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A Banjo as a Bridge, a guest post by Erica Waters

I first got the idea for Ghost Wood Song, my debut YA novel about a girl with a ghost-raising fiddle, from a spooky experience of my own. I was home alone, writing in my attic office, when I heard a banjo playing below. I crept down the stairs with all my senses tingling, but the music stopped. The room was empty and still, and my banjo rested innocently against a wall, perfectly silent. I chalked the phantom music up to vibrations in the banjo’s resonator and went back to work.

However, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of a ghost playing a musical instrument. What might he want to communicate? Could music be a bridge between the living and the dead? If so, would that bridge be safe to cross?

I was already deeply interested in bluegrass and folk music, so I knew I could write a story about ghosts set against those musical traditions. But I needed a character to bring the music to life. And out of the blue, she introduced herself to me. Her name was Shady Grove, named after my favorite Appalachian folk song. Her father had died and she was grieving and missing the music he’d taught her to love. But one day she heard his fiddle crying in the pine woods and believed he was calling to her.

Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters

That fiddle became my bridge—an instrument that when played just right could call up ghosts and let them take a solid form, speak, even touch the ones they loved. It was temporary and dangerous, but it was a small form of resurrection. However, the real bridge wasn’t the fiddle itself but the music that Shady played.

Bluegrass tunes, murder ballads, classic country, gospel hymns.

It was music that I had grown up on in rural Florida but had forgotten until I moved to Nashville and started going to bluegrass joints and shows at the Ryman Auditorium. All these songs came back to me—ones that my grandfather had played on tape decks, that my father sang while he drove. It was intimately familiar to me and yet felt brand new. These songs connected me to a past that felt like such a part of me but also fractured, painful, irretrievable.

As I wrote, I was flooded with a longing for home and family, even though those things are deeply complicated for me. But the music that shaped Shady’s story cracked me open too, and something that felt miraculous happened: I found my writerly self. Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to write and who I wanted to be as a writer. My writing had context, atmosphere, and voice. It was compelling. It was original. Finally, I wasn’t trying to reinvent myself from scratch; rather, I was returning to myself.

Shady’s music became a bridge for me. To the dead, yes. To a home I thought I’d left behind, yes. But most of all it connected me to myself and my own voice.

So maybe there really was a ghost playing that neglected banjo in the corner. Maybe the phantom music was my own personal fiddle crying in the pines. At any rate, it brought me here. It brought me home.

You can buy a copy of Ghost Wood Song at Nashville’s beloved indie bookstore, Parnassus Books: https://www.parnassusbooks.net/ericawaters.

Meet Erica Waters

Photo Credit: Amelia J. Moore

Erica Waters writes young adult fantasy with a Southern Gothic feel. She’s originally from the pine woods of rural Florida but has made her home in Nashville, TN with her spouse and two scruffy little rescue dogs. Ghost Wood Song is her debut novel. You can visit her online at ericawaters.com and connect with her on twitter and Instagram.

Links:

Book: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062894229/ghost-wood-song/

Website: https://ericawaters.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ELWaters

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ericawatersbooks/

Cover Design Credit:

Jacket art: Alix Northrup
Jacket design: Jenna Stempel-Lobell

About Ghost Wood Song

Ghost Wood Song

Sawkill Girls meets Beautiful Creatures in this lush and eerie debut, where the boundary between reality and nightmares is as thin as the veil between the living and the dead.

If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.

Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness.

But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets.

In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing.

Family secrets, a gorgeously resonant LGBTQ love triangle, and just the right amount of creepiness make this young adult debut a haunting and hopeful story about facing everything that haunts us in the dark.

ISBN-13: 9780062894229
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/21/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

The Billie Eilish Readalike Playlist

Billie Eilish has been popular in my house for a while now, probably since first hearing the song Lovely back in 2018. My favorite Billie Eilish song is “You Should See Me in a Crown”, while Thing 2 seems particularly fond of “Bad Guy”. So the other day, as I watched a group of pre-teen and teen girls choreograph a dance to a Billie Eilish song, I had a moment of inspiration: I wonder if I could create a reading RA list based on Billie Eilish songs. So I sat down and started researching her various songs and what they meant. It turns out, there are websites that help you do this.

I then started getting serious about this project. I even turned it into an RA sheet for my work. So what follows is a list of a variety of YA books based on theme and song that teens may enjoy reading if they like the music of Billie Eilish. This was a fun list to create, and it is by no means complete. It only touches on a few of her songs and even on those songs there are a lot more books we could add. So if you have some titles you would like to add, please feel free to do so.

Books About Toxic Relationships

“Bad Guy”, “When the Party’s Over” and several other Billie Eilish songs are about toxic relationships, both romantic and friendships. So here are a few YA books about toxic relationships that your teens may be interested in reading.

You Should See Me in a Crown

“You Should See Me in a Crown” is inspired by the BBC series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch. In it Andrew Scott, also known as the Hot Priest from Fleabag, plays Moriarty, Sherlock’s arch-nemesis. At one point he proclaims, “you should see me in a crown.” The rest is history. The series is a lot of fun and was extremely popular, I even had a very successful Sherlock party at the time. So here are a bunch of Sherlock retellings or books that are Sherlock Holmes like that teen readers will find interesting.

Books About Mental Health and Depression

One of Billie Eilish’s early hits was a song called “lovely” that she sings with Khalid. It’s a very melancholy song about mental health and depression and it appears on the soundtrack for the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The title began kind of as a kind of sarcastic nod to how depressing the song is. While listening to it someone said, “oh how lovely” and the rest, as they say, is history. Here a few YA books about mental health and depression that your teens may like.

Dark Books about Dark People doing Dark Things

“Belly Ache” and “Bad Guy” are told from the point of view of monsters, whether that means psychopaths or literal monsters depends on the song. Billie Eilish has stated in many interviews that she likes to write songs that tell the story from the point of view from the monster under your bed. Here are several YA books that are about psychopaths and monsters.

Climate Change

Billie Eilish is an advocate for knowing and working to fix climate change. The topic of climate change appears in her most recent video “All the Good Girls Go to Hell”. Here are a few YA fiction titles on climate change that teens may be interested in reading. If you are Googling for additional titles, you may want to also search under the term “cli-fi”, which is a shortened version of climate change.

Basically Dark, Twisted and Kind of Awesome

If you had to describe Billie Eilish’s aesthetic, you might say she is basically dark, twisted and a lot of fun. So here are a bunch of YA books that are basically dark, twisted and a lot of fun. I like to think that Billie Eilish would like these books and recommend them to her fans.

Book Review: Night Music by Jenn Marie Thorne

Publisher’s description

night music2Music has always been Ruby’s first love. But has it ever loved her back?
Slip behind the scenes of the classical music world one hot, anything-can-happen, New York City summer.

Ruby has always been Ruby Chertok: future classical pianist and daughter of renowned composer Martin Chertok. But after her horrendous audition for the prestigious music school where her father is on faculty, it’s clear that music has publicly dumped her. Now Ruby is suddenly just . . . Ruby. And who is that again? All she knows is that she wants away from the world of classical music for good.

Oscar is a wunderkind, a musical genius. Just ask any of the 1.8 million people who’ve watched him conduct on YouTube—or hey, just ask Oscar. But while he might be the type who’d name himself when asked about his favorite composer and somehow make you love him more for it, Oscar is not the type to jeopardize his chance to study under the great Martin Chertok—not for a crush. He’s all too aware of how the ultra-privileged world of classical music might interpret a black guy like him falling for his benefactor’s white daughter.

But as the New York City summer heats up, so does the spark between Ruby and Oscar. Soon their connection crackles with the same alive, uncontainable energy as the city itself. Can two people still figuring themselves out figure out how to be together? Or will the world make the choice for them?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

My first note for this book was “Ack! This book is SO LOVELY immediately.” That’s pretty much how I felt throughout the read. Later I wrote, “Their banter! I love them!” I’m old. My reading tastes haven’t really ever changed and probably won’t ever. I like realistic stories with strong characters, good banter, and lots of emotions. This book hits all three.

 

Oscar has all the reasons in the world right now to be egotistical and insufferable. He’s a composer and conductor whose YouTube video went super viral. The music world is treating him like a genius superstar. He’s spending his summer training with one of the greatest living composers, Martin Chertok.

 

Ruby Chertok comes from a family of talented, famous classical musicians. Until recently, she thought this was her path too, until a less than stellar audition at her father’s school makes her break up with music. She needs to distance herself from that world, from her famous last name.

 

So when Ruby and Oscar meet, neither of them are looking for a relationship. Oscar is supposed to be completely focused on composing and the last person Ruby needs to get involved with is a musical protege studying under her father. But, of course, life makes its own course. With their attraction rather immediate, we know they will get together before too long, but both have so much else going on that they need to deal with. First love is great, but it’s hard to juggle that enormous thing with Oscar’s sudden fame/career and Ruby’s complete fixation on what on earth she will do with her life if not be a classical musician. She hopes to spend the summer figuring out her life (an ambitious summer project when you’re 17). Does she even have the option to travel her own path? Her whole life has been music. Now, without her, she needs to find other ways to fill her days—she takes up running, reconnects with an old friend, hangs out like a regular teenager, and, of course, falls for Oscar. Their relationship is beautiful and intense and profound, but it’s not without its issues. Both could come off looking like opportunists here. And dating Oscar certainly ropes Ruby further into the world of classical music, not exactly giving her the distance she expected this summer. And if she’s Oscar’s muse and his girlfriend, will this get in the way of forming her own new identity? 

 

There’s a lot more going on, too, that starts to come to light as the story unfolds, including financial questions about the music school and a push for the school to sell its “diversity” with Oscar as the face of that. But how genuine is their commitment to diversity? And why are their rewriting Oscar as some poor kid from the rough streets of DC instead of who he really is—an affluent kid from the suburbs?

 

This look at pressures, identity, first love, and the desire to be seen is heartfelt and moving. This great romance with a lot of depth is an easy one to recommend widely to fans of contemporary YA. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780735228771
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/19/2019

Book Review: This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

Publisher’s description

this is whatThis tender story of friendship, music, and ferocious love asks: what will you fight for, if not yourself? You Don’t Know Me But I Know You author Rebecca Barrow’s next book is perfect for fans of Katie Cotugno and Emery Lord.

Who cares that the prize for the Sun City Originals contest is fifteen grand? Not Dia, that’s for sure. Because Dia knows that without a band, she hasn’t got a shot at winning. Because ever since Hanna’s drinking took over her life, Dia and Jules haven’t been in it. And because ever since Hanna left—well, there hasn’t been a band.

It used to be the three of them, Dia, Jules, and Hanna, messing around and making music and planning for the future. But that was then, and this is now—and now means a baby, a failed relationship, a stint in rehab, all kinds of off beats that have interrupted the rhythm of their friendship.

But like the lyrics of a song you used to play on repeat, there’s no forgetting a best friend. And for Dia, Jules, and Hanna, this impossible challenge—to ignore the past, in order to jump start the future—will only become possible if they finally make peace with the girls they once were, and the girls they are finally letting themselves be.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I always like a story about complicated friendships. Here, in Barrow’s second book, we get just that; but it’s not just the story of why a friendship broke up, it’s also the story of how a friendship was patched back together.

 

Hanna, Dia, and Jules used to be best friends. Dia and Jules still are. They also used to be in a band together. Super tight, the girls played their mix of punk/grunge/R&B at shows and parties all around town until Hanna’s drinking problem got in the way. The book opens with them having just played a successful show, then jumps to the very end of senior year, 407 days after Hanna got sober. She’s no longer friends with Jules or Dia. The other two girls remain close, supporting each other through a break-up, a baby, and a death. We move around in time, narratively, and see their friendship in the past, see Hanna’s drinking escalate, and see Dia’s relationship with Elliot, the now-dead father of her baby. It’s easy to see how their friendship imploded, but it’s harder to see how the girls can put it back together. Enter the Sun City Originals contest.

 

Dia wants to enter the contest for a chance to win $15,000 and the opening spot for one of their favorite bands. Jules says it wouldn’t be right to enter without Hanna on drums, even though they haven’t even spoken to her in nearly two years. Reluctantly, the girls reform their band, but just their band—not their friendship. But playing together again means spending a lot of time together, and it’s hard to keep those walls up and hang on to those old hurts when they’re around each other so much, and when they’re having so much fun making music again. Dia and Jules realize they don’t even really know Hanna anymore. But can you start over being friends with someone when there’s so much baggage?

 

I loved this book for the painfully honest and authentic look at teenage friendship. The girls are all complex characters dealing with their own things. Dia has a toddler and is trying to protect her heart from falling in love and potentially losing another person. Jules is dating Autumn, a new girl at work who has never been in a relationship and isn’t sure if she’s a lesbian or bi or what. They’ve all just graduated high school and are trying to figure out what the future will bring. They’re not just trying to figure out who they are in relation to each other, but who they are in relation to many other people, and on their own. This story of trust, old wounds, rebuilding, and music is empowering and ultimately a powerful look at support female friendships. A great read.

 

Bonus: The whole time I read this, I was thinking about an amazing local (Minnesota) band that I saw last winter, Bruise Violet. I’m listening to them as I write this review. Check them out!

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062494238
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/06/2018

Book Review: Sparrow by Sarah Moon

Publisher’s description

ra6Sparrow has always had a difficult time making friends. She would always rather have stayed home on the weekends with her mother, an affluent IT Executive at a Manhattan bank, reading, or watching the birds, than playing with other kids. And that’s made school a lonely experience for her. It’s made LIFE a lonely experience.

But when the one teacher who really understood her — Mrs. Wexler, the school librarian, a woman who let her eat her lunch in the library office rather than hide in a bathroom stall, a woman who shared her passion for novels and knew just the ones she’d love — is killed in a freak car accident, Sparrow’s world unravels and she’s found on the roof of her school in an apparent suicide attempt.

With the help of an insightful therapist, Sparrow finally reveals the truth of her inner life. And it’s here that she discovers an outlet in Rock & Roll music…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

sparrowA middle grade book that deals with mental health? YES, please.

14-year-old Brooklyn 8th grader Sparrow has debilitating social anxiety. She has always dealt with her fear and shyness by flying away—not literally, of course, but pretty close. She pictures herself off with the birds, away from everything on land that makes her uncomfortable. When she’s found on the school roof during one of her flying episodes, everyone assumes it’s a suicide attempt and won’t hear otherwise. Sparrow begins therapy with Dr. Katz. At first, she’s reluctant to open up, worried Dr. Katz will think she’s crazy. It doesn’t help that her mother isn’t thrilled that she’s in therapy and thinks of it as White Girl Stuff (Sparrow and her mother are black). But slowly, Sparrow begins to talk to Dr. Katz, admitting to herself and her mother how much good the therapy is doing. School is still hard for her, especially because her beloved favorite teacher, Mrs. Wexler, the librarian, died earlier in the year. Sparrow had spent every lunch since 5th grade in the library, finding solace in both the library and Mrs. Wexler. Everything since her death has been harder. But therapy is helping, as is her new (and intense) interest in music. Dr. Katz introduces her to older punk and indie music (think Pixies, Sonic Youth, Patti Smith), and Sparrow revels in the connective and redemptive power of music. Dr. Katz pushes Sparrow to learn how to deal with all of the things that make her want to fly away, but it’s really through a month-long girls’ rock music camp that Sparrow begins to find her voice and overcome her fears.

 

This is a fantastic book for older middle grade readers. Sparrow, though silent through much of school, is such a profoundly real character. Readers get to know her well far sooner than her peers get to know her. She’s funny and bitingly clever. Her passion for books and music will send readers seeking out the bands they’ve maybe never heard of or delighting in seeing their favorite titles or songs as part of the story. Dr. Katz, Mrs. Wexler, and Mrs. Smith, the English teacher, are wonderfully supportive, compassionate adults who see Sparrow for who she is. Though her mother is wary of therapy and Dr. Katz, she loves Sparrow and wants the best for her. She may not totally understand what her daughter is going through or how to best help her, but she’s open to doing whatever seems right for Sparrow and desperately wants to be a part of Sparrow’s very private inner life. Well-written, emotionally powerful, and packed with stand-out characters, this middle grade title is a must for every library. A welcome addition to the small field of middle grade books that address mental health. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338032581
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 10/10/2017

Book Review: Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell

Publisher’s description

ra6Fox Benwell delivers a harrowing and beautifully written novel that explores the relationship between two girls obsessed with music, the practice of corrective rape, and the risks and power of using your voice.

Neo loves music, and all she ever wanted was a life sharing this passion, on the radio. When she meets Tale, the lead singer in a local South African band, their shared love of music grows. So does their love for each other. But not everyone approves. Then Neo lands her dream job of working at a popular radio station, and she discovers that using your voice is sometimes harder than expected, and there are always consequences.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

foxHere is all I knew about this book going in: I like Fox. I like this cover. I know this book, at some point, deals with corrective rape. 

Neo lives in Khayelitsha, South Africa. She’s best friends with Janet, absolutely bonkers in love with music, and dreams of hosting her own radio program. When she goes to see Umzi Radio live at a local bar, she develops an enormous crush on Tale, the singer of one of the bands that night. She knows being in love with another girl is not something her family (or friends or community) will accept, but that doesn’t stop Neo and Tale from embarking on a lovely, passionate, and semi-secret relationship. Tale’s bandmates instantly become Neo’s friends, too, and for the first time in her life, Neo feels a real sense of acceptance and community. She starts to see a bigger world than she knew was possible for her. At one point she thinks, “There is so much more to life than school and work and dirty laundry. And I want it all.” She begins sneaking out to meet up with Tale. Her mother eventually installs a padlock on the door to try to stop her from going out (and working under the assumption that she is going out to hear music and meet up with a boy). As far as her parents are concerned, Neo’s life should be about school, grades, and good behavior. Loving music and dreaming of a life in radio is a waste of time. Her father works at the security desk  at the radio station and takes Neo along to try to prove some kind of point about the reality of working there. It backfires when Mr. Sid, the station owner, lets Neo have an unpaid internship there that eventually involves her having her own show. Though she’s had a falling out with Janet and her grades are rather terrible, everything else seems to be looking up for Neo. She’s blissfully happy with Tale, even if they can only hook up in the shadows and must hide their love. She’s terrified of being found out, but when she learns about Pride, she desperately wants to take part in the protest and celebration of the event. But her increasing boldness and determination to live her life in the open, and her message on the radio about being proud to sing your own song and loving who you love, land her in more trouble than she could have imagined. What follows is devastating, brutal, and heartbreaking.

This is a powerful, harrowing look at the desire to live an authentic life and the many ways taking that risk may be judged and punished. I am always banging on about wanting new stories, and I think this is the first YA story I’ve read that deals with corrective rape… and, I think, also the first YA book I’ve read set in South Africa (I feel like that can’t possibly be true, but I’m coming up with nothing). I felt like I was holding my breath this entire book. Benwell includes an author’s note addressing his privilege as a white Brit—how some elements of the story overlap with things from his own life and from the lives of those around him, but this is not his story. LGBTQIA+ resources are appended, too. Well-written and deeply affecting. Give this to readers who will be able to look past the bleakness and brutality to see the love and joy at the heart of the story. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481477673

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Publication date: 09/19/2017

 

Book Review: Boy Seeking Band by Steve Brezenoff

Publisher’s description

ra6Great music and great friendships aren’t always in harmony. Terence Kato is a prodigy bass player, but he’s determined to finish middle school on a high note. Life has other plans. In eighth grade, he’s forced to transfer from a private arts school to a public school, where the kids seemingly speak a different language. Luckily, Terence knows a universal one: music. The teen sets out to build a rock band and, in the process, make a few friends. From the acclaimed author of Brooklyn, Burning and Guy in Real Life comes a fresh, funny, genuine novel about enjoying life beyond the opening act.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

boy seeking bandThere’s a lot to like about this book, but the major thing that stands out to me is this: this is a great book for reluctant/struggling readers who want something that looks/feels “older” than they might normally read. While this is about 8th graders, and could easily be a YA title with not much tweaking, kids 10 and up could comfortably read this book. The cover, plot, and deeper issues the story touches on all make this appealing for both fans of middle grade and fans of younger YA.

 

Minneapolis teen Terence has spent a few years attending an arts school, but now is at Franklin Middle School, a public school, after his mom died and he and his father moved across town. There’s no money anymore for the private school tuition and Terence’s dad is in rough shape, debilitated by grief and, understandably, not doing the greatest job parenting or helping Terence grieve or adjust to his new school. Terence, who plays bass, joins the school jazz band, but they’re not up to his standards, so he bails, searching instead to form his own band. Terence is just a bit of a music snob, something that really comes to light as he auditions people for his band. Before long he’s joined by other musicians, and while they sound great and really seem to click, Terence repeatedly makes it clear that this is just a band—he’s not looking for friends at Franklin. Like, he actually, repeatedly says out loud that he does not want friends. Sure, buddy. Whatever you say. It’s clear that Terence is struggling to work through his mother’s death and all the changes that came after, but he absolutely does not want to talk about it with his new friends (sorry, bandmates) to the point that he freaks out on them if they begin to show the tiniest bit of compassion to him.  In fact, things with the band fall apart, thanks to Terence, just when the Wellstone Music Battle of the Kid Bands is coming up. Terence’s band is being buzzed about at school and they seem like real contenders for the battle, but Terence’s anger and grief, and insistence on going it alone, may get in the way of their potential success. 

 

Brezenoff excels in creating interesting characters. Though Terence holds everyone at a distance, including the reader, the depth of his complicated feelings is clear. He’s surrounded by other people who show there is more to them than what they seem. BOY SEEKING BAND is a well-written look at the ways grief can change a life. Packed with music references, this will appeal to a wide range of readers, but especially to anyone who loves music as much as Terence does. A great addition for both middle grade and young adult collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley

ISBN-13: 9781496544629

Publisher: Capstone Press

Publication date: 08/28/2017

Book Review: Who’s That Girl by Blair Thornburgh

 Publisher’s description

tltbutton6This laugh-out-loud debut is filled with hilarious awkward encounters, a supportive LGBTQ organization, and too many cheesy lyrics to count—all with the compulsive readability of Audrey, Wait! and Boy Meets Boy.

Junior Nattie McCullough has always been that under-the-radar straight girl who hangs out in the cafeteria with her gay-straight alliance friends. She’s never been the girl that gets the guy, let alone the girl that gets a hit song named after her.

But when last summer’s crush, smoking-hot musician Sebastian Delacroix—who has recently hit the mainstream big-time—returns home to play a local show, that’s just what she gets. He and his band, the Young Lungs, have written a chart-topping single—“Natalie”—which instantly makes Nattie second guess everything she thought about their awkward non-kiss at that June pool party. That it was horrific. That it meant nothing. That Sebastian never gave her another thought.

To help keep her mind off of Sebastian and his maybe-about-her, maybe-not-about-her song, Nattie throws herself into planning the school’s LGBTQIA dance. That proves problematic, too, when Nattie begins to develop feelings for her good friend Zach. With the song getting major airplay and her once-normal life starting to resemble the cover of a gossip magazine, Nattie is determined to figure out once and for all if her brief moment with Sebastian was the stuff love songs are made of—or just a one-hit wonder.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

whos that girl

The publisher’s description up there gives a pretty thorough summary of the plot, but doesn’t really at all capture how utterly charming and compulsively readable this story is. Nattie and her friends are awesome. Her parents are great. The romantic tension (and denial/ignorance of romantic feelings) is pitch perfect. Nattie makes mistakes and bad choices and is unable to see things that appear totally obvious to the reader, but I mean those things in all the best ways; I say those things to mean that she is such a real character, flawed in realistic ways, learning and making realizations just like we all do. Adult me reads about Sebastian and rolls her eyes and thinks, girl, don’t waste time having a crush on him. But teen me is always around, and she’s like, but he wrote a song about her! Eek!

 

Thornburgh writes great dialogue and memorable characters. There’s great humor, banter, and clever little quips. And while this story is about romance, or the potential for romance, sure, it’s really about friendship. This review is short not because I didn’t like the book–I loved it–but because you just need to go read it and discover the excellence for yourself. Pretty much a perfect read, super satisfying and completely absorbing. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062447777

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 07/11/2017

Book Review: How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

Publisher’s description

how-to-makeGrace, tough and wise, has nearly given up on wishes, thanks to a childhood spent with her unpredictable, larger-than-life mother. But this summer, Grace meets Eva, a girl who believes in dreams, despite her own difficult circumstances.

 

One fateful evening, Eva climbs through a window in Grace’s room, setting off a chain of stolen nights on the beach. When Eva tells Grace that she likes girls, Grace’s world opens up and she begins to believe in happiness again.

 

How to Make a Wish is an emotionally charged portrait of a mother and daughter’s relationship and a heartfelt story about two girls who find each other at the exact right time.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I read this book in one sitting. I used to do that a lot—read books in one chunk of time—but don’t so much anymore. While I do typically read a book in one to two days, the time is broken up—I need to write something, I need to run errands, I need to parent, I need to do whatever. My busy brain isn’t the biggest fan of letting me settle into any one thing for too long. But with this book, I was hooked from page one and had no interest in moving until I was done reading. I am not a person who says “all the feels.” I do not tend to feel “swoony” over books. As a fairly cynical, scowly person, those kinds of expressions are just not me. BUT. I kept thinking of both expressions as I read. And when I was done, I shut the book and just held onto it, thinking, well, that was a completely satisfying read. And, really, how often do we read books that just feel completely, absolutely, perfectly satisfying?

 

Grace returns to Maine from a two-week piano workshop in Boston to find that her mother, Maggie, has, once again, moved them in with her newest boyfriend, Pete. Never mind that they’ve barely been dating for a minute. Never mind that Pete’s son, Jay, is Grace’s ex (and that he posted all of their sexts after they broke up). Maggie is always doing this—flitting from guy to guy, being impulsive, not thinking of how things might affect Grace, not doing her job as a parent. She’s basically an overgrown kid (with a drinking problem) and Grace is left to do the parenting. But there’s maybe only one more year of this life. At the end of the summer, Grace will be auditioning for the Manhattan School of Music. College will mean a fresh start for Grace—something that she needs—and not in the way her mother is always giving them new starts. But as much as Grace cannot wait to get away from her life, she’s worried about leaving her mother behind. Who will watch over Maggie?

 

Summer on the cape should mean more of the same—hanging with her best friend, Luca, and suffering through her mother’s unpredictable whims—but becomes much more interesting when Eva arrives. Eva is the daughter of one of Luca’s mother’s friends who recently passed away. Emmy, Luca’s mom, is now her guardian. Eva and Grace meet on the beach, where both have gone to process their emotions, and immediately click. Eventually, after Eva tells Grace that she is a lesbian and Grace tells Eva she’s bisexual, their friendship turns into something more. But it quickly becomes complicated by, what else, Grace’s mother. Maggie wants to nurture Eva and becomes buddies with her, something Grace would rather not see happening. Eva doesn’t understand the full story of just how Maggie can be and Maggie doesn’t know that Grace and Eva are dating (oblivious to anything that isn’t her own life, Grace did at one point try to tell Maggie she was bisexual, but Maggie chose to brush that admission off and not understand it). It’s clearly a recipe for disaster. When Maggie eventually makes a(nother) really bad choice—one that affects her, Grace, and Eva—Grace reaches her breaking point and has to decide who she really needs to be taking care of.

 

Blake’s characters are vibrant and multifaceted. Though so much of this book is about pain, loss, and grief, there is also just so much love in this story. Compassion comes from the places we would expect (Emmy, Luca) and from surprising places, too (Jay, Pete). Both Grace and Eva are fragile but resilient. They both find family in new ways—ways neither would have chosen (a dead mom, an irresponsible and alcoholic mom)—and find support and care and love there. And their relationship, though not always easy, is meaningful and achingly lovely. I do not generally want characters who date in YA books to stay together forever (see my earlier remark about being cynical and scowly). But I love Grace and Eva together. This is an easy recommendation for fans of contemporary stories. Again, it’s rare that I find something just completely satisfying, and this book felt perfect in every way. Go read it!

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544815193

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 05/02/2017

Book Review: The Bad Decisions Playlist by Michael Rubens

Publisher’s description

badSixteen-year-old Austin is always messing up and then joking his way out of tough spots. The sudden appearance of his allegedly dead father, who happens to be the very-much-alive rock star Shane Tyler, stops him cold. Austin—a talented musician himself—is sucked into his newfound father’s alluring music-biz orbit, pulling his true love, Josephine, along with him. None of Austin’s previous bad decisions, resulting in broken instruments, broken hearts, and broken dreams, can top this one. Witty, audacious, and taking adolescence to the max, Austin is dragged kicking and screaming toward adulthood in this hilarious, heart-wrenching YA novel.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I gravitated to this because I loved the cover. Then I read the summary and knew I wouldn’t want to overlook this title. As an aging punk whose whole entire teenage life revolved around music—and falling hard for musician boys who made questionable choices—this novel spoke to me (though, once again, it was jarring for me to relate to the teenage characters but realize I’m older than both of the parents in this book—an all-too-common occurrence these days).

 

Set just outside of Minneapolis in Edina, 16-year-old Austin lives with his mother, who works in a nail salon. Her stodgy boyfriend Rick (who Austin at one point refers to as “the world’s least interesting man”) is often around, but Austin tries to just steer clear of him. Austin’s mom told him his dad died before he was born… but as the blurb up there tells you, that’s not true. Austin is a great character. He’s funny and self-deprecating with a history of doing stupid stuff to entertain girls. He’s a talented musician with grand dreams of moving to NYC after high school to become a famous singer-songwriter. But his friend Devon calls him Half-Song because Austin can never finish writing anything. He also is terrified of performing in front of people. He’s supposed to be spending the summer focusing on attending summer school, getting math tutoring, and working to not be sent to military school. Instead, he falls hard for his tutor, Josephine, gets in epic fights with his mother, becomes friends and bandmates with his bully, meets his not-dead (and very famous) father, and finally gets on the stage in front of people.

 

Part of the real joy of this book was seeing how events unfolded, so I won’t tell you too many plot details. The story wasn’t predictable—or when it was, I was roped in enough to believe it wouldn’t take that turn or play out that way. Austin is a great character who experiences a lot of wonderful things in this story (when he’s not busy falling down hills and nearly being killed by a lawnmower, or breaking expensive instruments, or getting in trouble for stealing a car) and even though I KNOW he makes bad decisions, and that people in his life make bad decisions, I thought maybe they’d turn it around. His relationship with Josephine is fantastic. She’s smart, funny, and his total opposite, but they connect through music and when she’s able to see past Austin’s reputation. She’s in his life at just the right moment, as he grapples with the reality of his father and is able to be as involved in making music as he’s always wanted to be. Austin’s journey isn’t an easy one to observe. I spent a fair amount of time wincing and lecturing him in my head. The ending of the book isn’t tidy or necessarily completely happy, but it is satisfying. You know me—I’ll take a realistic ending over a “happy” ending any time. A fun, smart, at times heartbreaking read about families, love, choices, consequences, and the power of music. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780544096677

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date:08/02/2016