Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have)

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have)Ten Things We Did by Sarah Mlynowski
Source: free Advance Reader's Copy from GoodReads' FirstReads program for my honest review.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If I am perfectly honest, I actually bought it when it first came out in hardcover. I hadn't gotten around to reading it yet, but once I was the proud owner of not just one, but two copies, I knew it was time to read the darn thing already and took it on vacation with me. It was fairly light and perfect reading for a few days at the beach.

The main character April (somehow) manages to convince her father to let her live with her friend Vi instead of moving halfway across the country with him and his new wife. I had to suspend my disbelief a little bit here, because I can't realistically believe she really pulled this off. The same father who enforced a 10PM curfew (even on weekends, holidays, & vacations), was awfully quick to cooperate with this new living situation, despite the fact that he never actually spoke to Vi's mother in person. (Never would have happened in my family, just saying.)

The book then proceeds to follow April and Vi's adventures and misadventures living on their own. One of the big ones is having sex. I had to remind myself that these characters are teenagers and that it is quite realistic to be preoccupied with boys, sex, and relationships at that age. Most of the first half of the book, April is constantly thinking about and debating having sex for the first time with her long-time boyfriend. After many chapters of this, it really started to get annoying (and I really started to dislike the boyfriend), but again I remind myself -- they're teenagers!

April's complicated relationship with her parents and her struggle between wanting to be independent and missing/needing her family is also very true to life. She's at the age when every kid has that internal battle and I think those emotions are portrayed extremely well. The very fact that she starts to admit she misses her family shows how much April matures over the course of the book. Even though she is deceiving her father, being on her own really does teach her a lot. Her friend Vi can be irritating at times, but in a lot of ways they help each other grow up and face a lot of their own issues and demons.

And I do need to give Sarah some major credit for addressing several important issues that affect many teens including divorce, cheating, STDs, birth control, and the difficulties of being on your own for the first time, without being preachy about it. Despite all the things April and Vi get away with, there are plenty of times when their actions result in real consequences, which helped bring this book around for me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Something Like Normal

Something Like NormalSomething Like Normal by Trish Doller
Source: Purchased
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book after reading a great review of it on the blog Makeshift Bookmark (an awesome, mostly YA blog, by the way).

The main character Travis is home on leave from Afghanistan dealing with the death of his best friend, a slightly dysfunctional family, a toxic ex-girlfriend, and a pretty awful case of PTSD. The last thing he expects is to get involved with Harper, a feisty girl he's known most of his life, but who holds a bit of a grudge against him that dates back to the 6th grade.

Behind his tough exterior, the violence and loss Travis has experienced have made him very vulnerable, though he puts a lot of effort into hiding this fact from the world. Choosing to serve his country has made him  grow up quickly and he feels worlds away from most of his civilian friends. Now that he's back home, he's finding it difficult to fit in and feels out of place, even in his own family.

Though he feels distanced from his family, he does manage to reconnect with his mom who is his biggest supporter. In a way, I think his mom draws strength from her son, which is a very interesting dynamic to witness. And I really loved Travis' new-found low tolerance for bullshit. When he realizes he is old enough to finally stand up to his bullying father and puts him in his (well-deserved) place, I wanted to cheer.

It was fascinating to read a book from a guy's point of view for once and I found both the characters and the story line to be very realistic. The love story is tender and touching without being sappy or over-the-top as Harper helps Travis deal with everything he's been through. I can't pretend to know what it's like to serve in the military, but I found this to be an interesting (fictional) look inside what many of our country's bravest face when returning home from war.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

You Against Me

You Against MeYou Against Me by Jenny Downham
Source: Purchased
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I could not wait to get my hands on this second book from Jenny Downham after reading her first, Before I Die. It took me about a week and a half to read this one -- not because I didn't like it, but because I didn't want it to end. Knowing the author doesn't have any others published (yet) certainly didn't help.

Just like Before I Die, this book does not deal with an easy subject. The story revolves around Mikey, the brother of a rape victim, Ellie, the sister of the alleged rapist, and the complicated web of relationships involving these two families.

This is another one of those books that really makes you think. You step into the lives of characters who are unflinchingly real and wonder what you would do if you were in their shoes. They are not perfect people and that's what really makes them come alive on the pages.

As you read, all sorts of questions will be flying through your head.  Just how far would you go to protect someone you loved? How important is family loyalty? What would it take for you to turn your back on your own family? When the pressure is on, would you do what is right or what is easy? Does love really conquer all?

Regarding the story itself, who's lying and who's telling the truth? Can a girl who's always been a goody-goody find the courage to start making some waves? And how does the guy who's always been a bit of a ladies-man, reconcile his own actions after his sister has been victimized?

If you want a fluffy summer read, this isn't it. If you want an intriguing and thoughtful book about people dealing with real issues, this IS the book for you.