Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe

by Preston Norton

This might just be the most hopeful YA I’d read in a long, long time. What started as a ‘stereotypical’ high school story became everything but, when the school ‘jock’ has a near-death experience and claims God needs him and the school ‘loser’ Neanderthal to turn everything around. Every character started jumping from the page, so complex and fully realized that I couldn’t help but fall in love with them all. A beautiful book to rekindle your hope in humanity!

Summary

36105772Cliff Hubbard is a huge loser. Literally. His nickname at Happy Valley High School is Neanderthal because he’s so enormous-6’6″ and 250 pounds to be exact. He has no one at school and life in his trailer park home has gone from bad to worse ever since his older brother’s suicide.

There’s no one Cliff hates more than the nauseatingly cool quarterback, Aaron Zimmerman. Then Aaron returns to school after a near-death experience with a bizarre claim: while he was unconscious he saw God, who gave him a list of things to do to make Happy Valley High suck less. And God said there’s only one person who can help: Neanderthal.

To his own surprise, Cliff says he’s in. As he and Aaron make their way through the List, which involves a vindictive English teacher, a mysterious computer hacker, a decidedly unchristian cult of Jesus Teens, the local drug dealers, and the meanest bully at HVHS–Cliff feels like he’s part of something for the first time since losing his brother. But fixing a broken school isn’t as simple as it seems, and just when Cliff thinks they’ve completed the List, he realizes their mission hits closer to home than he ever imagined.

Musings

As I mentioned above, my first reaction when starting this read was to roll my eyes at all the High School clichés. You have the outcast who lives in a trailer park (with an abusive father), the popular jocks, the bullies, weird nerds, drug dealing teens…but then everything changes when Quarterback Aaron wakes up from his coma. He has seen the face of God – who looks remarkably like Morgan Freeman – and God has given him a list to change all this. And he specifically asked for Cliff’s help.

The author takes all these familiar YA elements and turns them upside down, making Cliff one of the most stand out characters I have ever read in contemporary YA. Still reeling from the suicide of his brother, with many questions he will never get the answer to, he joins Aaron in their mission to change the school. At times, the writing feels a lot like John Green’s, and can really pack an emotional punch; the characters are complex and have so much dimension you feel like you can really know them. It allows for the author to surprise you in so many ways.

It’s surprising in its (un)predictability.  As a reader of a LOT of YAs, it’s evident an author cannot escape the formulaic nature of high school contemporaries. The way the author deftly manages to pull twists out of this is astounding. At many times I found myself wowed by the depth of the characters: how Cliff remains so hopefully through everything, how Aaron canbe such a good person and friend, how Teagan… no spoilers, I’m just still in awe!

It’s honest, irreverent, sweet, funny, incredibly sad, and still hopeful. Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe is an absolute must for fans of  YA Contemporary. It’s at times brutally honest, yet so hopeful and relatable that you can’t put it down. Give yourself a mental hug and read this book.

“You know what the most dystopian idea in the world is to me?” I asked. “The idea that our feelings don’t matter. We might as well be robots.”

Neanderthal

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Spontaneous

by Aaron Starmer
Reviewed by SA

When I started this book, I was laughing every five seconds. When I finished it, I was in tears. There’s just so much to say about Spontaneous, so much that makes me want to shove it at friends and tell them to read it now. It’s a brilliant, touching book which I can’t believe affected me so much.

Summary

23587115Mara Carlyle’s senior year is going as normally as could be expected, until—wa-bam!—fellow senior Katelyn Ogden explodes during third period pre-calc.

Katelyn is the first, but she won’t be the last teenager to blow up without warning or explanation. As the seniors continue to pop like balloons and the national eye turns to Mara’s suburban New Jersey hometown, the FBI rolls in and the search for a reason is on.

Whip-smart and blunt, Mara narrates the end of their world as she knows it while trying to make it to graduation in one piece. It’s an explosive year punctuated by romance, quarantine, lifelong friendship, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bloggers, ice cream trucks, “Snooze Button™,” Bon Jovi, and the filthiest language you’ve ever heard from the President of the United States.

When seniors at Covington high start spontaneously combusting – more like, spontaneously exploding – life starts falling apart. No one knows what’s setting people off, what’s safe and who’s next. It’s a little hard to keep things together when you could be a pile of goop one second later.

Mara takes it all in stride. A witty, intelligent young woman, her perspective on the disaster is incredibly refreshing. She’s not a moper, instead she tells the story as it is, infusing the horror with funny moments and sharing a memory worth having of the person who just departed. She’s incredibly relatable, one of the most human YA women I have ever read, and I found myself reading thoughts of hers and wondering if the author somehow saw into my brain. So many of my fears and anxieties ring true through Mara’s point of view.

She’s not perfect, she’s incredibly human, and I think that’s why she’s so much fun to read. She’s also snarky and crass. She swears a lot and lives a very healthy sex life. She deals with this dark subject in her own way, mourns without tears, and suddenly you’re wondering why it’s so funny. How can it be so entertaining?

You begin to really care about the people in the novel. Mara and Tess have such a fantastic friendship, and I’m a sucker for well written girl friendships. Dylan, the romantic interest, is such a fascinating and complex character. Their relationship is far from perfect, and I think we need more imperfect couples in our lit.

But here’s the thing: two thirds of the way into the book, there’s a twist that made me actually scream out in anger. And then everything just falls apart. I was going to talk about great adults for the seniors to look up to and trust, but no, they’re all assholes. I was going to talk about growth, but growing up also means growing apart. The author is constantly reminding us that life can change spontaneously, and that it doesn’t care at all.

Spoiler alert: you won’t get any catharsis from this novel.

The blurb says: Aaron Starmer rewrites the rulebook with Spontaneous. But beneath the outrageous is a ridiculously funny, super honest, and truly moving exemplar of the absurd and raw truths of being a teenager in the 21st century . . . and the heartache of saying goodbye. I Think it’s also the heartache of not being able to say goodbye. Of not being able to do what you think you’re supposed to. One of the hardest parts of growing up is learned that you can do everything right and still fail: that life owes you nothing. This book is a powerful reminded of that.

Spontaneous is the most human novel I’ve read in a long time. A book where I have so many questions left unanswered, and I’m going to have to live with that. A book that broke my heart and has me constantly looking over my shoulder in fear of the unexpected happening and taking everything away.

It’s also a book with characters that don’t fall into single categories. A book where everything is unpredictable. A book where you’re laughing out loud at moments that are grim and morose because Mara’s reaction scares even herself.

Yes, I absolutely loved it.

Thank you Penguin Teen for sending me a copy to review. You’re the best.

Foul is Fair

by Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
Reviewed by SA

This week we’re tackling an amazing fantasy novel for Self Published Saturday, a novel you’re sure to love: Foul is Fair, the first novel in the recently concluded Fair Folk Chronicles. It’s a brilliant book that takes you deep into the heart of Faerie, full of magic and danger… and dancing, too.

Summary25512566

Lots of girls play Fairy Princess when they’re little. Megan O’Reilly had no idea the real thing was like playing chess, guitar, and hockey all at once. Megan had known for a long time that she wasn’t an entirely typical girl. But living with ADHD—and her mother’s obsessions—was a very different thing from finding out she wasn’t entirely human. Somewhere out there, in a completely different world, her father needs help. There’s a conflict, revolving around Faerie seasonal rituals, that could have consequences for humanity—and if Megan’s getting the terminology straight, it sounds like her family aren’t even supposed to be the good guys. As she’s further and further swept up in trying to save her father, Megan may be getting too good at not being human.

When Megan discovers her dad – as well as her best friend – are mythical, she takes it all in one stride: she’s got a quest to follow! She has her father to save, let alone the whole world, the balance of which rests upon him being able to attend a dance that changes the seasons. She’s focused and determined, even without her medication, and she’s ready to take on this challenge if it means making things right for the world.

Megan is a skilled artist (thought she might be addicted to doodling) and begins to slowly see the power of music and signing. She’s got a knack for it, which some might call a little magic. I loved Megan as a character, and her friend Lani just as much. Their friendship is a powerful drive in Megan’s life and gives her strength and determination, as well as support as her world is turned on her head. And I’m such a sucker for female friendships in great novels.

My favorite characters, however, were not the main ones: no, I loved Cassia and Ashling a whole lot. Ashling might be my favorite pixie of all time: she’s sassy, funny, and crazy witty. Not to mention she’s technically living with a pixie disability, and her ‘service animal’ is a crow named Count who’s a personality all to himself. I’ve NEVER read a book like this before! Ashling’s comedic responses to Megan’s whole slew of questions – especially her variety of answers as to why Count is names Count  or where fairies come from – had me rolling on the floor laughing.

While some parts of the novel were exposition heavy, I found the overall creativity of the novel to make up for that. I loved the use of other myths from around the world that I had never heard of: Lani, for example, is part Menehune, which (I only just learned this) is a myth from Hawaii. This gives her a talent for engineering and creating things.

To recap all the amazing things about this book: great representation, love of art and music, love of science and creativity, the world of Faerie, myths from around the world, great adventure… and did I mention it’s a great read for any age?

“I’ve been a huge mythology nerd most of my life, so getting to play with the old myths, and have a series centered around the 4 treasures of Ireland, the 4 lost cities of the fae, and the 4 big seasonal events of the calendar was a lot of fun,” The author told me when I asked about his inspiration, “Thor #279 was one of the first things I ever really read, when I was 5. It sent me scrambling to learn the real myths. So I liked the idea of writing something where readers, especially teens, maybe could, or even would occasionally go running to google some of the things in the books, or read Celtic myth, Hawaiian myth, etc.”

And it worked! I ended up by starting to google “Menehune”and spend a few hours just browsing the interwebs, using this book as a guide. And I learned so much!

If you want a fun and creative take on the world of Faerie, then you’re going to love Foul is Fair. There are four books to this series, all available on amazon. The ebook for book 2 is on .99 sale on kindle through this weekend, as it is the summer solstice!

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You Were Here

by Cori McCarthy
Reviewed by SA

I picked up this book because of was fascinated by the blurb: but also captivated by the cover. But the idea of urban exploration in the wake of tragedy sounded incredibly gripping, and like a fun read: I was surprised by how much this book actually was.

Summary25679559

On the anniversary of her daredevil brother’s death, Jaycee attempts to break into Jake’s favorite hideout—the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum. Joined by four classmates, each with their own brand of dysfunction, Jaycee discovers a map detailing her brother’s exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind.

As a tribute to Jake, Jaycee vows to complete the dares, no matter how terrifying or dangerous. What she doesn’t bargain on is her eccentric band of friends who challenge her to do the unthinkable: reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.

When a boy dies in a stupid accident after taking a dare, the lives of those around him are shifted. His sister. His friends. The people who saw him snap his neck and the people who didn’t. Everyone is affected. Jaycee, his sister, is grieving hard. As she reaches the age where her brother died, she decides to take on his dares herself, trying to bring him back. But what she gets is something different entirely.

It’s interesting to see a book around grief take place so long after the death, and even more interesting to see how the novel evolves to be more than just that. It’s a novel about friendship, about hard truths, and moving on from the past rather than clinging to it.

That being said, I didn’t really like the characters. At least, not all of them. Jaycee seemed a little extreme in how she took her brother’s death. It’s probably understandable, but it was borderline creepy: with her wanting to take on those dares, it was as if she had no regard for her own life. Which kinda contradicts the whole “I managed to survive past graduation” thing.

And I wasn’t particularly fond of Natalie, either. While she had the one of the best opportunities for growth and a deeper storyline than the others (SPOILER ALERT – She SAW the accident but kept it secret all these years) it wasn’t fully realized. I didn’t feel like she grew: instead I felt like she turned into a walking cliche, just trying to get her friend to make out with a guy.

It was a huge surprise to me when I realized I liked Zach most: his character growth is impressive, and I don’t want to give anything away. But I felt like HE started off as the cliche and then turned into a three dimensional character. By the end of the novel, I felt as if he was the most grown up out of all of them. Plus, my favorite quote of the book comes from him.

Which is not to say I didn’t like Mik or Bishop: Bishop, the heartbroken artist, and Mik, the selective mute college student, were both interesting characters as well. I didn’t really get the whole relationship between Jaycee and Mik, as she fell for him before he really uttered a word to her, but it was still believable.

When I finished this book, I realized what I liked the most about it was HOW it was told, and not the story itself. The perspectives are incredibly unique: yes, you have first person, and third person as well, but you also have artwork (Bishop) and graphic novel (Mik) perspectives, which I found incredibly cool. I mean, an entire person’s perspective seen through their artwork? It’s a fantastic idea, and I’m so glad it worked here. It’s what brought my rating up to four stars.

I also loved the fact that all the places they went for Urban exploration are REAL places, and you can look them up online… or go yourself if you’re in the area. Honestly, I’d really love to. They’re fascinating places and sound awesome when described in the novel.

I feel like there’s a lot more to say about this book, but I’ll keep it at that. It’s a very fun read and will certainly be a great hit.

Seven Ways We Lie

by Riley Redgate
Reviewed by SA

I was very excited to read this book, having heard nothing but good things about it so far. I was blown away by it: first of all, by how well the author juggled seven different perspectives, but also by the sense of realism and character depth Not only are there seven points of view, but the voices are unique and relatable. This takes immense skill and I found myself loving the read.

Summarycover77563-medium

The juniors at Paloma High School all have their secrets, whether it’s the thespian who hides her trust issues onstage, the closeted pansexual who only cares about his drug-dealing profits, or the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal. But it’s Juniper Kipling who has the furthest to fall. No one would argue that Juniper—obedient daughter, salutatorian, natural beauty, and loyal friend—is anything but perfect. Everyone knows she’s a saint, not a sinner; but when love is involved, who is Juniper to resist temptation? When she begins to crave more and more of the one person she can’t have, her charmed life starts to unravel.

Then rumors of a student–teacher affair hit the fan. After Juniper accidentally exposes her secret at a party, her fate falls into the hands of the other six sinners, bringing them into one another’s orbits. All seven are guilty of something. Together, they could save one another from their temptations—or be ruined by them.

I feel like the blurb doesn’t really capture the story. Let’s just say this: Seven different, flawed people, are brought together by one secret and the knowledge of a scandal that could ruin lives. But their lives aren’t so perfect either. How does that sound?

When it comes to YA, a lot of times the author who writes it makes assumptions about how high school life has changed since they were teenagers, which takes away a lot of realism. Not so in this case. Here, the students really feel like my peers.

When you look at the cover, you can see the seven deadly sins, but I’m having trouble putting a face to each one. It’s more subtle than that: just like how a person isn’t just made up of one trait, each character had so much more to them than their one problem. The depth makes it all the more real.

Each of the characters struggles with lies and secrets, with family issues and/or friend problems, as they move through Junior year of high school. They are all connected some way or another, by blood or through crushes, and there is a certain depth added to the narrative when we see each person through another’s eyes. Personally, I really liked that, especially when we see Claire’s world view, and her incessant judgement. Juniper’s parts are always in verse, which adds so much to her character.

The plot deals with a lot of issues: illicit relationships, divorce, pansexuality, asexuality, sex, drugs… the list goes on. This means it kind of gets, well, messy. Each could fill their own novel (and have) but dealing with them all at once is a real juggling game. I feel like a bit of depth was zapped from each issue (though I think Olivia’s ‘rant’ at one point really covers a whole lot) since there was only so much time for each of them.

It’s just so compelling to follow these people, even if they can really be unlikable at times (Claire, come on! Grow up!). There are a few one liners that really hit me, and I’m sure they’re going to be quoted in quite a lot of reviews. Surprisingly, I wasn’t bored with any one character, as I tend to get with multiple POV books. Though admittedly, I did have my favorites (Olivia FTW) and some of them I wanted to shout at, I wasn’t ever bored by their story. It was just that good.

The thing about this book was that it was just such an enjoyable read. I could not put it down, and devoured it in a two hour sitting. I got really caught up in these people’s lives, and thoroughly enjoyed the resolution. In other words – OHMYGOSH THIS BOOK WAS SO GOOD, READ IT ASAP.

I Crawl Through It

by A.S. King

Reviewed by S.A.

As fall comes around again, a lot of us make our way back to school. It’s time for a high school YA, but a novel unlike any other. It’s almost indescribable, so I’ll try to do my best with this review, but I doubt I’ll capture it perfectly. It’s another novel that I find hard to place in any category: a surrealist YA for anybody and everybody to enjoy.

Summary

Four talented teenagers are traumatized-coping with grief, surviving trauma, facing the anxiety of standardized tests and the neglect of self-absorbed adults—and they’ll do anything to escape the pressure. They’ll even build an invisible helicopter, to fly far away to a place where everyone will understand them… until they learn the only way to escape reality is to fly right into it.

Reading this book was like staring too long at a Dali painting: it almost began to make sense, but the significance of it all just flew over your head. I was caught between what was real, what wasn’t, and if it really mattered if it as real or not. I crawl through it is a book that teeters between reality and nonsense, but still managed to be captivating and engrossing.

Stanzi is a young woman who never goes without her lab coat. Her best friend, whose parents have a ‘dungeon’ in the basement, has swallowed herself whole, . Her crush, Gustav, is building a helicopter in his garage, which she can only see on Tuesdays: any other day, and it’s invisible. She’s friends with a girl whose hair grows every time she lies, and hangs well below her knees. Between her house and Gustav lives the dangerous bush man, who, for a kiss, will give you a beautiful letter to decorate your life. He’ll also give you the answers if you know how to ask. Their school keeps getting bomb threats, and every day there’s a drill. And that is their life.

Only there’s a whole lot more to it. This book had so much depth, it took me a while to ‘get’ it. These teenagers have complicated, complex lives, which leads to their – ahem – ‘unusual’ traits. As a reader, you wonder at every page if these are real traits, or something they have imagined up, so as to better understand their world. But does reality even matter, when all this is fiction anyways?

These characters have real depth, they are so much more than what they are on the surface. The author really manages to convey the difficulty Stanzi has relating with others, as she feels somewhat distant, even to us, who are allowed to see her perspective. The growing relationship between Gustav and her, which seems natural, unexaggerated. While I was very uncomfortable with the dangerous bush man at first, I’m very glad to have seen him develop as a person alongside our protagonists. It’s impressive how immersed in these young peoples’ lives you become, if you give this book a chance.

When you reach the ending, you really wonder what truly happened over the course of the novel. What did others see? Again, what is real, and what is not? I had many questions. I admit, my first reaction when I closed the book was What on earth was that? Somehow, however, the characters stuck to me. Their story meant something. As you start to understand the trauma they’re dealing with, you find yourself relating in ways you might not expect.

This is a fantastic book for people keep asking questions. It may not have the answers, but it has a string of them: ABDECBACDBABA… might not be what you’re expecting, but you’ll definitely enjoy your reading experience.

Fair warning: it is surreal. And weird. And there are many feelings to be had. I Crawl Through It comes out today, September 22nd. Enjoy!

Weightless

by Sarah Bannan

Reviewed by SA

High school drama can seem pretty funny from the outside, but truthfully, for some it’s life or death.  With the technology we have today, it’s becoming way too easy to bully someone without consequence; it’s becoming easy to get distracted and not notice the warning signs of someone that needs help. For anyone who recognizes these problems, and for those who haven’t any clue what I’m talking about, this novel is mandatory reading.

Summary (taken from goodreads)

When 15-year-old Carolyn moves from New Jersey to Alabama with her mother, she rattles the status quo of the junior class at Adams High School. A good student and natural athlete, she’s immediately welcomed by the school’s cliques. She’s even nominated to the homecoming court and begins dating a senior, Shane, whose on again/off again girlfriend Brooke becomes Carolyn’s bitter romantic rival. When a video of Carolyn and Shane making out is sent to everyone, Carolyn goes from golden girl to slut, as Brooke and her best friend Gemma try to restore their popularity. Gossip and bullying hound Carolyn, who becomes increasingly private and isolated. When Shane and Brooke—now back together—confront Carolyn in the student parking lot, injuring her, it’s the last attack she can take.

The thing that caught me right away about this novel was the narrative form. The perspective is from a first person plural – we – and it catches you off guard. I know when I started to read Weightless I was waiting to know the name of the person who was recounting all this, only to find that it actually represented everyone. The perspective of the novel is an eye opener: everyone can see what’s happening and completely ignore the warning signs. It’s a little scary, honestly.

The issues that are brought up make me sad, because I know so many people caught in similar situations. Eating disorders, the fear of becoming fat when in fact you are fading away. Cyber bullying, out for everyone to see and no one can, or will help. Physical bullying, where everyone turns a blind eye. Depression, and suicide, when people say they never saw it coming, when in fact they were part of the problem. Weightless deals with the issues teenagers face in a high school environment, and it is not sugar coating any of it.

The novel chronicles the rise and fall of Carolyn, a young fifteen year old girl, remarkably smart, who moves to this new, small town. Everyone in Adamsville has known each other for years: they all attend church together, pray over the sports team together, gossip and grow together. And no matter how much they like her, Carolyn will always be an outsider: she’s too pretty, too nice, too smart. She doesn’t know how to deal with the small town popularity contest, doesn’t even want to play. This is what makes the first person plural narrative so powerful: the “We” is always sharing gossip, telling itself things about this girl. We is turned into this creature, a monster that thrives on partial truths and full on lies, warping its perspective of this normal person until she has become some kind of non-entity. Who even is Carolyn?

The pacing was slow, thoughtful. It takes place over an entire school year, so that the transition between loved and popular to hated and outsider is slow, natural. I loved how the author used Facebook posts and letters, even Carolyn’s essays, to show us how her character was evolving. It felt incredibly realistic. The hints about her fate, slowly dropping through the novel, created fantastic anticipation and made me crave to read more.

The ending, however, did not. I felt as if the reaction of the community (even the world) was blown out of proportion, it’s what we would have wanted to see happen rather than an actual, realistic consequence. I do not want to spoil anything for anyone! But I did find it was odd, more like wish fulfillment for the reader.

In any case, this is a tough novel to read because the subject matter is so important and heavy. Even so, it’s a fantastic book.

Find Weightless on June 30th.

N.B. (A micro rant about the American school system) I don’t get American high schools, you know? So much bitching! Not only that, but is “Protagonist” really a word too complicated for a Junior in Advanced english? I learned it in sixth or seventh grade! Come on! And do you really have to be in an higher math class in 11th grade to learn what a cosine is? I was taught trig in ninth grade, I just don’t get why it takes so long here.

But the bitching, the bitching! One thing that almost made me put down the book was how bitchy everyone was to each other. Encouraging eating disorders in order to slim down! (That scene in the bathroom physically hurt me). Calling people sluts and spreading rumors about STDs? What is wrong with this picture?

That’s probably why this book was so on point. For me, it was provocative. It opens the discussion on the issues on the forces social structure within the confines of the public school environment. And there’s a whole lot to talk about.

When Reason Breaks

by Cindy L. Rodriguez

Reviewed by SA

I am always nervous when I pick up YA novels (I say pretty much the same thing every time I start a review of a YA), as it is so hard to find a book that defies formula, breaks into new territory, and rips your heart out. Guess what? When Reason Breaks (Cindy L. Rodriguez) is most definitely a great novel. Plus, it’s a diverse book!

When Reason BreaksTwo sophomore girls come from different worlds. Emily is the sweet, smart daughter of a lawyer/politician father who controls most aspects of her life; she loves her friends Sarah and Abby, and her boyfriend, Kevin. Elizabeth is a dark goth girl whose father has recently run out on, making her the ‘basket case’ of the school, with anger issues and a tendency to draw dark pictures. When their English teacher, Ms. Diaz, places them together in class, they grow together over a love of Emily Dickinson, whose poetry will push them to reconsider many aspects of their lives.

The novel deals with the harsh topics of mental illness and suicide, while drawing parallels between the lives of the two young protagonists and Emily Dickinson herself. It will have your heart racing, your hands stuck to the cover, unable to put the book down.

Full disclosure; for the first half of the novel, I wasn’t convinced about if I liked it or not. I found the protagonists slightly pretentious, slightly predictable, and I felt as if I had seen them before. But as the plot progressed, I realized that the feeling of familiarity came from the fact that I did  know people just like them. I recognized their thoughts and feelings as those I had myself felt, or had experienced second hand as I stood alongside a friend through a tough time.

It was honestly the end of the third act (if you would want to call it that – you’ll know what I mean when you read it yourself) when the book grabbed me. The book begins with a dark chapter, after which the novel then takes you back eight months, to show what series of events has brought them to this point. Just like Ms. Diaz, I made assumptions about this moment; when I saw that I was wrong, my entire perception of the book shifted. My heart raced as I realized… “I am part of the problem,” a scary thought. I suddenly saw the novel in a different light; when I finally finished it, I had to put it down, stare at the ceiling, and think everything over in my head. Just… wow.

But what made it so much more interesting was the introduction of Emily Dickinson as the inspiration for the women. During the course of the book, the protagonist offer different interpretations to some of the most famous poems, making them their own. And after the novel ends, the author offers insight into the life of our favorite lady poet, showing us just how every character reflects part of her past. It’s fantastic how she is able to do this without making the book feel like a perfect replica of Dickinson’s life, or preachy in any way: it’s subtle.

It was an actual emotional roller coaster; it reminded me of Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher), crossed over with The Breakfast Club. I recommend tissues!

When Reason Breaks comes out February 10th.

Oh look, a book trailer!

Biggie

By Derek E. Sulivan
Reviewed by SA

Biggie“A teen story? A coming of age novel? Sports? Meh, we’ve seen those,” you say.  And so have I! I have read my fair share of high school books, and usually, I find myself quickly bored. To top that off, sports novels have never peaked my interest. Not so with Derek E. Sullivan’s “Biggie”, a novel that gripped my attention and held me until the very end.

Biggie is an overweight teenage boy, who has pushed himself to 300 pounds in an attempt to remain invisible at school. He spends his time studying, striving for perfect grades, while managing a slew of online friends. Biggie also happens to be the son of one of the biggest athletes of Iowa, and step-son to the close second. With a lineage like that, everyone expects Biggie to be some kind of big sports hero… that is, everyone except him.

When Biggie pitches a perfect game of whiffle ball during PE, the girl of his dreams suggests he should play ball… and he finds himself suddenly obsessed with the idea of pitching a perfect game of actual baseball, on the school’s actual team. Biggie finds himself challenged in every possible way on his quest, making radical changes to his lifestyle, changing his perception about himself, and everyone around him.

There are so many things about this novel that make it so compelling. For starters, Biggie, our protagonist and narrator, is smart, insightful, and imperfect. Many of the decisions he makes tend to be the worst possible ones, and though he feels justified in doing them, he is held accountable for his actions. And while his reasoning for wanting to keep his weight over the 300 pound mark seems justified to him, we as a reader are quick to see how unsound it really is. You might find it odd how quickly he throws his entire being into this insane idea of a perfect game, but we are completely aware of avery motivation behind it. Biggie may come off as a coward and a creep at first, but he slowly grows and evolves into someone I wouldn’t mind being friends with.

Biggie is a character with depth, but so are the people around him. The ‘bully’ turns out to be much more. The ‘girl’ turns out to be much less. Everyone else who is a part of Biggie’s life is more than just a placeholder or plot device. I loved the growth that they all went through, and how their own growth affected Biggie’s. The evolving relationship between Biggie and his step-father is something quite impressive, but it is really Biggie’s relationship with his peers, in particular with the women in his life, that is the most incredible change. The change in his obsession with Annabel is probably the best mile marker for his maturity.

With characters like those, it’s easy to root for them to reach their goals, even if those are *shiver* sports. As I said before, I don’t tend to find novels about sports compelling, but, to my surprise, I actually enjoyed reading about Biggie’s games. As baseball becomes increasingly important to him, it becomes important to us. Which is why I liked the resolution so much; I won’t spoil anything, though, you’ll have to read it yourself.

Biggie (Derek E. Sullivan) comes out on March 1st, 2015.