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Mini Book Reviews: What I’ve Been Reading including books by Lauren Oliver, Claire Legrand, Caleb Roehrig, Justina Ireland and more

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, so I wanted to take a moment to share some quick reviews with you. Some of these titles are already out, a few more of them are digital ARCs I have downloaded off of Edelweiss. A few of the titles don’t even come out until October of this year, but you’ll definitely want to make sure to read them and share them with teens.

Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

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Publisher’s Book Description

It’s been five years since Summer Marks was brutally murdered in the woods.

Everyone thinks Mia and Brynn killed their best friend. That driven by their obsession with a novel called The Way into Lovelorn the three girls had imagined themselves into the magical world where their fantasies became twisted, even deadly.

The only thing is: they didn’t do it.

On the anniversary of Summer’s death, a seemingly insignificant discovery resurrects the mystery and pulls Mia and Brynn back together once again. But as the lines begin to blur between past and present and fiction and reality, the girls must confront what really happened in the woods all those years ago—no matter how monstrous.

Karen’s Thoughts

We all have our go to authors, and Lauren Oliver is one of mine, which is why I have already read this and way in advance. It’s a haunting story of murder, betrayal, friendship, love and trying to right the wrongs of the past. Three friends were entranced with a story that was published without an ending, so they set out to make their own. The ending they got was, however, not what they expected. Five years later, the two remaining girls are trying to find out what really happened and clear their names in a town that hates them for what it thinks they’ve done. Lyrical and haunting, there’s a lot to consider here. Broken Things also takes on the topics of awakening female sexuality and the power that comes with it, desire, and what it means to be broken in a world that can be harsh and unforgiving. Coming in October 2018 from HarperCollins. Definitely recommended.

Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand

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Publisher’s Book Description

Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep.

He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.

Who are the Sawkill Girls?

Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.

Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.

Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.

Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.

Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.

Karen’s Thoughts

Much like Broken Things mentioned above, Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand (another of my instant buy authors) takes us into the world of female sexuality and friendship in lyrical and hauntingly beautiful ways. Here, we combine local myths and legends with a long string of disappearing girls and dip our toes into ritualism, magic, and secret societies. Readers will walk away from this one thinking long and hard about what it means to be a girl in today’s world. I wanted it to end slightly sooner than it did, but this one is powerful and moving. Readers will love it and I think it will become a classic. Comes out in October 2018 from Katherine Tegen Books. Definitely recommended.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

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Publisher’s Book Description

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Karen’s Thoughts

I’m not going to lie, it was the zombies that drew me to this book. And it’s such a fresh and interesting take on zombies at that. But this is a powerful look at racism, and that subject will haunt you far longer and more profoundly then any of the zombies will. I came for the zombies, but appreciated the confrontation of our nation’s racist past, a past we still haven’t dealt with and an issue we are still struggling with today. I do have some slight concerns that this book may contain some unfortunate stereotypes regarding Native Americans and have some other reviewers expressing the same concern. Definitely recommended.

Watch You Burn by Amanda Searcy

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Publisher’s Book Description

Jenny didn’t want to move to the creepy, possibly haunted town with her dad. But the cops are on to her, and the only way she can protect herself is by moving as far away from her hometown as possible and staying out of trouble.

But even after she moves, Jenny still gets the itch. The itch to light a match and then watch it burn.

It’s something she hasn’t been able to stop, ever since an accident years ago. Now, in a new town, Jenny has the strange feeling that someone is watching her every move. Will her arsonist ways be exposed? Or is the burning truth deep inside her a greater danger?

Karen’s Thoughts

Put this in the hands of fans of Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson when they ask what other twisted thrillers with an unreliable narrator you might have in your collection. It doesn’t match the skill in storytelling that Allegedly has, but it’s a satisfying read for those who want to read a twisted thriller where you’re not entirely sure what’s happening and who’s to blame. Broken families, compulsive tendencies, arson, and more are discussed in this twisted psychological thriller. This comes out October 2018 from Delacorte Press. This will have a lot of interested readers.

The Truth Lies Here by Lindsey Klingele

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Publisher’s Book Description

In small town Michigan, Penny, an aspiring journalist, teams up with the nerdy boy-next-door and the town’s star quarterback to find her conspiracy theorist father after he goes missing and several other townspeople turn up dead in the woods.

The deeper she digs, the weirder things start to get. Townspeople repeat the same phrases—verbatim. Men in black suits stroll around Main Street. Chunks of her memory go missing. Pretty soon, Penny’s research leads her to the long-ago meteorite crash in Bone Lake’s woods, and she’s going to have to reconsider her definition of “real” if she wants answers. . . .

Karen’s Thoughts

I read this simply because of the X-files comparison. And it’s an apt comparison, to be honest. A small town, a disappearing dad who loves a good conspiracy theory, and a lot of strange, unexplained events. The attempt to unravel the truth and the realization of what that truth is a fun and entertaining read. Sometimes, it’s nice just to read a fun, engaging book and this fits the bill. This is also a really authentic depiction of small town, rural, Midwestern life. Recommended.

Recently The Teen, who is an avid reading and reviews a lot of the ARCs I get for TLT, was going through all the ARCs on the shelf and proclaimed, “there is nothing here I want to read.” That has never happened before. It turns out, she is really wanting to read mysteries right now and there is, to be honest, not a lot of mysteries being released in YA. That doesn’t mean there are none, but there are definitely fewer than there has been in past years, a complaint I hear from many of my teens. So I started searching for some YA mysteries she hasn’t read and we landed on one new one, we liked it enough to read a previous book by that same author, and started a new series.

White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig

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Publisher’s Book Description

Rufus Holt is having the worst night of his life. It begins with the reappearance of his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian—the guy who stomped his heart out like a spent cigarette. Just as Rufus is getting ready to move on, Sebastian turns up out of the blue, saying they need to “talk.” Things couldn’t get much worse, right?

But then Rufus gets a call from his sister April, begging for help. And then he and Sebastian find her, drenched in blood and holding a knife, beside the dead body of her boyfriend, Fox Whitney.

April swears she didn’t kill Fox—but Rufus knows her too well to believe she’s telling him the whole truth. April has something he needs, though, and her price is his help. Now, with no one to trust but the boy he wants to hate yet can’t stop loving, Rufus has one night to prove his sister’s innocence…or die trying.

Karen’s Thoughts

Because I’m a librarian, I don’t often buy books, I check them out from the library unless I’ve already read it and want a copy for my personal library. But this book had so much strong buzz, I chose not to wait and bought it. It is a very intriguing mystery. Our main character shows up at the scene of a murder and is drawn in to help solve it, in large part because once he showed up, he’s now a suspect himself. Oops. There is some really powerful LGBTQ content here in a really moving love story as characters embrace who they are and how they feel about each other. And then, of course, there is the mystery itself, which is a twisted plot that involves broken families, class warfare, and local drug culture. It’s very much a tale for our times, and it’s a good read too! Definitely recommended.

Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig

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Publisher’s Book Description

Flynn’s girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own?

Flynn’s girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can’t answer, and her friends are telling stories that don’t add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January’s boyfriend, he must know something.

But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January’s disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself.

Karen’s Thoughts

After reading White Rabbit, I decided I wanted to go back and read Last Seen Leaving. I actually ended up liking Last Seen Leaving even more than White Rabbit. Like White Rabbit, Last Seen Leaving contains some powerful LGBTQ content as well as our main character bonds with another character wile trying to discover what happened to an ex-girlfriend. I loved watching these two characters bond while solving this mystery. Politics, broken families, class, identity, and more are discussed here. There’s even some talk about female bodily autonomy and consent, including the importance of male as well as female consent in sexual situations. There are a lot of interesting nuggets packed into this engaging mystery. Definitely recommended.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

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Publsiher’s Book Description

Of course I didn’t like Digby when I first met him. No one does.

The first time Philip Digby shows up on Zoe Webster’s doorstep, he’s rude and he treats her like a book he’s already read and knows the ending to.

But before she knows it, Zoe’s allowed Digby—annoying, brilliant, and somehow…attractive? Digby—to drag her into a series of hilarious, dangerous, and only vaguely legal schemes all related to the kidnapping of a local teenage girl. A kidnapping that might be connected to the tragic disappearance of his little sister eight years ago. When it comes to Digby, Zoe just can’t say no.

But is Digby a hero? Or is his manic quest an indication of a desperate attempt to repair his broken family and exorcize his own obsessive-compulsive tendencies? And does she really care anyway?

This is a contemporary debut with razor-sharp dialogue, ridiculously funny action, and a dynamic duo you won’t soon forget.

Karen’s Thoughts

This book is the first in a series which was recommended to me by a friend. I would have liked the book, except male main character is really manipulative and doesn’t respect the female main characters boundaries and she continues to not stand her ground, which causes her a lot of very real problems. I didn’t like this relationship dynamic at all so I won’t be continuing the series. The mystery itself was interesting, I just couldn’t stand this guy and the way he treated the people in his life. Teens will be drawn to the humor, the friendships and the mystery.

#SVYALIT: Sexual Exploitation, 2 YA Titles That Explore Child Pornography and the Life of Teens

PLEASE NOTE: THE FOLLOWING POST WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS

While reading VANISHING GIRLS by Lauren Oliver, an author I adore, I was struck by how it turns out this title fits into The #SVYALit Project, though it took me a while to find the words to explain why. I also waited a while to talk about it because I can’t do so without some major spoilers. I then have gone on to read an additional titles that fall into this category which I would like to discuss with you today.

So you are aware before reading any further and being spoiled, the titles we will be discussing include VANISHING GIRLS by Lauren Oliver and A WORK OF ART by Melody Maysonet. If you have not read these books, please don’t read.

But first, what exactly do we mean when we say “sexual exploitation”?

What is Sexual Exploitation?

“Sexual exploitation is the sexual abuse of children and youth through the exchange of sex or sexual acts for drugs, food, shelter, protection, other basics of life, and/or money. Sexual exploitation includes involving children and youth in creating pornography and sexually explicit websites.” (from the Sexual Explotation Toolkit)

“Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse in which children are sexually exploited for money, power or status. Children or young people may be tricked into believing they’re in a loving, consensual relationship. They might be invited to parties and given drugs and alcohol. They may also be groomed online. Some children and young people are trafficked into or within the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Sexual exploitation can also happen to young people in gangs.” (from NSPCC)

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is a good resource for information regarding CSE. They also have a cyber tipline that you can use if you suspect that you or someone you know is a victim of childhood sexual exploitation. And it’s important for us to understand and acknowledge that the viewing of child pornography is not a victimless crime, there are more than 3.3 million reports of childhood exploitation and each one involves criminal acts against a child. In one of the library communities I worked at previously a pre-teen girl was removed from her home after it was discovered that her parents were using her to create child pornography. These are real people being abused and exploited and I encourage you to learn more about what’s happening and how you can help.

What is Child Pornography?

“Child pornography is a form of child sexual exploitation. Federal law defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (persons less than 18 years old).  Images of child pornography are also referred to as child sexual abuse images.

Federal law prohibits the production, distribution, importation, reception, or possession of any image of child pornography.   A violation of federal child pornography laws is a serious crime, and convicted offenders face fines severe statutory penalties (For more information, see Citizen’s Guide to Federal Law on Child Pornography).” (from US Department of Justice)

The Book Discussion

AGAIN, LET ME REMIND YOU THAT THIS PART OF THE POST IS FULL OF SPOILERS. IT REVEALS MAJOR AND IMPORTANT PLOT POINTS OF THE BOOKS. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOKS.

When I first read VANISHING GIRLS, I was struck by how tucked into this compelling story about guilt and sisters there was in fact an incredibly pitch perfect example of a type of sexual exploitation that happens to boys and girls. And although this particular title is about girls, it is something that can and does happen to boys as well. In VANISHING GIRLS, we soon learn that there is a pornography ring in town in which young girls are being drugged and photographed in the nude and the pictures are sold for a price on a secret website. Pornography is being made using their image but without their consent or knowledge; and because they are minors it is considered child pornography. It’s important for us all to understand that although certain types of conestual pornography is legal, child pornography is never legal.

A lot of the child pornography themed YA lit that I have read recently, and this doesn’t mean that this is all that is out there, has involved a teen girl sexting a picture of herself to a boyfriend and the events that follow, as in A THOUSAND WORDS by Jennifer Brown. This is still technically considered child pornography, because it involves nude pictures of a minor, even though she took the picture herself. It’s becomes a thornier legal issue when, out of anger, her ex-boyfriend shares the picture with others and, since he is an adult, part of his conviction is that he must now register as a sex offender.

But child pornography is many things, and it is typically much more sinister because it involves using children in the creation and they have no say in their participation whatsoever; It’s typically not a young teen taking a nude pic and sharing it with others but people in positions of authority or strength using that position to force young children and teens into posing for pictures or performing sex acts on their self or others for the creation and distribution of child pornography. It is a horrific and a serious crime. And when other views child pornography they are just as complicit because they are re-victimizing that child or teen and leading to the abuse of others because that demand means more child pornography will be created to fill that demanded. Children and teens are sometimes kidnapped in the growing number of human trafficking crimes to create child pornography. Other children and teens are drugged and exploited in ways similar to what we read about happening in VANISHING GIRLS.

Other children and teens are used sometimes without their full understanding of what is happening, which is what we read about in A WORK OF ART by Melody Maysonet. Tera is the artistic child of an artistic father whom she adores. When we first meet Tera she is talking with her teacher about her future prospects and he is viewing her artwork in her home. There she finds a nude piece that her father made of her that she thought he got rid of; it obviously makes her feel weird though she can’t really figure out why. In this opening scene there is soon a knock on the door and there stand the police with a search warrant, arresting her father and confiscating all of his art. As the story progresses it soon becomes clear that he was creating pornographic comic books that involved nude images of children. A WORK OF ART is Tera’s journey as she realizes the truth of how she was groomed and used without her knowledge in the creation of this child pornography, and of how Tera has to work through her feelings about her father and her mother. It’s a nuanced look at childhood abuse and very adeptly shows the complicated feelings children feel, this is, after all, the only father Tera will ever have and now she must make that cognitive shift that happens when you realize your mentor and father isn’t who you thought he was and your relationship isn’t what it thought it was.

A WORK OF ART actually appeared on my doorstep from Merit Press shortly after we had our own all too personal experience with childhood abuse and I asked if anyone knew of a book in which a parent was accused of sexual abuse and how the child of that parent dealt with the accusations. Although it is eventually revealed that the main character herself was a victim of her father’s abuse, this was a good exploration of the feelings that one goes through when a parent is accused of abuse from someone outside the family. It’s a point of view that we don’t see often in YA lit and I thought it was handled well. I felt incredible compassion for Tera as she went from vowing to help her father fight the charges through the emotional arc of realizing that not only were the charges real but that she herself had been a victim and she didn’t realize it.

In both of the stories the girls weren’t sexually abused in the ways that we typically think of sexual abuse, they weren’t raped, molested or forced to perform sexual acts. But each of these girls were sexually exploited in a way that used them sexually without their consent and completely violated their rights to personal bodily autonomy. I highly recommend them both and hope that it will lead readers to discuss a different type of sexual abuse and exploitation that is all too real though not the focus of most YA literature. We all should have the right to determine who gets to see our naked bodies, when, and under what circumstances; To take that away is an incredible violation that can have long lasting consequences for all.

About the Books

VANISHING GIRLS by Lauren Oliver

New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver delivers a gripping story about two sisters inexorably altered by a terrible accident.

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it’s too late.

In this edgy and compelling novel, Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.

“Alarming and uplifting, a rare psychological thriller that has a kind heart at its center. Read it with all the lights on.” — E. Lockhart, author of We Were Liars.

A WORK OF ART by Melody Maysonet

Shy, artistic Tera can’t wait to attend a prestigious art school in France to prove to her famous artist father that she can make something of herself.

But Tera’s hopes for the future explode when the police arrest her dad for an unspeakable crime. Her father’s arrest must be a mistake, so Tera goes into action, sacrificing her future at art school to pay for his defense. Meanwhile, she falls head over heels for Joey, a rebel musician who makes her feel wanted and asks no questions about her past.

Joey helps Tera forget her troubles, but he brings a whole new set of problems to Tera’s already complicated life. Then, to make matters worse, as her relationship with Joey deepens and as her dad’s hotshot lawyer builds a defense, fractures begin to appear in Tera’s childhood memories–fractures that make her wonder: could her father be guilty? And whether he’s guilty or innocent, can she find a way to step out of the shadows of her father’s reputation and walk free? Can she stop him, guilty or innocent, from tainting the only future she ever wanted?

A Work of Art is a deeply felt story about self-image, self-deception, and the terrible moment that comes when we have to face the whole truth about the myths of our childhoods.