Tag: Family

ARC Illumination: Everything, Everything (2015) by Nicola Yoon

ARC Illumination: Everything, Everything (2015) by Nicola YoonEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Published by Random House Children's Books on September 3rd 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Love & Romance, Family, Contemporary
Pages: 320
Goodreads
five-stars

Madeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world. So allergic, in fact, that she has never left the house in all of her seventeen years. But when Olly moves in next door, and wants to talk to Maddie, tiny holes start to appear in the protective bubble her mother has built around her. Olly writes his IM address on a piece of paper, shows it at her window, and suddenly, a door opens. But does Maddie dare to step outside her comfort zone?

Everything, Everything is about the thrill and heartbreak that happens when we break out of our shell to do crazy, sometimes death-defying things for love.

Happy August, readers! The blog has been on a bit of a hiatus due to my pretty busy teaching load this summer, but I’m happy to say that I’m gradually returning back. I have loads of books to tell you about, and I’m sure you’re also anxious about getting Part 2 of my ALA recap! I’m eager to post it. More updates coming soon, but first, I must tell you about Everything, Everything!

What an impressive and beautiful book. Many of my friends on Twitter and Goodreads had been raving about this one, and the unique premise (along with the cover) really drew me to this debut. I was thankful to pick up a Print ARC at ALA, and I was almost jumping for joy at getting a matching tote. Upon arriving home, this is one of the first books I picked up, and without further ado, let’s get to my thoughts on this September release YA!

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What I Loved:

The creative narrative structure: Drawings, e-mails, air quality reports, and chat room dialogues pepper the narrative of Everything, Everything and I loved it! I think this creativity added a depth and richness to the story that wouldn’t have been achieved without these unique additions.

The voice of the MC: Maddy is endearing, curious, and sometimes fearful. But she’s willing to take a risk on her next door neighbor, Olly. And the fact is, “He’s not safe. He’s not familiar. He’s in constant motion. He’s the biggest risk I’ve ever taken.” Of course, we cheer Maddy on, and though this isn’t a thriller, I feel like I was on the edge of my seat waiting for this couple to get together. Would Olly brave the air lock room and the decontamination in order to see Maddy, who’s allergic to almost everything in the outside world? Well, you’ll just have to read to find out…

The depiction of conflict: Every relationship, if it’s an authentic and close one, will endure conflict of some sort. That’s what happens when people are real with one another. Whether it’s between Maddy and her mom or Maddy and Olly, the dialogue, emails, and chat transcripts in the book illuminate the ups and downs of these connections. As Maddy is growing up, and eventually trying to hide her connection with Olly from her mother, she inevitably drifts apart from her mother in order to make her own way in the world. It’s astounding, in some ways, thinking about how much Maddy is missing in her life just due to the fact that she is confined to a very small space, and isn’t allowed outside. Or…she might die. Her mother and her “nurse” are the two people she mostly sees everyday. Until Olly comes along—the boy next door. Then, everything changes. Everything. But this change is good. Even though the changes that ensue are painful at times, they prove to be the best kind of changes that happen for Maddy.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

Madeleine gradually opens up to the idea of love in her life—romantic love, that is, and it takes an immense amount of courage for her to do so. But Olly is such a sensitive friend to Madeleine, and he seems to understand her fears and trepidation. I think this reflects a spiritual aspect of the book in that it highlights the way people make room for our weaknesses and fears—true friends will understand that sometimes it’s a journey for a relationship to blossom. Nurturing has to take place, and when we’re in tune with the spiritual part of our selves—that aspect that is in tune to other people’s unvoiced fears, we can be more sensitive in our connections and interactions. The book really dives into the characters—Madeleine, her Mother, Olly—the result is a beautiful character driven story that illuminates the power and magic of love. Also: of growing up. Growing up is an essential part of life, and for Madeleine, it brings some pain. Especially in relation to discoveries she makes. No spoilers here, but there are some painful points in the story. It’s realistic in that it depicts the ups and downs of figuring out who you are and what you want right in the middle of some of the most confusing years: the teenage ones.

“Maybe growing up means disappointing the people we love.”

“You can’t predict the future. It turns out that you can’t predict the past either. Time moves in both directions – forward and backward – and what happens here and now changes them both.”

Spoiler alert: Love is worth everything. Everything.”

Who Should Read This Book:

Readers who enjoy young adult contemporaries would most assuredly enjoy this novel featuring a protagonist with a unique medical condition. It’s character driven, yes, but there are plenty of significant interactions, even a tropical vacation, what’s not to love about Maddy and Olly? I know I’ll be thinking about these characters for a long time, and that ending was just perfect!

The Final Illumination:

One thing I love about this book (among other things) is the cover! Isn’t it stunning? What a wonderful choice on the part of the cover designers because it seems (to me) to encapsulate part of the story’s theme. Where once life was dull with very little change and variety, new relationships can open up dimension and depth and detail and color…

What did you think of Everything, Everything? Are you planning on reading it when it releases in September? Drop by my Twitter account where I’ll have a Preorder Giveaway going on for the book!

five-stars
What Katie Read

A YA Contemporary Not to be Missed: Devoted (2015) by Jennifer Mathieu

A YA Contemporary Not to be Missed: Devoted (2015) by Jennifer MathieuDevoted by Jennifer Mathieu
Published by Macmillan on June 2nd 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Religious, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can't shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

Even if you don’t usually read Contemporary YA, or fiction that focuses on religion in any shape or form, I would urge you to give Devoted a chance. Mathieu has crafted a beautiful story depicting a journey (of the heart) of a seventeen year-old MC (eighteen by the end of the book) I grew to love. This is probably another top read of mine for 2015 so far. It’s true–I loved this book and was kind of glum when it was over. But there’s a re-read in store for me soon and that makes me very happy!

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Once in awhile a book comes along that you’re left thinking about long after you turn the last page. That happened to me with this book. I was lucky enough to receive an e-ARC of Devoted via Netgalley. Thank you, Macmillan!

What I Loved:

Rachel’s Voice: Rachel’s character is one of the best things about this book—she maintains a sensitive and thoughtful nature throughout everything she goes through. You would think that after growing up within a restricting environment and being forced to attend church several times a week, that Rachel wouldn’t want anything to do with church after she leaves the community. However, this isn’t the case, and though others who leave her church end up never wanting to be a part of anything religious ever again, Rachel is curious about other denominations. She recognizes that not every church is the same—not ever religious community is oppressive and restricting.

“But I can’t possibly know if all churches are the same if I’ve ever been to one in my whole life.”

Rachel loves to read! This may be one reason why she develops a desire for more than what her family and church community offer her. When her father discovers her reading one of her favorite books, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, she is reprimanded:

“ ‘I looked through this book, Rachel, and it troubles me. It involved magic and time travel, among other questionable things.’ ”

Well, if I was there, I would have said something to Mr. Walker. I would have asked him where in the Bible is time travel referenced as being “questionable” or wrong. If you ask me, I think time travel would probably be one of God’s favorite activities. Come on, Mr. Walker!

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Look at Rachel’s interior response to this situation—to the loss of her beloved book:

“But there’s another deeper part of me that wants to jump up and cry out. To tell Dad that in the book, Mrs. Who quotes Scripture, telling the children that the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. And that Meg saves her brother because she loves him and light wins over darkness, and isn’t that something? Doesn’t love of family count as good? As godly? And doesn’t Proverbs say that the heart of the righteous studieth how to answer? Doesn’t that mean that pondering, wondering, questioning is all right? That books that make us think should be allowed?”

Rachel’s unvoiced response is beautiful and sensitive and wise. She understands things on a deeper level, and shows insight that her father would do well to hear. It’s interesting because A Wrinkle in Time was one of the four books I focused on in my master’s thesis—a thesis looking at spirituality in four British and American works of fantasy. I even connected themes in these four books with several Biblical retellings for children, to show how the spirituality in these fantasy books can be connected with the spirituality in sacred texts. Needless to say, you can tell that I applauded Rachel’s thoughts on A Wrinkle in Time!

The positive faith aspects: Even though it’s clear that Rachel has been living with a community that restricts women and is extremely legalistic, when Rachel leaves the community, she doesn’t turn her back completely on her faith. In other words, she maintains a faith—a faith that is her own, and that doesn’t necessarily look the way that the “religion” of her community looked like. I appreciated this—because the author didn’t create a simply construction that reflected a girl leaving an oppressive religious culture and completely forgetting about her own spirituality. Rachel still communicates with God, and express interest in church communities that are different than her own. I felt that Mathieu’s treatment of this aspect of the story was well-done and memorable.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

This book depicts a spirituality that is not necessarily positive for those who are practicing it—especially the females. The MC, Rachel, desires to do more than what her religious community deems worthy for a woman. Rather than just stay at home and bear children, Rachel considers there is more to life than this, at least for her. However, her desire as a woman within her community is not one she is supposed to have, and when she voices this desire, problems arise.

It probably seems normal to many of us that as they grow older girls should have choices, and they should have the freedom to make choices. However, Rachel Walker’s community doesn’t think this way, and this lack of control over her own destiny becomes almost oppressive. Her journey towards breaking away from this kind of oppression is one I (and probably most readers) celebrated in the book, and as the narrative progresses, Rachel becomes more confident and begins to understand that though her family and a religious community might try to hold her back, God doesn’t necessarily do the same.

“What if God is saying Rachel, what is it you plan on doing now that I’ve gifted you with this mind and this heart and this itch to know about the deepest parts of the ocean and the highest crests of the mountains and the darkest edges of space?”

Who Should Read This Book:

If you enjoy Contemporary YA, give this book a chance. Even if you aren’t religious or even if you’re anti-religious, you may be surprised at how much you enjoy (I hope!) this story. It’s a fantastic new release from an author that I will be watching to see if she might write about any of the other characters in Devoted. I’m really hoping for that!

What did you think of Devoted? Are there other Young Adult books dealing with religion or spirituality that you think I should check out?

five-stars
What Katie Read

An Award Winner: The Crossover (2014) by Kwame Alexander

An Award Winner: The Crossover (2014) by Kwame AlexanderThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2014
Genres: Basketball, Family, Middle Grade, Novel in Verse, Parents, Poetry, Realistic, School & Education, Siblings, Sports & Recreation
Pages: 237
Goodreads
five-stars

2015 Newbery Medal Winner 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner "With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I'm delivering," announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (He Said, She Said 2013).    Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

Where were you at the end of January? Did you listen to the live stream of the ALA youth media awards?!? Or were you there? Even if you weren’t there or didn’t listen, you may know that the winner of the Newbery Award, the most prestigious award in children’s literature, for 2014, went to The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.

Today I want to tell you my thoughts about this powerful and stunning novel in verse—sure to appeal to male AND female readers. It left a lasting impression on me, and I’m curious to know what others thought.

I was lucky enough to hear Alexander speak during lunch at the recent New England regional conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators in Massachusetts. What a fabulous speaker! He even shared a poem at the end of his talk, which left the audience moved and wanting more.

This snippet from his award winning novel is just one example of his perfect metaphors:

In this game of life

Your family is the court

And the ball is your heart.

What I Loved:

The relationship between the Brothers: Josh and Jordan Bell are twins, and they share a lot, including a passion and gift for basketball. They love their mother and father dearly, and their father, once a famous basketball player himself, plays a strong role in the story. One aspect of this book I loved, though, was the depiction of the relationship between the brothers. It’s from Josh’s point of view that we hear the story, and over the course of 237 pages, these thirteen year old twins go through quite a bit. Sure, their relationship has some bumps along the way, but ultimately their connection endures its test, and their love for their family stands strong. With each poem titled, I think Alexander exceptionally described the strength and uniqueness of the twins’ relationship.

The imagery: Wow! Is one way to express how I feel about Alexander’s imagery. Whether it’s “arms as heavy as sea anchors,” “JB’s eyes are ocean wide,” or “to push water uphill,” this novel in verse is chock full of stunning language and rhythm that will reinforce the power of a narrative told in verse. And if you like basketball, you definitely can’t pass up the chance to read The Crossover. You’ll feel like you’re in the court with Josh and JB and right in the middle of the action. Check out “Fast Break” on page 149, for example.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

The Connections Among Family: There’s no way I can’t mention a spiritual aspect of this book as it relates to the profound connections within family. Josh’s mother and father both play an important role in the story, and this book definitely wouldn’t be the same without them in it. There’s no doubt that Josh and JB love their parents, and they’re influenced (for the better) by both of them. When tragedy strikes their home, it’s even more apparent how strong their family bonds actually are. The story is a testament to the importance of our families, and also the significance of honoring what our parents have sacrificed for us, their children.

Who Should Read This Book:

I’ll probably recommend this book to just about everyone—one reason being that this book won the Newbery and I think it’s important to read the books that win the major awards (even if only to consider what the committee deemed noteworthy that year). However, this novel in verse is a quick read, powerful, and beautiful. I loved it, and though I have to admit that I may have cried a little, the story is worth it. I will genuinely miss Josh’s voice, and will just have to go hunt down more of Alexander’s work.

What did you think about the award winning books this year? Have you read any of them? Are there any novels in verse you think I must read?

five-stars
What Katie Read
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