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.

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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?

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Crank is a young adult novel written in verse by Ellen Hopkins. I was hoping to have read and reviewed this back during Banned Books week, but I just wasn’t able to get around to it. But, during the Read-a-thon on October 13th, I was able to get this in.

As I mentioned, it is written in verse. It is about Kristina, a good-girl high school student. Kristina hasn’t seen her father since she was seven years old, and ends up going to visit him in New Mexico. It is while she is visiting her father that she is introduced to “the monster”, crystal meth, also known as “crank”. I absolutely detested her father, he is the King of all deadbeats. Definitely not a role model in Kristina’s life. It is during this visit that Kristina’s life begins to lose control, and she is introduced to Bree. Bree is her alter ego. Her sexy, unafraid– and yet, terribly addicted self.

I have only read one other novel written by Hopkins, and I thought that she dealt with the deeper issues beautifully in both. I think that it is important in this day and age to have novels like this– that deal with the ugliness in truth. Kids are talked at throughout middle and high school about drugs. Stay away from drugs. X, Y, and Z will happen if you use them. I feel like Crank can absolutely be an ally to parents, because it shows that it can turn a good kid bad. It shows you the downward spiral that your life will ultimately go in if you use drugs, and become addicted. You can lose your sense of judgement. You will lose yourself.

I will be going back to read the rest of Hopkins books because I feel that there is a message to be taken away from them. Something meaningful. I have never experimented with drugs in my life, and I was able to take something away. I think that all teenagers should have to read her novels. Because they deal with real issues… and I think they absolutely have the ability to save someone’s life.

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!

Divergent by Veronica Roth

I had heard a lot of great things about the Divergent series. It seemed like every blog that I read, or vlog that I checked out was talking about how amazing this series was. So, I thought I would check it out. I am so glad I did. If you are thinking about reading this book because of all the hype– don’t think. JUST READ. I read this in two days, tops. And on my first night reading it I put Insurgent on hold at the library. It was that good. Why was it that good? Well, read on my friends!

In Divergent we are introduced to Beatrice Prior, who lives in a future dystopian Chicago. Their society is divided up into a series of five different factions that nurture a particular virtue in its members. There are the Candor (the honest), the Abnegation (the selfless), the Amity (the peaceful), the Dauntless (the brave), and the Erudite (the intelligent). At sixteen years old, on a chosen day, all citizens must choose which faction that they will devote the rest of their lives to.

Beatrice has been raised in Abnegation, the selfless faction, whose lives are 100% about everyone else around them. They do not condone anything that is self indulgent. What do you view as self indulgent? I was amazed, and my jaw almost dropped. They wear plain gray clothes that are buttoned up to the chin, so as not to draw attention to themselves. I thought being in a selfless faction just would mean lots of volunteer type work, etc. They eat plain food, because they don’t need anything more and aren’t allowed to indulge in things like ice cream, or chocolate. And they don’t use mirrors, either. This is the only life that Beatrice has ever known. And, on the day of the ceremony she is forced to choose- to continue to devote herself to her life in Abnegation, or to choose a different faction for the rest of her life. FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE. I mean, seriously. She is sixteen. I am twenty-seven (okay, so 28 next week– but let’s forget about that, ok?), and I don’t even know.

Beatrice makes a decision that shocks herself, her family, and all those at the ceremony. She decides that in her new faction and her new life, that she will have a new beginning. She is not Beatrice anymore– she will be Tris. The initiation transforms Tris, and you can see a real strength there. She must choose new friends, as her the entire life that she has known is gone. And, Tris has a secret that she is hiding. Something that she can never reveal about herself, because it could mean the difference between life and death. I absolutely LOVED this girl.

Divergent is jam packed with action. No matter what twist or turn in the plot, I wasn’t expecting it. At points my jaw literally dropped, and I slapped a hand over my mouth as I gasped. It was that good. There are very few books that elicit a true gasp from me.

And then… Four. No, I’m not randomly choosing a number. That is one of the main characters in Divergent, and he is one of my favorites. I loved the interactions between Tris and Four. He can be a bit jagged, and rough– and there was something fantastic about that. I found myself wondering when he would pop up again in the book.

There was just so much right about this book (in a wrong sort of way). The dystopian Chicago is far from anything you would ever want to imagine. And Tris, along with a cast of other characters have to endure and deal with things that no sixteen year old should ever have to. I was speechless. And emotional. And in love with it.  I’ve put off writing this review for a couple of weeks now, because I knew that it wasn’t going to be eloquent. And I’m okay with that. As long as you get it: this book was bananas. And left me running to the library for Insurgent.

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.

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

So, every so often there are those books that you just happen to stumble across. And other times, they are all you hear other readers and bloggers talking about. Let me first start by saying “thank you” to all of the awesome readers out there who tweeted about this book on Twitter. You are the reason that I picked it up! This was my first read by Sarah Rees Brennan, and I am so happy to say that I was not disappointed. I worry a lot of times when going off of other reader’s reviews, that it won’t live up to the hype (because, let’s be honest- we all have different thoughts and opinions on books). This was not the case with Unspoken.

Unspoken is a story about a teenager named Kami Glass who has grown up in the English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. She never seems to fit in. She is just your ordinary teenage girl, working as the head of the school newspaper. Only, she isn’t totally ordinary. For her entire life Kami has heard a voice in her head. And this is precisely what has distanced her from a lot of her ex-friends. Luckily, she was able to find a real friend in Angela, who has a genuine dislike for anyone other than Kami. But Sorry-in-the-Vale, and Kami’s life are both flipped upside down when the Lynburns return to town.

The Lynburns have owned the creepy mansion that overlooks the town for decades. The family that includes the two Lynburn twins, as well as their two sons, disappeared. However, they have now returned to town and a lot of strange things are happening that are causing Kami’s reporter instincts to kick in. There are strange things happening in the woods, and she is trying to piece the events together. And then, the voice that Kami has been hearing for years becomes real. How will she react when she realizes that her imaginary friend is a real boy?

I cannot say enough good things about this story. Let’s start with the characters. I read. A lot. And it seems like more often than not the female characters in stories are just not strong, not intelligent, not substantial enough. Kami Glass was an amazing character. She was intelligent, strong, witty, independent, stubborn, and flawed… she was fantastic. I wish there were more characters like her out there. I loved the depth that there was, not only to Kami’s character, but the whole cast of characters as well.

The descriptions and the details were spot on. I could really envision the mansion, and the school, and different landmarks around Sorry-in-the-Vale. Spot. On.  And I loved that as soon as I thought I had everything figured out, BAM. There was another twist or turn and I was left speechless. If you want to read a book that has amazing characters, suspense, mystery, and something just rather unique about it… pick up this book!

My Rating: 5 stars

P.S. Sarah Rees Brennan cannot publish Untold, book #2 in the Lynburn Legacy fast enough!