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Book Review: You Don’t Know Me but I Know You by Rebecca Barrow

Publisher’s description

ra6Rebecca Barrow’s bright, honest debut novel about chance, choice, and unconditional love is a heartfelt testament to creating the future you truly want, one puzzle piece at a time.

There’s a box in the back of Audrey’s closet that she rarely thinks about.

Inside is a letter, seventeen years old, from a mother she’s never met, handed to her by the woman she’s called Mom her whole life. Being adopted, though, is just one piece in the puzzle of Audrey’s life—the picture painstakingly put together by Audrey herself, full of all the people and pursuits that make her who she is.

But when Audrey realizes that she’s pregnant, she feels something—a tightly sealed box in the closet corners of her heart—crack open, spilling her dormant fears and unanswered questions all over the life she loves.

Almost two decades ago, a girl in Audrey’s situation made a choice, one that started Audrey’s entire story. Now Audrey is paralyzed by her own what-ifs and terrified by the distance she feels growing between her and her best friend Rose. Down every possible path is a different unfamiliar version of her life, and as she weighs the options in her mind, she starts to wonder—what does it even mean to be Audrey Spencer?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

you don't knowThis was GOOD. Like, “life is messy and complex and decisions are not easy things” good. One would hope that a story that is about a pregnant young woman would have depth and would show the inner workings of her making whatever choice she makes—and wow, does this book have depth.

Despite using birth control, Audrey winds up pregnant. While she definitely isn’t in denial, a little tiny part of her hopes that maybe she can just pretend that everything is okay and that it just will be. Her boyfriend, Julian, is extremely supportive and loving, but Audrey can’t believe they have to tell their parents this happened. And how does she tell her friends? She and Rose, her best friend, have been drifting apart and just doesn’t think she can tell her about the pregnancy. Audrey is adopted; her mother (who is white) was single when she adopted Audrey (whose birth mother was white and birth father was black) as a baby. Audrey’s complicated thoughts on family, babies, and adoption factor into her struggle to make the choice that is right for her. Throughout it all, her mother and Adam, her mom’s boyfriend, are so supportive and loving. Julian’s parents are, too, with both his mother and Audrey’s going with them to a doctor’s appointment. Audrey is worried that she has disappointed people in her life because this happened, but no one ever makes her feel that way, not even for a second. Audrey grapples with what to do (with no one in her life pressuring her in any way to make any one choice) while thinking about the futures she and Julian had hoped for (his band, art school, music school, etc). There is no clear path forward for her. More than anything, Audrey just worries that someone may stop loving her based on what decision she may make.

 

While Audrey’s pregnancy and choice of what to do are at the heart of the story, this is also about families, more generally, and friendship, especially the ways little rifts can sneak in and suddenly turn into far larger distances than you thought you’d ever have with a friend. Rose, who is bisexual, has recently started dating Olivia, the new girl at school, but Audrey really knows nothing about what’s going on with them, thanks to the fact that she and Rose are barely speaking. Audrey ultimately makes the choice that feels right to her (in a situation where no choice feels “right”) surrounded by love, support, and options. A well-written, necessary, and honest, heartfelt look at making what feels like an impossible choice. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062494191

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/29/2017

Book Review: How It Ends by Catherine Lo

Publisher’s description

how it endsThere are two sides to every story.
It’s friends-at-first-sight for Jessie and Annie, proving the old adage that opposites attract. Shy, anxious Jessie would give anything to have Annie’s beauty and confidence. And Annie thinks Jessie has the perfect life, with her close-knit family and killer grades. They’re BFFs . . . until suddenly they’re not. Told through alternating points of view, How It Ends is the story of a friendship from first meeting to breakup, set against a tumultuous sophomore year of bullying, boys, and backstabbing.

Catherine Lo makes her debut with an honest, nuanced tale about the intricacies of female friendship.

 

 

Amanda‘s thoughts

I always want more YA friendship stories. Friendship, especially in high school, can be so messy. You can grow close so fast, or get ditched, or have fights, or change friend groups, or be obsessed with each other. There’s a lot of ebb and flow to teen friendships. Lo captures all of those things in this look at Jessie and Annie’s sophomore year.

 

Smart, studious Jessie suffers from “terminal loneliness.” Made into an outcast by her former friend and now mean girl, Courtney, Jessie has put up with years of being called “Lezzie Longbottom” and being otherwise ignored by her classmates. Isolated Jessie has anxiety, depression, and frequent panic attacks. Her mother has done a lot to try to “fix” Jessie over the years–therapists, medication, etc–everything, that is, except really talk to her. Jessie feigns interest in video games and comics so she can linger on the periphery of a group at lunchtime, but hasn’t had a real friend in years.

 

Annie is new to town and hates her new life in suburbia. She doesn’t get along with her new stepmom and her stepsister basically ignores her. Annie spies Jessie that first day at school and thinks she’s “beautifully uncool.” That’s all it takes to draw her to Jessie. Jessie thinks Annie is the coolest person ever and can’t understand why she’d want to be friends with her. The girls instantly become best friends. But before long, Annie grows friendly with the girls who’ve bullied Jessie in the past and starts to pull away from Jessie. “We don’t have to do everything together,” she tells her.

 

During their time drifting apart, both girls experience big things. Annie begins to date Scott, who Jessie has a crush on (and a lot of STUFF goes on with that relationship). Jessie’s anxiety, depression, and panic attacks ramp up. She’s constantly sneaking pills to help calm her down. It’s her own prescription, but her mother keeps the pills locked up and doles them out sparingly, the idea being that Jessie should learn how to cope with her anxiety, not need pills to get her through the things that make her anxious (like sitting with the mean girls at lunch). Jessie’s mental health issues become a big part of the story. She desperately wants to keep her issues a secret (a feeling that no doubt stems from her mother’s less-than-helpful understanding of anxiety, being medicated, and feeling ashamed). Her mother encourages her to tell Annie what’s going on to help “explain” some of how she’s been behaving. Yes, her anxiety colors some of how she behaves and reacts, but her mother seems to think that Jessie’s mental health struggles are responsible for the fallout of this friendship. As you might guess, I don’t really love how mental health is addressed here. Her mother goes about things in the wrong way. She’s encouraging shame and stigma and the notion that needing medication is some kind of failing. Then, her mother makes a REALLY BAD CHOICE and suddenly Jessie’s secret is out. And before long, Annie’s big secret is out too (avoiding spoilers here, people). Both girls become victims of rumors and gossip (in high school? No way!) and make repeated attempts to reconcile their friendship, but it isn’t that simple anymore.

 

For the most part, I liked this book. I did want to see more of just how Annie and Jessie become so close. They’re kind of instantly and inexplicably drawn to each other (which definitely happens in real life) and we’re told they’re best friends, but I wanted to see more of how that happened. We know time passes because we’re told it does, but I felt like we missed huge chunks of the time they’re growing closer. I did appreciate how swiftly and thoroughly their friendship fell apart—that felt very real—and getting to see how each girl reacted and what each did while not friends with the other. I really felt for Annie and the things she has to go through basically alone and the way she ends up very ostracized and angry. I also empathized with Jessie, who is more or less all alone without Annie and uncertain how to get through her days without panic attacks taking over. The girls’ story isn’t simple—it’s not like they’re friends and then they’re just not. Lo presents a nuanced look at friendship and shows how their pasts and their home lives affect them. A thoughtful look at the ways friendships can start, end, and all the things in between.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544540064

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 06/07/2016

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