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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: Breakaway by Kat Spears

23848184Publisher’s description:

When Jason Marshall’s younger sister passes away, he knows he can count on his three best friends and soccer teammates–Mario, Jordie, and Chick–to be there for him. With a grief-crippled mother and a father who’s not in the picture, he needs them more than ever. But when Mario starts hanging out with a rough group of friends and Jordie finally lands the girl of his dreams, Jason is left to fend for himself while maintaining a strained relationship with troubled and quiet Chick. Then Jason meets Raine, a girl he thinks is out of his league but who sees him for everything he wants to be, and he finds himself pulled between building a healthy and stable relationship with a girl he might be falling in love with, grieving for his sister, and trying to hold onto the friendships he has always relied on. A witty and emotionally moving tale of friendship, first love, and loss, Breakaway is Kat Spears at her finest.

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

First of all, let me say that for the most part I liked this book. That said, I don’t like the tag line on the cover. No one really wins anything in this story, but they sure all lose and lose and lose. And yeah, the story has soccer in it, but it doesn’t account for much of the plot. The tag line and cover may help draw in readers that otherwise wouldn’t gravitate toward this book, but to me they aren’t a great fit.  ANYWAY. Pet peeves aside, let’s move on.

 

This is not a light story. There is very little hope. Bad things pile upon bad things. Characters make crummy choices, act like jerks to each other, and overlook/can’t properly deal with some dark stuff that’s going down. Their friendships get strained and fall apart. You like books that show the crappy lives some teens have? You’ll love this one.

 

Race and class play big roles in this book. Jason lives with his mother in a small apartment. He sleeps on the sofa bed, contributes what he can to help pay bills, and repeatedly mentions being poor and being hungry. Mario’s parents primarily speak Spanish. Jordie’s mom is Vietnamese. Jordie’s family has a lot of money, a fact that increasingly drives a wedge between Jordie and his other friends. Jason’s possible love interest, Raine, also comes from a family with a lot of money. Jason doesn’t see how it could ever possibly work out between them when Raine’s privilege and resources will send her down a path after high school very different than the one Jason is imaging he will go down. There are divorced parents and dead parents. There is drug addiction, alcoholism, death, abuse, and mental illness. I firmly believe no book ever has “too many issues,” just that some books present a lot of issues and don’t deal with them well. Spears navigates all of the issues in the characters’ lives skillfully, presenting what feel like very real (if very bleak) lives. Their friendships and other relationships are complicated by all of the factors and issues listed above.

 

This moving (and depressing) story takes a hard look at how friendships strain and how friends fail each other (and themselves). The ending will be annoying to some people–there’s no real closure, we have no idea what will happen to any of the characters or their relationships, and the sense we’re left with is one of sadness and hopelessness. This is the reality for these characters, Spears seems to say. Being briefly brought back together by a tragic event is likely not enough to reunite them as real friends or help them change the paths they’re on. I’m good with that kind of ending, but I know many readers (particularly the teens I know) are not. Pair this one with Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not for another look at grief, poverty, and changing friendships.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250065513

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Publication date: 09/15/2015