Tag Archives: tough topics

ARC Review – Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young

28645644Title: Hundred Percent

Author: Karen Romano Young

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: The last year of elementary school is big for every kid. Christine Gouda faces change at every turn, starting with her own nickname—Tink—which just doesn’t fit anymore. Christine navigates a year’s cringingly painful trials in normalcy—uncomfortable Halloween costumes, premature sleepover parties, crushed crushes, and changing friendships. Throughout all this, Tink learns, what you call yourself, and how you do it, has a lot to do with who you are.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this finished copy!

Sam’s Review:

You know what I love about Hundred Percent? It discusses a topic in middle grade that tends to get ignored, overshadowed, and it just seems like folks are afraid to talk about — puberty. While I am not a fan of the Judy Blume classic, Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, I think Hundred Percent might be that book that tackles so many middle grade issues at once, but it definitely does an awesome job looking at how a person can change both physically and mentally.

Tink and Jackie couldn’t be more different — Tink has started to develop while Jackie is still a bit of a twig, and yet they wish in some ways they could switch. There friendship is the larger focus of this story, and I REALLY adored the way Romano Young shows the changes in their friendship and the ways in which Tink and Jackie growing up shows how they can be both closer together, but also be driven further apart.

I mean, they are at that age where they are beginning to transform, feel different, even older, and yet it’s fun to watch Tink in particular fight back. In fact, she spends a lot of this book still throwing childish tantrums and being called out on it by Jackie, and you know what? I can’t even fault her on a lot of those because her mind and body are in two different places. I loved the way all all these feelings were expressed in the novel! I just wish at the same time Tink would have tried to be a bit more thoughtful during some of the arguments, but I also get what the author was trying to do as well.

I think my biggest criticism of this book, however, is that there were just way too many topics being handled at once, particularly when you look it discussing promiscuity, losing your best friend to the popular kids, puberty, forcing to forge on one’s own, it’s a lot packed into a tight squeeze, and sometimes I felt like it was too much. Again, I do think it works given that Tink spends a lot of the novel having so many problems to face at her age and trying to understand each of them head on, but I almost wish the book had been a tad longer to explore a lot of these issues further.

I do think Hundred Percent is a great and important middle grade book, and I love that it doesn’t shy away from the issues it presents in the text. I loved both Tink and Jackie, and I think Romano Young has brought up some important issues with this novel that perhaps need better address in middle grade today. I definitely think if you love contemporary middle grade, especially books focusing on those tough middle years, than Hundred Percent is worth looking into.

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ARC Review – When We Collided by Emery Lord

25663637Title:  When We Collided

Author: Emery Lord

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Meet Vivi and Jonah: A girl and a boy whose love has the power save or destroy them.

Vivi and Jonah couldn’t be more different. Vivi craves anything joyful or beautiful that life can offer. Jonah has been burdened by responsibility for his family ever since his father died. As summer begins, Jonah resigns himself to another season of getting by. Then Vivi arrives, and suddenly life seems brighter and better. Jonah is the perfect project for Vivi, and things finally feel right for Jonah. Their love is the answer to everything. But soon Vivi’s zest for life falters, as her adventurousness becomes true danger-seeking. Jonah tries to keep her safe, but there’s something important Vivi hasn’t told him.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When We Collided ripped me apart as I was reading it. Perhaps it’s my current circumstances, perhaps it’s the fact that a lot of this novel mirrored too much of my own life… it just destroyed me. That makes for a fantastic reading experience, admittedly. This is one of those books where I connected on so many different levels and and it made for such a layered experience.

I loved the relationship between Vivi and Jonah. In fact, it was my favourite part of the novel. It wasn’t love at first sight, the romance between both characters felt so organic, as everything builds to a messy climax. Jonah in particular was the one I could really relate to, and stories about caregivers often get ignored. Often these stories tend to miss the burnout, the aggression, the frusration of feeling like you don’t matter compared to the person you’re caring for. I understood Jonah’s trials and tribulations, in fact, whenever he vented his emotions I found myself nodding along with him. I loved Jonah’s siblings as well, especially Leah, who I feel capatured a lot of the books emotion in terms of how younger children deal with hyper-sensitive situations.

I also loved Vivi. I saw a lot of myself in her as well — emotionally investeded in others, but struggles to take care of herself. Loves others unconditionally, but cannot seem to find the same love in herself. She’s a beautiful character packed with so much intensity and emotion. I loved her need to remind the world who she once was, where she is now, and who she wishes to become. I loved her constant need to surprise others, and find the beauty in everything. She’s so well developed, though to be fair, I think every character in this book is fantastically portrayed.

This book is messy, it’s emotional, it’s loving, it’s rough, it’s kind, it’s… everything one would expect from a story about people colliding and trying to find focus in there lives in situations where it’s not possible. Lord does this amazing job of reminder readers about how these kinds of struggles are so real and should not be ignored. She also reminds us that beautiful things can often come in the messiest packages.

ARC Review – The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

25785649Title: The Way I Used to Be

Author:  Amber Smith

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This was a tough book to read. It’s one that focuses on rape, consent, and how rape transforms someone. Eden, our heroine, spends a lot of this novel in self-reflection, transforming into a young woman who has had her world changed in a way in which she had no control. She becomes someone so drastically different after she is raped, and she is coming to terms with who she once was and who she has become.

The writing in this novel is absolutely stunning, and it makes for strong, absorbing storytelling. While I didn’t necessarily love the way in which it went through her four years of high school, it did grow on me as I read on. Sometimes it felt like time was moving crazy slow, other moments quick as lightning. It makes for a difficult yet unique approach to storytelling — how one event can make someone feel so polarized about themselves, and that’s a lot of what I felt the author was exploring.

I really loved Eden and her friendship with Mara. I loved watching their transformations go in completely different directions and yet they still were very bound to their friendship. In a lot of ways I felt like they were constantly rescuing each other from so much that has happened. The way in which their friendship was portrayed left me with a lot of thinking when I was finished the novel. There’s a lot of growth in Eden, and you see how complicated and complex she becomes as a character, and it’s shows so well in this story. I loved growing along side Eden.

This is a very challenging novel to read and I think it asks readers to look at difficult issues through different gazes. It asks people to understand that events can transform people for better or worse, and I feel like that is The Way I Used to Be‘s strong suit. This novel is beautiful as it is smart, and it definitely has the power to spark some real good conversation.

ARC Review – Paperweight by Meg Haston

23361172Title: Paperweight

Author: Meg Haston

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Stevie is trapped. In her life. In her body. And now in an eating-disorder treatment center on the dusty outskirts of the New Mexico desert. Life in the center is regimented and intrusive, a nightmare come true. Nurses and therapists watch Stevie at mealtime, accompany her to the bathroom, and challenge her to eat the foods she’s worked so hard to avoid.

Her dad has signed her up for sixty days of treatment. But what no one knows is that Stevie doesn’t plan to stay that long. There are only twenty-seven days until the anniversary of her brother Josh’s death—the death she caused. And if Stevie gets her way, there are only twenty-seven days until she too will end her life.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me an advanced copy of this book!

River’s Review:

I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK. I read it in a day and was like, addicted to it.

Let me say this right away: this book is not a ‘I’m so fat and want to get thin, I’ll just stave myself’ book. And yes this is an eating disorder book and yes it could be very triggering to people with eating problems.

Stevie wont eat. She can’t eat. Food triggers horrible memories for her. She drinks her pain away, and has a goal. She wants to waste away into nothing so that she dies on the anniversary of her brother’s death. And she’s well on her way to doing so. Only her father finally sees that his daughter is sick and he sends her to a treatment facility.

Stevie’s food issues were so hard for me to read. I had a lot of food issues myself and while I do eat, it is sometimes a struggle. My stomach is connected to my emotions and stress makes me so sick that food will not happen. When my grandmother died I didn’t eat for weeks. And ever since then I have issues with food when I’m stressed or upset. This is my thing, so please don’t tell me what I should do, I am working on it. So I totally connected with Stevie on this. She doesn’t starve herself because she wants to be thin to be pretty. And often I feel like eating disorder books don’t go any deeper than that.

I really loved Stevie’s time spent in the facility. She has a lot of issues to overcome; her mother’s abandonment, her brother’s death, her best friend’s betrayal. She spends time trying to figure out how to not eat so she can stick with her plan. And the people around her are trying to help. But how do you save someone from themselves?

I loved this book so much. I know I keep saying that but I did. It struck some chords with me, the writing was beautiful, and there were so many truths about life. It made me sad and mad and I wanted to cry so many times. This is a must read!

ARC Review – Little Peach by Peggy Kern

22573856Title: Little Peach

Author: Peggy Kern

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When Michelle runs away from her drug-addicted mother, she has just enough money to make it to New York City, where she hopes to move in with a friend. But once she arrives at the bustling Port Authority, she is confronted with the terrifying truth: she is alone and out of options.

Then she meets Devon, a good-looking, well-dressed guy who emerges from the crowd armed with a kind smile, a place for her to stay, and eyes that seem to understand exactly how she feels.

But Devon is not what he seems to be, and soon Michelle finds herself engulfed in the world of child prostitution where he becomes her “Daddy” and she his “Little Peach.” It is a world of impossible choices, where the line between love and abuse, captor and savior, is blurred beyond recognition.

Huge thank you to Balzer & Bray and Edelweiss for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Books like Little Peach are painful to read. They are painful because there’s a truth that is often ignored in our world, particularly when it comes to the idea of under-aged prostitution. It’s a thing that exists, and the world attempts to brush this problem under the rug and refuse to acknowledge that it is exists. If anything, it’s likely because people see prostitution as a taboo topic — one that exists but we aren’t forced to acknowledge.

Little Peach is about women who need their story to be told. Peach’s story, how she’s brought into the ring, her friendships and guidance, it’s an unfamiliar world, and one that is difficult in some ways to look away from. It will make you nervous, feel disturbed, and yet there’s this desire to understand that world and know more.

I felt so sad reading this book, and my connection to Kat, Peach and Baby was quite strong throughout. You get a sense of survival and companionship between the girls — they want to protect each other. The men in this story made me so angry, but I feel like there’s some truth in their portrayal throughout the story. Devon just frustrated me, angered me, yet he twists their worlds by behaving as though he’s a saviour and it’s creepy to be honest.

The only issue I had with Little Peach was the writing style, which admittedly felt so blurry and disjointed at times. I recognize how intentional it was, but for me it didn’t always work and I found myself asking more questions than I had answers for! Otherwise, I thought the book was fantastic, and definitely one of the more darker YA reads I’ve encountered in my travels. If you have a weak stomach or don’t handle tough subjects well, this book might not be for you, but if you can, Peach’s world is one you might never forget.

ARC Review – My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

18336965Title: My Heart and Other Black Holes

Author: Jasmine Warga

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Between this and All the Bright Places, I’m not sure which made me ugly cry more. My Heart and Other Black Holes is such a brutally honest and very truthful read. A lot of people told me they read it in one sitting, but I… couldn’t do that. This was a rough read for me in so many ways, perhaps because it hit a bit too close of comfort in some case, or that when I was Aysel’s age, I got a lot of where she was coming from. I literally could only read bits at a time, not because the book was bad, but more because it’s very realistic and the issues Warga discusses are something that aren’t meant to be easily devoured.

Warga’s debut is a tough read, and an ever tougher book to swallow. She shies away from nothing in this story, and looks at a very real situation. This book is incredibly dark, yet if offers so many little glimpses of hope. Aysel’s story in regards to her relationship with her father and Roman’s relationship with Maddie, the way in which the characters question their self-worth — it’s horrific and heartbreaking.

I admit, towards the end I found myself unable to stop the tears from coming because I felt like I understood them. I understood. their suffering, their need for help, and the way in which both Aysel and Roman strangely feed, yet rebuild each other. There’s so much going on in this novel, and everything about it is tightly written, nothing feeling forced or out of place.

It’s difficult for me to explain why I think people should read My Heart and Other Black Holes. It’s on a tough topic, it will depress the crap out of you, and yet the silver lining really is worth getting to. This seems to be the year where suicide novels are becoming much more predominate, and with good reason. I loved this novel, and I feel like if you can make it through it, difficult subject matter, beautiful prose and all, there’s a lot to adore with what’s inside.

ARC Review – The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

22402945Title: The Last Time We Say Goodbye

Author: Cynthia Hand 

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The last time Lex was happy, it was before. When she had a family that was whole. A boyfriend she loved. Friends who didn’t look at her like she might break down at any moment. Now she’s just the girl whose brother killed himself. And it feels like that’s all she’ll ever be. As Lex starts to put her life back together, she tries to block out what happened the night Tyler died. But there’s a secret she hasn’t told anyone-a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.

Lex’s brother is gone. But Lex is about to discover that a ghost doesn’t have to be real to keep you from moving on.

Huge thank you to Harper Teen and Edelweiss for this ARC!

River’s Review:

To be honest when I started reading this I’d actually forgotten what it was about. I’d just downloaded it off EW with a bunch of other ARCs and put it on my list. Well, I’m really glad that I read it. I’ve always loved books that deal with suicide because I think that they’re very important books. But I wasn’t expecting this.

This is my first book by Cynthia Hand, and I was very impressed with her writing. It felt very solid and tight and flowed really well. I was reading this book on my iPhone at work most of the time and I kept having trouble finding a place to stop and getting really upset when I DID have to stop because my break was over. I found myself wanting to go back to it, wanting to figure things out.

I loved Lexi’s voice. She was smart and sassy and just the right amount of sad. I always felt so bad for her and her family, but I never felt like she was unrealistic. I loved how nerdy she was, how apologetic she was about herself, her interests, her dreams. The whole MIT thing was amusing to me because my husband goes there and I work at the MIT bookstore.

Lexi’s relationship with her mother, her friends (old and new) and her father were all complex and interesting. I know what it’s like to lose friends because you just can’t function normally at the time and how they can have trouble knowing how to connect with you. I loved that Lexi told her mom off at one point. I was really worried it was going to turn into another ‘nonfunctional parent guilting their college-bound child into foregoing their dreams to stay home and take care of them’ story (which I’ve seen a lot of recently) but thankfully it didn’t turn out that way.

The only things that really didn’t work well for me were the ghost aspect and the second suicide. I could never figure out what was the point of the ghost. Was it a real ghost? Was it just their imagination? I guess it was explained but for a good portion of the time I kept thinking that this was going to turn supernatural on me. So I wasn’t sure about that. And the second suicide… I just didn’t think it was necessary, and I thought that it was going to go all THE PROGRAM on me, especially when Lexi started to quote suicide statistics (I really thought that a mystery was going to pop up and she was going to solve it or something).

The author’s note at the end really got to me thought. And I think it’s…I don’t even have a word. But she shared her personal story with us and that took guts.

If you enjoyed All the Bright Places, which was a fave of mine, and just came out, then you’ll also love this. Put it on your TBR!!!