If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

If You Come Softly is a young adult/middle grade story about two teenagers, Ellie and Miah. They meet at Percy Academy, the private school that they are both unwillingly attending. They know that they have something special upon to meet each other, and they can remember each moment they sneak off together. Their first kiss. But time is fragile, and so is life. They realize how hard it will be: Miah is black, and Ellie is Jewish.

Carlton stood up and tucked the ball under his arm. “Sounds like love, man.”

“But she’s white.”

Carlton raised an eyebrow. “Hello, Miah. Look who you talking to, man. It happens. And you know what? It ain’t the worst thing in the world.”

It is a hard realization for both of them, as they take the bus or train and draw the stares of others, some asking Ellie if she is okay. My heart broke for them, because young love should not be tainted by hate or discrimination. There were very few people in their lives who seemed to understand. I really liked Miah’s best friend, Carlton. He was down to earth, and he seemed to understand– maybe because he was biracial, or maybe he just didn’t see people in color. He saw them as being the people they were.

Miah has this great support system in Carlton, and in his mother. But Ellie has been afraid to tell her family. She wants them to know the boy that she has fallen in love with, not the color of his skin. So, finally, she makes the decision that she will tell them. And she becomes excited. They will finally know Miah. But what happens next is astonishing– do they accept Miah? Forbid Ellie from seeing him? This was a re-read for me, and so I knew what was going to happen the second time around. Have a kleenex or two handy.

If you come as softly

as the wind beneath the trees.

You may hear what I hear.

See what sorrow sees.

If you come as lightly

as threading dew,

I will take you gladly,

not ask more of you.

I think that if I were able to assign reading to teens in classrooms, this would be one of those books. It is meaningful and relevant. If you had to choose at least one book that was mandatory reading for teens in schools, what would it be, and why? Maybe that will be a future post– I will put together what I would choose as required reading for the school year.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay by Gayle Forman is the story of Mia, a seventeen year old cello player. She is blessed with an amazing family, two parents who are absolutely not cookie cutter– they were both in a rock band, and they are anything but boring. They have a wonderful relationship with Mia and her younger brother, Teddy.  However, a perfect family roadtrip on a snowy day is instantly altered. Mia does not remember the accident, she remembers riding with her family down the snowy road in Oregon. And then nothing.

The next thing she knows, she is watching her body being pulled from the car’s wreckage. Guys, I had to emotionally prepare myself for this one. I have heard from several bloggers out there what a great book this is, but they all also said they cried during this book. They were not lying… if you do not want to cry at least once, do not read this book. If you want to read a book that you will become completely invested in– with happy moments and the sad– read this book. I will admit that my ugly cry reared its head this afternoon. But I found this book to be heartbreaking, funny… a novel about family, and about friends.

There was not a single character in this book that I didn’t feel was unique. They were all multi-layered, and I have to say that one of my favorite characters was Mia’s best friend, Kim. Honestly, I think that everyone deserves to have at least one friend in their lifetime like Kim. She is blatantly honest, strong, independent, and hilarious. She is there for Mia without hesitation. In a lot of young adult fiction, friendships are so highly superficial. About stabbing each other in the back, or stealing each other’s boyfriends. I’ve only read a few young adult books where the best friends are just that… best friends. And this was one of them.

It I Stay is told from Mia’s point-of-view, reflecting back to pivotal moments throughout her life. And, watching her family and friends at the hospital in the day following her accident. And Forman brings up a difficult question… what if you had to decide whether to fight for your life and stay alive, or give up the fight and brave the unknown?

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

So, I’ve read the blurb about Anna and the French Kiss numerous times, it sounded like it might be good… but it never struck me as being a must-read. I’d almost written off sitting down to read it, and then I kept getting these recs from some awesome bloggers out there, specifically Brittany from The Book Addicts Guide.. I need to say THANK YOU. I am so glad I did not write off this book.

The premise of Anna and the French Kiss is about a seventeen year old named Anna Oliphant, or “banana elephant” as she is called by her best friend, Bridge. Anna’s mother is a teacher, while her father is a novelist who writes cheesy and tragic love stories, written with the intent of being made into movies. And her father is all about impressing his friends in New York, so that is why he makes the decision to send Anna off to boarding school, for her senior year… in Paris.

Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, although I have no idea what the function of either actually is. Napoleon, Marie Antionette, and a lot of kings named Louis. I’m not sure what they did either, but I think it has something to do with the French Revolution, which has something to do with Bastille Day. The art museum is called the Louvre and it’s shaped like a pyramid and the Mona Lisa lives there along with the statue of a woman missing her arms. And there are cafes or bistros or whatever they call them on every street corner. And mimes. The food is supposed to be good, and the people drink a lot of wine and smoke a lot of cigarettes.

I hear they don’t like Americans, and they don’t like white sneakers.

Anna is less than thrilled about being shipped off to a boarding school in Paris, instead of spending her senior year with her best friend, Bridgette and the boy that she is crushing on back in Atlanta. She doesn’t know the language, as she has spent the last three years studying Spanish. She is afraid of travelling to Paris, when she hasn’t really ever traveled before. How will she survive without knowing the language and without the familiarity of home?

I must tell you. I love Anna. She is unique, and witty, and imperfect,  a blogger,  self-conscious at times, and just… a breath of fresh air. Reading the story from her point-of-view was so easy. I read the entire book in about four hours. I definitely felt that I could relate to her, even though I’ve never been to Paris. Maybe because I’d never been to Paris or traveled much. I could relate to that fear of not knowing how to survive in a foreign place– things as simple as going to the grocery store, the movie theatre, or taking the train.

Luckily, Anna is not completely alone. It is at SOAP (School of America in Paris) that she is introduced to a cast of characters… they are easy to remember, as her senior class only has a sum of twenty-five students. She is forced out of her comfortable little shell, her dorm room at SOAP and with the help of her friends, begins to actually experience Paris. Experience life.

Oh, did I forget to mention Etienne St. Clair? He is a English/Parisian raised American with a swoon-worthy accent. Now, I don’t know about you, but the sound of an English accent makes me swoon! But it wasn’t just his accent, it is Etienne’s (or, as he is more commonly called, St. Clair’s) whole being that draws Anna to him. He is intelligent, and teasing, and thoughtful. They start off as friends, and it is obvious where the story is leading… but there is one thing that is a major road block. Etienne’s girlfriend, Ellie.

This story was a wonderful and light read. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows- but all in all it was a really great feel-good book.This is a book that I will be buying to add to my favorite YA Contemps. If you are like me: stop hesitating, and read this book. I don’t think that you’ll regret it!

Tilt by Ellen Hopkins

Tilt is a young adult novel written by Ellen Hopkins  in verse. I have heard a lot about Hopkins as a novelist, although prior to Tilt I had not read any of her work.  I was worried that because it was written in verse that it would seem broken up and hard to read. But it wasn’t. It truly added another layer to the story. I decided I would sit down in the library and read it for a few minutes just to make sure that it was something that I would like. Seventy-five pages later, I checked out the book. I will be returning to the library to pick up her other books, but Crank was not available (I will be looking for it again, during my next library haul)… but, let’s look at why I will be going back for more of Hopkins books, shall we?

Tilt is  a novel that is told from the point-of-view of three different teenagers: Mikayla, Shane, and Harley, whose lives all become intermingled. It is the companion to an adult novel that was written by Hopkins called Triangles, which I am interested in picking up. It is the story that is told from the point-of-view of the parents of Mikki, Shane, and Harley. I think that it would have been a little bit easier if I had read Triangles first, because I struggled a bit at the beginning in keeping straight who was related to who, and best friends with who. I think that was my only real hangup.

I enjoy reading contemporaries that deal with real issues, that could happen to real people. In Tilt, we are introduced to Mikayla, or “Mikki” as she is called by her friends and family. A girl who has fallen head over heels for a boy named Dylan Douglas. This is something unfamiliar to her, a first love. And it seems especially foreign to her because it has been obvious for a long time now that her parents are not in love anymore.  Things become even more complicated when Mikayla falls pregnant the summer before her senior year with Dylan’s baby, and decides to keep the baby which will greatly affect her life. In the future, and in the now.

“Because another thing

I’ve decided through a lot of

meditation, in fact, that life

is all about chances. You might

be safer not taking any. But

playing it safe means

you’re only existing. Not living.”

The second narrator that we are introduced to is Shane. He is just turning sixteen, and has recently come out to those around him. And in the summer that he turns sixteen, he meets Alex. Alex will become his first serious boyfriend. Soon after they meet, Alex makes a confession to Shane: he is living life HIV positive. This news, amiss having seen his younger sister battle just to stay alive for the last four years drastically complicate Shane’s life. Will he push away what could be the best thing in his life, or will he stay with Alex even though he knows that his life will be cut short, much like his baby sister?

And finally,  there is Harley who is Shane’s younger cousin. At thirteen years old she is just an ordinary good girl who is trying to learn who she is and define herself. She is willing to push herself, to change herself… because she thinks that is who she is supposed to be. I think this is something that could be true of so many teenage girls out there. Wanting to impress the people around them. And maybe losing themselves a little bit in the effort of finding themselves. It is Harley’s best friend Bri who I think is a saving grace. Even though she knows that Harley is changing, and not for the better, she is there. She is a true testament to the kind of friend that every teenager reads.

Intertwined are the relationships of the parents, whose relationships are easily just as messy as their children. Many of their lives at a crossroads. If you have ever struggled to find yourself, if you remember what it was like to be a teenager and to be lost, if you have ever lost someone, or loved someone… this is an amazing contemporary read.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Also, there is still time to enter my giveaway for Banned Books Week: Banned Books Week Giveaway, where I will be giving away a copy of Speak, or another banned book from The Book Depository.

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard is a story about a recent high school graduate named Bria Sandoval. There is so much that can be said about Wanderlove. Originally, Bria is supposed to go on a trip with her two closest friends from high school- Olivia and Reese, the summer before they start college. But, both girls back out and Bria is left to decide what to do. She decides that she will not let her friends(albeit, not very good friends), or her self-centered ex-boyfriend dictate this about her. So, she signs up for a travel group which is called The Global Vagabonds, where she will travel throughout Central America for two weeks.

 

Bria is not quite sure which direction that she is going in life. Not only did he break her heart– but he also ruined the direction that her life was headed. He took away the one thing that she used to enjoy the most, her art. She was planning on going to school.

 

Bria unwittingly stumbles upon a pair of travelers that she pictures herself as: Rowan and Starling. They are the kind of travelers who like to wander from the beaten trail, and discover something new. The kind of traveling that Bria knows nothing about. I have never had the chance to travel around the world, but reading Wanderlove made me want to pack my bags and go on an adventure! I myself still relating to the novel despite this though, because of Bria. She was real– she was not perfect and without flaws. At times she was incredibly uncomfortable in her own skin. She was not a character who was incredibly clean around the edges. She was so real. Because, who didn’t have reservations as a teenager?

 

I really don’t think that any review that I write will give Wanderlove justice, which is why it has taken me so long to write this review since I read it. There was such beauty to this book, and I found it to be very realistic. I think that in life we all have that period in our lives where we are discovering which direction our lives will go. Not only that, but discovering who we are. That’s what this book was to me. One girl’s journey of discovering herself. And to each person I think that would be completely different. So: if you are a teenager and looking for a book to read to realize that you are not alone in that confusion, read this book. If you are an adult, but want a book that you can read that will help you remember those teenage books, read this book. I am sure you won’t regret it.

 

My Rating: 5 Stars

My Rating: 5 Stars

 

Room by Emma Donahue

Room is a novel that is told from the point-of-view of Jack, and Room is all that he has known for his entire existence. It is the story of Ma and her five-year-old son, Jack. For Ma Room has been a prison where she has been held captive for the last seven years of her life. For Jack, Room is home.

The concept of an adult novel being written from the point-of-view of a five year old boy was an interesting one. I had mixed emotions. It was a smart choice because, for the most part, I think everyone immediately can sympathize with someone who has been held captive in adulthood. Being ripped away from their only known sense of normalcy, and held in a twelve by twelve cell. I think it is less considered of the child who is born into this world, who does not know what the world outside is like. This is their sense of normalcy, their stability.

I think that is why I found Room to be such a moving novel. There have been so many stories in the headlines in recent years about women or girls who have been abducted and held captive. Stories of women like Jacee Duggard come to mind. I remember how heart-wrenching it was to hear her story. That she had mothered children while she was held captive. Reading Room brought up a slight feeling of guilt within me- I thought, how horrible for her. But, as I mentioned earlier in the review, I did not think of how hard it must have been for the children in these situations as well. That this was their normal life. They did not know anything else of the world, so being taken away from where they had been held captive for their entire lifetime, in a sense, took away their sense of stability.

I thought that the relationship between Ma and Jack was amazing. Although she knew that he was not even in a remotely normal situation, she tried her best to provide for him, and teach him. I admired her strength and the love that she had for her son. That she didn’t look at him as a piece of Old Nick, her captor but rather the thing that kept her going day in and day out.

My main negative point is that I don’t think that the narrator’s voice was always believable as a five year old’s voice. I know that Ma educated Jack the best that she could, but some of the vocabulary that Jack used in narration I cannot see even the most educated five year old using. For the most part, this was well-written, and I found the story to be very touching.

My Rating: 3.5