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Book Review: Anything You Want by Geoff Herbach

Publisher’s description

anything herbachTaco’s mom always said, “Today is the best day of your life, and tomorrow will be even better.” That was hard to believe the day she died of cancer and when Taco’s dad had to move up north for work, but he sure did believe it when Maggie Corrigan agreed to go with him to junior prom. Taco loves Maggie-even more than the tacos that earned him his nickname. And she loves him right back.

Except, all that love? It gets Maggie pregnant. Everyone else may be freaking out, but Taco can’t wait to have a real family again. He just has to figure out what it means to be dad and how to pass calculus. And then there’s getting Maggie’s parents to like him. Because it’s would be so much easier for them to be together if he didn’t have to climb the side of the Corrigan’s house to see her…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

In my notes, I wrote “Taco = a talking dog.” He’s not, of course; he’s a human boy. But his voice is like the voice I would expect to come out of my dog. Everything is exciting! I’m so enthusiastic! It will be fine! I really like you! I’m not very bright, but people like me! I’m the type of human who likes my characters (and my IRL people) clever, sarcastic, and kinda cranky. Taco is not My People. That said, once I started to get used to his overwhelmingly optimistic personality, he grew on me. Apparently that’s what he does, as he seems rather universally adored in his small town by basically everyone except his girlfriend’s parents.

 

The little blurb up there simplifies what’s going on in Taco’s life. I mean, it mentions the pregnancy, which is anything but simple, but that’s just one of many things going on with Taco. Maggie gets pregnant because they have sex—a lot—and apparently it literally never even occurs to either of them to use any kind of protection. Even though they are 16. And allegedly smart. It’s not just that they don’t use a condom or anything—that’s not exactly unrealistic or super surprising—it’s that they aren’t “serious” about the sex, they don’t “mean it”—that is to say, it’s not like they’re having sex trying to have a baby. Hence they can’t get pregnant? Um, okay. Well, Maggie does get pregnant. They want to keep the baby. They want to move in together and get married and raise this little baby and everything will be fine. Except they’re 16. And Taco lives with his drunk of a brother because his grieving loser of a father took off and his mother is dead. And Taco and Darius, his brother, have no money. And, oops, Taco gets into some legal trouble. He’s working for a lawyer to pay back his debt, going to school, trying to stay in the school musical, working twenty hours a week, and drowning. DROWNING. There’s no food at home, his brother gets carted off to jail, and Maggie’s parents are determined to either split them up, make her get an abortion, or get Taco to waive any parental rights and put the baby up for adoption. That all sucks, and Taco understands it sucks. He clings hard to his mother’s claim that today is the best day of his life and that tomorrow will be even better. It’s hard to subscribe to that attitude when everything is absolutely falling apart around him. He gets support from unexpected places and has plenty of understanding people in his corner, but things have to get really dire before that “tomorrow will be even better” garbage starts to seem like it just might hold true. 

 

I’ve read all of Geoff Herbach’s books and find them hilarious. As a reader, I’m an easy cry. I am not an easy laugh. Herbach’s books consistently make me laugh out loud. I may have wanted to scream at Taco (something along the lines of, “WAKE UP, KID! THINGS ARE TERRIBLE! PLEASE BECOME AT LEAST A LITTLE BITTER OR NEGATIVE! I CAN’T HANDLE YOUR OPTIMISM!”), but I was completely on board with his think-before-doing antics and all of the disasters they resulted in. He has a big personality and a big heart, and even though some of his choices make me think he has a small brain, he’s just a kid doing the best he can, wanting to believe that this day—this frequently disastrous and upsetting day—is the best. When it comes down to it, Taco is just a neglected kid with very few resources trying to figure out how to make hard decisions about his life and the people he loves. Herbach manages to write humorously about a lot of really crappy and serious stuff, meaning this book has the potential to find a wide audience. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781402291449

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publication date: 05/03/2016

Book Review: This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

this ragingPublisher’s overview:

Can the best thing happen at the worst time?

Her dad went crazy. Her mom left town. She has bills to pay and a little sister to look after. Now is not the time for level-headed seventeen-year-old Lucille to fall in love. But love—messy, inconvenient love—is what she’s about to experience when she falls for Digby Jones, her best friend’s brother. With blazing longing that builds to a fever pitch, Estelle Laure’s soulful debut will keep readers hooked and hoping until the very last page.

Amanda’s thoughts:

This story is really about 10% love story. To bill that as the main thrust of this book isn’t representative of what’s really going on here. Really this is a story of a teenage who’s been left to fend for herself and has very little resources and is just doing the best she can to get by. Lucille, a senior, and Wren, a 4th grader, are left alone after their mom goes on a two-week vacation and chooses to not come back. Their dad is gone, too. He attacked their mom, spent some time in a mental institution, and now lives in a halfway house, something the girls don’t know until quite late in the story. Lucille wants to keep their situation as quiet as possible because she’s terrified that if a social worker/child protective services gets involved, she and Wren will be split up. Her best friend, Eden, and her brother, Digby, help Lucille out as much as they can, but they’re also just kids. Lucille and Wren also appear to have some guardian angels who mysteriously stock the kitchen with food and help keep the yard clean etc. Things are not easy for Lucille and Wren, but they are getting by. Lucille gets a job and manages to keep their household going while still going to school, too. But a falling out with Eden, uncertainty about what’s going on with Digby, and, eventually, a tragic accident pile on to make Lucille’s already stressful life even more uncertain.

There were many things in this book that didn’t necessarily work for me—I wasn’t really into the characters, the story was slow, I wanted more from the love story, and so on. But what I value this book for is the look at the lives of children who are struggling. Lucille and Wren’s story of being left alone and having to do it all on their own is not one that we see often in YA. As hard as it is for many of us to imagine parents just utterly abandoning their kids, it happens. 

The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking of the teens I’ve known who have been in situations very similar to this one. If you know me in any capacity beyond just what I write on this blog, you know I lovingly call the teens who have attached themselves to me at the library my “minions.” I’m at a public library now, but when I was at a high school library, I had a pretty dedicated gang of kids who would show up and hang out at my desk for huge chunks of time, telling me everything about their lives. My very first minion was this kid D’Shawn. He would come see me at least a dozen times a day. He’d sneak in when he should’ve been in class. He’d cut through the library to say hey. And slowly, as he hung around more, he started to reveal things about his life that he tried to keep off everyone’s radar. He is featured in this powerful United Way video that is below, sharing his story of being left to fend for himself after his mother took off for a while. Though his story only shares some of the same elements—he was homeless for most of his life—as I read this book, I thought of him, and all the kids like him, who have found themselves in situations many of us can’t ever even imagine, and who work hard to keep it together and not let anyone see how hard things really are.

 

Even though I wanted more out of this book, it shows us a story that’s an important one. Readers looking for a big time ROMANCE story (which the summary and the tag line, “Can the best thing happen at the worst time?” pitch this as) will be left wanting–very little happens between Lucille and Digby and it’s hard to see what she sees in him or why they are drawn together. Though the stakes are high and Lucille certainly faces plenty of adversity, readers are never really given the sense that she won’t make it. While I wanted a stronger plot and more well-developed characters (and their relationships), I kept reading because of the heart of the story. I hope readers can look past the disappointing romance and sometimes greatly overwritten story to spend a little time in Lucille and Wren’s lonely and unstable world.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher
ISBN-13: 9780544534292
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 12/22/2015