Review: When You Where Here

hereTitle: When You Were Here
Author: Daisy Whitney
Genres: Contemporary, Literature
Pages: 257
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Review Copy: Won from C.J. Omololu’s Book Giveaway
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Danny’s mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn’t know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom’s property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother’s memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died. (from Amazon)

Review: In a literary landscape where fantasy and dystopian novels are best sellers, it is nice to have a quiet novel. A novel that explores the human condition in a beautiful, yet understated way. A novel that allows the reader to connect with a character as he or she grows and comes to understand meaning in the small things in life. “When You Were Here” is such a novel that examines life after a loved one succombs to cancer. It’s a beautiful story that explores grief and then finding acceptance after death.

What I really liked about this novel is the fact that this touching story is told from a male’s perspective. Having a male narrator/main character in YA literature is somewhat of a rarity and I enjoyed reading Danny’s discovery of the last few months of his mother’s life, especially her time in Japan. Danny is unflinchingly honest about his feelings – his anger that his mother wasn’t able to see him graduate from high school, his love for his ex-girlfriend Holland –  as he works through the stages of grief and in the end discovers himself. By learning to be honest with himself, he learns how to ask the questions he needs from the people who knew his mother and to be honest with Holland. I loved the fact that the character’s spoke to each other instead of a book filled with misunderstandings. It was clear that Danny had a healthy relationship with his mother, told through touching flashbacks, that helped him become the young man who is able to handle becoming an orphan at the age of 18. His maturity doesn’t seem forced, in that children with ill parents are often much more mature than their counterparts. It is because of this attention to character detail that makes Danny feel very real and relatable.

Last week I wrote about creating diverse worlds, even when having main characters who are Caucasian, as “When You Were Here” does. I wasn’t even thinking about this novel when I wrote the article, but the world Danny lives in is a perfect example of a diverse world. The novel begins in Los Angeles and Whitney makes sure to make Danny’s world a reflection of the multicultural city that is Los Angeles. I was definitely able to relate to the city presented in this novel because it is the world I live in. When the novel moves to Tokyo, Whitney doesn’t treat the city as a novelty, but as a real place where people live and work. In fact, Danny loves Tokyo and that love is clearly presented. Danny doesn’t view Tokyo with a tourist’s wonder, but as a citizen of the city and in the end, he calls it home. I do not know whether Whitney actually visited Japan, but she definitely completed thorough research into local customs, beliefs, language as well as most likely asked the right questions about Japanese culture. Her careful attention shows the respect it takes when writing another culture when one is the other and I commend her for it.

While I didn’t read this by the beach, “When You Were Here” is beach reading material and the perfect companion for summer.

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Review: Since You Asked

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Title: Since You Asked
Author: Maurene Goo
Genres: Contemporary, Comedy
Pages: 262
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Copy: Netgalley ARC
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: No, no one asked, but Holly Kim will tell you what she thinks anyway.

Fifteen-year-old Holly Kim is the copyeditor for her high school’s newspaper. When she accidentally submits an article that rips everyone to shreds, she gets her own column and rants her way through the school year. Can she survive homecoming, mean-girl cliques, jocks, secret admirers, Valentine’s Day, and other high school embarrassments, all while struggling to balance her family’s traditional Korean values?

In this hilarious debut, Maurene Goo takes a fresh look at trying to fit in without conforming to what’s considered “normal” in high school and how to manage parental expectations without losing one’s individuality…or being driven insane.

Review: Holly Kim makes me smile. She has a voice and she uses it — especially with her new column in the newspaper. She and her group of friends ooze sarcasm, with no apologies, to great comedic effect. Aside from snarky Holly, there is laid-back, artistic David (Chinese American), intelligent, sophisticated Liz (Persian American), and sweet, energetic Carrie (of hippie decent). The whole group excels at witty banter and also enjoys complaining, but almost more for the sake of fussing than true hatred. This may be seen especially with the interactions between Holly and her “very Korean” mother.

Holly’s relationship with her mother got my attention. Holly describes her as the “pushy dictator” and earns the “Korean Mom Death Stare” several times. Her relationship with her father is much more relaxed, but way less interesting. The tug of war between Holly and her mother felt very real and it intrigued me. It was a picture of a teenage girl stretching her wings, but it also highlighted the distinctions there may be when you have a Korean mother.

The format of the book is narrative chapters with letters to the editor and Holly’s newspaper columns sandwiched in between. Hearing other voices in brief snatches was a nice way to break up the chapters a bit. The columns were a clever way to reveal a lot about Holly. While she was writing to entertain, she was also getting to express her thoughts and opinion. The teacher in charge of the school newspaper gave her permission to shake things up and she goes after that goal with gusto.

Holly gets herself into all kinds of difficult situations throughout the school year usually as a direct result of being outspoken. That’s what is so endearing about her. When I reached the end of the book, I felt like I was beginning to know Holly and I wanted to see where she would go next. There is certainly an opportunity for a sequel. I wouldn’t be opposed.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you love funny contemporary novels.

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Review: Charm & Strange

charm and strangeTitle: Charm & Strange
Author: Stephanie Kuehn
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 216
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: When you’ve been kept caged in the dark, it’s impossible to see the forest for the trees. It’s impossible to see anything, really. Not without bars . . .

Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself.

He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost.

He’s part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable.

Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles both the pain of his past and the isolation of his present.

Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild darkness inside his mind or make peace with the most elemental of truths—that choosing to live can mean so much more than not dying. (Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Charm & Strange is a difficult, disturbing read. I can’t say much about it without spoiling the story, but I’ll do my best.

The bio on the dust jacket says that the author is working on a doctorate in clinical psychology, and it’s clear that Kuehn has used her education to her advantage in this book. Charm & Strange combines two narratives in alternating chapters: Drew’s traumatic childhood and Win’s reluctant party attendance, which eventually turns into a mental health crisis. Both narratives leave you with a mounting sense of dread the closer you get to unraveling the mystery of what happened to Drew/Win. There are enough clues that a discerning reader can figure out the key points of the trauma before the official reveal, but that won’t lessen the emotional impact of the events. I spent the time before the reveal desperately hoping that I was wrong and the time afterwards being extremely upset that I was right.

While the book remains tightly focused on Drew/Win, Lex (a former roommate) and Jordan (the new girl) are scene-stealers at school. The failure of Win and Lex’s pseudo friendship is a painful but necessary way of highlighting just how messed up Win is. Jordan’s attempts to befriend Win are equally hard to read, especially since I wanted Win to reach out to someone for help. Lex and Jordan are two decent people caught up in the life of a very broken person, and I admire them for how they deal with Win. They also keep the present narrative from being completely soul-crushing.

Unfortunately, the past narrative is completely soul-crushing. It’s clear from the start that some pretty terrible things had to have happened to Drew in order for him to grow up to be Win, and I had to mentally prep myself for every new chapter. These chapters are the most powerful, especially when the reader starts picking up clues about what is going on with Drew and his family. His brother, Keith, features prominently in this part of the story. The relationship between Keith and Drew (and to a lesser extent, their younger sister, Siobhan) is a heartbreaking one. Keith often acts as a parent for Drew, despite only being a few years older, and watching him struggle to be an adult when he shouldn’t have to be is emotionally draining.

Recommendation: Get it soon, but only if you think you can handle disturbing subject matter. Kuehn wrote an excellent book, but I honestly don’t think I’ll be able to reread it. The book is short and powerful, and it leaves you reeling.

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Mini-Reviews: A Really Awesome Mess and The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong

This month there are several contemporary novels coming to the shelves. Here are two you might want to grab. Both are available for pre-order or you can look for them on July 23rd.

really

Title: A Really Awesome Mess
Authors: Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin
Pages: 288
Genre: contemporary, issue
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Review Copy: NetGalley digital ARC
Availability: July 23, 2013

Summary: Two teenagers. Two very bumpy roads taken that lead to Heartland Academy.

Justin was just having fun, but when his dad walked in on him with a girl in a very compromising position, Justin’s summer took a quick turn for the worse. His parents’ divorce put Justin on rocky mental ground, and after a handful of Tylenol lands him in the hospital, he has really hit rock bottom.

Emmy never felt like part of her family. She was adopted from China. Her parents and sister tower over her and look like they came out of a Ralph Lauren catalog– and Emmy definitely doesn’t. After a scandalous photo of Emmy leads to vicious rumors around school, she threatens the boy who started it all on Facebook.

Justin and Emmy arrive at Heartland Academy, a reform school that will force them to deal with their issues, damaged souls with little patience for authority. But along the way they will find a ragtag group of teens who are just as broken, stubborn, and full of sarcasm as themselves. In the end, they might even call each other friends.

A funny, sad, and remarkable story, A Really Awesome Mess is a journey of friendship and self-discovery that teen readers will surely sign up for. — cover image and summary via Goodreads

My Thoughts: Lately there have been more and more co-authored books appearing on the young adult scene. It’s a trend that I appreciate. In A Really Awesome Mess, Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin have worked together to bring us two distinct and intriguing voices. The chapters alternate between an angry Emmy and the roller coaster ride that is Justin. There are some pretty intense issues that the characters are dealing with, but the authors have light hands. They also keep a lot hidden in the beginning so things snuck up on me to be honest. Little by little, I discovered what difficult issues Justin and Emma are working through. But just when I thought things were grim and overwhelming — pigs entered the picture. Seriously. A Really Awesome Mess is like that. Seemingly random bizarreness. That’s what made me smile. Also, the friends Emmy and Justin gather have unique personalities that help the story sparkle. While not everything is plausible, Cook and Halpin manage to provide many laughs in spite of the tough subject matter.

If you like issue books with a large dose of humor, you will want to get this one soon.

family

Title: The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong
Author: L. Tam Holland
Pages: 368
Genre: contemporary
Publisher: Simon & Shuster
Review Copy: Edelweiss digital ARC
Availability: July 23, 2013

Summary: A hysterically funny debut novel about discovering where you come from—even if you have to lie to get there.

When Vee Crawford-Wong’s history teacher assigns an essay on his family history, Vee knows he’s in trouble. His parents—Chinese-born dad and Texas-bred Mom—are mysteriously and stubbornly close-lipped about his ancestors. So, he makes it all up and turns in the assignment. And then everything falls apart.

After a fistfight, getting cut from the basketball team, offending his best friend, and watching his grades plummet, one thing becomes abundantly clear to Vee: No one understands him! If only he knew where he came from… So Vee does what anyone in his situation would do: He forges a letter from his grandparents in China, asking his father to bring their grandson to visit. Astonishingly, Vee’s father agrees. But in the land of his ancestors, Vee learns that the answers he seeks are closer to home then he could have ever imagined. — cover image and summary via Goodreads

My thoughts: There was plenty to laugh at here. Vee gets himself into complicated and humorous situations over and over again. He makes choices that are cringe-worthy throughout the book. This, of course, is part of the charm. The reader is compelled to find out if Vee is truly going to go through with his next idea. Then, there is the wait for the train wreck that is sure to happen. The book is fairly lighthearted and entertaining most of the time. Vee is trying to figure out who he is and what he wants for himself so it isn’t only about the laughs.

I was uncomfortable with some of the terms that Vee used like retarded and lesbos, but these are certainly words that are tossed about in high schools and they fit the context. They were just a little jarring for me. I also found the speech patterns for Vee’s father a little stilted. He often sounds formal and maybe the purpose was to show that English wasn’t his first language or to emphasize how closed off he is to Vee, but it seemed awkward to me.

You will find humor, a bit of romance around the edges, basketball action, and plenty of high school and family drama in The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong. If humorous contemporary books are your thing, get it soon.

L. Tam Holland did a reading of her book last week if you want a sneak peek.

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New Releases

This week we have steampunk, urban fantasy, contemporary romance, and historical fiction to tempt us. Which ones are calling your name?

Cold
Cold Steel (Spirit Walker #3) by Kate Elliot

Orbit

Trouble, treachery, and magic just won’t stop plaguing Cat Barahal. The Master of the Wild Hunt has stolen her husband Andevai. The ruler of the Taino kingdom blames her for his mother’s murder. The infamous General Camjiata insists she join his army to help defeat the cold mages who rule Europa. An enraged fire mage wants to kill her. And Cat, her cousin Bee, and her half-brother Rory, aren’t even back in Europa yet, where revolution is burning up the streets.

Revolutions to plot. Enemies to crush. Handsome men to rescue. Cat and Bee have their work cut out for them.
— Cover image and summary via Goodreads

ink
Ink by Amanda Sun (Paper Gods)

Harlequin Teen

On the heels of a family tragedy, Katie Greene must move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn’t know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks, and she can’t seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building.

When Katie meets aloof but gorgeous Tomohiro, the star of the school’s kendo team, she is intrigued by him…and a little scared. His tough attitude seems meant to keep her at a distance, and when they’re near each other, strange things happen. Pens explode. Ink drips from nowhere. And unless Katie is seeing things, drawings come to life.

Somehow Tomo is connected to the Kami, powerful ancient beings who once ruled Japan-and as feelings develop between Katie and Tomo, things begin to spiral out of control. The wrong people are starting to ask questions, and if they discover the truth, no one will be safe.
— Cover image and summary via Amazon

girl
The Girl of His Dreams by Amir Abrams

K-Teen

Summary: The rules are simple: Play or get played. And never, ever, catch feelings.
That’s the motto 17-year-old heartthrob Antonio Lopez lives by. Since his mother walked out, Antonio’s father has taught him everything he needs to know about women: they can’t be trusted, and a real man has more than one. So once Antonio gets what he wants from a girl, he moves on. But McPherson High’s hot new beauty is turning out to be Antonio’s first real challenge.

Miesha Wilson has a motto of her own: The thrill of the chase is not getting caught. Game knows game, and Miesha is so not interested. She’s dumped her share of playboys and she’s determined to stay clear of the likes of Antonio Lopez–until his crazy jealous ex aggravates her. But when she decides to play some games of her own, Miesha and Antonio find themselves wondering if love is real after all. . ..
– Cover image via Goodreads — summary via Amazon

 

Fairy
Golden Girl (The American Fairy #2) by Sarah Zettel

Random House Books for Young Readers

Callie LeRoux has put her grimy, harrowing trip from the depths of the Dust Bowl behind her. Her life is a different kind of exciting now: she works at a major motion picture studio among powerful studio executives and stylish stars. Still nothing can distract her from her true goal. With help from her friend Jack and guidance from the great singer Paul Robeson, she will find her missing mother.

But as a child of prophecy and daughter of the legitimate heir to the Seelie throne, Callie poses a huge threat to the warring fae factions who’ve attached themselves to the most powerful people in Hollywood . . . and they are all too aware that she’s within their reach.
— Cover image and summary from Goodreads

 

moment
A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

As the partition of India nears in 1947 bringing violence even to Jalandhar, Tariq, a Muslim, finds himself caught between his forbidden interest in Anupreet, a Sikh girl, and Margaret, a British girl whose affection for him might help with his dream of studying at Oxford.
— Cover image and summary from Goodreads

Reviewed previously on Rich in Color

 

 

 

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New Releases

There’s a whole lot of books being released tomorrow, so check them out!

charm and strange Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

St. Martin’s Griffin

Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself. He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. He’s part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable. Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles both the pain of his past and the isolation of his present. [Image and Summary via Goodreads]

burningBurning by Elana K. Arnold

Delacorte Press

Ben: Having just graduated from high school, Ben is set to leave Gypsum, Nevada. It’s good timing since the gypsum mine that is the lifeblood of the area is closing, shutting the whole town down with it. Ben is lucky: he’s headed to San Diego, where he’s got a track scholarship at the University of California. But his best friends, Pete and Hog Boy, don’t have college to look forward to, so to make them happy, Ben goes with them to check out the hot chick parked on the side of Highway 447.
Lala: She and her Gypsy family earn money by telling fortunes. But lately Lala’s been questioning whether there might be more to life than her upcoming arranged marriage. And the day she reads Ben’s cards is the day that everything changes for her. . . and for him. [Image and Summary via Goodreads]

ask my mood ringAsk My Mood Ring How I Feel by Diana Lopez

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

It’s summer before eighth grade, and Erica “Chia” Montenegro is feeling so many things that she needs a mood ring to keep track of her emotions. She’s happy when she hangs out with her best friends, the Robins. She’s jealous that her genius little sister skipped two grades. And she’s passionate about the crushes on her Boyfriend Wish list. And when Erica’s mom is diagnosed with breast cancer, she feels worried and doesn’t know what she can do to help. When her family visits a cuarto de milagros, a miracle room in a famous church, Erica decides to make a promesa to God in exchange for her mom’s health. As her mom gets sicker, Erica quickly learns that juggling family, friends, school, and fulfilling a promesa is stressful, but with a little bit of hope and a lot of love, she just might be able to figure it out. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

long divisinoLong Division by Kiese Laymon

Agate Bolden

Kiese Laymon’s debut novel is a Twain-esque exploration of celebrity, authorship, violence, religion, and coming of age in Post-Katrina Mississippi, written in a voice that’s alternately funny, lacerating, and wise. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

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