Tag Archives: girls

Extraordinary Means


Extraordinary Means…  This story turns over and over in your head.  I read it a few days ago, but have had to sit on it for awhile.  It’s not a book that you want to rush to judgement on; my feelings for it have been all over the place since picking it up.

Type A-future-Wall Street-investor and super-nerd Lane is 17 years old and dealing with a new diagnosis of TDR-TB, or total drug resistant tuberculosis. He is sent to rehab at Latham House, part hospital and part boarding school, all sanatorium, and the only place where Lane discovers you can actually fail breakfast. And naptime.

On the first day, Lane recognizes a girl from camp. But instead of the brace-faced loner from his early teens, she has transformed in a beautiful, smart-aleck miscreant. She and her group of like-minded troublemakers draw Lane in like a magnet; he, who has never cared whether or not he “belongs” in his lifetime of overachieving, wants to become one of them. After a false start and the correction of a long held, if mistaken, grudge, he is absorbed into the mismatched group, and crosses more lines the first day than he has his entire existence.

Sadie, Nik, Charlie and Martina all have secrets, individually and as a group.  The black market smuggling ring, the illicit trips to Starbucks for butterbeer lattes (who knew?), juicebox vodka martinis and a general disregard for their own health and safety, just to name a few. They are, after all, teens. What could happen?

While normal teenage secrets and activities can sometimes be consequence free (beyond a hangover and a grounding), at Latham House, the fallout can be life-threatening. Lane and Sadie find each other, but TDR-TB has no sympathy for first love or teenage pranks.

Told in the alternating voices of Sadie and Lane, we see both sides of their relationship, and two views of illness. Both cope with love and loss so differently, so authentically.

Author Robyn Schneider has a degree in bioethics, and her knowledge and research are evident throughout the book. I had to do a bit of research myself after reading it, just to make sure it was, in fact, a story, and not real life. Scared the crap out of me, especially after I inhaled my tea by mistake and had a coughing fit lasting 20 minutes.

The story is set in a contemporary alternative reality.  All the terrible diseases we thought were eradicated have returned, and all are resistant to our former wonder drugs.  Polio, tuberculosis, Ebola, you name it. Back with a vengeance. And science cannot keep up.

The novel is dark, it is funny, it is heartbreaking.  It is about unlikely second chances, and what you make of them. It is the difference between being alive and living your life.

I wanted everyone to live happily ever after, with their time at Latham House an ever dwindling bad dream, until it became nostalgia.  But it can’t happen that way.

Read the author’s notes at the end; her explanation of how she came up with the story is fabulous. This novel is appropriate for all teens.

Extraordinary Means is published by Katherine Tegen Books.


5 to 1


Original.  Diverse.  Dystopian.  Gorgeous. Holly Bodger’s debut novel 5 to 1 is stunning. STUNNING.

The year is 2054, and India has a population problem.  Specifically, after decades of a one child policy that favoured boys over girls, there are five boys to every one girl.  Girls are now a hot commodity, and they have the power.

Woman, tired of selling off their daughters to the highest bidder, have seized control of the city of Koyanagar, surrounded it by a wall, and now make the men compete in Tests to earn a wife.  The fate of those who lose the Tests is kept vague.

The story is told from alternating perspectives, and alternating genres (free verse and prose!  Gorgeous!). Sudasa is 15 years old, and has come of age to choose her husband. She doesn’t want one. Kiran, contestant 5, is almost 18, and has been selected as a contestant in the Tests, competing for the opportunity to marry Sudasa and escape a life of poverty for one of privilege. He doesn’t want her, he wants freedom. As they try to outsmart each other at every twist and turn, it becomes apparent that maybe they do want the same thing, it’s just not each other.

I wasn’t sure that Sudasa’s story would develop well, as it is told in verse.  Little did I know. Her personality, her character were so rich and vivid, she could have been standing in front of me and telling me her story herself.

This is not a love story. There is no romance. It is a tale of two people fighting, separately, for a chance to live lives and destinies of their own choosing.

The world building in this novel was really interesting.  Women grabbing control and forming government and essentially turning men into chattel sounds empowering, but as you read deeper into the story, it becomes apparent that the evils of the past are not that far behind, and, in fact, are being repeated.

For a dystopian novel, this one does not rely on sci-fi or fantasy, as so many do.  Bodger’s use of Indian language and place names, along with the real problem of over-population, make this an eerily plausible story.  Would men sit idly by and watch as women took control of city and sealed it off?  I doubt it.  But that small implausibility does not make the rest of the novel less gripping.

If you are ever going to judge a book by it’s cover, this is the one.  What a heartstopping jacket. Based on that alone, pick this book up.

This is an easy read, one sitting, but you will want to return to it and reread it and soak in the words.  It is appropriate for all teens.

5 to 1 is published by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

How to Be Bad


Looking for something fun, that brings back teenage memories?  E. Lockhart understands, and joins fellow YA authors Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle to offer you How to Be Bad.  In a word, FABULOUS.  But one word is never enough, is it?

Think road trip.  Think stealing your mom’s ancient deathtrap of a car. Think best friends and boyfriends and new friends and bad food and tourist traps and bad weather.  Then add fights and hugs and understanding and yelling and silence, both awkward and comfortable.  Alligators, dead and alive.  Dumping your boyfriend because you are lonely and afraid. Picking a fight with your best friend because you can’t face what could be coming your way.

Niceville, Florida, to Miami, with detours along the way.  Vicks is the take-no-prisoner, self-assured girl whose boyfriend hasn’t called since he left for college two weeks ago.  Jesse is the judgy, tightbottomed Christian who is lashing out and running away, instead of facing a scary future.  And Mel is the new girl, desperate for friends and always the odd one out.  Together, they embark on a trip to find out why Brady hasn’t called, visit some tourist spots, and get a lot more than they bargained for along the way.

The girls learn that it’s not about the destination, it is how you get there.  Yes, possibly one of the oldest cliches out there, but so applicable, and so right.

How to Be Bad is told from the three points of view of the girls, with alternating chapters, each one offering her take on the experiences along the road.  It is fun and well written, and all three change over the road trip, believably, given their backgrounds and circumstances.  There are a lot of subplots, and the reader has to pay close attention to follow the different mini-stories going on throughout.

It isn’t going to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but three really good YA authors collaborated on a really good YA story, and I had a blast losing myself in it. It is an easy read, the characters are distinct, and the story provided a relaxing Saturday afternoon for me.

Any teen can read this.  Pretty sure the boys won’t be too interested, but the girls will dive right in.  Just don’t tell your daughter about the time(s) you did something similar.  She doesn’t need any ideas.

How to Be Bad is published by HarperTeen.

The Fourteenth Goldfish


Did you read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate?  I told you it was good, didn’t I?!  Picture it re-imagined for present day, and you have The Fourteenth Goldfish.  Mould and atomic bombs and fish scales and cheese.  And cooking and drama.  And a 76 year old teenager. If that isn’t the plot of Pulitzer, I don’t what is.

In an attempt to teach her young students about the circle of life, Ellie’s kindergarten teacher gave each child a goldfish.  Everyone’s fish died, except Ellie’s.  Her fish lived until Ellie’s 12th year. She thought. It turned out that her mother did NOT want her learning about the circle of life, and had been flushing and replacing them as they died.  All 13 of them.

Around this time, her 76 year old scientist grandfather came to live with them.  Except he’s not 76 anymore.  Following years of exhaustive research, he develops a way to reverse the aging process, and is now 13. And the cantankerous senior becomes the crabby teen.

This story is FUN.  But so much more than that.  Ellie’s new relationship with the grandfather she barely knew, her burgeoning discovery and love of science, and the maturity she gains through her new interests are wonderful themes running through the book.

As with Calpurnia and her grandfather, there is a wonderful relationship that develops between grandfather and granddaughter. In The Fourteenth Goldfish, they are forced to spend time together as Melvin re-enters middle school.  But their companionship becomes a choice. Like Walter, Melvin encourages scientific curiosity, showing Ellie how science is everywhere, even in cooking.

She, in turn, teaches him that while growing old might not be fun or easy, all stages of life are there to revere and celebrate, to learn from and pass along the lessons you have learned along the way.

Jennifer Holm writes a really fun, well developed story.  The characters come alive easily, and the reader is transported into the novel. Although aimed at 9-11 years old, this book is fantastic for all ages.  An easy read for those a little past the teen years, but with some good reminders and life lessons for us.

The Fourteenth Goldfish is published Random House.

Raina Telgemeier (author)


I think we assume that boys are the reluctant readers, and look to graphic novels to help encourage them to read.  We sometimes forget that there are girls to whom reading does not come naturally, either, or they just flat out don’t enjoy it.  Raina Telgemeier can change that with her autobiographical graphic novels.

These fantastic books for 9-11 year old girls will pretty much guarantee to turn a reluctant reader into one who is always pestering you for more trips to the library or book store.

Smile, Drama, Sisters, and now The Babysitters Club series are waiting for your daughter (and you!).  They are fun to read, and deal with relatable and relevant topics: the pre-teen horror of injuring your teeth and requiring braces, a retainer, and surgery;  all the ups and downs of putting on the middle school play, including budding romance;  and what happens when the baby sister you begged for turns out to be nothing like you imagined.

Read these with your daughter.  They are fun, charming and heartfelt, and you will laugh out loud at the memories they bring back.

Telgemeier’s books are published by Scholastic.



Laurie Halse Anderson does not write books that are easy or comfortable to read.  Speak was terrifying in its honesty and accuracy.  And Wintergirls is the same.  But if I say that I love reading YA fiction for the real way it makes me remember my teen years, the good and the bad, then I cannot shy away from the horrors that can, sadly, also be part of growing up.

Lia and Cassie grew up as the best of best friends.  They did everything together, which became their downfall.  After a summer at drama camp, Cassie came home with a plan to be skinny, and laxatives to help her get to her goal.  Lia followed along half heartedly, until New Year’s Eve and the promise they made to each other to be the two skinniest girls at school.  The pact does more than ruin their bodies; it tears apart their friendship.

Cassie takes it too far; her body is found in a room in a rundown motel, after a weekend of binging and purging.  After not speaking to her for months, she calls Lia from the room 33 times. Lia never picks up, unable to face her.  The next day, she learns of Cassie’s death.

Lia must come to terms with the loss of her former friend, and the guilt from not answering her phone.  Added to that is the guilt she feels for not letting Cassie escape the pact, when she tried to get better. Lia was afraid of doing it alone.

The news triggers her own disordered eating. Calories are counted and punishing exercise taken to burn away every weakness.  It engulfs her, even as Cassie’s ghost taunts and encourages, the way Lia did to her live friend.  But then, Lia is not alive, she “is a ghost with a beating heart.”

At no point in reading this story did I feel that Anderson was forcing her characters into any situation.  Everything flowed naturally and organically, without it seeming to force an ending – the story reached the natural conclusions for the characters. She writes incredibly haunting, real characters, without judgement about their struggle.  The battle for hope, through all the despair, was evident in her first person narrative, while the cross-outs, italics, and blank spaces in her prose evoke the torment that Lia felt in dealing with her own guilt and her own demons.

I cannot say that I liked this book, but can say that I could not put it down.

This is a tough book to read, but I believe appropriate for any teen.

Wintergirls is published by Penguin Young Readers Group.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette


After the last two posts, I needed to read something a little lighter and a lot of fun. Where’d You Go, Bernadette fills those requirements perfectly.  Funny and intelligent, Maria Semple’s words will have you laughing out loud.

But make no mistake.  This book has twists and turns that will have you re-reading paragraphs and wishing you could turn the pages more quickly, just to see what happens next.

Bernadette, Elgie and Bee live in a mouldy old fixer-upper mansion in Seattle.  It needs a LOT of work, and they had plans for it, when they moved in.  But nothing seems to get done.  Bernadette is a former eco-architect, who disappeared from the trade after winning a prestigious award, unable to handle what she had accomplished. Her techie husband is considered a god at Microsoft, her brilliant 15 year old daughter Bee earns a trip to Antarctica for her good grades, and obsessive and agoraphobic Bernadette has no idea which end is up.

Bernadette’s relationships are messy and out of control.  She cannot see issues from anyone else’s perspective, and constantly offends and annoys her uptight neighbours and fellow school moms.  It is not selfishness so much as closed off. She has an assistant she only communicates with by e-mail; a woman in India who bills her monthly for handling day to day issues.  You can guess how that ends.

Bernadette’s life is like an 18-wheeler gone off the road; she has been speeding along, on the edge for so long, that when it ends, it is spectacular.  Everyone wants to stop and take a look. So she does what has served her well (she thinks) in the past: she disappears.

Bee spends the book piecing together her mother’s story, through e-mails and letters, and her own guesswork.  Mistakes are made, misunderstandings abound, and lives are altered.  The story is told from various perspectives (hilarious!), with Bee’s voice weaving it all together.  Although the story centres around Bernadette, it is about Bee.  No one is perfect, but their love for each other triumphs.

The final piece of the puzzle will leave you cheering.

The characters are all larger than life, exaggerated, but still oh-so-human.  The conundrum Elgie finds himself in, with the conversations going on around him, are so so funny and clueless.  The exchanges between the school moms will make you howl (if you’ve ever been on a schoolyard with type A parents blowing sunshine, you will recognize them in Semple’s work).

You and your teens will love this one!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is published by Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company.