ARC Review: Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin

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Release Date: June 27, 2017

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“Troubled.” That’s seventeen-year-old Genesis according to her small New Jersey town. She finds refuge and stability in her relationship with her boyfriend, Peter—until he abandons her at a Planned Parenthood clinic during their appointment to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The betrayal causes Gen to question everything.

As Gen pushes herself forward to find her new identity without Peter, she must also confront her most painful memories. Through the lens of an ongoing four act play within the novel, the fantasy of their undying love unravels line by line, scene by scene. Digging deeper into her past while exploring the underground theater world of New York City, she rediscovers a long-forgotten dream. But it’s when Gen lets go of her history, the one she thinks she knows, that she’s finally able to embrace the complicated, chaotic true story of her life, and take center stage.

This powerfully immersive and format-crushing debut follows Gen from dorm rooms to diners to house parties to auditions—and ultimately, right into readers’ hearts.

review

3/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Flatiron Books 

+++Triggers for abortion, suicide, death

This is the first YA book I’ve read that has dealt with the sensitive and extremely relevant topics of teenage pregnancy and choosing abortion. We definitely need more of these heavy-hitting subjects because despite the tendency for society to pretend sex doesn’t happen in high school, it does and a lot. Kids make mistakes, especially when it comes to mixing alcohol and unprotected sex (which is not even the case in this story, the condom actually breaks). This is 100% a story that needed to be written, explored, and experienced. Okay, let me get off of my soapbox about this and talk about the book.

The story centers around a girl who is very much in love with her boyfriend, they have sex, and unfortunately the condom breaks and she ends up pregnant. He comes from a very traditional, upper class, church-going family, and has been raised to believe abortion is the highest form of sin, much worse than the pre-martial sex he indulged in. Gen comes from a broken family. Her father OD’d, her mother is dangerously depressed, and she is left to pick up the pieces after their tragic loss. Their home situations are vastly different and yet, he adores her quirkiness and her big heart. He is compassionate and understands her home life is less than ideal and he’s there for her when some truly devastating and horrific stuff happens. So what’s the problem?

This dynamic is not explored. I loved that they came from families that are basically opposites. That despite everything working against them socially, they inherently understood each other. And yet, the story structure…doesn’t work well with the plot. It’s a series of flashbacks to how they fell in love and the current heartbroken times post-abortion. It’s nostalgic and dreamy and rose-tinted, despite the hospital visits and everything else. The very problematic issue of Peter’s personal, religious beliefs are pretty much glossed over and the catty former friend who wants to sink her claws into Peter is front and center. Why? I don’t understand. Maybe the author wanted to take another route or didn’t want to get too political or preachy or something? I’m not sure. But these extremely important details were not talked about except in minor passing and at the end. I feel like the drama was displaced. I would have liked a little more exploration of these conflicts and it’s just lots of reflection.

The abortion scene itself. There are no words. The emotions, the confusion, the heartbreak, there’s also a weird need to “punish” herself and so that she feels the loss. It’s powerful and hits hard. And what’s worse, what really, truly broke my heart was the betrayal. You need someone to hold your hand. To be there. And for someone to desert you during such a critical time. How can you ever forgive that? 

The plot is all over the place. It’s sporadic and random and then add in the flashback scenes and it felt like the story didn’t know what it wanted to be. I totally understand being confusion, reckless, and the emotional chaos that can cause someone to make bizarre choices but I guess the pieces didn’t fit well together. This book deals with so many heavy themes and it felt…lighter than expected? I mean abortion, drug overdosing, suicide…it’s as hard as it gets. 

However, the story was enjoyable. I liked the weird romance that sprung up out of Gen’s heartbreak. It was uplifting and adorable, and he definitely brightens her life. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: You in Five Acts by Una LaMarche

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In the high-pressure months leading up to the performance that will determine their futures, a group of friends at a performing arts school look back on when an unexpected event upended everything. The moment that changed their relationships, their friendships, and their lives forever.

At a prestigious New York City performing arts school, five friends connect over one dream of stardom. But for Joy, Diego, Liv, Ethan and Dave, that dream falters under the pressure of second-semester, Senior year. Ambitions shift and change, new emotions rush to the surface, and a sense of urgency pulses between them: Their time together is running out.

Diego hopes to get out of the friend zone. Liv wants to escape, losing herself in fantasies of the new guy. Ethan conspires to turn his muse into his girlfriend. Dave pines for the drama queen. And if Joy doesn’t open her eyes, she could lose the love that’s been in front of her all along.

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via Penguin First to Read 

You in Five Acts is told from the 5 perspectives of friends at a performing arts school in New York City. Each act is a new person directly talking to someone they care about, addressing them as “You”. They read like both diary entries and letters. The premise and organization is engaging, inspired, and gives you the opportunity to know each character-there are no secondary characters, they’re all the main character.

The biggest problem with this style choice is making sure each section is as strong as the last, unfortunately, (at least to me) 3 of 5 POVs were just so-so. Joy and Diego were by far my favorite. There was so much substance in their stories, whereas Liv, Ethan, and Dave read like a bucketful of teen angst. I struggled to sympathize or even empathize with them. Stress, unrequited love, and failed dreams lingered just out of touch. For some reason, all of the components were there but didn’t come across as powerfully as they should have.

Joy is a vision. She’s fierce, determined, and incredibly brave. She aims to break stereotypes and prove to her parents that despite the fact that the ballet world is dominated by thin, white ballerinas, that she can make it as prima ballerina. Joy has so much to offer and her story addresses the not-so-subtle prejudice in ballet. She’s strong, she has a normal body and she refuses to let commentary about her weight as not being the ideal ballet figure break her down. She’s proud of her body image and I think we need more of that in YA. In a world where everyone is unhappy about parts of themselves, they’re constantly critiqued, judged and put down when they don’t fit whatever ridiculous standards and tossed out there, Joy is not only refreshing but a straight up heroine. There’s a scene where she fights back against the toxic body image commentary and it is simply revolutionary. At the same time, Joy has insecurities about boys that are relatable and endearing. 

Diego. Breaking away from a cycle of crime, poverty, and bad choices feels impossible. When you’re surrounded by that environment, getting caught up in that life is easy. Diego is a wonderful person. He’s funny, full of life, and completely enamoured with Joy. She’s his light and hope. She makes him smile and he does everything to see that laugh he adores. Diego’s story is complicated, but intensely real. 

That ending. Do yourself a favor and avoid spoilers. They’re everywhere and it destroys the story. The build up to tragedy is consistent and keeps you going even when the pace is mind-numbing slow. 

PROS:

  • Diversity
  • Creative style
  • Deals with tough and culturally relevant topics

CONS:

  • So much angst
  • So-so characters (apart from Diego and Joy)
  • Snail’s pace

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Kuehn

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Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.

17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to “evolve,” as Beau, the retreat leader, says.

Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman’s not sure, but more than anyone he’s ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.

The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he’s failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.

And then, in an instant Arman can’t believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.

As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he’s always trusted the least: himself.

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via Penguin’s FirstToRead program 

***There is some mature content, like sex, not especially graphic but it’s there. Contains what could be triggers for mutilation and suicide.

If you’ve read any reviews on this book, you’ve probably seen the collective, what did I just read? trend. Sometimes that sentiment is unfounded, but The Smaller Evil is one trippy, confusing, psychological journey into self discovery and recovery from what is deemed a toxic outside world. 

Curious yet? You should be. The Smaller Evil is the type of book where you wait and wait and wait and wait some more for something-anything to happen. You’ll flip through page after page, cruising on that J.D. Salinger vibe of awkward, a little grotesque, and hyper personal, and hope for revelation. You get it, but what you do with it, whether you understand it, is a whole different ball game. The book drags on and on in this self-pitying, misanthropic tale of Arman, a teenager who has been treated as nothing and so believes he’s even less than that. He knows he’s worthless, but he wants to change. Arman has a myriad of problems-ADD, GERD, self-mutilation, suicidal tendencies a regular cocktail of teenage angst and depression to the extreme. All of these sort of pop up randomly and will leave you questioning Arman’s reliability as a character.

There’s a big coming of age aspect to the story that’s a bit off-putting in some ways because it’s just so freaking weird. Sometimes I felt repulsed, other times I questioned every single character’s mental stability. 

A ton of misdirects. Just when you think you have an inkling of what is going on at the compound guess again. Something always pops up to throw you off, and believe me, when you get to that ending, you’ll never have seen that coming and I’m still not sure WHY. The how is there, but the why is fuzzy. Why go through such lengths? It’s crazy, yet somehow innovative.

The story itself, there’s not a huge plot focus. It’s more an internal journey for each character into finding their problems, questioning them, and looking for ways to fix them that might be out of the box. Up until, I’d say 200 or so pages, you’ll wonder why you’re still reading when so little has happened.

The compound, Evolve, is a hippie-retreat catered towards inner development and inoculation against the negative forces and influences of the outside world. Bullying, self-doubt, horrible parents, things like that (vectors in the story) that shape you and break your spirit. There are so many questions that are never answered. Why so few young people? Is it a cult? Why the extremes?

You can tell someone with a psychology degree wrote this.

When the plot twist happens, it’s a letdown. Why? Because it’s completely unsatisfying. Sure, it resulted in some moderate improvement but why????

There are some beautifully pointed psychological insights into humanity. Lots of quotable, profound material. There are also what appear to be journal entries or a how-to sort of guide mingled in with the chapters. These may be confusing and frustrating for some because up until the end, you’ll have no clue who wrote them or why.

All in all, The Smaller Evil was hard to rate. It was a decent read, it kept me interested, and I read it straight through. The urge to know what was going on was the driving force behind my single-minded focus to get to the end. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Addictive reading,

Jordan

Review: Pearl by Deirdre Riordan Hall

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Run fast and run far, unless you’re fearless. Unless you’re courageous. I’m not, but I’d like to be.

Pearl Jaeger is seventeen and homeless after drugs, poverty, and addiction unraveled the life she shared with JJ, her formerly glamorous rock star mother.

This moment of happiness is fleeting; someone will take it from me.

When tragedy brings a chance to start over at an elite boarding school, she doesn’t hesitate. Yet the only salvation comes from an art teacher as troubled as Pearl, and she faces the stark reality that what she thought she wanted isn’t straightforward.

I trace the outline of my reflection in a window. I am no more than a replica of my mother. This is not the self-portrait I want to paint.

Through the friendships she forms at school—especially with Grant, a boy who shows Pearl what it means to trust and forgive—she begins to see a path not defined by her past. But when confronted with the decision to be courageous or to take the easy way forged by her mother’s failures, which direction will Pearl choose?

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this book as a gift in exchange for an honest review via the author 

Pearl is a tale of overcoming, self discovery, and learning to cope when life is too much. 

The story starts out strong. It’s a compelling, gritty, no holds barred look into a toxic family situation rife with drugs, abuse, and hopelessness. The story is real. It’s a situation that happens everyday, but so many ignore, look away, and certainly don’t talk about it. The portrayal of addiction and the secondary consequences of drug use like abuse, bullying, danger, homelessness, etc., are on full display and told with an honesty that transcends the fact that the story is fiction. It’s almost like a diary of a lost, terrified girl whose whole world is lived in her mother’s shadow. 

As the story progresses into Pearl’s stay at the private school and summer school, the story kind of slows and flits in and out of focus. There’s a drug-filled haze and depression coupled with romance and attempts to find herself. Regardless, it loses a bit of that dark, honest magic of the first section. 

Pearl is tainted by her mother. She loves her, she can’t help it. No matter how much her mother lashes out at her, messes up, and puts them in dire situations, Pearl remembers the moments when she knew her mother cared for her equally as much as the hateful comments. Pearl is not her mother, but everyone sees her as a messed up teen who is destined to get into trouble just like her mother. Everyone expects her to fail, there’s no faith and because she doesn’t have that direct or even indirect support, every single day is a struggle to stay focused and on the straight and narrow. Pearl is lost. She’s never had a role model really and doesn’t know how to be confident or even okay with herself. This opportunity at school is like a lifesaver that opens her up to discovery of the girl she buried within herself years ago. 

I was torn about the art teacher. He’s super pushy and mean. It’s borderline abusive the way he yells at the students. At the same time, he pushes them to a new level of talent. I wasn’t sold. This seemed toxic. While he had faith in Pearl when others did not, it was not a great example of a positive source of encouragement. 

Secondary characters are intriguing and interesting. You’ll want to know them. They’re far from perfect, in fact, many of them are downright jerks, but they’re themselves through and through. Sorel is a character to be remembered for sure. 

There are many mature subjects like drugs, sex, addiction, and abuse. This is MATURE YA.

The romance wasn’t for me. It faded in and out. It was random. The emotion was playful, yet subtle, until it was über sexual. While Grant did make Pearl feel beautiful and like she was worth something for the first time in her life, he was judgemental and pushed her away when she needed him. He didn’t listen, he assumed, and while there were reasons, he knew her well enough to give her a chance. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Read on, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

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Release Date: September 6, 2016

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Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The thick glass of a mason jar cuts deep, and the pain washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.

review

4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Random House Children’s Delacorte Press

+++Triggers: Self harm, violence, assault, sexual situations, graphic scenes

From the first few pages, I knew that this book would be something special. At 10% on my Goodreads update my status was: “This book. That voice.” I haven’t read such an emotionally gripping and poignant book in a long time. Charlie’s voice is rich, broken, and beautifully tragic. She bares her soul to the reader and has overcome so much that you’ll want to weep for her pain.

This book is intense and not for the faint of heart. The subjects are raw and gritty and graphic. There are times when, if you’re even remotely queasy when it comes to blood, that you might feel a little sick. Self mutilation/harm plays a major role in this story and the psychological reasoning behind it is dark, honest, and could be dangerous or cathartic to some readers. 

Sometimes contemporary books can feel contrived, this is seedy, and twisted, and full of anguish and suffering that many young people, unfortunately go through. It feels absolutely real and honest. Heartbreaking and yes, it will make you angry and maybe even open your eyes to all of the hurt around you that you overlook everyday. 

The writing style. Holy sinful writing gods. Beautiful. Potent. Full of soul. It’s imperfect. There’s some poetry thrown in here and there, but that voice. It reads like a diary. 

Girl in Pieces reads like two books. The time that Charlie spent during her recovery and the life she builds after. There are flashbacks sporadically as well. The first half of the book is like therapy. You’re introduced to everything that got Charlie into the position she’s in. You meet other girls who also self harm for whatever reasons. Each character is unique and memorable. You’ll want to know them, to get to the heart of why they feel the way they do. 

The second half was not my favorite. It slows down considerably. Charlie is building a new life for herself and everyday is a struggle not to cut. The memories of her past haunt her, but so is oh so strong. She’s a fighter, through every negative thought, every memory, she battles herself. You see the struggle and wonder how she copes, but there’s hope for a future where she’s better, where she can be and love herself. 

There’s a stunning plot twist. I was so surprised and disgusted. Just wow. You never know people. 

The romance is messed up. Toxic in some instances and good for her in others. Through love, Charlie begins to see a new side of herself, a beautiful side. She begins to truly look at herself, but the risks and decisions she makes, the way she puts herself in danger is most definitely not okay. She sees it, but doesn’t feel worthy or secure in herself enough to say no. THIS is so important. An examination of why people stay in bad situations and how to rediscover your worth. 

Side note: I strongly dislike this cover.

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Bad Decisions Playlist by Michael Rubens

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Sixteen-year-old Austin is always messing up and then joking his way out of tough spots. The sudden appearance of his allegedly dead father, who happens to be the very-much-alive rock star Shane Tyler, stops him cold.

Austin—a talented musician himself—is sucked into his newfound father’s alluring music-biz orbit, pulling his true love, Josephine, along with him.

None of Austin’s previous bad decisions, resulting in broken instruments, broken hearts, and broken dreams, can top this one.

Witty, audacious, and taking adolescence to the max, Austin is dragged kicking and screaming toward adulthood in this hilarious, heart-wrenching YA novel.

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Clarion Books

The Bad Decisions Playlist is an eclectic mix of coming of age, self discovery, and romance. 

PROS:

  • Austin lives a life of spontaneity and bad choices. He’s constantly getting himself in trouble and is so recklessly fearless that he gets into the worst situations. He’s headstrong, foolish, and there are definitely times where you’ll want to shake some sense into him because he can be pretty idiotic. Austin is sort of addictive, kind of like rubbernecking when you drive by an accident on a highway. You know it might be something bad, in Austin’s case that he might be doing something ridiculously stupid and pointless, but you have to see. The more Austin throws himself into precarious situations, the more you want to know how he’s going to get out of it alive. It’s crazy, but somehow enthralling. It’s a love-hate relationship with his characters, for sure. 
  • There’s a great balance of comic relief and serious subjects, like parents getting remarried, abuse, relationships, and being reunited with a parent that abandoned you. 
  • The most profound and crushing part of the story is hope vs. reality. Austin has built his father up on a pedestal. He wants to believe in him, he has to. He’s like a musical god to him and everything he does, Austin wants nothing more but approval and praise from the father that left him as a child. The hope, it’s like a puppy staring out a window begging to be loved. It’s heartbreaking, that moment when you’re blindsided by the truth. You ignore what’s in front of you because you want to believe the best in people and then you’re slapped in the face by reality. The greatest lesson is that there’s good and bad in everyone. You will be disappointed in your parents. No one is perfect, and seeing someone’s flaws can help you form a better understanding and relationship with them, or it might not. That’s the harsh reality. 

CONS:

  • A serious case of instalove that makes hardly any sense. For someone who is so into building a relationship, not letting anyone in until she’s sure, Josephine jumps right on in. It conflicted with her character.
  • The chemistry was random and muted. Barely visible at all. The awkwardness was something else. There’s so much space between Josephine and Austin, and they’re worlds apart mentally, that it’s pretty shocking that they can stand each other enough to do anything. Austin pretty much moons over her from the moment he met her and it makes ZERO sense. 
  •  Austin’s so-called best friends make an appearance once or twice in the entire book. They’re mentioned and then fade out. There’s this kind of fleeting, wishy-washy development for most secondary characters besides Austin, his love interest, and his bully. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Happy reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Rebel Bully Geek Pariah-Erin Jade Lange

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syn“The Breakfast Club” gets a modern, high-stakes reboot in this story of four very different teens and a night that changes them forever.

The Rebel: Once popular, Andi is now a dreadlocked, tattooed wild child.

The Bully: York torments everyone who crosses his path, especially his younger brother.

The Geek: Tired of being bullied, Boston is obsessed with getting into an Ivy League college.

The Pariah: Choosing to be invisible has always worked for Sam . . . until tonight.

When Andi, York, Boston, and Sam find themselves hiding in the woods after a party gets busted by the cops, they hop into the nearest car they see and take off—the first decision of many in a night that will change their lives forever. By the light of day, these four would never be caught dead together, but when their getaway takes a dangerously unpredictable turn, sticking together could be the only way to survive.

With cinematic storytelling and compelling emotional depth, critically acclaimed author Erin Jade Lange takes readers on literary thrill ride.

review

3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books

READ THIS BOOK IF:

  • You enjoy contemporary coming of age stories with a twist
  • Books like Perks of Being a Wallflower, Paper Towns, and anything Kasie West make you giddy
  • Self discovery, coming out of your shell, and friendship with mild romance are something you’ve been searching for
  • And yes, there is something very Breakfast Club about this story

Rebel Bully Geek Pariah is a surprisingly deep and layered story of that desperate search for belonging, for finding your place in the world, and making friends that appreciate your “mad” side. 

PROS:

  • Sam’s voice is rich and emotional. Her feelings towards her mother’s addiction and the horrific accident that forever altered her life are complex and poignant. The disappointment, hurt, and occasional hatred for her chaotic life are the basis for her quest for invisibility (Pariah). The story is told entirely from Sam’s POV despite the synopsis, which makes it seem like it would have several POVs. 
  • The plot picks up quickly and has a steady pace that keeps you on your toes. 
  • Each character has a unique voice. Their personalities are developed and memorable. They each have quirks and depth. Their pasts are interesting and make you want to know more about them. 
  • Laugh out loud funny at times and pensive the next. Get ready to laugh and feel and mourn and hope. Mostly hope. These endearing moments are special and warm. No matter the mistrust and apprehension, these friendships are life changing and important. Each interaction awakens parts of the characters that have been carefully buried and mask them from their peers. 

CONS:

  • The premise is a little farfetched for contemporary. Some parts were just scratch-your-head at the bizarreness. 
  • Some of the characters are more fleshed out than others. Their pasts are like snippets of information that aren’t always explored. Andi and Boston did not feel as alive as York and Sam (but this could have something to do with the slight romantic element). 
  • THAT ENDING. What happened? I want answers.

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading,

Jordan