Category Archives: Realistic Fiction
Audiobook: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch, published by Blackstone Audio Inc, March 26, 2013
Book Info: YA contemporary, purchased via Audible. Run time: 7 hrs, 51 mins. Read by: Tai Sammons. Also available in HC, 256 pages from St. Martin’s Griffin.
Rating: 5 / 5 Stars, Raw, emotional, and honest.
I read the book If You Find Me recently and was so impressed. I didn’t write up my thoughts on it right away though, so when I saw the audiobook I took the chance to experience the book with fresh ears. If You Find Me is Emily Murdoch’s debut novel and is heartfelt, harrowing, and lovely all at once. This is a tough issue book about abuse and survival that is hard to hear/read at times but very powerful and uplifting too. Tai Sammons’ narration makes the story feel even more realistic, and I noticed things I missed the first time I read the book.
If You Find Me is the story of 15-year-old Carey and her 5-year-old sister Jenessa. They live in the woods in a camper with their unstable mother who frequently leaves them alone to find drugs. Carey is more like a mother than a sister to Jenessa and they only have each other to rely on. One day, Carey’s father and a social worker suddenly appear to rescue them from the woods. Now they must adjust to life in the real world, including school, technology, what to wear, and how to act. But the woods still haunt them in various ways, and secrets can’t be kept forever.
Even though I’ve read the book and listened to the audiobook now, it’s still hard to put my thoughts into words. The descriptive writing would sometimes distract me with its elegance and I’d get lost in the story. Even though the subject matter is disturbing, Murdoch adds lighter moments like a new friend, or a cute dog, to brighten the mood. But at the same time there are certain recollections of Carey’s that hurt like a kick in the gut. The reader learns about Carey’s backstory through flashbacks that hint at the mystery behind Jenessa losing her voice.
Carey has an artistic spirit and a unique way of thinking and expressing herself. She is such a mature character, that it was easy to relate to her from one mother to another, even though she’s still a teen. The sisterly bond is strong understandably, and I rooted for them both to get some well-deserved peace and happiness. My heart soared with each small victory on their journey, and ached for the pain that lingered.
Tai Sammons’ reads the audiobook, and this is my first experience with her narration. Her dialect is spot on and she conveys Carey’s emotional state of being well. The book is set in Tennessee and Sammons’ gives the book an authentic feel with her Southern accent. Sammons’ gets to use her talents on different types of voices like the mean girl, authority figures, and a child’s voice for Jenessa. I’d listen to this narrator again- she delivers a strong, nuanced performance that made me feel all the emotions. Though the book is powerful on its own, the audiobook made me connect even more with the story.
If You Find Me is a great choice for realistic contemporary readers, and one you won’t want to put down. I’m looking forward to reading more from Emily Murdoch.
Where You Are by J.H. Trumble is the last book I read in 2012, and it’s a quietly powerful read. The subject matter is out of my comfort zone, and centers on a teacher-student romance, but I did find it completely absorbing. I like finding books that push my boundaries, and this forbidden love story certainly did give me a lot to ponder. Since I think Where You Are deserves more attention I’m going to attempt to put my thoughts into words.
This is the story of high school math teacher Andrew McNelis and his student, senior Robert Westfall. Andrew is gay but keeps his sexuality a secret at school. He was previously married and has a toddler (long story) and is an active dad. Robert is openly gay and is struggling with a family crisis – his father is dying of cancer. As one of Robert’s teachers, Andrew is aware of Robert’s family situation and offers support when Robert falls behind. Andrew tries to keep his distance as attraction develops between them, as the stakes are high for them both if the relationship goes public.
Andrew and Robert narrate alternating chapters. Trumble makes their voices unique, and the alternating POV gives additional insight into the character’s mindset. They both have challenges at home and school and their relationship is an escape. Andrew has to field advances from his ex and a female coworker. Meanwhile, Robert has other boy troubles and overbearing aunts making life difficult at home. They find solace in confiding to one another.
As a parent it made me uneasy to read about a romantic teacher-student relationship, but Trumble does make you want this couple to be together. It’s a little more palatable that the age difference is slim, as Andrew is in his mid twenties, and Robert is at the age of consent. It’s not the most moral situation, of course, and I kept thinking that it wouldn’t end well, but hoped that both would come out of the situation relatively unscathed.
This is a rich, realistic contemporary story with strong characters I grew attached to. There is a lot of dramatic tension that kept me hooked. The pacing is good, and the writing is strong and infused with emotion. I got very attached to the characters and so some of the scenes made me worried and uncomfortable for them. While the subject matter is mature, it is not too graphic for older teens. I finished this book on a plane and had a little book hangover where I wasn’t quite ready to move on to the next read.
I haven’t read Trumble’s other book, Don’t Let Me Go, though I understand there is at least one character that appears in both books. I’m definitely interested in catching up with that book and reading more from J.H. Trumble.
Astrid Jones is hiding a secret from her friends and family, and it’s eating away at her. Popping Rolaids helps some, but she has another habit to ease the burden. Astrid watches the planes fly by above her and sends love she has to spare to the passengers. She can’t trust the people around her to accept her as she is on the ground, including the secret that she’s questioning her sexuality. But the selfless act of sending love to strangers flying overhead is freeing to her. That the passengers actually receive the message is a quirky detail that let’s you know you’re reading an A.S. King book.
Astrid’s family moved from NYC to a small town where you run the risk of bullying if you are the least bit different. Astrid has feelings for another girl but is still processing her sexuality and not ready to confide in anyone, including her own gay (closeted) best friend. Even though Astrid’s mother considers herself a tolerant person, she contradicts herself frequently and Astrid finds it easier to pretend to be straight. But secrets don’t stay hidden forever.
Reading this book I was hoping so many times that Astrid would confide in her friends and family, especially when she was questioned directly about her sexuality. But this book did open my eyes to how difficult that is, and that everyone needs to do what feels right for them and on their own timetable. And I also liked the discussion about physical love and taking the time to get to know someone first. I enjoyed following Astrid’s journey and seeing her growth throughout the story. Considering all of the challenges she faced at home and at school she remained remarkably positive.
There is some quirkiness in the story as we see some of the passengers on the plane when they receive Astrid’s love from the ground and hear snippets of their stories, some of which mirror her own experiences. And, as Astrid is studying Socrates in Humanities, she invents the character of Frank Socrates. He’s someone who appears with a nod or a frown here and there during important moments in Astrid’s life. (He wants her to be honest too) I liked the whimsiness of the magical realism and it gave the heavy story a light touch.
I really liked this coming of age story, maybe even more than King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz. The story provided food for thought about labels and questioning and I found Astrid’s voice to be very authentic. Ask the Passengers is an emotional and ultimately hopeful story. I’m eager to catch up with King’s other books soon.
Ask the Passengers is A.S. King’s fourth novel and it came out in October 2012. I borrowed a copy from my local library, and renewed it twice. Sorry, library patrons! Read more about the book on Goodreads.
In What Happens Next, Cassidy (Sid) is hiding a secret that’s eating away at her quite literally. She suffers a traumatic event on a school ski trip and can’t bring herself to tell anyone about it. She becomes isolated from her friends and resorts to unhealthy methods of coping. A new friend (Corey) helps bring the light back into her life, though she still needs to face her demons eventually.
Sid’s story is hard to stomach at times, but I think that’s because it rings so true. She’s so vulnerable and it’s difficult to read about the sexual assault, even though the details are a mystery – the effect it leaves on Sid is shattering. Her already low self-esteem takes a beating, and she can’t deal with the event at all, choosing to punish herself instead. I wanted her to confide in the people in her life that obviously cared about her, but at the same time her behavior was understandable.
The voice of Sid is strong and complicated and heartbreaking. The things she goes through with her friends and the bullying and body image struggles are hard hitting but relatable and relevant. She puts on such a façade for the people around her that the whole book I was just waiting for her to finally crack.
The romance with Sid and Corey is very sweet, and Corey is a great guy for her, and came along at just the right time. I liked that both Sid and Corey have dealt with rumors and others incorrect perceptions of them and they can see past that with each other.
The difficult topics are addressed with sensitivity and realism. And I think a lot of girls reading this will be able to relate to Sid. I was happy with the book’s conclusion though I would have liked to follow the characters a little bit longer, maybe with an epilogue. So glad I read this one – Clayton is a great new voice in contemporary YA.
What Happens Next is Colleen Clayton’s debut novel and it came out in October 2012. I borrowed a copy from my local library, and I actually finished it before the due date! Read more about the book on Goodreads.
Book Info: Fiction, Audiobook received for review from Simon & Schuster Audio. Running time: 8 hrs, 37 mins. Read by: Rebekkah Ross. Also available in HC, 512 pages from Atria Books.
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
Shame on me for never having read an Ellen Hopkins book before! I’m so glad I finally remedied that with Collateral, a novel in verse about the effect the war has on soldiers and the loved ones they leave behind. It’s a heart-wrenching book that is hard to digest at times and the verse format makes the message resonate even more. The military theme is relevant and timely and I’m surprised we haven’t seen more books with this subject matter.
Collateral falls into the adult fiction category, but I read it thinking it was new adult and feel it fits that niche very well. There are definitely mature situations in terms of sex, drinking, and violence but nothing the new adult audience can’t handle. The characters are in their early twenties, in college, the workforce, and in the military. The book takes place over five years and four deployments, as we see the changes in Ashley and Cole individually and as a couple. The story alternates between the past and present throughout to give context to the relationship.
Ashley and her friend Darian are out in San Diego and meet two Marines. Ashley never thought she would fall for a soldier, but she has an immediate connection with Cole, and Darian and Spencer quickly become an item as well. They don’t get to see or talk to each other as often as they’d like considering the circumstances but try to make up for lost time when Cole is on leave. Cole and Ashley both write poetry and their poems are interspersed throughout the novel and further illustrate their state of mind.
It’s a hard road for Ashley as she misses Cole, and struggles to cope. Her commitment to the relationship is put to the test as the stresses put upon Cole and Ashley pull them further apart mentally as well as physically.
I listened to the audiobook of Collateral, narrated by Rebekkah Ross. This is my first experience with Ross as a narrator and I thought she did a great job connecting with the characters and conveying the appropriate tone. It was also my first time listening to a verse novel, though I love the format in print. Ideally I would have liked to have a copy in print to refer to to supplement the listening experience. Time jumps around a bit and sometimes that’s easier to follow in print, and I also wanted to see the verse in print as well. I have to say I was really hooked on the audio though and finished the 8.5-hour book in just a couple days.
Collateral is addictive and I was eager to get to the ending of Cole and Ashley’s story, and naturally due to the setting I was worried about how it would all turn out. The story had me on edge and fully absorbed. The book gave me a greater understanding of the sacrifices of everyone involved with the war effort, and I am in awe at Hopkins’ storytelling ability. Definitely looking forward to catching up on her other books. This is a good one for fans of heart-wrenching, meaty stories.
Book Info: YA Contemporary, Audiobook purchase from Audible. Running time: 6 hrs, 16 mins. Read by: Emma Galvin
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
Hold Still is the second book I’ve read by Nina LaCour, author of The Disenchantments. I liked the emotion and tone of that book so I’ve been meaning to circle back and read her debut novel for a while. Since Hold Still is a book about the aftermath of a suicide, it’s a heavy read that you have to be in the right mood to handle. Like many people, suicide has touched my life and I’ve felt the shock, grief and pain that come with it. LaCour paints a realistic, unflinching portrait of a girl who has lost her best friend to suicide and her journey to healing. It’s hard to digest at times, but it’s hopeful as well.
The story begins in Summer after Ingrid’s death, and takes us through Caitlin’s next school year. Caitlin is lost after losing her best friend, and just going through the motions to get through the day. Her passion for photography is lost and she withdraws from social activities. The only thing she has to grab onto is Ingrid’s journal that was left for Caitlin to find. She finds solace in the pages and a deeper understanding of her friend’s state of mind.
Caitlin’s world changes when she meets Dylan, a girl who’s new at school and doesn’t know all the history of Ingrid. It takes a while for Caitlin to let Dylan in, but as time goes on they become friends and help each other. Dylan is gay and has a girlfriend but is not a stereotypical gay best-friend sidekick. She is a standout character on her own and shown in a loving relationship with her girlfriend. It is interesting to hear Caitlin’s thoughts about whether Dylan and her girlfriend are allowed to have sleep-overs and the way she is able to express her curiosity to Dylan. I like how the author showed Caitlin slowly letting people into her life and that it’s OK to go on living. It all felt very realistic to me.
I listened to the audiobook, as read by Emma Galvin. I’ve mentioned before that she is one of my favorite YA narrators. She sounds like a young adult, which is half the battle, and conveys the right emotional intensity in all the books she reads. In Hold Still, Galvin becomes Caitlin and her pain comes through clearly. The only things missing from the audiobook are the pages of Ingrid’s journal and the artwork that is featured in the book. The best of both worlds would be to have a copy of the book for reference while you listen to the audiobook.
Though I was a little apprehensive about the subject matter of Hold Still, I ultimately found it to be a moving, insightful and hopeful read. And, I was surprised to see that the author actually is turning the book into a movie, funded as a Kickstarter project. You can read a more about it on the author’s blog here. Looking forward to checking out the movie and reading more from Nina LaCour.
Book Info: YA Contemporary, Purchased copy, PB 289 pages
Rating: 5 / 5 Stars
I’m on a contemporary kick right now so the release Live Through This came at just the right time. I enjoyed Mindi Scott’s first book Freefall last year, but I was really wowed by her sophomore book. I started reading it one night before bed, and before I knew it I looked at the clock and it was getting way too late and I reluctantly had to go to sleep. This book is a gripping and haunting read, and one of those you’ll want to read straight through to the end to find out what happens, so make sure you have a few uninterrupted hours of reading time before you start in.
Live Through This is a story close to the author’s heart and I think that’s why 15-year-old Coley’s story feels so authentic and powerful. The book covers a difficult subject that you don’t read too much in YA books – sexual abuse. It is a tense and uncomfortable read at times, but very worthwhile as well.
In Live Through This, Coley outwardly has a great life – good friends, a boy named Reece who is crazy about her, and she’s a top dancer on her school team. Just about the only problem anyone sees with her is that she had a falling out with her best friend Alejandra, and that’s creating tension in dance competitions. But what no one knows is the story of what’s going on behind closed doors- Coley is a victim of sexual abuse.
The reader doesn’t know who Coley’s abuser is until midway through the book, and that made me feel on edge, as my imagination was going overtime trying to figure it out. I really felt for Coley’s situation and could understand her complex emotions and reluctance to ask for help, given the circumstances. My heart just broke for her.
Though this is a heavy read, there are some very sweet moments as well. Reece is a really nice guy for Coley and they do this adorable thing where they say over the top song lyrics to each other in a flirty way, and bond over giraffes. Coley also has an awesome friend named Noah who provides some great one-liners.
If there’s one thing that I wanted more from this book, it’s that I wish it were a little longer and the ending was expanded upon. I’m still more than pleased, but I just cared for the characters and wanted the story to continue a while more.
I’m thankful that Mindi Scott wrote this book, and I hope it gets into the hands of YA’s that are in this tragic situation and gives them hope. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.
Edited to add: Hey, is there a Hole revival going on? Live Through This is the title of their critically acclaimed second album. And- this week on Glee, Brittany and Sam performed Hole’s Celebrity Skin. Music is not really a theme of the book, but I just thought it was interesting to mention.