publication Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 9780399175541

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Zara and her mother, Nadja, have a strained relationship. Nadja just doesn’t understand Zara’s creative passion for, and self-expression through, photography. And Zara doesn’t know how to reach beyond their differences and connect to a closed-off mother who refuses to speak about her past in Bosnia. But when a bomb explodes as they’re shopping in their local farmers’ market in Rhode Island, Zara is left with PTSD–and her mother is left in a coma. Without the opportunity to get to know her mother, Zara is left with questions–not just about her mother, but about faith, religion, history, and her own path forward. As Zara tries to sort through her confusion, she meets Joseph, whose grandmother is also in the hospital, and whose exploration of religion and philosophy offer comfort and insight into Zara’s own line of thinking.

We Are All That’s Left tells an incredibly moving story about a family scarred by war–from years ago and even now in the present day. Zara knows so little of her own mother, but a terrorist attack leaves her questioning everything she’s ever known and longing to know her mother better. She and her mother struggle to connect across a vast divide of difference, but after an attack at the market leaves Zara with so many physical and emotional scars and leaves her mother in a coma, the walls begin to fall down. Perhaps these two women have more in common than either of them ever thought.

This story is a heavy read, but it addresses some incredibly important topics from family and generational disconnect to terrorism, sexual assault, genocide, murder, PTSD, war, discrimination, and racism. It takes these awful things and really shows that so much good can arise out of the darkness, offering a beacon of hope. In juxtaposition to these tough themes, Arcos story is, in its essence, about forgiveness, acceptance, love, friendship, strength, and faith. It is a multifaceted and layered story that exposes the true reality of our world today. No falseness, no decoration. Just honesty.  Zara’s world unfolds momentously as everything in her world shifts after the attack. It is not the safe and sheltered place it was before. She comes to understand her mother in this profound way that she could have never imagined. At the same time, she tries to come to terms with her new reality, and that seems like an impossible thing to do.

I think there are so many people, teens especially, that would relate to this story. Zara is this awesome and open character who is at a pivotal time in her life. She’s pursuing her passion and seeking her purpose when her world is upended. This story is a tumultuous coming of age with a protagonist who is so incredibly real and fierce. She’s a fighter and she wants her story to be told. This book combines history with the present, highlighting humanity’s greatest struggles and weaknesses, but also those things that are most beautiful.

There’s so much emotion to be hand in this small volume. Arcos has so many moving things to say. You really can’t miss out on this book.

Happy reading!


Review: The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik

30734631.jpg*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik

Author: David Arnold

Publisher: Viking

Publication Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 9780525625698

Synopsis from Goodreads:
This is Noah Oakman → sixteen, Bowie believer, concise historian, disillusioned swimmer, son, brother, friend.

Then Noah → gets hypnotized.

Now Noah → sees changes—inexplicable scars, odd behaviors, rewritten histories—in all those around him. All except his Strange Fascinations . . .

This book was really intriguing! It’s unlike many YA novels that I’ve read. Think Bowie meets Vonnegut meets coming-of-age fiction and you get this glorious creation. Noah is a adrift in his world, uncertain of what he actually wants to do with his life as he stands on the precipice of graduation, but very certain of the plans that everyone else has for him. He’s in a bit of a slump–nothing too crazy, but big decisions are looming over him and grow closer every day. The thought of change and distance from everything and everyone he’s ever known have got him preemptively distancing himself from his friends and family a bit as he tries to gain some sort of understanding of his own goals. Then, Noah accidentally ends up in a situation he never expected. He gets hypnotized and when he wakes up, his whole world shifts on it’s axis. Nothing is as it was before, except for Noah himself. He begins to see his world in a new light.

Noah as a character is brilliant. He’s quirky and a bit of a lone wolf with just a few very close friends. He loves Bowie, dreads change, and is afraid of striking out on his own path. I think there are many teens out there who might relate to him quite well. I thought he was magnificently entertaining. He has multiples of the exact same outfit that he wears every day, he’s obsessed with this obscure author who writes these Vonnegut-esque stories, and he’s got this amazing dog who no longer knows how to bark. His friendships with Val and Alan are incredibly charming and light-hearted, but his friends don’t shy away in the slightest from addressing tough topics. Their story explores family, friendship, sexuality, love, self-discovery, acceptance, the future, and so much more.

Overall, I adored how light-hearted and heart-warming this story was in the end. This story will have you questioning what is the truth and how this world that Arnold creates actually functions. The characters will suck you right in and hopefully, you’ll enjoy this story as much as I did.

Review: Folded Notes from High School by Matt Boren

34671577*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Folded Notes from High School

Author: Matt Boren

Publisher: Razorbill

Publication Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 9780451478221

Synopsis from Goodreads:
It’s 1991, and Tara Maureen Murphy is finally on top. A frightening cross between Regina George and Tracy Flick, Tara Maureen Murphy is any high school’s worst nightmare, bringing single-minded ambition, narcissism, manipulation, and jealousy to new extremes. She’s got a hot jock boyfriend in Christopher Patrick Caparelli, her best friend Stef Campbell by her side, and she’s a SENIOR, poised to star as Sandy in South High’s production of Grease. Cinching the role is just one teensy step in Tara’s plot to get out of her hometown and become the Broadway starlet she was born to be. She’s grasping distance from the finish line–graduation and college are right around the corner–but she has to remain vigilant. It gets trickier with the arrival of freshman Matthew Bloom, whose dazzling audition for the role of Danny Zuko turns Tara’s world upside down. Freshmen belong in the chorus, not the spotlight! But Tara’s outrage is tinged with an unfamiliar emotion, at least to her: adoration. And what starts as a conniving ploy to “mentor” young Matt quickly turns into a romantic obsession that threatens to topple Tara’s hard-won status at South High….

Folded Notes from High School was the light, quick, entertaining read that you’d expect it to be. It’s got that nostalgia factor for anyone who remembers anything about the 90s. Boren kicks things off right at the begging by defining a folded note in a humorous opening that acknowledges how much things have changed from the pre-technology era until now. I did really love the 90s vibe. It was a nice throwback to my childhood. Boren draws a stark line, defining the exact era that this novel takes place and setting the tone for the story. This whole book, written epistolary style, is a nod to anyone who grew up in the time before the Internet and text messages, when notes were passed in class and in the hallways. Perhaps they still are, but Boren takes the stance that this is a thing of the past.

Beyond enjoying the nostalgia throughout–the “4eva”s, the crazy silly acronyms, the rambling silly notes on college-ruled paper–I can’t say that I was much of a fan of the protagonist. Tara Maureen Murphy is incredibly immature for a senior in high school. She’s vapid, self-absorbed, and has no redeeming qualities. She’s the focal point of the story so other characters who show a lot more potential and who are much more interesting get lost in the whirlwind of her narrative. I was intrigued by secondary characters like Tara’s friend Stef who for Tara is little more than a soundboard to bounce her own ideas off of, or Stacey who resides in the background but has strong morals and a level of maturity not seen in any other character in the story. I wanted more of Tara’s freshman friend, Matt, who is thriving in theatre and who knows who he is and what he wants. There were so many great secondary characters who take a backseat to Tara’s theatrics, leaving me a bit disappointed in this story as a whole.

The epistolary, “folded note” structure means that so much is lost in the characterization of Tara. We learn bits and pieces, like her family life is not all that great, but she experiences little to no growth throughout, and we don’t really get to understand what makes her the way she is. It’s very unsatisfying. In the end, we’re left with no resolution which leads me to believe that this story ends on a tumultuous note. It suggest that the drama never ends and that things may or may not get better. I was a bit displeased with this decision as it left me wishing for a more resolute conclusion.

I can’t say if readers will really like this one or not. I won’t discourage you from trying. The target audience for reading level and concept is definitely a younger group, however the content, drawing deeply on that nostalgia factor, is aimed at an older audience. Let me know if your opinion differs from mine!

Review: Shadow Child by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

36204876*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Shadow Child

Author: Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 9781538711453

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A haunting and suspenseful literary tale set in 1970s New York City and World War II-era Japan, about three strong women, the dangerous ties of family and identity, and the long shadow our histories can cast. Twin sisters Hana and Kei grew up in a tiny Hawaiian town in the 1950s and 1960s, so close they shared the same nickname. Raised in dreamlike isolation by their loving but unstable mother, they were fatherless, mixed-race, and utterly inseparable, devoted to one another. But when their cherished threesome with Mama is broken, and then further shattered by a violent, nearly fatal betrayal that neither young woman can forgive, it seems their bond may be severed forever–until, six years later, Kei arrives on Hana’s lonely Manhattan doorstep with a secret that will change everything.

I really enjoyed reading Rizzuto’s Shadow Child. It was a great blend of mystery, literary, and historical fiction, bringing together a story of family, loss, tragedy, heart-break. The story of Lillie is a devastating recollection of the Japanese work camps in America and the incredible struggle and loss brought on in World War II. In contrast is the story of twin sisters, Hana and Kei, who grow up so close to one another that they often go by the same nickname, or are easily confused as they slip into one another’s identity.  This story is a discovery of truth, of secrets long kept or suppressed that are life changing.

There is an undercurrent of mental illness running throughout the story. Lillie struggles with crippling depression in the wake of the trauma of Hiroshima–something she struggles with until the end of her life. Mental illness trickles down to her daughter Hana, whom we come to know very well, as she fails to heal in the aftermath of a traumatic event that leaves her with paralyzing anxiety and an inescapable and altered sense of reality. Through their stories, Rizzuto explores memory and how perception and memory can change with time, or with how one experienced an event. Hana’s thoughts are swirling and often confused. Lillie’s memories seem more straightforward, but she tells them as fictional stories, as if the memories do not belong to her.

This is a mystery story  that draws a lot on altered perception and self-discovery through time and healing. It doesn’t neatly fit into one genre or another, but blends time, place, and genre artfully to create something engaging and interesting. It questions how we form our identities and how we determine who we are as people and as individuals.

Happy reading!