Tag Archives: viking juvenile

ARC Review – All the Major Constellations by Pratima Cranse

24612035Title: All the Major Constellations

Author:  Pratima Cranse

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: Now he’s leaving high school behind and looking ahead to a fresh start at college and distance from his obsessive crush. But when a terrible accident leaves him without the companionship of his two best friends, Andrew is cast adrift and alone—until Laura unexpectedly offers him comfort, friendship, and the support of a youth group of true believers, fundamentalist Christians with problems and secrets of their own. Andrew is curiously drawn to their consuming beliefs, but why? Is it only to get closer to Laura? And is Laura genuinely interested in Andrew, or is she just trying to convert him?
 
This provocative and compelling debut novel will resonate deeply with readers as it explores questions of identity, sexuality, and spirituality. 

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a finished copy for review!

River’s Review:

So this book was very weird. But in such a way that I ended up liking it. I did find the voice a little difficult to get into at times and the writing felt a little simplistic, but for some reason I was totally engaged.

Our MC, Andrew, has a messed up family life. His brother is a big time college football player and I think that Andrew’s dad resents him for not also being someone to vicariously live through. Rather than playing sports Andrew would rather spend time with his dog or two best friends. Andrew also enjoys obsessing over the “most beautiful girl from school”.

The relationships in this book were very interesting and I really enjoyed the dynamics that Andrew had with everyone. He doesn’t get along with his family and has outcast himself. His mother is too scared to do anything to support Andrew, so she just leaves him alone, hoping that he’ll stay out of his father’s way. Andrew’s dog is constantly at his side, and the love and care that he shows her is amazing. There’s a moment in the book where he loses the dog while they’re playing near the river and I almost lost it. Thankfully the dog is okay! Andrew’s two best friends are girls; smart girl Marcia and fun, flirty girl Sara. The three are very different but they work. They’ve been friends forever and they balance each other perfectly.

So when Sara gets hit by a drunk driver and falls into a coma, and Marcia’s only way of coping is by staying at Sara’s side, caring for her in the proxy of Sara’s mother (who has to keep her job to keep her health insurance), Andrew is lost. He’s never been alone. He doesn’t deal well when his brother comes home for the summer (and gets into some messed up shit. I really wish that things had gone different with that story line… but this book take’s place in the mid-90’s, so I’m not surprised with the direction it took :/) and somehow ends up getting Laura (the most beautiful girl at school)’s attention.

Only the thing about Laura is that she is deeply religious. She belongs to a group of fundamentalist Christians and she invites Andrew to join them. Andrew is so crazy about Laura that he says okay, and finds himself enjoying his time with them. He tries to learn more about their faith and even has a few weird “come to Jesus” moments… but are they really divine intervention or just manifestations of the stress and anxiety he’s feeling? I really enjoyed how Andrew explored religion. I think it’s something most teens face at some point in time. I know that I read a lot of Christian fiction when I was young just because it was what was available at the library. And there were times when I thought about religion and how it pertained to me.

Andrew later beings to see the cracks in the perfect facade that Laura’s groups is putting on, and he questions what even some of them are doing in the group… and how good they all really are. Andrew is never quite sure if Laura invited him because she truly cared or because she saw a chance to convert him.

Over all this was a very complex novel with a lot going on and I really enjoyed digging into it.

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ARC Review – Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

23009402Title: Saint Anything

Author: Sarah Dessen

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

Sarah Dessen writes novels that simply work for me. Colour me surprised when Saint Anything showed up at my doorstep and I was treated to a much darker novel than Dessen herself is often known for. Saint Anything looks at issues of family, particularly when you were once the invisible child forced into the spotlight.

Of all of Dessen’s heroines, Sydney was the one who I had an intimidate connection to. When he brother is charged with drunk driving and sent to prison, Sydney’s family is turned upside down in a way that they feel they have no control over. Peyton was the “favourite” child, or by favourite, I mean the one getting into the most trouble. While he’s in jail, Sydney is forced out of being invisible, and into a place of visibility — something she frequently admits to not being comfortable with.

Growing up, my family ended up in a similar situation, so it was easy for me to understand Sydney’s feelings and perspective about her family, her brother, and the change that she is forced into. There’s this frustration from parents that they often don’t need to worry about you “as much” because your sibling is in the spotlight and taking control. Sydney was used to that, so it’s interesting how overbearing and obsessive her parents become throughout the novel and how Sydney eventually has to fight for herself, to make them understand that she isn’t someone’s project, that she wants to be accepted and be herself.

Sydney’s mother by far was the most frustrating and aggravating character in the novel, but her intentions are actually completely understandable. It’s interesting because the novel contrasts her with Mac and Layla’s mother, a woman known for being accepting and honest, who unfortunately is quite ill. Sydney spends a lot of the novel comparing herself and her situation to others, wondering if in a lot of ways if she was meant to feel the guilt that Peyton caused to her family, and that of David Ibarra, the victim. She constantly contemplates what is right and wrong, struggling to feel whole in the story. Dessen does this flawlessly, and she makes it so easy to understand and sympathize with.

Also I adored how organic the relationship between Mac and Sydney felt. There’s something very tender and innocent about both of them, yet both are faced with conflicts in their lives that in a sense, make them much more mature and experienced than one would think. I truly loved how the relationship developed and transformed throughout the story.

And then Mac’s family’s pizza place. Can I just live there?

Saint Anything may be one of my new favourite Sarah Dessen novels. Everything about the story worked for me, and I connected with it in such an unexpected way. There’s always something comfortable when reading a Sarah Dessen novel, and while this one takes some darker turns and focuses on more challenging subjects, the emotional connection and hope that comes through in the story is effortlessly displayed. ReadingSaint Anything reminded me that change comes in many forms, and it’s the unexpected kind that always makes you grow a little tougher, a little wiser, and always more hopeful.

ARC Review – Sparkers by Eleanor Glewwe

18762479Title:  Sparkers

Author: Eleanor Glewwe

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Marah Levi is a promising violinist who excels at school and can read more languages than most librarians. Even so, she has little hope of a bright future: she is a sparker, a member of the oppressed lower class in a society run by magicians.

Then a mysterious disease hits the city of Ashara, turning its victims’ eyes dark before ultimately killing them. As Marah watches those whom she loves most fall ill, she finds an unlikely friend in Azariah, a wealthy magician boy. Together they pursue a cure in secret, but more people are dying every day, and time is running out. Then Marah and Azariah make a shocking discovery that turns inside-out everything they thought they knew about magic and about Ashara, their home. 

Set in an imaginative world rich with language, lore, and music, this gripping adventure plunges the reader into the heart of a magical government where sparks of dissent may be even more deadly than the dark eyes.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada/Viking Juvenile for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I knew zero about Sparkers going into it other than it was a middle grade fantasy adventure. However, having finished it, I feel like that is only a partial description. This book is incredibly dark for a middle grade read and it takes some very unexpected turns — some that work incredibly well, and some that feel a touch awkward given the movement of the narrative.

First off, I loved that this story dealt with social justice issues and racism and made them such approachable topics for a middle grade audience. The moral choices and issues presented are very complex and rich without being overcomplicated or preachy. It helps, of course, that the novel is supported by a (mostly) excellent cast of characters.

Marah in particular, is vibrant, full of life and is someone with the desire to help others before herself. Although she’s selfless, her fatal flaw is that she’s very naive as well. She’s a heroine I think a lot of readers regardless of age will appreciate simply because of the traits she possesses and how Glewwe weaves them into the story. Furthermore, I was surprised with the amount of death that occurs in the book, something that often feels uncommon in middle grade, and the deaths that did occur were very well done.

This book did take me awhile to get into, if only because it’s a very slow burn and it needs to build its world and give just enough detail for the reader to be able to visualize it. However, sometimes I felt there was too little in terms of detail and I didn’t always feel like I could visualize the world Glewwe was painting. The book also pulled a here’s a villain in the last forty pages or so who is super evil and POOF! he’s gone, which I did not like. It felt rushed and simply anti-climatic, even though the twist surrounding said character was pretty solid. I think after the twist I was just expecting more than I got, making the ending feel a little cop outtish for me.

I think Sparkers is still a great debut middle grade novel and I think middle graders who love and dig fantasy will definitely find something to enjoy here. There’s simplicity in the writing and the story is easy to follow. I really loved the social issues in this book and I think they were the strongest aspect of the story, along with the characters, and those two reasons alone do make Sparkers a worthwhile book to check out.