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Book Review: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

The Tween doing the #bffchallenge

Publisher’s Description:
The Pre-Sloane Emily didn’t go to parties, she barely talked to guys, she didn’t do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell.But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just… disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-selected-definitely-bizarre-tasks that Emily would never try… unless they could lead back to her best friend. Apple Picking at Night? Ok, easy enough.Dance until Dawn? Sure. Why not? Kiss a Stranger? Wait… what?

Getting through Sloane’s list would mean a lot of firsts. But Emily has this whole unexpected summer ahead of her, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go Skinny Dipping? Um . . .

My Thoughts:

By the time I graduated high school, I had been to 9 different schools. Yep, that’s a lot. So when we moved the Tween from Ohio to Texas for jobs, I was devastated to be making my daughter leave the very best friend that she had met way back in Kindergarten.  A lot of the emotions in this story really resonated with me; the loss, the confusion, the anger, the despair. But then, Morgan Matson is an author with the feels – she did, after all, write Second Chance Summer, one of the 10 books that made me genuinely weep and sob. In fact, if you have not read Second Chance Summer you should rectify that situation right away.

Since You’ve Been Gone is a personal journey that turns into a road trip. It is an exploration of friendship and romance. It is sometimes funny, sometimes tense, and it manages to balance both wise and witty.

When we first meet Emily, Sloan is already gone (has been gone for 2 weeks), and she is feeling alone, confused, and abandoned. Then the list arrives. The list includes things like 1) Kiss a stranger, 2) Go skinny-dipping, 3) Steal something, 8) The backless dress. and somewhere to wear it, 9) Dance until dawn, and 13) Sleep under the stars. And because the list is her only connection to Sloane, Emily decides to do it.

I loved the way these two friends used lists between each other. I loved their friendship. Not perfect, but true.

Along the way Emily gets Frank involved. Frank is in a relationship. It’s complicated. And being with Emily complicates things even more, as these things tend to do. This too is a fun relationship.

This is the perfect summer read. Kirkus says, “A winning blend of touching moments, memorable characters and situational humor takes readers to a surprising revelation at the story’s end.” (Kirkus 3/15/14). They kind of said it perfectly so it’s hard to top that. But what I am left after reading this book is this: Morgan Matson should be dubbed “The Master of Summer Feels” because she manages to capture all the moments and feelings of summer perfectly in her books.

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson. Published by Simon & Schuster in May 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4424-3500-1. I received a copy of this ARC for review, possibly at TLA.

Shelf Talkers: The “C” Word in Teen Fiction

My Judy Blume fan.  Because Judy Blume “gets it”.

Several years ago my grandmother went to the ER and they opened her up and said they were sorry, but there was nothing they could do for her.  She had cancer and, because she didn’t know it was there, it was so advanced that in just a couple of months it took her from us.  It was quick and unexpected, but often cancer is not.  Sometimes it hangs over you for years

I met and began dating The Mr. when I was 18 years old.  On my 20th birthday we got engaged.  I met the man who would be my father-in-law exactly once.  He was at home in the midst of what would turn out to be an all to brief period of remission from lymphoma.  By the time we got engaged he had already passed away.

Many years later, my friend  (my mentor, my adopted mom) would call and tell me that she too had cancer.  Unlike the others in my life, she would survive (thank God and modern medicine).  She was fighting cancer at the same time that I laid on bed rest fighting HG and trying to make sure my baby made it into this world.  We would call each other and talk about what it was like to have fallen down the rabbit hole that our lives had become.  I am the librarian I am today, and the persona I am today, in large part because of what she taught me.  I am thankful every day that we both made it out of that rabbit hole.

These past few weeks I have spent wondering if cancer was once again going to touch my life.  The truth is, it touches all of our lives at one point or another.  Current statistics indicate that 1 out of 2 men and 1 out of 3 women will have cancer of some form.  Cancer touches us all.  I remember years ago watching the movie St. Elmo’s Fire and there was a scene around the dinner table where the mom whispered that another person had “cancer” (said in a tiny, tiny whisper).  And here we are just 20 years later and the word is so common, we no longer whisper it.  It is no longer the “C” word.  So today I thought I would share with you some of the best books out there about teens dealing with cancer in their lives.

As I was writing this post, my childhood favorite, Judy Blume, announced that she, too, was fighting cancer.  Thankfully, she is recovering well. All my good wishes go out to her.  Her books have touched millions of lives, including mine.  The other day I had a teen come in and ask where the Judy Blume books were.  She reads them, she says, because “Judy Blume gets it.”

Before I share some of the amazing works of teen fiction out there dealing with cancer, I want to encourage you to read this amazing piece of work by Katie1234 in Teen Ink called The Cancer Monolgue.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Hazel and Augustus are two teens struggling with cancer in a brilliant, touching story written in the master class by John Green.  Hazel and Augusts try to resist falling in love because they know what fate awaits them both, but sometimes the heart has its own ideas.  With snark, wit, wisdom and humor, Green tells their story and pulls at your heart strings in all the right ways.  This book has now spent months on the bestseller list so if you are one of the two people who hasn’t yet read it, you really should.

A Time for Dancing by Davida Wills Hurwin
Samantha and Julia have been best friends forever, bound together by their love of dance.  In the summer before their senior year they are poised for great things and ready to face the world head on.  But what they aren’t ready for is cancer.  Julia is diagnosed with incurable cancer.  A Time for Dancing is an older title, published in 1997, but it is a raw presentation of the anger and fear that comes from a cancer diagnosis.

Me, and Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Me, and Earl, and the Dying Girl is a book that has done a very rare thing: made me laugh out loud. Literally.  And yes, it is indeed a book about cancer via “the dying girl”.  Greg and Earl end up spending time with Rachel, who has leukemia.  They are not really friends. but Greg’s mom wants him to help Rachel.  Greg is used to flying below the social radar at school, but suddenly finds himself the center of more attention then he ever wanted.  The guffaws come courtesy of some baked goods laced with marijuana and their unexpected eaters.

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
Second Chance Summer is one of my favorite summer books of all time.  Matson perfectly captures the essence of summer in this story of Taylor Edwards whose father has been diagnosed with cancer.  In addition to all the touchstones, including summer love and rekindled friendships, SCS is a beautiful story of a relationship between daughter and father.  As you know, these types of relationships are rare in teen fiction, but Matson presents a rich and deep look at what it is like to spend what may be your last moments with someone you love and adore.  You will sob.

Deadline by Chris Crutcher
What would you do if you knew you only have a year to live?  How would you spend that last year?  That is the question that Ben Wolf faces.  Told in a way that only Chris Crutcher can tell it, Ben spends his final year trying to find a way to make his mark on the world.

If you have titles to share, please add them in the comments.

Book Review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

Although I am a weeper by nature, I am not a book weeper. The last book that really left me sobbing what If I Stay by Gayle Forman, until last week.  True story: although I adored The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, I didn’t really cry when I finished it.  Then, I read two books in a row that made me sob.  The first was Waiting by Carol Lynch William.  And the second was Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson.  I sobbed through the last 30 pages of this book. But it was the sobbing that comes from just reading a really good story and being a satisfied reader as you close the back cover.

Taylor Edwards family sets out to spend one last summer with their father who has been given 3 months to live; maybe less and maybe more, but basically 3 months.  So the family sets off for their summer home that they haven’t visited in more than 5 years.  This is the last place that Taylor wants to be because of what happened that last summer.  From the outset, it looks like this will be the worst summer ever.  But summers always have a way of surprising you.

Taylor is a runner.  No, not an athlete.  She runs away when things get hard.  She runs away from herself, her emotions.  But this time, there is no running away.  Sure, she tries. But sometimes in life all you can do is hunker down and face the music.  Second Chance Summer is about facing the music and allowing it to change you. 

Full disclosure, I met the man who would be my father in law exactly once.  At that time, he was already in the midst of dying from cancer.  The Mr. was in his teens when his father was diagnosed.  I have seen a family wading through those troubled end of life waters and Second Chance Summer rings true.  Each person responds in different ways, just like in real life.  There is the atmosphere of loss hanging over every page, even as everyone tries to go about their “normal” lives and ignore the elephant in the room. As I read SCS, I felt .that there was an honesty and a sincerity in dealing with loss that would touch the core of any reader.  For teens with experience, SCS could be that type of cathartic read where their life story is affirmed.  For teens without experience, SCS is the magical type of storytelling that genuinely lets you walk in the footsteps of another and get a glimpse into a life that is touched by the looming certainty of death.  But even with that looming certainty, SCS still finds a way to be a magical summer read that captures those moments when the summer sun shimmers brightly in the water. For me, this is part of what makes Second Chance Summer such a beautiful read: in the end Matson is telling a story about opening yourself up to the painful moments in life because in order to truly feel life, you must feel all of it.

Like in If I Stay, the Edwards family is basically a healthy family, which I appreciate tremendously as it is so rare in teen lit.  Taylor spends the summer soaking up last minutes with her father with new routines and rituals. Her moments with her father and their relationship are poignant moments that remind us all not to take life for granted.  Each family members struggles in their own way to deal with who they are and what is happening to them.  In many ways, Taylor’s relationship with her dad was the best part of this story, but it is not the only part.

But Second Chance Summer is not just about Taylor and her dad, it is about THAT summer and a boy named Henry and a former best friend named Lucy.  They were 12 when it all happened.  And as the summer unfolds you learn the details of that summer and see all three characters learn to give each other second chances.  Sometimes even third and fourth ones.

Second Chance Summer has the feel of summer; it catches the tone perfectly.  There is of course a melancholy that hangs over the pages, but it also captures those moments where you rush off to meet the boy of your dreams on the dock and send secret codes to your best friend.  It reminds us that even in the midst of death, life still finds a way to carry on – even when we think it shouldn’t.  Ultimately, SCS is a touching portrait of relationships; how they ebb and flow and how they sometimes need second chances.  This is a title full of rich character development and touching truths that make their point without being overly dark or cynical. Matson somehow manages to create a book that has a summer lightness about it while still ending in a way that will always result in tears.  In fact, part of the reason you cry is that you come to care about Taylor and her father so much and that is a gift that comes from good storytelling.  4 out of 5 stars.

Morgan Matson is the author of Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour (which just appeared on Stephanie’s list of Top 10 Books About Music).

TLA Baby!

Tuesday night I left work and drove 4 1/2 hours to make my pilgrimage to TLA.  TLA baby, here I came! It was a truly amazing day where I met a ton of amazing teen authors, talked to publishers and yes, I received some ARCs (which will get their own post).

Although the exhibit halls were amazing, and I’ll get back to them, the fun truly began at the Texas Teen Author Tea.  Here we were invited to speed date with a wide variety of amazing teen authors.  There were 60 authors in total present, but I didn’t get to date them all.  The even was introduced by Andrea White, author of the fabulous Surviving Antarctica, which I have loved for a long time and being a new Texas transplant I had no idea she was a Texas author.  Ms. White, it was announced, gave some money to YART, the Young Adult Round Table, and they were starting some cool online resources including something called SPOT, the Spirit of Texas Reading Program.  My favorite was when she said that our goal – authors, librarians – was to help teens learn that “books are relationships”, a book is more than just two covers with pages in between.  Well said.

Then the speed dating began!

First I dated Morgan Matson, author of Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour and the upcoming Second Chance Summer, and Jessi Kirby, author of Moonglass and the upcoming In Honor.  Both of these ladies were incredibly nice and I was lucky to later get signed copies of books by both.  Second Chance Summer and In Honor are both contemporary titles and I am so excited to read them.  As much as I love paranormal and dystopian – and you know I do! – it is always great to have those contemporary titles that help teens see the real world they live in just a little different, to open their hearts and minds and just be.

I had just tweeted that I hoped I got to meet David Lubar and bam – he sat down right next to me.  David is funny, not surpringly.  I also got the opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated authors like him who participated in the Yalsa-bk listserv discussions (Alex Flinn and Jonathan Maberry post frequently as well).  And then he mentioned the possibility of Zombie Weenies! I know he would also want me to mention the Weenies Topical and Literary Index, where he painstakingly indexed his weenies stories.  With David Lubar I met Christina Mandelski, the author of The Sweetest Thing.  My favorite part was when she told us that she took cake decorating classes to help her write this book and admitted to being obsessed with The Food Network.

I then got to meet Mary Lindsey, whose book Shattered Souls may have the most fabulous book cover ever.  She did a great job of selling her book and talked about the book cover process and it was very cool.  I ran into her again later and we chatted some more.  She shared that she was in the process of writing a very cool sounding Poe inspired book that I honestly can not wait to read.  With Mary came Greg Leitich Smith, author of Chronal Engine and yes, husband to Cynthia Lietich Smith.  He came bearing dinosaur tattoos and as far as I am concerned, there can no be enough dinosaur books.

I also met (cue squeeing) Megan Miranda, author of the breathtaking Fracture and learned that she has a background in science that helped influence the book.  Stasia Kehoe talked about her book, Audition, and how it really delves into the question of identity and talent and passion.  Also, audition has ballet and dance is really popular right now.  Here is my true confessions moment: I always wanted to be a ballerina, I own a copy of Center Stage and watch it often, and I watch Dance Academy on Teen Nick – purely for professional reasons, of course).  Then P. J. Hoover talks about her undying love of mythology and how it plays into her book series which begins with book 1, The Emerald Tablet.  Fans of the Percy Jackson series will love these.

After being sad for a few moment about the authors I didn’t get to speed date, which for me included Orson Scott Card, I returned to the exhibit halls where I had to buy a new copy of Shiver so I could have it signed by Maggie Steifvater.  Being a huge Shiver fan, this was quite the moment for me and Maggie was incredibly nice and gracious to everyone who stood in that line.

Then – bam – the moment truly had a moment of synergy as just that moment John Corey Whaley had written his Why YA? post about Love is the Higher Law and who should I meet?  Why yes, David Levithan himself.  He is, of course, one half of the brilliant writing partnership behind the truly marvelous Will Grayson, Will Grayson.  And it turns out, he is a book editor.  He is, in fact, the editor of The List by Shiobhan Vivian.  I have been dying to read this book so yes, yes I did buy it and get it signed.  I also got a picture of the wonder team.

Then, the most amazing thing happened! I met Barry Lyga.  That’s right folks, THAT Barry Lyga.  Author of the fabulous, and fabulously creepy, I Hunt Killers.  He himself is not creepy, just the book.  But fabulously so.  Barry himself was very personable.

I also met and talked to a look author named Beth Fehlbaum.  Her book, Hope in Patience, is a 2011 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.  Hope in Patience is about one young girls journey of recovery from abuse.  Fans of the Dave Pelzer books will want to read these.

I learned at the Harper Collins booth that Robison Wells was going to be at TLA today, a truly devastating realization for me as I left last night.  Thursday, in fact, is teen day and they are having a ton of great authors, groups of teens, lots of great ARCs and a huge Divergent/Insurgent moment.  I ran into a bunch of great librarians, authors and book bloggers and I am sure there will be lots of great posts in the next few days about it all.  I love conferences because they are this moment when all of us – authors, publishers, librarians – come together and rejuvenate.  We are all working towards the same goal: to get books into the hands of teens.  It’s nice to get together in person and share our stories of success, those moments when we learn how a book made the difference in someone’s life.