The Rest of Us Just Live Here
by Patrick Ness
What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?
What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.
Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions. (goodreads.com)
I am going to try my best to blog about the books I read this year. I miss writing about books. My course last semester on Editing for Children and Teen books, and my being back at the bookstore has made me excited for reading once more. I might not write about every book I read (and here’s hoping I read MANY in 2017!) but I want to write about those that I enjoyed.
I like starting off the year with a book that makes me happy. And I like starting the year by reading – and finishing – a book. Makes me feel all accomplished (and is a lovely way to relax!)
The Rest of Us Just Live Here is an interesting sort of book. I discovered it while showing a customer something else at work. It was on the staff pick wall and something about it hooked me. I bought it before the store closed that day because I knew I NEEDED to read it on my day off the next day. In fact, I started it New Year’s Eve, but I am pretty much dead from this flu so I didn’t manage to finish it before I needed to go to bed.
I am writing about this story because I keep thinking about it. First of all, my instinct that I needed to read this book was spot on. I devoured it. I liked it a lot. But parts also bothered me. See, the book is sort of a weird mix of YA urban fantasy and a contemporary issues (mental illness) novel. The story is about those kids who aren’t the chosen ones. The bystanders in a story about Chosen One Teens who battle and save the world from apocalypses. There is very little reference to those Chosen Ones (called “indie kids” in this book) though. The story, to me, was more about teens who had regular issues just trying to cope with life.
Mike, for instance, the protagonist has OCD, and his older sister is recovering from an eating disorder. Their father is an alcoholic and more-or-less checked out of life and family, but still living with them because their over-achieving, running for political office, mother doesn’t want to ruin the perfect family vibe. There’s a very poignant scene between Mike and his therapist towards the end of the book that made anxiety/OCD/mental illness very real, and raw. I loved the way the author describes the struggle with accepting medication to help calm anxiety and see it as a failure to be ok on your own. There are comparisons between medical and “accepted” illnesses (like diabetes, or cancer) and those not being seen as failure.
So as a story about teens dealing with Real Life things, and mental illness awareness, this was a rather good book.
Where the book lacks, in my opinion, is within the idea of it being about the kids who aren’t the paranormal saviours. Sure each chapter starts off with a paragraph about what’s going on with the Indie kids (who all have those fancy, weird names that characters in paranormal novels tend to have. I was rather amused by the five or so kids who had the name Finn. That does seem to be a popular name in those types of books. I always refer to those strange names as Soap Opera Names.) but once that little summarized Indie Kids storyline is over, it’s back to Mike and his gang of friends. His best friend, Jasper, happens to be one quarter God of cats (long story), but refuses to be an Indie kid. Other than that, and the occasional news of the death of one of the Indie kids (as they fight the impending apocalypse that we don’t really know anything about), and the random explosion of an auditorium, and the school – we don’t really have much bystander reaction to whatever else is going on that’s paranormal and/or The End of The World. I’d have liked a little more interaction between the indies and the normal kids who just want their school to not blow up before graduation.
The other part of the story that stuck out to me was Mike’s interaction with the new guy, Nathan. Mike takes an instant dislike to Nathan as he only transferred to the school six weeks before graduation and seems awfully suspicious. Much of Mike’s dislike for Nathan has to do with jealousy as the girl he’s mooned over since the dawn of time, Henna (Finnish, not an Indie Kid name!), has feelings for Nathan. But from Mike’s point of view, Nathan does seem suspicious, and could possibly be the reason for whatever battle the Chosen One kids are battling. Mike is a pretty unreliable narrator at this point and I did have to keep guessing what Nathan’s deal was. Turns out I was off by a long shot, and even though Mike’s friends are annoyed with him for always suspecting the new guy who has suddenly joined their group, I have to say I’m Team Mike on this. In a small town, where all these strange paranormal things keep happening, a new person who smoothly sails in at the same time everything (“everything” they claim is going on, of which we don’t really know about) is going on, can be a rather suspicious deal. I get where Mike’s paranoia comes from 100%. I don’t think his friends were very fair to him about his reaction because it made sense to me.
I love that my instinct about this book was on point. As a novel about mental illness and dealing with teenage issues, I think this story stood out to me. I wish the actual part about how the normal kids just want to get on with their lives and not have to worry about all the paranormal apocalyptic stuff going on was a little more present in the story though. It was certainly a very interesting way to tell a paranormal story in a short, summarized paragraph per chapter, but I wish there could have been more obvious signs that stuff was happening around the normal kids.
I am content with the first book I have read in 2017. It made me feel. It made me think. It was enjoyable to read. And I have a feeling that my bookstore job might bankrupt me. 😉
The Third Lie’s the Charm (The Liar Society, #3)
by Lisa & Laura Roecker
Katie Lowry knows she could’ve stopped Alistair from doing something stupid if only she’d picked up the phone. Now she has to live with the guilt. She’s sick of the lies, sick of the secret societies that rule life at Pemberly Brown Academy. But there’s only one way to take them down: from the inside… (goodreads.com)
Ok, so maybe it’s been three years since I read the first two books in this series. And maybe I spent a good chunk of that time checking to see if my local library had this third, and final book. (It never did.) And maybe, just maybe, I had zero recollection that I had BOUGHT this book on my Kobo at some point in time. And maybe, hypothetically speaking of course, I discovered I had this book on my Kobo after about a year of not even knowing where my Kobo was, or having it charged. And finally, maybe I noticed I had this book on my Kobo when I was trying to load some library books onto it before a flight out East to visit my cousin, and those library books didn’t actually work on my Kobo but I had this here Liar Society book all loaded up on there and ready to read.
And maybe (yeah, I lied about the finally part) even though I read this book at the end of September, I am still thinking about it enough to blog about it.
This is all possible. Not saying it isn’t.
I went back and re-read my blog posts about books one and two (linked below) and sure enough, I was as enthusiastic about the novels as I thought I had been. I’m rather bummed I’d forgotten about having bought the final book (allegedly). Then again, my life changed a lot a few months after I’d read the other books. I haven’t been reading much at all. And I do not like reading e-books. It bugs me so much reading on a screen. Even with e-ink. Bleh.
I’m not really going to review the book much though, even though it was awesome, and I did love it. (Check out this series if you haven’t. GREAT mysteries! Secret Societies! Woo! Scandal!) I need to talk about something else in the book that’s been sticking with me for over a month since I finished it.
Katie’s loss of her friend, and the sort of frantic, anxious, paranoid, lung-crushing emotions she has throughout the novel are so, so spot on. People tell her she’s in shock, and experiencing symptoms of a trauma (the murder of her friend, and well, others) and she’s certain she’s not crazy though everyone tells her she is. She gets sent to a therapist, and has even her closest friends question her sanity about even more conspiracies and secret societal shenanigans. And all I could think while reading this was: woah. The authors GET IT. They captured on page (er, screen?), in words, what it feels like to spiral out of control over the loss of something, someone, in a traumatic way. You don’t know if you’re up, or down. Coming, or going. You spend your time trying to focus and breathe, and you’re scared, angry, sad, confused, lost.
And Katie was all of those things as she tried to get to the bottom of the latest mystery at Pemberly Brown Academy. Her struggle was almost palatable to me. My heart raced, but not in a trigger sort of way, but in total empathy for the character. I understood. I could have been her (if I were 15+ years younger).
In reading my original blog posts about the first two books, I see that I was all about the authors’ grasp of the teenage voice, and point of view. They got it. And they still do, but they also got that out-of-control feeling that Katie was experiencing and they expressed it so well in this book. The mystery, the suspense, the sarcastic humour and quips, they were all wonderful as well, but what truly stood out to me was the way Katie’s emotional crisis was portrayed.
I love well-written, and engaging novels. I love being able to recommend a series like this to young readers because I know it will be appreciated and enjoyed. I don’t think you can lend e-books (I’m old, I don’t get the technology of the youth) but I might just toss my Kobo at my niece (and sister) and tell them to read this series. It’s not very salty or risqué, and my 10-year old niece has a pretty high reading level (if she can get through The Hunger Games this series might seem like Sesame Street to her). And I said it before, but there aren’t too many mystery novels in the YA field that aren’t paranormal in some way. At least not that I have found. That makes The Liar Society a delightfully refreshing series to devour.
The Liar Society
- The Liar Society
- The Lies That Bind
- Third Lie’s the Charm
All Fall Down by Ally Carter
Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:
1. She is not crazy.
2. Her mother was murdered.
3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.
As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her — so there’s no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.
Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can’t control Grace — no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn’t stop it, Grace isn’t the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down. (goodreads.com)
I didn’t know about this new series from Ally Carter until I saw it mentioned on a friend’s blog. I was thrilled when I discovered my library actually had it in stock. I don’t think anything else Ally Carter will write will ever compare to the Gallagher Girls series in my mind, but it’s a fun mystery. What I missed in this story, that I loved in the GG series, was the depth of the side characters. I felt like all the “friends” that Grace had in All Fall Down were sort of flat, and bland. Perhaps they will be better fleshed out in the sequel. I’d like to know more about them.
I do like stories where you can’t trust anyone though, and this was certainly one of those! Even Grace isn’t the most reliable main character. 😉 Suppose I should keep an eye out for the second book to show up at my library.
The Truth About Alice
by Jennifer Mathieu
Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party.
But did you know Alice was sexting Brandon when he crashed his car?
It’s true. Ask ANYBODY.
Rumor has it that Alice Franklin is a slut. It’s written all over the bathroom stall at Healy High for everyone to see. And after star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons dies in a car accident, the rumors start to spiral out of control. (goodreads.com)
Look at me! Two books read so far this year! And just yesterday, my Goodreads challenge widget was yelling at me; telling me I was already behind schedule to reach my goal of 50 books read for the year. That challenge widget is a bully. It needs to chill out a little. I mean, I get most of my reading done in the summer, so two weeks into the new year, it shouldn’t be all “WHY AREN’T YOU DOING ANYTHING BUT READING RIGHT NOW? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” Chill out, widget. Chill.
Ok, so I am going to admit that I thought this was a suicide book. You know, a book about suicide. Or depression and stuff. And since I have a (healthy) obsession with mental illness novels, I was very interested in reading it. I have been wanting to read The Truth About Alice for a while now, but since I wasn’t really buying books last year, I didn’t. My library did not have it in their system. But then I got gift cards for Christmas (yay!) and so the book buying, I had been avoiding for most of 2014, was happily reactivated in 2015. Woo!
Thing is, this book is NOT a suicide book. (Spoiler? I guess not. I mean, it’s not like I’m ruining any part of the plot. It’s not part of the plot at all.) It is a book about bullying though. And I also like to read about those stories, too.
I realize this makes me sound… crazy? Or something. But really, when I am in certain moods, I find books about these subjects slightly comforting. It’s like listening to sad songs when you’re, well, sad. You just wallow and let your emotions run rampant. It’s freeing. It might be a little Emo, but whatever. It’s better than holing up in a dark room and hiding from the world. I was in a sunny, living room, surrounded by my husband and fluffy dogs and reading. It was cathartic.
The other thing about this book is that it is told in multiple points of view. Not something I normally care for, but a) this caught me my surprise (because I don’t read reviews anymore, and just pick books up when I read a summary that clicks with me) and b) I realized very quickly that I liked the flow of the story from the points of view of the characters.
Four characters. None of them Alice herself.
The popular girl.
Alice’s best friend, and in the popular crowd.
The best friend of the popular boy who died.
The weird, genius kid that no one ever speaks to.
And they all talk about Alice. They tell you their versions of her story. And I can hear each individual so clearly through their chapters. I found them all believable. I could actually see this happening and how it happened, and why it happened.
Teenagers are shallow creatures. Social status is often way more important that long-lasting friendships. Meaningful relationships. Teenagers are cruel. Teen girls are mean. Teen boys can be hurtful.
Anyone can be a bully. Anyone can be a friend. Anyone can be an enemy – even if there’s no reason to be an enemy. Sometimes teen years are a constant battle between opposing forces that appear and disappear overnight. Jealousy, insecurity, pride, are all accelerants in the explosive fires of teenage drama. And sometimes there are innocent casualties.
So, yeah. I did think this was a book about suicide. Especially since the story is told by everyone except Alice. So I was expecting the worst and yet… the story has an ending I wasn’t thinking I was going to get. And it surprised me. And it made me sit back, close the book, and say out loud, “Huh.”
This was a quick read; it’s not a very long book, but it’s one I enjoyed. It makes me happy when I start the year with books that really click with me. Especially when I have been so meh about books lately. I have had such trouble with stories holding my attention. So these two books I have finished since January 1st? They make me happy.
Which is why I wanted to blog about them.
PS – I found it immensely weird to be reading a book about a town with my last name. Seriously. That is highly unusual.
by Meg Wolitzer
I stopped blogging about books last year. I wasn’t reading many books as it was, and the thought of having to find time to write about what I just read (and edit the cover images the way I do) was way too overwhelming. I was broken for a while; I was healing for a while. I think I am still healing, and always will be. And although I am still not reading nearly as much as I used to, I have rediscovered the desire to blog about the occasional book I have read.
So, to start things off well for my OCD… I am going to tell you about the first book I read, and finished, in 2015. Belzhar is a young adult novel about a girl named Jam who experiences a bit of a breakdown and is sent away to a school in Vermont called The Wooden Barn. This school helps teens heal from their problems without medication and without having to go to a psychiatric hospital. It’s a sort of half-way house in a way.
I thought this book was going to be a lot more like a retelling of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar because that book is one of the topics in this story. I was surprised with the turn the story took and the way everything unfolded. It wasn’t what I thought the book was going to be and I liked that a lot.
Jam is selected for an “elite” Special Topics in English class. Elite in the way that only four or five students are selected in a semester. The class, taught by the older Mrs. Q, only learns one author for the semester. The semester that Jam enters, that author is Sylvia Plath. There are four other students in the class, two other girls, and two boys. Each student is given a red leather journal to write in. They are two write twice a week and turn in the journals at the end of the semester.
There was something about this book that resonated with me. I always have a special place in my heart for books about teens with mental illness, and although this wasn’t exactly the kind of story I thought it would be, I was very engaged in the story. I might have thought Jam was a little over-the-top with her infatuation over her dead boyfriend (after knowing him only 41 days), but I got that she was trying to deal with the grief of losing him, so of course she would be dwelling on their time together. Jam was actually the character I found the least interesting of all 5 students in that class.
There are many mixed reviews out there about this book. I was reading some after I read the book myself and enjoyed it. I wanted to see what other people thought. I completely understand the problems some readers had with the story, and yet for some reason, I don’t have the same problems. I feel like I would have them normally because the points made are really very valid. There is little character development in the story, but that honestly didn’t bother me when I read it. I was fully enjoying what I was reading as it was presented, and I didn’t think much into what wasn’t there. I think there are many ways to tell a story about mental illness, and this was one that had a twist I wasn’t expecting. I don’t think this makes it less meaningful, or disrespectful of people with mental illness. I like to think of it as art. Not everyone will paint a flower or an apple the same way. There are different ways to visualize your interpretation of an object. Someone’s flower might look nothing like a flower, but to them, that’s how they want to show it to the world, or how they see it. There was nothing in this story that made me think that mental illness is a joke, or not a real thing. It was just a lighter version of a very heavy subject.
I am pleased with my first read of 2015, and I hope that my ability to read, and get lost in story, will come back to me this year. I have a bunch of “outside-of-my-comfort-zone” books on a list that looked interesting to me, and I hope to branch out in my reading this year. I will stop when I need to stop a book, I will read whatever interests me at the time. And perhaps, just perhaps, I’ll blog about the books I read. Obviously that’s all happening here on my personal blog, as I closed up shop on my book blog last year.
I’m trying to find the joy in my regularly enjoyed activities again. I feel like 1 3/4 years after my trauma, I should be able to find myself again. No pressure, but sometimes you have to manually put yourself back up on that horse and let muscle memory take over.
Have you read any great books about mental illness (not just YA)? I’d love to know about them. I have a nice collection of books about issues like this: depression, suicide, eating disorders. I know it sounds weird, but I find these sorts of books comforting. And helpful with my own healing process.