Genre: Family

ARC Review: The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver

ARC Review: The Secrets We Keep by Trisha LeaverThe Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver
Published by Macmillan on April 28th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Death & Dying, Family, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Siblings, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Goodreads
four-stars

Ella and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy's shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she's chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy's world.When--after a heated argument--Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy's death and everyone's grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy's life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options--confess her deception or live her sister's life.

**I received this e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the book.

What I Loved:

The Plot: I was intrigued by this concept of a twin switching places with her sister the moment I read the blurb on Goodreads for The Secrets We Keep. This was a book that I knew I would get sucked into. And I did—you know I’m a fan of fantasy and science fiction, but I love a good realistic novel that reflects complex and well-developed characters facing issues that seem almost impossible to overcome. In many ways, the problems that Ella faced in this story were huge.

For how long can you live a life that isn’t yours?

The Relationship Between Ella & Josh: You’re going to love Josh! You can imagine he’s crushed when “Ella” dies, and I won’t give anything away, but you can imagine how difficult it would be for Ella to act like she doesn’t miss her friend. Since she “becomes” Maddy, she is forced to act differently around Josh, and this has its consequences.

The Pacing: The pacing of this story was spot on for me. I probably could have finished this book in a day, but wanted to stretch it out a bit, so read it over a week in January. Loved it!

jessica_fletcher

The Mystery: After assuming Maddy’s identity (and her boyfriend as well) Ella soon discovers that Maddy may have been harboring some secrets. Ella is determined to get to the bottom of what Maddy was hiding—very quickly you realize that Maddy’s boyfriend is determined to keep these secrets undercover. This aspect of the story kept me reading, and I was combing the pages closely, trying to figure out what Maddy had been involved in before she died…

Illuminations of Spirituality in The Secrets We Keep:

Of course, you know I would have to bring up potential spiritual aspects in the book, and I found several that could definitely lead into more extensive discussions.

The intense bond between sisters. Sometimes sisters can finish each other’s sentences or know what the other is thinking. Since Maddy dies, there obviously isn’t the opportunity for the two to have any interaction, but the fact that Ella is willing to sacrifice her own identity in order to allow Maddy to “live” points to something in her that is still deeply connected to her twin.

This leads me to another dimension—Ella denies herself in order to embody Maddy for those around her. Though in some cases, “denying oneself” from a spiritual perspective might be a positive thing, it’s not always good. And this is definitely one instance where Ella’s choice to do so was detrimental to her and other people (even though she thought she was atoning for what she had done). Ella is just as important and valued as Maddy and has every right to live her life as herself.

Seeking forgiveness. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is forgive ourselves. There can be a spiritual component to this because we often have to go beyond ourselves in order to do this. This is a challenge for Ella, and as I read the book, I remember thinking, “Come on, girl, you’ve got to forgive yourself! You and everyone around you will be happier once you’ve done this.” Of course, it’s not always easy. But I enjoyed reading about Ella’s journey in light of this.

Who Should Read This Book:

I couldn’t help but think of both Before I Fall and Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver after I read this. Yes, these books are quite different than Leaver’s, but they all treat tensions among friends and VG and TSWK both illuminate the strength of bonds between sisters. There have been a handful of YA titles that deal with the strong bond between sisters, and I don’t think I’ll get tired of them anytime soon. Even though one sister dies at the beginning of the book, the narrative illuminates a realistic relationship with all the ups and downs that a sisterly connection endures.

The Final Illumination:

One journey we all have to go on for ourselves is the journey of finding our identity—figuring out who we are. I was intrigued by the way this novel engaged with that idea, and no matter what your age, the issue of identity is a relevant one. Of course, this time of finding identity is especially significant for young adults, and the way that Ella comes to terms with her identity is beautifully drawn in The Secrets We Keep.

I’m definitely looking forward to more YA Contemporary from Trisha Leaver, but seeing as she writes other genres besides Contemporary, I’ll be certain to look out for any titles she writes in the future.

Also, I’m lucky enough to be in a writing critique group with Trisha, so you can bet I’ll be reading her future work!

celebrate

You can visit Trisha’s website here.

You can tell I loved this book! What about you? Have you read The Secrets We Keep? Or are you planning to?

four-stars
What Katie Read

Mini Review: I’ll Meet You There (2015) by Heather Demetrios

Mini Review: I’ll Meet You There (2015) by Heather DemetriosI'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
Published by Macmillan on February 3rd 2015
Genres: Adolescence, Contemporary, Family, Love & Romance, Parents, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-stars

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom--that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she's ever worked for is on the line.Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise--a quirky motel off California's dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

Likes:

-Demetrios highlights the effects of PTSD on a soldier, his friends, and the community he returns to, and she doesn’t sugarcoat it. This is a very real and significant condition for many soldiers returning from the Middle East, and I like that the book points out how important it is to support these returning soldiers—male and female. In that sense, this book has a call to action, and I love that. When books motivate the reader to think differently about an issue or to act differently or to do something, I’d say that is a powerful book. And I’ll Meet You There is in that category, in my opinion.

-Sky and Josh! I love the way their friendship develops and evolves into something more. Both of them have their own brokenness, but they are aware that the connection between them is important. Though there are bumps along the way, I think they both understand that some relationships are worth fighting for.

“It felt so good to be full, but there were parts of me that still felt empty and hungry, and I could tell it was the same with Josh.”

-Sky and her art! I like that Sky turns to collage at many points in the story—when she’s happy, and when she’s sad. Art is therapeutic for her, and I can relate to this. Collage is one of my outlets, and I’m always clipping images and words out of magazines for a new creation.

“The mess of my life, of Creek View, of the summer, had been transformed into something beautiful.”

-California references. Since I grew up in California and actually had family living in Fresno, our family took road trips often to the central part of the state. It was cool to read about these places and be able to visualize them easily—in fact, when I started this book I was actually driving on Highway 99 the very next day!

Why I Think You Should Read This Book:

-Heather Demetrios is another author I’m going to watch closely because I think her Contemporary YA is excellent—I recently posted my review of Emery Lord’s The Start of Me and You and I admitted that I don’t read a lot of Contemporary YA. I feel like I’ve lucked out recently because both of these books were beautiful and though they both took me a little longer to read (due to other reading obligations, etc.), I absolutely applauded their conclusions, and I would definitely recommend them.

This book is heartbreaking in parts and raw, but it’s worth it. Her story doesn’t make the world out to be a cheery place all the time, but there is hope embedded in the narrative.

**Be aware that there is quite a bit strong language in this one—if that’s something you’re concerned about, you might want to preview the book first. Of course, I understand why she included the language in the story—it reflects the way Josh and Sky talk and express frustration, etc. But there is quite a bit of it, just to warn you.

I’ll Meet You There is wonderful! It may be difficult to read in parts, because of its content, but you won’t forget these characters soon, and you’ll close the book recognizing that hope and love can win in the end.

Today is the Monthly Classic Middle Grade Discussion at The Midnight Garden for The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I’m excited, and I’ll be heading over there as soon as I finish my reading. Look for a special post from me tomorrow!

four-stars
What Katie Read

ARC Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

ARC Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren OliverVanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver
Published by Harper Collins on March 10th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Family, Siblings, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Goodreads
four-stars

New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver delivers a gripping story about two sisters inexorably altered by a terrible accident.

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara's beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it's too late. In this edgy and compelling novel, Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.

*Thank you to my OTSP Secret Sister for this ARC!* This in no way affected my honest review.

Spirituality in Vanishing Girls:

The bonds with our siblings can be incredibly strong, and Oliver explores the strength of this bond with the relationship between sisters Nick and Dara. Not only are they sisters, but we discover in the first chapter, they’re also best friends. It seems fitting that the books features diary entries from Dara and switches back and forth between the girls’ perspectives, even providing flashbacks. This seems to suggest help for the reader to puzzle together what happened between Nick and Dara, but it also gives us deeper insight into the perspectives of both sisters. The switching between perspectives made me feel as if I was getting to know both Nick and Dara, as opposed to just Nick, but at the same time, I wondered how reliable our narrator was. I knew a terrible accident had taken place, and that the book often flashed back before the accident to both sisters’ perspectives. However, the exact nature of that accident is hidden from the reader, so the withholding of details added to the story’s suspense.

The story illuminates how a tragic event can affect a family in far reaching ways—so much so that the unit is forever changed after the event, no matter how much time passes. We may have strong relationships, but there are forces and events that take place that shock and surprise those relationships, changing what we thought would remain solid and constant. That’s another theme Oliver explores in the book, and I think it provides good ground for discussion concerning how much of our identity is shaped by our family, and what it means when that begins to change.

Further Thoughts & Who Should Read This Book:

There are certain aspects of the ending that really bothered other readers, and obviously I’m not going to spoil it here by revealing those aspects. Suffice it to say that this book did remind me, in some ways, View Spoiler » After the big reveal, I did think that there weren’t enough hints earlier on to lead up to the resolution, but I could understand why the author chose to go this route. My mind was spinning, trying to piece together what I had just read, combing the pages for clues, but I decided not to go for a re-read just yet. This is the kind of book that I most likely will re-read, in light of its ending. At the same time, I can solidly say that I enjoyed the book, resolution aside.

If you like a mystery that keeps you guessing (Where exactly did Madeleine Snow disappear to?) and you enjoy multiple points of view in a YA, you’ll probably want to give Vanishing Girls a chance. But be warned, because the plot twist could be hard to swallow. However, if you’re a fan of Oliver’s writing, I would suggest you give this one a try. The inclusion of texts and online news reports makes the narrative even more interesting.

I love Oliver’s language and imagery–that alone will always be enough to get me to read her books. She has this wonderful way of effectively placing me right in the middle of a scene with vivid imagery, whether it’s a shift in Nick’s job working at Funland, complete with all the sights and smells of a carnival, or that moment at the end of the day when the crickets begin to sing. She captures the spirit of what it feels like after a breakup and the difficulty of having a sister who just isn’t there for you the way she used to be.

“Sometimes people stop loving you. And that’s the kind of darkness that never gets fixed, no matter how many moons rise again, filling the sky with a weak approximation of light.”

The Final Illumination:

Plot twist aside, I enjoyed this book immensely and was kept up late turning the pages. I also often find that the themes Oliver explores are spiritually rich and thought-provoking. Though she may not intend her books to reflect spiritual dimensions, I think there’s enough there (when thinking about spirituality in a broad way) to warrant discussion that leads (me at least) into deep and meaningful conversations.

Though there are mixed reviews on this one (see Goodreads), I can say that I solidly enjoyed it, in spite of being a little suspicious of the conclusion, and the way things were wrapped up. As I mentioned earlier, I’ll definitely re-read this later on, and revisit my initial thoughts.

What about you? What did you think of Vanishing Girls? Was it all you hoped it would be?

 

four-stars
What Katie Read
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