Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

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Diagnosed with the rare SKID disease at a young age, Maddy, allergic to the world, must stay inside her sterile, air-locked house or risk a deadly reaction. Maddy is happy in her little, if isolated, world, but dreams of what life is like on the Outside. When a mysterious, tortured boy, Ollie, moves in next door, Maddy’s life changes forever. She is no longer content to spend her life breathing pristine air and playing it safe — she wants to be part of something bigger. Hopefully Ollie can help her get there.

Wow! Usually I don’t like books that have received a lot of hype — they tend to be overrated. But Yoon’s novel is excellent. Though there’s little action, the plot moves at a fast pace, and the illustrations breaking up the text are great. Maddy has a strong voice, is independent even though she spends her life in a “bubble”, and her relationship with Ollie is exactly what you’d want — super cute. My favorite part of the book is the twist at the end that I never saw coming — so good!! If you liked John Green or Rainbow Rowell, this one is for you! The movie just came out, so read the book first!

*Rating: 5/5

 

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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Finch and Violet have a common goal when the meet on the edge of the bell tower at their school. Though everyone believes Violet saves Finch from a suicide attempt, she’s not so sure that’s the truth. At first an incongruous pair, the two are slung together for a class project in which they must explore their home state. During the course of their adventures, Violet and Finch draw closer together, but their relationship may not be enough to save them from the dark pull of tragedy.

A brilliant new addition to the realm of realistic fiction. Niven gives readers a little bit of romance, hilarious adventure antics and, of course, Kleenex-worthy sadness. This is also a poignant, unflinching look at mental illness in teens — a subject that is often danced carefully around. I think it’s important to read novels like this, where truths are discussed without shame. I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers, but pick this one up if you’re looking for your next heavy read.

Rating: 4/5

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

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Devastated by the loss of her mother, Juliet spends much of time at the cemetery, writing letters to her mom. Declan, an angry teen doing  community service at the cemetery, finds Juliet’s letter and responds to it. At first enraged at the intrusion, Juliet begins to see how cathartic it can be to write to an anonymous stranger, and she and Declan begin a secret correspondence. When the harrowing truth in their letters begins to bleed into real life, however, Declan and Juliet must decide how to deal with the exposed secrets.

If you like Perks of Being a Wallflower and Love Letters to the Dead, this one is for you! Unlike the other two books, Kemmerer’s narrative varies between letters and prose from the character’s point of view. It’s a great read if you like books with feels, high school dramas, or underdog stories. I especially like the way the author forces you to look the way we see other people, and how we often peg someone into a stereotype when there’s always more to their story.

Rating: 3.5/5

 

 

Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert

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Braden is the star on his baseball team, his dad is a famous radio DJ, and he seems to have everything going for him. That changes when Braden and his dad are in a car accident that leads to the death of a police officer. Now, Braden’s dad is on trial for murder, and Braden will have to testify in the case. Braden’s older brother, Trey, comes home after being gone for ten years, but their reunion is awkward and Trey wants nothing to do with the trial. Somehow, Braden must find a way to get his life back and decide what to say at the trial. Will he be brave enough to tell the truth?

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, but it was really good! I’m not a baseball person, but the sports terminology wasn’t hard to follow. The family drama was engaging and meaningful, and I liked how the author drew out the suspense surrounding the trial. I was never sure what happened until the very end. This author is also an incredible writer, so I can’t wait to see what she puts out next. If you like books with feels, this is a solid pick.

Rating: 4/5 

 

 

Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee by Mary G. Thompson

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Having escaped from her kidnapper six years after she and her cousin, Dee, were taken, Amy returns home to a family that is broken in the wake losing her. Though pressured to disclose the horrors of her captivity (namely the whereabouts of Dee), Amy is silent about the experience. But Amy can only maintain her silence for so long. Soon, she is wrapped up in terrifying flashbacks of her ordeal, her mind focused on protecting the dark secrets of the last six years. Somehow, Amy must find a way to find her way back to her old life before she’s lost forever in memory.

Warning: this one is HEAVY. Though written for a YA audience, the themes in this book are extremely adult. It contains many triggers (see the full analysis) and even I needed to take breaks from it now and then. That said, the book is very well-written and packed with emotion. There are some hopeful feelings that float up through the end as well, so it’s not all heart-wrenching. But mostly it is. If you liked Room, or if you like serious tearjerkers, you make like this one. But be warned (again), it’s not an easy read.

Rating: 4/5 

For full analysis (including SPOILERS) click here. 

Backlash by Sarah Darer Littman

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After years of struggling with anxiety and body image issues, Lara has finally turned her life around. She’s even somewhat popular and on the cheerleading squad. When a boy she doesn’t know, Christian, friends her on Facebook, Lara accepts. Their online friendship soon turns to romance — until Christian abruptly breaks it off and humiliates Lara online. Bree, Lara’s ex-best-friend, is happy Lara is getting put “back in her place”, but has no idea how devastated Lara really is over the incident. Lara’s online life suddenly spirals out of control, bringing real life consequences crashing down.

So, you can tell from my rating that this book wasn’t my favorite. BUT, that doesn’t mean you won’t like it. I personally felt that this book was super cheesy and did a great job of hammering its message home over and over and over. Don’t get me wrong; the message is very important! Online actions definitely have real life consequences, and it’s important that we realize those consequences. I’ve also had lots of kids tell me they LOVE this book. It’s got life drama, Facebook drama, romance drama — there’s a lot to like. I just didn’t. But you may want to give this book a try if you’re a fan of realistic fiction.

Rating: 2.5/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here. 

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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Moments after Kady breaks up with her boyfriend, Ezra, their planet is invaded. Struggling to get to safety, Kady and Ezra (though at odds) must work together to survive the attack. Once the two successfully escape their planet on evacuation ships, more information about the attack starts to surface. The attacking corporation, Bio-Tech, unleashed a deadly virus onto the planet during its attack– one that is now incubating inside the humans aboard the evacuation ships. What’s more, the artificial intelligence on one of the ships may have become too powerful for its own good. Told through files, documents, concrete poetry, and images, Illuminae is the story of Kady, Ezra, and the AI, Aidan, during the harrowing escape from their home planet. Their three stories intertwine in surprising ways, all culminating in a raw, dramatic ending.

Wow, wow, wow! I am not a fan of space-fiction at all, so I had mixed feelings about trying this book. I only did because it has such a unique construction. Instead of reading paragraphs, you read transcripts, chats, poetry, and illustrations. Super cool and different. I have to be honest, the first 200 pages or so are a little slow, but push through! The action, twists, drama, and ending are totally worth it. Plus, I loved reading the character of the evil AI, Aidan. He’s the best/worst. Pick this one up if you’re looking for a new series to get sucked into.

*VOYA Perfect 10, 2015

*YALSA Best Fiction, 2016

Rating: 4.5/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.