Tag Archives: death

Dreamers Often Lie

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If I had to summarize this novel in a couple of words, it would be intensely trippy. Think Shakespeare and brain damage and hallucinations and then throw in the usual teenage angst and drama, and there you have it.

17-year-old Jaye doesn’t know how she ended up in a hospital bed with a blinding headache, but she’s pretty sure that characters from Shakespeare’s plays shouldn’t be there with her. So probably best not to tell anyone about that little problem. Her one pleasure in life right now is her work in the school play, so as the star of Midsummer Night’s Dream she has to convince her doctors and her family that she is ok to leave the hospital before she loses her prized role.

But she has personal demons to deal with on top of everything else. A broken family and feelings of loss and abandonment fuel her struggles. Her life becomes intertwined with Shakespeare’s plays and she can’t keep the two of them straight. Especially when Romeo walks into class on her first day back to school. Where does reality begin and fantasy end?

Jaye is a totally unreliable narrator, which has possibly become my favourite kind. I love getting into the head of someone who thinks completely differently than I. I even like that I don’t like her. She is extremely self-centred and immature. Where I do have a problem with her is the lack of growths she displays throughout the story.  Yes, she has a severe head injury, but it seems like it knocked all the sense out of her. She does not develop or change, and she doesn’t seem to learn from her mistakes, acknowledging them and then going on and repeating the same ones over and over again.

And although I understand why she wants to keep her hallucinations secret, and she is afraid of losing her role in the school play, that motivation loses it’s believability as the story continues. There is a certain point where you have to let it go. Certainly when you can no longer remember what role you are playing and in which play. At some point, healing has to become a priority. There is always another play.

The secondary characters are widely varied, and I found the real ones less believable than the hallucinated ones. Pierce is a bit of a sociopath, and it is never clear whether he is truthful or not. Does he actually like Jaye, or is it an ego thing? Is he telling her the truth about her dad? He is not a likeable character at all.  Jaye’s mother and sister are a bit one-dimensional, and her mother is not believable, letting her severely head-injured daughter call the shots about leaving the hospital and going to school.

But the way the Shakespearean characters randomly pop up throughout the novel is unexpected and creepy and so well done, keeping the line between fiction and reality blurred. Ophelia is awesome. She appears soaking wet and cold and white and her mind is distant and confused, straight out of the play. Hamlet fluctuates from mad to lucid and back with each appearance, talking to the ever-present skull, while the Bard himself personally questioned Jaye’s actual desire to return to full health.

The plot explores conflict of many kinds, including the dysfunction present in even a “perfect” family, Jaye’s troubled relationship with her father, her difficulty in facing that conflict, being torn between what you want and what you can have, and of course, reality versus fantasy.

And the storyline itself reflects Jaye’s state of mind. There are secrets and twists and confusion, building tension and leading to an… ending. The story just stops. And I’m not entirely sure what happened. Perhaps everyone died? Perhaps everyone lived happily ever after? It is certainly Romeo & Juliet-esque. (Oh! Maybe it is Newhart all over again! I jest. And show my age.)

I like this novel, but don’t love it. It is not for everyone. You must enjoy being off-balance to get the full effect.

Dreamers Often Lie was published April 5th, 2016 by Dial Books.

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Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia

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18-year-old Francesa “Frenchie” Garcia has been in love with Andy Cooper since the 9th grade. But no one knows about it, least of all Andy. When he finally pays attention to her, they spend the night having an adventure and talking about life. And then he goes home and kills himself. And Frenchie blames herself. Now she needs to face all the changes in her life, from the loss of Andy to the loss of a best friend and the loss of her carefully planned future.

To help her cope, she spends time in the cemetery by her house, watching funerals, thinking about the lives of those who have died, and talking to the ghost of Emily Dickenson, who is buried in a plot there. Not the Emily Dickinson, but a suitable substitute with the same name who can offer the same advice the poet would.

I went into this book completely blind. I have never read anything by the author before and randomly picked this book (gorgeous cover!) off a list for Latinx Heritage Month, posted by Naz at Read Diverse Books.  He has great recommendations, in-depth reviews, and tirelessly promotes diversity in literature.

Well, Jenny Torres Sanchez gets it right. She somehow manages to capture the anger and confusion and the weight of grief faced by someone dealing with the unexpected death of a loved one. It is a beautiful story of an artistic, unique individual who is fighting an enveloping darkness, unsure if she even wants to find the light again.

Frenchie Garcia is depressed and lonely and dealing with it badly. Honestly, I didn’t really like her in the beginning. I sympathized with her, I found her authentic and witty, but there was part of me that wanted to shake her and yell “dealing with death isn’t an excuse for being a bitch to everyone!”  But of course it is. And I think just about everyone understands that – when they know the root of the bitchiness. The problem is that Frenchie didn’t tell anyone she was depressed and hurting, she just became more and more a loner, and more and more sarcastic and a bit nasty to her friends. And while I would never judge anyone’s reaction to death – we all deal in our own way – she expected her friends to understand and be there for her when they didn’t even know she needed them.

But what is wonderful and beautiful is how she manages to pull herself back into the light. She develops into a character of strength and it isn’t always obvious that it will happen. She finds a way to come to terms with Andy’s death, and she starts by retracing the steps the two of them took on the night of their adventure together and accepting that maybe he wasn’t the seeker of truth and knowledge that he, and everyone else, made him out to be. And to do that, she needs someone to be her sidekick as she was Andy’s that night.

Enter Colin. Colin is lovely. Not that we get to see that part of him at first. But he is amused by Frenchie and attracted to her wit, rather than turned off by her harshness. From an outsider’s perspective, he can see that she is dealing with pain, whereas her friends perceive her behaviour as petty jealousy. (Which it is, don’t get me wrong. But we’ve all had a Joel in our lives, the one who dumps you as a friend as soon as he has a girlfriend. And then boomerangs back when she dumps him. Only to do it all over again with the next one…)

Joel and Robyn are the friends that deal with Frenchie as best they can all the while trying to move on with their own lives. And Lily is the girlfriend we all love to hate; beautiful, talented, sweet, and taking away Frenchie’s best friend without remorse or realization.

Frenchie’s parents are present in her life in a way that isn’t often portrayed in YA. Even though I don’t think we ever even learn their names, they are not absentee, she has boundaries and love, even when she thinks they don’t understand her. Like the other characters, they are authentic and powerful in their own way.

This is a lovely novel that deals with incredibly sensitive and heavy subject matter. Sanchez doesn’t dumb it down for her readers, not does she over-dramatize it. She treats suicide and grief and depression with respect and sensitivity, and this book will have you at turns angry and hopeful and terrified and ecstatic as  you tear through the pages. I loved it.

Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia was published May 28th, 2013 by Running Press Kids.

Reboot (Reboot #1)

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Now this is an original take on the zombie apocalypse.  

The world has been decimated by the KDH virus. It kills most people, but for some, usually the young and strong, it Reboots them, bringing them back stronger, more powerful, less bothered by emotions.

17-year-old Wren is a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation) in the Republic of Texas.  178 minutes after she was shot in the chest three times, she came back as a Reboot, not fully human, but not dead, either. The Reboots’ value is measured by the number of minutes it takes them to revive. Depending on how long they are dead, the less human they are when they return. As a soldier, fewer emotions and faster healing are optimal. This makes Wren a legend. She is a machine. They are known by their numbers and Wren 178 is the deadliest.

Wren’s job is rounding up and bringing in sick or criminal humans, all for the protection of the species. She also trains new Reboots, and as the highest number has her choice of new recruits. So how did she end up with Callum 22? He was barely dead long enough to qualify as a Reboot. But she takes him on, and in the process of training him discovers that her humanity is not as lost as she believes. And that maybe everything she has been told is not entirely the truth.

Wren is an interesting and complex character. Having been the deadliest Reboot for five years, she is cold and emotionless, and completely focused on her role. Told repeatedly that she is less than human, she accepts everything HARC tells as gospel. This is the only life she remembers.

Wren’s relationships with Callum and Ever are built up beautifully. Wren gradually discovers attraction and feelings for Callum, and in the process, realizes that that she can consider Ever a friend, something she hadn’t believed she was capable of before. She regains her humanity as the novel progresses, although I will admit that having the boy be the catalyst was a bit too easy. I would have liked to see her friendship with Ever be the reason she could fall for a boy, instead of her attraction to Callum her reason for returning Ever’s feelings. But that is a minor quibble for otherwise excellent character development.

Callum and Ever and Officer Leb make great contrasts to Wren’s emotionless state. None of them deal with her through fear, but acceptance, trust, and warmth.

The plot is interesting and fast paced; the action sequences fill the story and really set the tone. There is graphic violence, but it is not gratuitous to the storyline. What does stand out is the commentary on humanity’s inhumanity.  Differences are not celebrated but shunned and imprisoned. Fear is the prevalent emotion, not acceptance. Walls are built to keep the wealthy safe and the poor isolated. The Reboots are feared and enslaved. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Good world-building. Post-apocalyptic Texas is divided between the rich and the poor, the clean, well cared for homes and the dirty fenced-in slums. Amy Tintera does a fabulous job of bringing the reader through the dark, foul-scented streets where the impoverished and sick find shelter. The HARC building is a comfortable yet inpenetrable prison for the Reboots and the few glimpses they have of the outside world is usually in the dark on missions to extract the sick.

This is a really well-written, thought-provoking story, and it will be interesting to see where the sequel, Rebel, takes it. Definitely not for the squeamish, make sure you have a full evening free when you pick it up; you will not put it down until the last page is read.

Reboot was published May 7th, 2013 by HarperTeen.

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall

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After the death of her great-aunt Cordelia, the Piven family house now belongs to 17-year-old Delia. She and her family plan to spend the summer at the house, readying it for sale. Except when they arrive, they discover it isn’t just a house. It is the former Piven Institute for the Care and Correction of Troubled Females, known locally as “Hysteria Hall.”

And the house has plans of its own. It has a mission, a purpose: to keep troubled girls, some insane but some just strong-willed, locked away, even in death. And Delia has had a few troubles. The house wants her to stay. It goes to great lengths to keep her. Now Delia must find a way to make sure her little sister doesn’t get trapped as well.

I am on the fence about this one. It is very well written and entertaining, and there is a great twist just a few chapters in that I did not see coming, but I could never get emotionally involved in the story.

Main character Delia is real. She is a fabulous narrator for the story; neither bratty nor spoiled, she is funny and charming and still unsure of herself. Her voice made me laugh out loud throughout the novel. She has a touch of teenage defiance, just enough to get her into trouble and attract unwanted attention.

Her parents’ reaction to her defiance is a bit over the top for what she did. She was stupid, yes, but not exactly criminal. Delia’s reaction to her parents’ flip out, on the other hand, seems very realistic.

With that one exception, her parents seem genuine, and along with all the other characters in the novel, distinct and fun to read. The relationship between Delia and Janie, her five years younger sister, alternates between love and hatred. Your typical older-younger sister stuff. Her friendship with Nicole and relationship with ex-boyfriend Landon strike true. The ghosts, all of whom are from different decades of the institution’s history, cover the scale from happy and friendly to scared and shy to terrifying.

The setting is awesome. A haunted house? Love it. There is very little in this world creepier than an abandoned asylum. Filled with the ghosts of former residents who died there, Hysteria Hall has more than its share of both evil spirits and benevolent apparitions.

It is difficult to write a balance of humour and darkness without it feeling forced and false, but author Katie Alender somehow achieves that balance perfectly. And the ending could not be better.

Although it nicely fills the quota of creepiness and suspense, this is not a scary story. In the end, for all that I enjoyed reading it, I do want more. Maybe I am just heartless, but for a story with such great potential it needs more to suck me in. More horror. More emotion. There are places in the novel where I knew I should be in tears, be heartbroken, be terrified. It just didn’t happen. This is a like, not a love.

If you are easily scared, don’t read this one at night, when things go thump and bump. Just in case. But it is a nice daytime read for anyone.

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall was published August 25th, 2015 by Point.

The Silence of Six (SOS #1)

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What is the silence of six, and what are you going to do about it?

After hacking into the live-streaming Presidential debate at Granville High, and asking the candidates to answer the question, an anonymous member of hacker group Dramatis Personai kills himself on screen. Except he isn’t anonymous. Former hacker Max Stein recognizes him: 17 year old Evan Baxter, a genius hacker, code name ST0P, and Max’s best friend. And now dead.

Just moments before the hack, Max received an encrypted text from Evan, with an apology, a plea for help, and a warning. Post-hack, the government shut down the school’s wifi, confiscates the students’ technology, and sends them on their way. And all of a sudden Max is on the run, in danger and up to his neck in conspiracy, hacking, and privacy issues.

This story has everything.

Main characters Max and Penny are fantastic. And I didn’t like either of them, in the beginning. That changes as they develop throughout the story. Max has flaws, but he recognizes and tries to deal with them. Penny is a loner, ready to run, a hacker who knows she could be caught at any moment. But she learns to trust Max as he learns to trust her, and they form a strong team in their search for the information Evan left behind.

Evan, although he leaves the story early, is present throughout as the two hackers follow his clues and unravel the mystery that led to his death. His character is wonderful; diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is obsessive about privacy, organized, and loyal.

The plot is fast-paced and original. Author E.C. Myers not only gives the reader a thrill ride with high speed chases, men in black, genius teenage hackers, and just-in-time escapes, but also delves into the concept of privacy, and social media as a tool for gathering information and control. What is the connection?

The tech giant Panjea runs a Facebook-like site that connects users and gathers information. What is happening to this data? What is it being used for, and by whom?

The “anonymity is good, government is bad” message is a bit heavy handed, but does keep the narrative on track.

My one criticism of the novel is the info dump that seems to take place every time Max or Penny or anyone with a computer turns it on. Information is great. And I know next to nothing about coding and hacking, so a bit of knowledge is good. But even I don’t need to know absolutely every keystroke that Max takes to delete a file. Or download one.

The author has added an interesting dimension to the story with a website, a YouTube channel, a blog, and a tumblr account that appear in the book, although they have not been updated since early 2015. With a sequel in the works, however, this could change.

Keeping in mind the graphic description of Evan’s death in the first chapter of the book, The Silence of Six is still appropriate for the entire YA age range, and serves as an interesting commentary about what we choose to share online. It is original and exciting and makes you wish you could surf government servers just for fun.

The Silence of Six was published November 5th 2014 by Adaptive Books.

The Thing About Jellyfish

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Just before seventh grade begins, Suzy gets word that her former best friend died in a drowning accident.  Unable to process the news, she channels her guilt over her last hate-filled encounter with Franny, turning to silence to cope. She refuses to accept her mother’s explanation that, sometimes, things just happen, shuts everybody out and focuses on the cause of the accident.  Franny was an excellent swimmer, she couldn’t have just drowned.  It couldn’t just happen. There must be a reason.

Suzy is an outsider in grade six and seven.  A personality that was fascinating as a child becomes embarrassing and odd to her friend as the girls hit their pre-teen years. Her interest in science, in why things are as they are, in collecting and diseminating as much information about anything that strikes her fancy puts her at odds with the former tomboy who is starting to check out her reflection in the mirror, wear cute clothes, giggle over boys, and brush her hair between classes.

Suzy’s incredible six month journey through her grief tackles so much more than “merely” the death of a best friend.  Author Ali Benjamin uses the process to delve into the evolution that children go through in middle school, from child to pre-teen to teen. What happens when your best friend becomes one of the giggling girls more concerned with clothes and hair than chasing rainbows, what happens when you don’t change at the same pace, what happens when you search for your place in the world, and aren’t sure if it is where you want to be?  How do you handle the changes?

Benjamin perfectly captures this sense of isolation. Suzy’s attempts to bring order to chaos through immersing herself in fact and research, her commitment to silence, her need to control her environment, even her eventual acceptance, ring true to life.

The secondary characters also breathe realism into the story. Justin’s struggle with ADHD and his explanation of it to Suzy, Sarah’s approach to Suzy at the dance, Franny’s distance and cruelty as she tries to grow up, are all echoes of most middle school years.

Scientific facts about jellyfish and real life characters from the scientific community and pop culture are woven throughout the story, adding to the feeling that you may have lived this story yourself.

This middle grade novel does a fantastic job of tackling a difficult subject for any age.  It must be read with a box of tissues (or two) beside you, and your sarcastic husband in another room. Suzy’s journey back to life, along with her discovery that not all change is bad, is simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful.

The Thing About Jellyfish was published September 22nd 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Daughter of Deep Silence

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I’m the daughter of murdered parents.
I’m the friend of a dead girl.
I’m the lover of my enemy.
And I will have my revenge.

The Persephone has burned up while at sea, and gone to the ocean floor. Four people managed to escape the devastation that killed hundreds. Two of them are complicit in the mass murder, and lie to the world about the events. Unbeknownst to them, however, two others escape in a life boat. One dies after drifting at sea for seven days awaiting rescue. Only one, 14 year old Frances, is left to speak for the dead, but who will believe her?

Her best friend Libby died just hours before rescuers found them. Libby’s father, Cecil, crushed by his loss, believes Frances’ story and convinces her to become Libby, so that he can protect her.  Orphaned by the tragic events, she agrees, and switches identities with her best friend.  “Frances” is buried and mourned.

Four years later, her adopted father dies, and Frances/Libby makes her move.  She will avenge her parents’ and friend’s deaths.

I enjoyed this book, start to finish. It was a LOT of fun to read, but it was not the revenge story promised. In YA fiction, you expect more. There should have been more anger, more hatred, more desire for revenge, more cliffhangers and plot twists.  Instead it was less that, and more “I still want the boy I wanted four years ago, even though he might have had a hand in killing my parents.” So, not entirely believable.

Frances is an inconsistent character, and not really likeable, even though you would think she would be incredibly sympathetic. I never got the feeling that she connected with anyone, including the man who had saved her. The inconsistencies stood out far too much for me; she spent four years studying Libby’s life, becoming her, and then made obvious errors of behaviour, showing glaring omissions from what was supposed to be meticulous research.

The pacing is good, the flashbacks a bit repetitive but still work in the story. There is always action, with no lags or long periods where the reader has to wait for something to happen.  There is a twist, which is expected in a revenge/thriller type novel, but it is, unfortunately, ordinary.  It did not grab me and throw me against the back of my seat and make me reread pages, searching for clues.

With all that, it was a fun book to read.  Carrie Ryan is a gorgeous writer.  Her use of the language, her structure, everything is so well done that any flaws the plot might have are hidden by her ability to take you deep into her story.  The novel just did not challenge me the way I had hoped or expected.

So read it for fun. It is a fast one, good for an afternoon curled up with a cup of tea, when you have no desire to step foot outside the house. Although there is death and a bit of graphic description, it is appropriate for the entire age range of YA.

Daughter of Deep Silence is published Dutton Books for Young Readers.