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Take 5: Karen’s TBR Pile (I’ll Show You Mine if You’ll Show Me Yours)

We have come to the point in my year when I have fallen behind in reading the books in my TBR pile. This seems to be a yearly event, maybe I should celebrate with balloons and cake. Please tell me I’m not the only one behind on my reading . . . Anyhow, I thought I would share with you 5 of the titles that I’m reading now or very, very soon. I’ll show you my TBR pile if you’ll show me yours. Ready? Go.

Who R U Really? by Margo Kelly

Publisher’s Description:

Thea’s overprotective parents are driving her insane. They invade her privacy, ask too many questions, and restrict her online time so severely that Thea feels she has no life at all. When she discovers a new role-playing game online, Thea breaks the rules by staying up late to play. She’s living a double life: on one hand, the obedient daughter; on the other, a girl slipping deeper into darkness. In the world of the game, Thea falls under the spell of Kit, an older boy whose smarts and savvy can’t defeat his loneliness and near-suicidal despair. As Kit draws soft-hearted Thea into his drama, she creates a full plate of cover stories for her parents and then even her friends.

Soon, Thea is all alone in the dark world with Kit, who worries her more and more, but also seems to be the only person who really “gets” her. Is he frightening, the way he seems sometimes, or only terribly sad? Should Thea fear Kit, or pity him? And now, Kit wants to come out of the screen and bring Thea into his real-life world. As much as she suspects that this is wrong, Thea is powerless to resist Kit’s allure, and hurtles toward the same dark fate her parents feared most. Ripped from a true-life story of Internet stalking, Who R U Really? will excite you and scare you, as Thea’s life spins out of control.

Karen’s Thoughts: The idea of online safety and Internet stalking is certainly a timely issue. Stalking as a whole seems to be having a moment of cultural relevance, whether it be the new TV show Stalker or Shia LaBeouf’s recent admission that he engaged in some “light stalking” of Alec Baldwin. Maroon 5 was recently called out by RAINN for its video of the new single Animal, which RAINN suggests romanticizes stalking. And of course this week the news of Kathleen Hale’s admission she stalked a reviewer that she had some online interactions with has been all over the place. At the same time, there is no escaping the news of GamerGate and the incredible ramifications it has for the online community. So it seems Who R U Really? is a very timely read. For the record, stalking is always wrong and Internet safety is an important issue we need to keep engaging our teens in conversation about.

Made for You by Melissa Marr

Publisher’s Description:

Bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely books Melissa Marr’s first contemporary YA novel is a twisted southern gothic tale of obsession, romance, and murder. A killer is obsessed with Eva Tilling. Can she stop him, or will he claim her?

When Eva Tilling wakes up in the hospital, she’s confused—who in her sleepy little North Carolina town could have hit her with their car? And why? But before she can consider the question, she finds that she’s awoken with a strange new skill: the ability to foresee people’s deaths when they touch her. While she is recovering from the hit-and-run, Nate, an old flame, reappears, and the two must traverse their rocky past as they figure out how to use Eva’s power to keep her friends—and themselves—alive. But while Eva and Nate grow closer, the killer grows increasingly frantic in his attempt to get to Eva.

For the first time, New York Times bestselling author Melissa Marr has applied her extraordinary talent to contemporary realism. Chilling twists, unrequited obsession, and high-stakes romance drive this Gothic, racy thriller—a story of small-town oppression and salvation. Melissa’s fans, and every YA reader, will find its wild ride enthralling.

Karen’s Thoughts: I read Wicked Lovely years ago and thought it was a really intriguing concept. I am a sucker for stories where people have some type of unique power, all the better if it’s a new power they have to try and figure out, and Marr has proven herself a good author.

Taken by David Massey

Publisher’s Description:

A young crew of five are toughing it out together, sailing around the world on a gruelling charity challenge. They are used to being pushed to the limit, but nothing could have prepared them for being kidnapped.

When they are taken hostage by a notorious warlord and his band of child soldiers, the trip of a lifetime turns into a one-way journey into the heart of the African jungle.

When hope is all you have, survival is all you can fight for.

Karen’s Thoughts: Maybe I should make a Take 5 list of island survival stories! It could include NIL by Lynne Matson, the Phantom Island series by Krissi Dallas, Lost Girls by Ann Kelley, and of course Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. There is also a boat crash and island in The Living by Matt de la Pena. As a longtime fan of The Lord of the Flies, I am always game for a survival story of any type. And child soldiers are a concept that breaks my heart. And the African jungle is always such an intriguing setting. So as you can see, there are a lot of appeal factors here for me.

The Fire Artist by Daisy Whitney

Publisher’s Description:

A forbidden romance literally heats up in this new fantasy from acclaimed author Daisy Whitney.

Aria is an elemental artist—she creates fire from her hands. But her power is not natural. She steals it from lightning. It’s dangerous and illegal in her world. When she’s recruited to perform, she seizes the chance to get away from her family. But her power is fading too fast to keep stealing from the sky. She has no choice but to turn to a Granter—a modern day genie. She gets one wish at an extremely high price. Aria’s willing to take a chance, but then she falls in love with the Granter . . . and he wants his freedom. Aria must decide what she’s willing to bargain and how much her own heart, body, and soul are worth.

In a world where the sport of elemental powers is the most popular form of entertainment, readers will be swept away by a romance with stakes higher than life and death.

Karen’s Thoughts:  Daisy Whitney makes it on to my TBR list because she wrote the very important The Mockingbirds and the very emotionally well done When You Were Here, both of which I recommend. I haven’t read any of her fantasy before, but I’m a huge fan of fantasy so I’m looking forward to this.

Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

Publisher’s Description:

Life. Death. And…Love?

Emma would give anything to talk to her mother one last time. Tell her about her slipping grades, her anger with her stepfather, and the boy with the bad reputation who might be the only one Emma can be herself with.

But Emma can’t tell her mother anything. Because her mother is brain-dead and being kept alive by machines for the baby growing inside her.

Meeting bad-boy Caleb Harrison wouldn’t have interested Old Emma. But New Emma-the one who exists in a fog of grief, who no longer cares about school, whose only social outlet is her best friend Olivia-New Emma is startled by the connection she and Caleb forge.

Feeling her own heart beat again wakes Emma from the grief that has grayed her existence. Is there hope for life after death-and maybe, for love?

Karen’s Thoughts: In February of this year, this story became real life right here in Texas. Women’s issues like access to birth control, access to abortion, and even things like whether or not we can (or should) charge a pregnant woman for using drugs (which may one day become eating the wrong foods or exercising too much) during their pregnancy are very much in the public conversation at the moment – and they are very controversial, hot button issues steeped in things like people’s personal religious beliefs and personal life experience. Scott is bold to take on such a controversial issue and I look forward to reading this and seeing how she handles it.

These books are all actually in the wild as we speak. This post doesn’t even cover the ARCs on my TBR pile. So I guess I better go get reading. What’s on your TBR pile? Old or new please share in the comments. 

Girl Meets Boy, Boy Stalks Girl (Book Review: Falling for You by Lisa Schroeder)

This will not be your ordinary book review, because I need to talk to you about not only my thoughts as a librarian, but as a reader.  Read the whole review, because this was quite the reading journey and my initial reaction changed drastically as I read on.

If you follow me on Twitter (@tlt16), you know that I initially wanted to throw this book across the room and walk away.  You see, Falling for You is the story of Rae.  Rae comes from an extremely dysfunctional home but is presented as a strong, though guarded, young woman.  Then she meets Nathan, the new boy in school.  Nathan is intense, alarming. From day 1, Nathan sends alarm signals to those in the know; getting into a relationship with Nathan is a really bad idea – and Rae seems too smart for that (edited to add: please see the great discussion in the comments where I clarify this statement).  This was my initial Tweet:

The very next day, Nathan and Rae are eating pizza.  “A supreme?”, he asks.  But no, Rae doesn’t like onions.  “You can just pick them off,” Nathan replies.  He dominates the conversation.  He kisses. A lot.  He suggests she deletes all the other guys out of her cell phone.  He pressures her, often, to have sex in ways that are emotionally manipulative and sometimes terrifying.  I hated Nathan, but then you’re supposed to.  But more importantly, it didn’t seem like Rae was the type of girl to fall into this trap.  It seemed like really inconsistent character writing.

So, I was torn.  But then Heather, who is reviewing this title for Booklist so look for her review, told me to keep reading it.  I respect Heather, her opinion, so read on I did. And I AM SO GLAD THAT I LISTENED TO HER. Why?

See, Rae tells her friends that she is worried by Nathan’s behavior.  And, as it devolves into scary stalker soon to be abusive territory, her friends see it too and back her up.  For once, we have a strong though flawed teenage girl noticing the signs of an abusive relationship and trying to get herself out of the situation.  What a powerful message to girls, you can get out.  We know that statistically most girls will leave something like 7 times before they leave for the last time, Rae does slip at one point.  We also know that leaving an abusive relationship is one of the most dangerous times for women because these types of men don’t like losing control.  But that particular fact isn’t really shown in Rae’s relationship with Nathan, but in her mom’s relationship with her stepfather Dean.  An entirely different plot point, an equally heartbreaking.  Rae’s mom makes a revealation that very realistically depicts domestic violence.

A Rae of Sunshine

Although the cover sells it that way, Falling for You is not really simply a book about obsessive love.  Falling for You is really the story of Rae, a young girl trying to find herself and find happiness in a world that has definitely dealt her a crappy hand.  Rae is a realistic teenage girl; she is me, she is the girl you pass in the hallways at school. Even while her mother ignores her and her stepfather spirals out of control, there are people in her life that genuinely love and support her.  In fact, one of the closing themes of Falling for You is the idea of family: 

As I took it all in, three pairs of eyes reached out to me. And what I saw in my friends’ faces surprised me. . . And in that moment, I realized family isn’t necessarily who you live with. (page 339)

A Kindness Revolution with a Dab of Poetry

I won’t get into the details, but another significant part of the story are some random acts of kindness that an anonymous person sends Rae on through her job at a florist.  While making deliveries, Rae meets various strangers who touch her life in a variety of ways.  At the same time, Rae begins sharing her poetry in the school newspaper.  Although she does so at first anonymously, she eventually chooses to put her name on her poems and encourages her fellow students to be open about who they really are.  There is some great discussion here about how the social expectation has come to be that we must always be “on”, and in those moments of dishonesty, we rob ourselves of the chance to truly connect with one another.  The message is sometimes preachy, but it is spot on and important.

In the End, I Shed Tears

Falling for You turned out to be such an uplifting story, inspiring.  What at first seemed like inconsistent character issues turned out to be a compelling arc of a young woman coming into her own.  And I was thankful for those moments of insight that Rae shared, those moments where she recognized her neediness and questioned what she was doing.  Rae was strong but flawed, a very realistic depiction.  Rae is relateable.  Rae is real.

The Storytelling

I want to take a moment to share one other element that I think made this a strong story; because, although at the times the story gets preachy, it has a strong storytelling style that keeps you invested.  We begin with a very vague scene in the hospital, where you realize that something has happened to someone, something horrible and tragic.  Then the book itself is divided into sections: 5 months before, 4 months before, 3 months before, 1 month before, the day before.  In between each section is another ominous hospital scene.  You know something bad has happened, but you have no idea what.  At the same time, you see the elements of both Rae’s relationship with Nathan and her stepfather spiraling out of control.  Either one of them is a candidate for having done something to Rae, and you want to know what happened and who did it.  It is a very taut stortytelling mechanism, it keeps readers turning the page.

And Then There Was Leo

There are several rays of light in Rae’s life, but one of my favorites is her friend Leo.  Leo is, simply stated, a good guy.  He’s the type of guy you want your teens to date (if they must date – can’t they wait until they’re 30 LOL).  He isn’t shiny and dazzling and perfect.  He is real. A lot of times the boys in teen fiction are “hot” and “swoony”, setting some unrealistic expectations in readers and setting up guy readers to make unrealistic self comparisons.  I wonder often how these depictions of guys must make readers feel about themselves just like I wonder how some of the covers make girls feel about themselves.  And then there was Leo, the perfect guy not because he is in fact perfect, but because he is perfectly real and perfectly nice.

This was my final Tweet:

There are a lot of elements to this book, and in the end they come together to inspire.  I am pretty sure at the end my heart grew 3 sizes, Grinchlike.  And on a personal note, I loved Rae’s obsession with the Foo Fighters (who rock!), her love of poetry (there are poems scattered throughout), and the fact that books and libraries are mentioned in positive ways.  Falling for You is not perfect, but in the end it is perfectly heartwarming.  In the midst of the pages there is also a simply wonderful love story, it’s just a bumpy road for Rae to get there.  People online seem to be having very mixed and strong reactions, as I definitely did in the beginning, but your teens will LOVE this book.  I think this is a really important, inspiring books that we need in our collections.  And the cover rocks, teens will check it out. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Falling for You by Lisa Schroeder. Published in January 2013 by Simon Pulse. ISBN: 978-1-4424-6121-5.