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Book Review: The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason

Publisher’s description

art of losingThe Art of Losing is a compelling debut that explores issues of addiction, sisterhood, and loss.

On one terrible night, 17-year-old Harley Langston’s life changes forever. At a party she discovers her boyfriend, Mike, hooking up with her younger sister, Audrey. Furious, she abandons them both. When Mike drunkenly attempts to drive Audrey home, he crashes and Audrey ends up in a coma. Now Harley is left with guilt, grief, pain and the undeniable truth that her now ex-boyfriend has a drinking problem. So it’s a surprise that she finds herself reconnecting with Raf, a neighbor and childhood friend who’s recently out of rehab and still wrestling with his own demons. At first Harley doesn’t want to get too close to him. But as her sister slowly recovers, Harley begins to see a path forward with Raf’s help that she never would have believed possible—one guided by honesty, forgiveness, and redemption.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

One terrible night throws Harley’s entire life into chaos and makes her reevaluate her relationships, beliefs, and goals. The little summary up there from the publisher does an adequate job of hitting the highlights of the action of the plot, but since this is very much a character-driven story, about change and growth and moving forward, it doesn’t capture the powerfully emotional and resonant connections, struggles, and healing that make up the story.

 

While Harley’s sister Audrey is in a medically-induced coma following a car accident caused by Harley’s boyfriend, Mike, who was driving drunk, Harley is left to figure out her feelings toward both her sister and Mike (who she busted hooking up together at a party) as well as figure out who she is now that she’s no longer Mike’s Girlfriend. She had let herself become defined by her relationship with him over the past few years, losing herself and her real interests in the process. To her surprise, she starts hanging out again with her neighbor, Rafael, who she used to be really close with but now never talks to. Raf tells her he’s recently out of rehab, though he’s not totally convinced yet that he’s actually an alcoholic or an addict. Given Mike’s history of drinking, and that he’s now attending court-mandated rehab, Harley is a little wary of Raf, but quickly gets over any misgivings when she realizes that he still just totally gets her. He’s open, honest, thoughtful, talented, interesting, and not at all certain about his future. He’s also at a bit of a loss right now, just like Harley, because he’s broken ties with his old friends, who aren’t conducive to his recovery. Harley may worry that he’s a mess, and Raf may think that about himself, but he’s not. He’s just trying to figure some stuff out while beginning to understand that sobriety is a lifelong struggle. Harley has her own stuff to be dealing with—she feels guilty about what happened to her sister, feels a little lost without being with Mike anymore, and while she loves hanging out with Raf and is starting to realize her deeper feelings for him, she doesn’t think she should get to be happy right now.

 

Audrey’s progress while in the hospital is extremely slow. She wakes up for a bit a few times before finally coming fully out of her coma. Audrey has a lot of gaps in her memory, including no idea what happened the night of the party. Harley hasn’t even told her parents what actually happened and how Audrey ended up getting a ride home with Mike and not Harley. It’s all so complicated and painful, especially given Mike’s history of drinking and cheating, and the fact that Harley stuck around through all that. She has minimal interaction with Mike post-accident, including a visit to him at rehab while he is supposedly making amends. But unlike Raf, who has some missteps but is committed to sobriety, Mike hasn’t learned much from the accident, rehab, or Audrey’s coma, and goes right back to his partying ways. Thank goodness Harley cuts her ties with him and works through her own stuff in the company of Raf. They both start to understand more about themselves, like Raf likes to avoid reality and Harley is used to stuffing away her feelings. They both have a lot of insecurities (as does Mike) and Harley has trust issues. But she asks to see a therapist to start to work through everything, with the goal of learning how to stand up for herself and say what she actually feels. Together with Raf she learns that both recovery and just overcoming things in general is not an uninterrupted straight line. Life is complicated and messy, but both Raf and Harley are coming to understand that they can change the narrative and move forward, learning from their past and experiences but also not letting them define them.

 

I burned through this book because Mason presents engaging characters who go through real journeys in the course of the story. There is much to relate to here, including working through problems, redefining yourself, taking accountability, and learning forgiveness. There’s a lot of depth to the story and the characters, for the most part, are nuanced and imperfect but willing to work, change, and move on. This realistic look at addiction and its impact on lives is somber but ultimately hopeful. This well-written debut has lots of layers and will be an easy one to recommend to fans of contemporary YA. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781616959876
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/19/2019

B is for Brothers *and* Sisters; a Take 5 List

Today is the last day of January, so it’s our last day with the Letter B (though we will still post something if we get it because we like this discussion). Today TLTer Heather Booth is discussing brothers (and sisters).

yaatoz

two boys and a girl sit on stairs with a golden retreiver

The rest of the dog is there; I promise.

If you are in a mixed gender sibling group, you might have noticed the relative lack of books featuring relationships between brothers and sisters as compared with books about sisterhood or the bond between brothers. I get it. As the parent of sisters, I see how their relationship is something set apart from what my brothers and I had. But whenever I read a book about brothers and sisters in relation to one another, I’ve got to say it tugs on my heartstrings.

We didn’t have many hobbies in common. We didn’t share clothes. We didn’t weren’t generally friends with each others’ friends but one of us did date someone’s best friend.  The typical bonding that you see in books about sisters or books about brothers doesn’t tend to happen quite the same way, but it does happen.

With shoutouts to my not-so-little brothers, here are my top five books with brother/sister relationships:

 

Book cover: an illustration of a light blue sedan is viewed from overhead, headlights on, with a double yellow lane divider to its left

Good and Gone by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Good And Gone by Megan Frazer Blakemore

When Lexi Green’s older brother, Charlie, starts plotting a road trip to find Adrian Wildes, a famous musician who’s been reported missing, she’s beyond confused. Her brother hasn’t said a nice word to her or left the couch since his girlfriend dumped him months ago—but he’ll hop in a car to find some hipster? Concerned at how quickly he seems to be rebounding, Lexi decides to go along for the ride.

Besides, Lexi could use the distraction. The anger and bewilderment coursing through her after getting dumped by her pretentious boyfriend, Seth, has left her on edge. As Lexi, Charlie, and their neighbor Zack hit the road, Lexi recalls bits and pieces of her short-lived romance and sees, for the first time, what it truly was: a one-sided, coldhearted manipulation game. Not only did Seth completely isolate her, but he took something from her that she didn’t give him permission to.

The farther from home they get, the three uncover much more than empty clues about a reclusive rocker’s whereabouts. Instead, what starts off as a car ride turns into an exploration of self as each of them faces questions they have been avoiding for too long. Like the real reason Charlie has been so withdrawn lately. What Seth stole from Lexi in the pool house. And if shattered girls can ever put themselves back together. (Publisher description)

Book cover; Printz and Stonewall awards featured. The title is surrounded by a multicolored starburst pattern of lines

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

At first, Jude and her twin brother Noah, are inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them.

Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways . . . but then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor.

The early years are Noah’s to tell; the later years are Jude’s. But they each have only half the story, and if they can only find their way back to one another, they’ll have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant, award-winning novel from the acclaimed author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once. (Publisher description)

 

 

Book cover: the title looks like the leafless branches of trees; a girl's face is seen with blue lips and eyes closed

Lindsey Lost by Suzanne Marie Phillips

Lindsey Lost by Suzanne Marie Phillips

Even though Micah’s a star pitcher, his older sister Lindsey is the real deal—a runner so good, she has a shot at the Olympics. The two of them urge each other on, and are each other’s best support. Then the unthinkable happens: Lindsey is murdered, and Micah may have been the last person to see her. But he can’t remember what happened, no matter what their parents tell him, no matter what the police say. Did he witness his sister’s murder—or commit it? Can he recall the truth before his life is sentenced to end, too? (Publisher’s description)

More than anything, I appreciated the mourning that Micah does for his sister. Their love for one another is evident in a way that is uncommon in sibling relationship books. -hb

 

 

 

 

 

Book cover: the title is scrawled in black;

Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani

Ink & Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani

Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away when she was a little girl. But on the anniversary of his death, not long before her seventeenth birthday, she finds a mysterious letter from her deceased father, addressed to her stepfather. Claire never even knew that they had met.

Claire knows she should let it go, but she can’t shake the feeling that something’s been kept from her. In search of answers, Claire combs through anything that will give her information about her father . . . until she discovers he was a member of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed.

So begins the race to outrun his legacy as the secrets of her father’s past threaten Claire’s friends and family, newfound love, and ultimately her life. Ink and Ashes, winner of Tu Books’ New Visions Award, is a heart-stopping debut mystery that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page. (Publisher description)

 

 

Book cover: A white background highlights the figure of a black girl with natural hair and jean shorts; her torso and the bottom of her face obscured by a protest style sign bearing the book title

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. (Publisher description)

Among the many things I loved about this book is the way Starr and Seven have a complex relationship as similar-aged, opposite gender, half-siblings. What is never in doubt or ambiguous though is that their bond is strong and permanent. (hb)

 

Two men and a woman stand arm in arm

me & my big little brothers

Book Review: You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publisher’s description

you'll missA moving, lyrical debut novel about twins who navigate first love, their Jewish identity, and opposite results from a genetic test that determines their fate—whether they inherited their mother’s Huntington’s disease.

Eighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist—and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.

But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.

When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s, and the other tests positive.

These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?

From debut author Rachel Lynn Solomon comes a luminous, heartbreaking tale of life, death, and the fragile bond between sisters.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

The novel opens with Adina and Tovah on the brink of turning 18. 18 may feel significant for many teenagers, but for these girls, it has a special significance: they’re old enough now to undergo the genetic testing that will determine if they will eventually develop Huntington’s disease, like their mother. They have a 50/50 chance they will. Adina and Tovah haven’t been close for a long time, thanks to an act of betrayal in their past, so they’re going into the test without the support of each other. Adina doesn’t even want to do the test–why she does/has to do it is complicated. When Adina tests positive, everything begins to fall apart. Their already strained relationship is further tested by guilt, anger, frustration, and revenge, all brought on by this diagnosis.

For Adina, a conservatory-bound viola player, the diagnosis pushes her to seize the moment, scared of just how many good moment she may have left. She also actively makes the rift between the sisters greater, figuring it will be easier on everyone if, when she gets sick and begins to deteriorate, they aren’t close—the loss won’t hurt so much (she thinks).

For Tovah, she’s left in the wake of her sister’s destructive impulses, but also struggling to adjust to her own life-changing news. A tightly-wound type A student who has been meticulously crafting the perfect resume her whole life, Tovah suddenly begins to see that there is life beyond grades and goals. She begins her first relationship and, while she has to adjust to new thoughts about what her future may now hold, it’s not on the same level as what Adina is adjusting to—something both sisters are constantly aware of.

I burned through this book, riveted by the girls’ relationship, which is constantly in flux. The alternate narration really lets us get in the heads of both girls and see them both really struggle with all the new things that they are dealing with. Let’s not forget that in the middle of all this there is their mother, whose symptoms are getting rapidly worse. They have to witness her decline, worry about what her future holds, and that’s a constant very real reminder for everyone of what will be ahead of Adina at some point.

I loved the large role religion plays in this family’s life. They are Jewish and often speak Hebrew. Their mother grew up in Tel Aviv and their father is American. Tovah is quite religious and Adina is not. Both speak and think about their religion and culture a lot—whether that’s because they are embracing it or rebelling against it.

This book is heartbreaking in all the best ways. The girls are not always likable (and we all know I hate that word as a judgment, right? That it’s OKAY to be unlikable, because being humans and containing multitudes means we’re not always the best version of ourselves?), they make hurtful choices, they keep things to themselves when what they really need is to lean on each other. This is a complex look at identity, futures, faith, family, and what it means to truly live your life. A brilliant and provocative debut. I look forward to more from Solomon. 

FYI, this novel includes self-harm, suicidal ideation, and a discussion of death with dignity.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481497732
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 01/02/2018

Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of School Library Journal. I am SO EXCITED to now be able to rave to everyone about this book. 

 

upsideAlbertalli, Becky. THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED

ISBN-13: 9780062348708 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/11/2017

★ Gr 9 Up—Growing up can mean growing apart, which is a hard revelation for twins Cassie and Molly Peskin-Suso. When Cassie, who is a lesbian, begins dating Mina, a pansexual Korean American, Molly feels a little cast aside. Molly, who has an anxiety disorder, has silently nursed 26 crushes and is working on finally risking the rejection she fears and starting to date. Cassie wants Molly to hook up with Mina’s best friend, Will, but Molly might be more interested in sweet and endearingly geeky Reid. While the girls are navigating these new worlds of romance, things don’t slow down in other parts of their lives. Cassie and Molly’s moms are finally getting married, so there’s a wedding to plan, much to the delight of Pinterest-savvy Molly; plus there are jobs, friends, and a busy baby brother. Molly, Cassie, and all of the secondary characters are well-developed and distinctive. The outspoken girls have honest, humorous, and sometimes awkward conversations with each other, their friends, and their supportive and loving moms about relationships and growing up. Albertalli’s keen ear for authentic teen voices will instantly make readers feel that they are a part of Cassie and Molly’s world, filled with rich diversity (Cassie and Molly’s family is Jewish and interracial), love, support, and a little heartache. In the satisfying conclusion, Molly and Cassie learn that letting new people into their lives does not have to mean shutting out others. VERDICT: Readers will fall in love with this fresh, honest, inclusive look at dating, families, and friendship. A top purchase for all YA collections.