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Book Review: In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

Publisher’s Book Description: From the award-winning author of The Serpent King comes a beautiful examination of grief, found family, and young love.

Life in a small Appalachian town is not easy. Cash lost his mother to an opioid addiction and his Papaw is dying slowly from emphysema. Dodging drug dealers and watching out for his best friend, Delaney, is second nature. He’s been spending his summer mowing lawns while she works at Dairy Queen.

But when Delaney manages to secure both of them full rides to an elite prep school in Connecticut, Cash will have to grapple with his need to protect and love Delaney, and his love for the grandparents who saved him and the town he would have to leave behind.

Karen’s Thoughts:

This is a soul crushing book that makes your heart soar while ripping it out at the same time; it is profoundly moving and well written in the way that makes you want to frame quotes on your bedroom wall to carry you through life’s dark days.

Cash is a high school teenage boy who lives in abject poverty in the Appalachia region with his grandparents who are raising him since his mom died from an overdose. He is best friends with Delaney, who just happens to be a scientific genius. Because of an amazing discovery that she makes, the two are offered a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school (she is the type of friend who negotiates her deal to help a friend instead of leaving him behind). In the Wild Light is a peek behind the curtain in the life of a group of teenagers, but mostly a boy named Chase, who are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

At school, Chase discovers poetry as a language to help him talk about his feelings, he finds his people, and in the process, he starts to find himself. It’s a moving character study that dismantles toxic masculinity, explores the heart of family and friendship, and introduces us to characters who have every obstacle put before them and you can’t help but root for them.

This is a stunning, achingly moving book. I loved everyone (except for the roommate, who you are not supposed to love). If you like moving and triumphant character studies, this is the book for you: full of grief, hope, joy, anger and triumph.

Some of the issues tackled in the book include addiction, grief, sexual violence, bullying, and toxic masculinity.

Highly recommended.

Some additional books on the opioid crisis and addiction include:

Book covers pictured include Heroine by Mindy McGinnis, The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman and You’d Be Home by Now by Kathleen Glasgow (comes out September 28th)

Book Review: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

When we meet Quinn, in Jessi Kirby’s Things We Know by Heart,  it has been 400 days since her boyfriend Trent was killed in an accident. In those 400 days, Quinn has been wallowing in her grief and wallowing HARD (and who can blame her?). She’s basically stopped doing everything she once enjoyed and doesn’t interact with anyone beyond her family. She keeps track of each day since Trent was killed as some kind of vigil, a testament to their love and to his memory. As she says at one point, she’s essentially an 18-year-old widow.

 

The only good thing to come out of Trent’s death was the fact that five people became recipients of his organs. Working through the right avenues, Trent’s family (including Quinn) can reach out to the recipients and vice versa. Quinn has heard back from and met four of the people, but the fifth one, the one who received his heart, is elusive. But it’s 2015 and no one can remain elusive long thanks to the internet. Quinn does some savvy researching and discovers that recipient #5 is a boy named Colton. Though she knows she shouldn’t, she goes off in search of him, not sure what she’ll do if she finds him. She meets him in a convoluted way—they are in the same coffee shop and Quinn panics and flees, leaving her purse behind, which he returns, and then gets into a minor car accident that he witnesses. Instead of revealing who she is and what she’s doing looking for him, she just gets to know him while keeping everything a secret—a plan that is sure to cause some waves.

 

It is, of course, predictable that Quinn and Colton will fall for each other. You can also guess that this is confusing for Quinn—is it because Colton has Trent’s heart? Does this somehow affect how Colton feels toward her? You can also guess that when the truth of their connection is finally revealed to Colton, he doesn’t love that she has been keeping all of this from him. BUT what moves this beyond simply being a predictable story about love, loss, and lies are the very real feelings Quinn goes through as she processes everything from the past 400 days and everything that is happening to her now. She is happy with Colton. He’s good for her, and she’s good for him. They really just kind of do the same things over and over and that’s all it takes for them to feel content and enjoy each other. They don’t have a particularly deep connection, mainly because of the amount of things both parties are holding back, but their attachment to each other grows in a realistic way, especially once the truth comes out.

 

Each chapter starts with a quote about hearts or transplants—some scientific, some poetic. The scientific ones help inform the readers about organ donation and how hearts function in the body. Readers might be tempted to skip over these precursors to the chapter but would be remiss in doing so. Though the story follows a completely predictable trajectory, the tension that comes from Quinn having this big secret is really what carries the story. This will be an easy one to move off the shelves–a romance that is as much about loss as it is about love. A moving look at how our lives go on even in the face of almost unthinkable tragedies and obstacles. 

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS
ISBN-13: 9780062299437
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 4/21/2015

Book review: Promposal by Rhonda Helms

In Promposal, by Rhonda Helms, best friends Camilla and Joshua are angsting about who their prom dates will be. Camilla has agreed to go with a peer who barely qualifies as a friend, even though she’d rather go with her psychology class crush. Joshua would love to finally confess how he feels to his friend Ethan, but instead gets roped into helping Ethan plan the perfect promposal for Ethan’s crush.

 

(Digression: You know what promposals are, right? They’re the over-the-top gestures now commonly used by teenagers to ask one another to prom. Go check out this images search for just a taste of what they look like.

 

Here’s the thing: I was a conscientious objector of prom in high school. I had a boyfriend both years, but would rather have eaten nails than gotten dressed up and gone to dance with my classmates. I know—hating prom is kind of cliché and hating high school is even more so. But whatever—prom, not for me. I also have replaced the part of my memory that covers the early 90s and high school with a black hole, but I’m pretty sure promposals were not a thing when I was a teenager. That doesn’t mean I’ve escaped witnessing them, though.

 

When I worked as a librarian at the high school here, I saw quite a few. Fact about me: I get incredibly uncomfortable for people when something awkward is happening. I don’t embarrass particularly easily, but I embarrass on the behalf of others pretty quickly. So sometimes a boy would come in and ask if he could arrange to parade in with friends and make a scene inviting a girl studying in there. Sometimes I’d see videos on kids’ phones about something that happened in the halls or cafeteria. It all made me itchy. I know there are plenty of cute ways to ask someone to prom, and I know stuff like that makes people swoony (a word I hate—I should add that to my reading pet peeves post that I’m working on). Be swoony. That’s cool. But all I see is awkwardness and the pressure to say yes because you’re on display. Also, this has probably just sealed the deal that someday my son will ask a girl or boy to prom in a super public way and I’ll die a little inside. Okay. Crabby old lady rant done. We now return you to your regularly scheduled review.)

 

Camilla and Benjamin, her crush, are in a psychology class together, where they are studying about social norms and pressures. These ideas play into why Camilla says “yes” to Zach, the boy who asks her to prom in an incredibly OTT way. Not only is it in front of lots of classmates, it’s being FILMED. For the NEWS. By Zach’s MOTHER. I know. She feels she has to say yes. Camilla and Benjamin get to know each other better as they work on their class project, which involves testing social mores and comfort zones. Camilla’s dodging Zach’s incessant requests to plan for prom, focusing her attention instead on Benjamin and how he keeps running hot and cold toward her.

 

Meanwhile, Joshua is kicking himself for waiting too long to confess his feelings to Ethan, thinking they’re too deep into the friend zone now. Ethan is somehow completely oblivious to the fact that Joshua is pining for him. Joshua’s dad urges him to just go for it and let Ethan know how he feels, but Joshua’s worried about being rejected and ruining their friendship.

 

I liked that none of the relationships presented (both those of Camilla and Joshua and of the more secondary characters) are cut and dried. Moves are made and feelings are revealed that don’t always go over well. There’s fighting and making up. Characters are sweet and thoughtful, but also act in selfish and jerky ways. The plot of this book could be summed up as “two teens want the boys they like to like them back.” Fortunately the things that fill that plot in make it feel larger than just that. I also loved that this book was 0% about coming out or Joshua being gay being any kind of issue. I love that we are finally seeing more LGBTQIA+ characters being a part of the story in ways beyond feeling “issue-y” or showing them facing some kind of struggle. Overall, this was a fun read and will have a wide appeal for fans of contemporary fiction. 

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS

ISBN-13: 9781481422321
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date
: 2/10/2015