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I’m back! This weekend I submitted a crazy important paper in to my university, and now I’m just waiting to see if, basically, they think I’m ready to graduate. Based on that one paper. So you can see why I haven’t been around lately.

BUT in the midst of all that paper writing, I had to read several books for my internship (at PENGUIN!!!), including this gem of a novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door. LOVED it, and so will you.

 Speed Read:

Lola lives with her awesome adoptive dads in San Francisco. For her, every day is an opportunity for a fabulous, colorful outfit. Life seems peachy as she hangs out with her best friend, her older boyfriend, and her friends at her move theater job, until her old next door neighbors move back in. Instead of coasting through life with the perfect social circle, Lola is forced to deal with her feelings for the boy next door.

The Deal:

I LOVE LOLA! She is exactly who I want teenagers reading about. She isn’t afraid to be who she is (wigs and all), she loves her friends and family dearly, lives passionately, and feels emotions honestly. The best part? She isn’t perfect. Far from it. She gets teased because of her outfit choices and she may not have made the best choice of current boyfriends, but Lola keeps working through all the troubling parts of her life until she finds the right path. When was the last time you saw a purple-haired girl on the front of a teen novel? Or the last time a kinda nerdy boy was the heart-throb (and oh is he yummy)?

Stephanie Perkins’ last novel, Anna and the French Kiss is a companion novel to this one, meaning Anna and Etienne show up, a lot! Perkins isn’t afraid to write a lovely fairy tale, unabashedly writing swoony boys and picture perfect situations. Bedroom windows facing each other, anyone? You would think it would end up like that Taylor Swift video (ie: cheesalicious), but instead this novel is absolutely perfect. Kind of a like a caramel apple. Totally sweet on the outside, but with a good crunch and healthy bite on the inside. Read it. And start counting down the days until Stephanie Perkins’ third book comes out next fall!

How Far Should You Go:

For Stephanie Perkins’ last novel, I said not to compromise your integrity in order to get your hands on that book. For this one, go ahead and do it. Steal from children, cut off old people on the side walk, run red lights. You want to read it. It’s lovely and light and amazing and fun. Trust me.

The 13/16 Test:

Sixteen isn’t actually sixteen anymore, but whatever. The purpose still stands.

Oh yeah, they’re both good. Another thing I love about Stephanie Perkins. She manages to convey all those teenagery emotions and feelings without having to say every single thing on the page. A sixteen-year-old may have a different experience with this book than a thirteen-year-old, and that is a wonderful achievement.

The Low Down:

Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Published: September 29th, 2011
Classified as: Young Adult

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There’s no excuse. Let me just say the last two weeks have knocked the wind out of me, but I’m getting back on top of it. To make up for it, I’m reviewing an absolutely killer book, just in time for its paperback release tomorrow. Enjoy!

 

Speed Read:

The two desires struggle within me: the desire to be safe, and the desire to know. I cannot tell which one will win.

Cassia lives in a perfect world. Her entire life is mapped out before her, perfectly individualized to suit her wants and needs. From the moment she was born, every fact about her was filed into the system, allowing officials to know the likelihood of each of her choices and reactions, from how she would deal with the first day of kindergarten to the probability that she would choose the green dress on the night of her Match. That’s how she knows that her Match, the person selected by the Society for her to marry, will make her happy. When it turns out to be her best friend, Xander, she couldn’t be more excited.

Except.

Something happens, and it makes her doubt everything she’s ever believed in. Who is she? And what is this Society she lives in? Even when everything is crafted to give each person the best life possible, would having a choice ultimately be better?

Bonus: Book trailer!

The Deal:

I’m not sure if this is blasphemous to the YA literary community or not, but Matched was, dare I say it, better than The Hunger Games. I know. Take a second.

The thing is, I love action. But for me, the whole point of a dystopian novel is the world building. As much as I lovedThe Hunger Games, it lost the magical-ness once it became more about the war and less about the subtle commentary on our current and projected society. Plus, the love triangle really annoyed me.

Actually, more on that. Finally, finally a love triangle I can get behind! I couldn’t stand Bella/Jacob/Edward. Didn’t see the point of Katniss/Peeta/Gale. But Cassia/Xander/Ky? Sign me up. This is a girl who’s love triangle actually stands for something. Easy, legitimate happiness? Or scary, but possibly huge and life changing love? Her choices make sense, her feelings have time to grow, and her emotions actually seem legitimate. I mean, I never really like love triangles because it’s like, most high school girls just want one guy to ask them out. It’s kind of ridiculous to have such a high percentage of heroines with two guys pining for her. Plus, I just don’t buy that both guys always are so in love with the girl that they wouldn’t just move on. Teenage guys can be pretty lazy when it comes to dating. But I digress.

Ally Condie has written an incredible story. It’s almost unclear whether the Society is Dystopian or Utopian, even Cassia can’t really figure it out, and in some ways, the Society is appealing. With technology, they are able to accurately predict every choice someone will make, giving the Society the ability to arrange a happy, fulfilling life for each person without the havoc of free choice. I can’t imagine giving up having free choice now, but if I’d grown up with it, like Cassia? I think I would be fine having my perfect life mapped out for me. Aside from the wonderfully unique world, Condie’s writing is subtle and detailed, revealing that there is a lot going on below the surface that we haven’t found out about yet. The sequel Crossed comes out November 1st (shhhh, but I get to read it this week! I’ll let you know how it is), and I am SO EXCITED! I have high hopes for the continued excellence of the series.

How Far Should You Go:

So it’s the night of your Match. You’re about to find out who your hubby will be for the rest of your life. This is the person you’re going to have children with, who you’ll live with, who will share in your rewards and punishments alike. If he becomes an Aberration, so do you. If you become, heavens forbid, an Anomaly, he goes with you. This. Is. Huge. But then, they tell you, you can read Matched and wait another year to find out your Match, or you can give up the chance to ever read Matched and find out your Match right now.

Wait the year. Read the book. You’ll both understand this crazy scenario and my reasoning behind loving it so much. And you might reconsider your blind love of that Society that rules your life.

The 13/16 Test:

They’re both good. This is one of those beautifully crafted books that doesn’t condescend to young adult readers at all, but doesn’t resort to a lot of explicit wording or situations to do it. Not many authors can pull it off, and Cassia’s story didn’t really require anything too mature, so this one is a nearly perfect example of a great YA book.

The Low Down:

Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Published: September 20th, 2011
Classified as: Young Adult

I have a deep, deep devotion to my favorite book, Looking for Alaska. It has been my answer to the “what’s your favorite book” question for about four years, and I attribute a good chunk of my desire to work in children’s books and YA Lit to it. So when I say that The Sky is Everywhere may be as good as Alaska, it’s kind of a big deal.

Speed Read:

     And then we are wrestling and laughing and it’s many, many minutes before I remember that my sister has died.

Lennie’s sister has died, and she doesn’t know how to grieve. Her grandmother seems to have gone a little crazy and her uncle spends his days smoking a lot of weed and her best friend doesn’t seem to be on the same plane anymore. Lennie deals by wearing her sister’s clothing and hanging out with her sister’s boyfriend, as if the things she left behind can bring her back. When she meets Joe Fontaine, seemingly the happiest person in the world, she starts to realize that life really will go on without Bailey. All she has to do is make the choice.

The Deal:

The Sky is Everywhere could have easily fallen into a melodramatic, weepy trance about two words into the first chapter. It’s about a little sister who loses the light of her life and anchor, and is left to figure out grief, love, and life on her own. It’s even hard to summarize this book without feeling a little cheesy.

But that’s what’s so incredible. Jandy Nelson took this difficult topic and turned it into a work of art. It’s a pretty typical teenage story – girl must choose between two guys – but the added emotion from her sister’s death amps everything up to high volume, and believably so. For once, a character who’s self-esteem is low in believable ways. Also,  I’m in love with the writing and I love Lennie’s voice:

Before he finally hops on his board, he hugs me good-bye and we hold on to each other so tightly under the sad, starless sky that for a moment I feel as if our heartbreak were one instead of two.

and

He can’t stop smiling at his brothers, who are pounding their guitars into notes so ferocious they could probably overthrow the government.

and

I want to hurl a building at God.

Ok, ok, I’ll stop. But you see? Sigh. The best.

How Far Should You Go:

So someone has built a fortress out of tiny legos. Millions and trillions of tiny legos and in the middle of the fortress is this book. The only way to read it is to pry apart each of the tiny legos and tunnel to the center, taking the time to wedge your fingernails in between each teeny brick and make a hole until you find it in the center. And they give you a choice. Do it, or never get to read The Sky is Everywhere. You should do it.

The 13/16 Test:

Fine and fine. There is some sexy talk in the book, but it’s nothing Thirteen doesn’t already know about, and it’s all based on mature relationships and all that jazz.

The Low Down:

The Sky is Everywhere
Author: Jandy Nelson
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Published: March 22nd, 2011
Classified as: Young Adult

So I know y’all follow my blog religiously and you know I read this book while at the beach a week and a half ago (sorry for the delay, I was knocked out by a vicious virus for a few days). It didn’t disappoint!

Speed Read:

Something terrible has happened. Anna’s parents have sent her to boarding school in Paris.

Ok, ok. I know. Bear with me, I swear it’s worse than it sounds.

Then, when she gets there, she meets this absolutely dreamy guy, Etienne, who jokes around with her and orders her lunch in French for her (due to her lack of speaking French) and shows her around Paris and becomes her best friend. But he has a girlfriend. And then other stuff happens and the world just wants to keep them apart and Anna doesn’t know what to do.

   The Deal:

Ok so in retrospect Anna and the French Kiss sounds a lot like Twilight. Girl has to move somewhere beautiful against her will. Girl meets amazing guy who quickly falls for her but is off limits. Girl must decide How To Deal. But where Twilight is about whirlwind romance between two people that have almost nothing in common, Anna and Etienne get to know each other slowly. Their relationship builds over time, and the circumstances keeping them apart are actually understandable. While it’s totally swoony and awesome, it’s also not out of the range of emotional possibility for high schoolers. Ah, refreshing.

Also, Anna is kickass. She isn’t preoccupied by her looks (except to debate bleaching a stripe in her hair…sweet), she’s funny, and she loves her family dearly. She is insecure about the things that actually matter, like if the people at her new school will like her or if her little brother will forget her. I was totally routing for her, and I cannot WAIT for Stephanie Perkins’ next book, Lola and The Boy Next Door, coming out this fall!

How Far Should You Go:

If you open up your locker one day to a mysterious note saying that the last copy of this book is somewhere in Paris and you have to find it if you ever want to read it, don’t hesitate to steal your parent’s credit card to buy that plane ticket. I mean, if you get there and a small child already has it and they are clinging to it for dear life, don’t sacrifice your integrity to steal it, but do everything you can to be the first one to get there.

The 13/16 Test:

Everyone’s good. I’ll probably actually lend it to Thirteen when I see her next.

The Low Down:

Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Speak
Published: August 4th, 2011
Classified as: Young Adult

I was so excited to see this book lying around at my internship. The premise is amazing, Nove Ren Suma’s agent is great (and works for the company I intern for), and I so so so admire the editor of Dutton, so I knew it was going to be incredible. It did not disappoint!

Speed Read:

   It sounded impossible, something no one would believe if anyone but Ruby were the one to tell it. But Ruby was right: The body found that night wouldn’t be, couldn’t be mine.

Chloe left her small, mountain town two years ago after a terrible summer night at the reservoir. A girl died, and Chloe left, leaving her older sister, Ruby, behind. Now, Ruby has come to get her back, at least for the summer, and so Chloe returns to the town where it all happened.

Everything is the same. Her sister is still the center of the town’s attention, able to convince anyone to do her bidding with a quick smile. Chloe’s mother is still drunk, hanging around at the only bar in town. Everything is how she left it, even the things that should have been gone a long time ago.

 

The Deal:

Ok I thought Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was freaky, and then I read this book. Peculiar Children was in-your-face creepy, like watching Psycho. Imaginary Girls was more like The Sixth Sense…you’re watching and watching and suddenly you realize you’re completely freaked out and you don’t know when it happened and then it ends and you’re left by yourself with a little bit of an eerie feeling that makes you keep looking back over your shoulder in case someone is there.

But don’t worry, I just looked, and we’re all good. I mean, I am. You probably are.

But just like The Sixth Sense, this book is beautifully crafted, one of those stories that’s good aside from the creep factor. The writing is creative and spare, and Ruby is a wonderful, larger-than-life character that fills up the pages to their very edges. That said, I think it’s going to be a book that people either love or hate. It’s surrealism is part of it’s appeal, but I can see how it might be frustrating for readers who like their books a little…neater. This one leaves a lot up to the reader, which means a greater closeness to the book, its characters, and the world they live in, but can also mean it’s not as easy to breeze through and leave behind you. The story will stay with you, for good or bad.

How Far Should You Go:

There’s this really creepy place in my hometown, all windy roads and overhanging trees and shadows, where crazy teenagers go and dare each other to get out of the car. You know, “I dare you to run to that mailbox in front of the abandoned mental hospital,” or “I bet you won’t last four steps to that creepy ramshackle hut with the light on inside.” I was the girl who would never unbuckle seatbelt, let alone set foot outside the safe confines of the car, but for this book, I’d run all the way up to the abandoned mental hospital and might even touch the doorknob.

The 13/16 Test:

Fine for Sixteen, but I think Thirteen should wait a year. Maybe next summer, before she starts high school? I think any of the different factors by themselves would be fine, but add a creepy dead girl sitch, a high school girl with, shall we say, challenging parents, and an older sister who didn’t have much guidance growing up and it just gets to be a little too much for a thirteen-year-old at times. Next year, for sure.

The Low Down:

Imaginary Girls
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Published: June 14th, 2011
Classified as: Young Adult

As I figure out my blog, I’m trying out new names and timing for different posts, hopefully to keep from having a run of nothing but reviews, then nothing but recommendations, then nothing but existential rants. Maybe adding days of the week to titles will help me get organized?

For my first Monday Review, which, predictably, means you can rely on having a review of a YA book every Monday, I’m talking about Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson’s heartbreaking novel about a girl with anorexia.

Speed Read:

       …When I was a real girl, my best friend was named Cassandra Jane Parrish.

Lia is a Wintergirl. Not quite alive, not quite dead, she monitors her calorie intake with precision and weighs down her body with quarters sewn into her jacket and gallons of water gulped before weigh-ins. She is anorexic, has already completed one stint in rehab, and is on her way to fooling everyone that she is A-OK.

Then, her ex-best friend dies from organ failure. Lia and Cassandra made a pact when they were thirteen to always be the skinniest, and always be the best at controlling their weight. Between then and now, they’ve grown apart but their eating disorders, anorexia for Lia and bulimia for Cassandra, have stayed with each of them. Now, Cassandra is dead and Lia might be next if she keeps on the way she’s going.

But it’s not so easy to just turn around and stop be anorexic, even when her best friend is dead from the very thing that is killing Lia.

The Deal:

I’m not sure I truly understood what a brave book is until reading this one. When it comes to eating disorders in books, there tends to be a “right way” for a character to have an eating disorder, which is to say that the character must hate themselves for it, must consciously struggle against it, and must absolutely understand that the way they treat food is wrong and devastatingly dangerous. Unfortunately, that’s not how thought processes work in real life, which is what makes eating disorders so dangerous.

Laurie Halse Anderson didn’t shy away from really digging into Lia’s mind, courageously writing sentences like:

“Who wants to recover? It took me years to get that tiny. I wasn’t sick; I was strong.” 

A lot of people have taken issue with the fact that Lia is so brazenly against recovery at the beginning of the novel, but it adds a depth and stunning realism that makes her story all the more tragic. Her voice is one of the strongest in YA literature, bringing forth her exhaustion, her sarcasm, her intellect, and her wry observation without seeming heavy handed, and Anderson lets us see enough of Lia’s journey to understand more about eating disorders and the destruction they wreak on bodies. A truly beautiful work that is the definition of courage in it’s story, it’s main character, and the author who wrote it.

Bonus: Book Trailer! Yep, it’s silent. Kind of fittingly eerie.

Aaaaand an interview with Laurie Halse Anderson about her inspiration for the book!

 

How Far Should You Go:

So it’s December 21st, 2012, and it turns out that the end of the Mayan calendar wasn’t just laziness after all. Everyone is getting on space ships that the Russian government has been hoarding for years so that we can get off Earth before it implodes, but because of limited space you’re only allowed to take one item. If the above sounds appealing to you, I can safely recommend that the one item you take should be this book. It’s beautiful and written almost like poetry, so future human civilizations will know the power of the well written word, and it addresses an issue that, unfortunately, will pervade as long as a certain type of body is valued above healthiness, so it’s good to have around for that. Basically, beauty+brains…no way you can leave it behind on Earth.

The 13/16 Test:

I won’t lie, it’s an intense book, but it’s not intense because of anything that is technically too mature for a twelve-year-old, it’s just very straight forward and tackles the issue head on. As hard as Wintergirls was for me to read, I would definitely give it to an eighth grader. I don’t know of many girls who didn’t know a girl with some type of eating disorder from eighth grade on. I’ve been friends with them, I’ve heard about them, and I’ve had dangerous eating habits at times in my own life, so I think this one is required reading for all of us. Hopefully one day we’ll value it just for the amazing writing, and marvel at the sad reality that was body image in the beginning of the 21st Century.

The Low Down:

Wintergirls
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Published: March 19th, 2009
Classified as: Young Adult

Sara Zarr’s next book, How to Save a Life is now available for pre-order! So excited. To honor the occasion, I thought I’d review my favorite book of hers, Once Was Lost, recommended to me by her agent, who works where I intern.

Speed Read:

Ok so Sam is the pastor’s daughter with an alcoholic father and not a lot of friends. It’s not that she’s shy or doesn’t want friends or is weird or anything, it’s just hard being the pastor’s daughter in a small town. And not even because people are again religion. It’s that everyone her age is so afraid that the pastor of their church will find out if they try a beer or get to second base or drive before they have their license, that they’re kind of afraid of Sam. Then a young girl goes missing, and Sam finds herself struggling not only with her family, but with her faith, her belief in humanity, and the community that surrounds her.

The Deal:

This book is like if 7th Heaven were actually plausible and good, instead of crazy (remember Mary? Drinking, drugged out, sexaholic Mary? And her name is Mary? Yeah). After reading this book, I’m not quite sure why I always bought that everyone wanted to be friends with the Camden kids when they lived in such a small town. Hello? Why would they be so chill with their priest finding them making out in the living room? (Also, who makes out so much in front of their parents?).

Oh man, I digress. My bad.

MY POINT IS that Sara Zarr’s writing is truly original, with a wonderfully present voice and a way of making the you feel that you’re not only reading the story, but a part of it. Sam’s story takes place over the summer, during a heat wave, and there’s something about the way Sara writes that makes the entire book feel like it’s weighted down under 100 degree weather. I kept feeling the need for a tall glass of ice water while I was reading it. Sam’s voice is wonderfully spare, leaving you with the opportunity to really get to know her through her thoughts and actions, instead of a narrator that just tells you how they feel. Her journey is relevant and left unfinished, which I love, since who figures everything out as a teenager anyway? Who figures everything out, ever?

How Far Should You Go:

I tried to come up with some sort of analogy that doesn’t have to do with heat, but since it’s a heat index of 112 outside….yeah. Not much else happening in my brain right now except, PLEASE GOD LET TOMORROW BE COOLER. That said, I would totally recommend going outside and baking if it means you get to read this book. Don’t kill yourself by heatstroke, I mean, god, take a water bottle, but serious discomfort isn’t too much to ask for this one.

The 13/16 Test:

They’re both good. It tackles some hard hitting “who am I” type of stuff, but nothing out of range for any YAers!

The Low Down:

Once Was Lost
Author: Sara Zarr
Publisher: Little, Brown
Published: October 1, 2009
Classified as: Young Adult

I almost didn’t read this one because of the atrocious cover (why did they feel the need to not only photoshop in an eyebrow piercing, but color her eyes to an alien blue?), but I’m glad I overcame my judgy-ness.

Speed Read:

Meg is a badass rebel teen who just wants out of her small town. Or at least, that’s the front she’s putting on for everyone, including herself. But intense claustrophobia + meaningless sex + blue hair that she doesn’t seem to like very much does not well adjusted make. After she gets caught sneaking onto a forbidden bridge, the same bridge where two teens were killed about a decade before, she’s forced not only to ride around in a cop car for a week to learn her lesson, but to confront her fears, her past, and whether she’s going to make it to the future.

The Deal:

Jennifer Echols. Hmmm. Jennifer. Echols.

I’m trying to figure out how much I like your book.

The writing is solid, with a snarky, hilarious, bad girl main character that is rarely seen in the romancy/teen genre like this. It was a breath of fresh air, and I totally believed that Meg’s life would have led her up to this point. What I didn’t believe was that everything that happened would have happened in that one week.

I wish it had taken place over an entire summer instead of spring break. I would have believed the relationships that fostered, and I would have believed Meg’s growth. Five nights is just not enough for all of that to happen, especially with such a crippling physical manifestation of her fears through claustrophobia and fainting. It’s possible that she would have been able to overcome it over the course of a summer, but even then, I’m skeptical.

I was also on the fence about her love interest, John. He knows he has a temper issue, but I don’t get why he would be so uptight about his friends being around Meg. It was borderline not-ok for me, reading it, and I found it unlikely that Meg would put up with his ridiculousness in that regard as much as she did. Even more frustrating, at several instances she found it cute. While I am fully aware that many girls find the overbearing actions of guys adorable, I just didn’t buy it for Meg. This girl is independent, strong, claustrophobic in every way possible. I’m not sure she would be comfortable with a guy trying to dictate who she can and cannot talk to and where she can and cannot go, even if he’s doing it for her own safety (real safety, not Edward Cullenhand’s shenanigans).

That said, once I put that aside and decided to just go for it, it’s a really lovely book. Even though Meg’s emotional journey takes place rather suddenly, it’s a believable transformation in and of itself. Refreshing also to see a relationship where both parties help each other to move on from their stuck state, rather than a magical boy or girl appearing and fixing all that is wrong with the main character. Each of their lessons were a little heavy handed, but I believe it’s only because they were under a time crunch. They had about six days to learn all of this, people! There isn’t much room for subtlety in a schedule that tight.

How Far Should You Go:

Ok, so say someone comes up to you holding a copy of this book, and it’s the hottest week of the year, and they say you can have the book if you forgo A/C for the amount of time it takes you to read it. I say go for it. Do not, I repeat, do not trade an entire summer of A/C for this book, so if you’re a painfully slow reader, this isn’t a good analogy. But if it’ll take you less than a week (which it should, it’s smallish and square-ish and the font is large-ish), then that’s a fair trade. Definitely don’t do anything crazy like give up slushies until Labor Day or anything.

The 13/16 Test:

Sixteen is fine, but definitely no for Thirteen. Meg is a troubled teen, and she’s familiar with all things sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Nothing too terrible or graphic, and even though I know logically that it probably (sadly) wouldn’t be over Thirteen’s head, in an ideal world I would hope she wouldn’t understand everything Meg experiences, so I’m not going to be the one to hand it to her just yet.

The Low Down:

Going Too Far
Author: Jennifer Echols
Publisher: Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster)
Published: March 17th, 2009
Classified as: Young Adult

As hard as I try, I keep gravitating to all these admittedly depressing books. This one, though, is so totally worth the sweat and tears (there was no blood, promise) to get through it.

Speed Read:

Pretty much all you need to know is this: Tessa has cancer and it’s getting worse. She comes up with a list of things she wants to do before she dies. Have sex. Do drugs. Say yes to absolutely everything for a day. But there are several things she didn’t bargain for. She didn’t think her mother would come back into their lives like she does. She didn’t think her best friend would get into the trouble that she does. And she didn’t know she would start talking to the boy next door.

The Deal:

This may be one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. I really wish I’d gotten this one on my kindle, so I didn’t have to keep flipping through the entire book to find the sections I want to read again. Reading this work is like reading song or poetry, but in book form and seemingly never ending. Gorgeous and strange and strong:

“Indoors they’ll be dealing out the cards and passing round the peanuts, but out here, each blade of grass glistens, spiked by frost. Out here, the sky’s packed full of stars, like something from a fairy-tale. Even the moon looks stunned.

I squash windfalls under my boots on my way to the apple tree. I touch the twists in the trunk, trying to feel its bruised slate colour through my fingers. A few leaves hang damply in the branches. A handful of withered apples turn to rust.

Cal says that humans are made from the nuclear ash of dead stars. He say that when I die, I’ll return to dust, glitter, rain. If that’s true, I want to be buried right here under this tree. Its roots will reach into the soft mess of my body and suck me dry. I’ll be reformed as apple blossom. I’ll drift down in the spring like confetti and cling to my family’s shoes. They’ll carry me in their pockets, scatter the subtle silk of me across their pillows to help them sleep. What dreams will they have then?”

See? Lovely. And the story itself is so well done, so tragic and real. I’ve read a lot of deathy books, and this definitely ranks among the best. Bonus: Jenny Downham is coming out with another book in September!

How Far Should You Go:

Everything. Spend years writing an epic poem, donate all of your money to St. Jude’s, sit in a room by yourself for a while and think about the truly true meaning of life, no matter how hard it may be. Confront your fears head on. This book will be waiting for you on the other side.

The 13/16 Test:

Sixteen’s totally fine. I’m betting she’ll read it! Thirteen…next year, for sure. She probably could read it now, but I think she’ll get more out of it if she waits a little longer.

The Low Down:

Before I Die
Author: Jenny Downham
Publisher: Ember
Published: May 26th, 2009
Classified as: Young Adult

You know I had Sarah Dessen all lined up on my Kindle as soon as I heard her next book was coming out. And it was delivered overnight! Like Santa Clause! The best.

Speed Read:

McClean’s family is crazy into basketball team of the university of their town. As in, go to all the games, know every player, every play, and get way overexcited when the new coach starts to come to their family restaurant. But then it turns out he has been getting way too close to McClean’s mom, and she’s going to leave McClean’s dad to marry the coach and have babies. Ouch.

Now, McClean and her dad move from town to town, while he fixes up restaurants and she invents a new personality for herself at each stop. Except now, in this newest town, fate steps in and McClean has to step up to who she really is, adulterous mother and all.

The Deal:

Ok. Sarah Dessen, I love you like nobody’s business. You represent teenagerness to me. Your books, the beach, and a giant bag of salt and vinegar chips. I mean, not like anything has changed. I’m fully intending on bringing This Lullabye and a bag of Kettle chips to the beach with me this weekend. And I still wish one of your boys (maybe Norman or Dexter please?) would magically appear at my work one day holding an ice cream cone.

But.

I hate to do this! But I just didn’t really like McClean all that much! I mean, I liked all of the secondary characters, and I liked the restaurant thing, and I liked that we were back in Lakeview, but I just…McClean seemed kind of like a mashup of all of Dessen’s previous characters. She kind of got mad at her mom, but not really. She kind of is nice, but not really, but she’s not really feisty or witty either. Who is she? It’s not like hanging out with some of Dessen’s previous characters, who have heart and depth. And at this point, the whole present an ongoing conflict and then new people in the character’s life who will help her overcome it is getting a little formulaic.

That said, this is still Sarah Dessen. I hold her to a higher standard than many other authors, because she rocks. Her writing is graceful and her world so real. Her characters encounter real life problems that everyone encounters. Not everyone deals with anorexia or a parent who struggles with addiction or a death in the family when they are sixteen. But a lot of people deal with distant parents, or divorce, or moving to a new town and wanting to be a completely different person.

How Far Should You Go:

Nothing dangerous or illegal for this one, folks. But if someone asks you to like, attempt to stand on your head or put twenty grapes in your mouth in exchange for this book, totally do it. It’s a fun, lovable read. It’s by Sarah Dessen. And it’s June, so it’s perfect for summer. I would probably even go back to driving my little sister around for a day or two if it meant I could read this book. But I wouldn’t run any stop signs or anything.

The 13/16 Test:

Everyone can read Sarah Dessen. Come on. Well, the entire spectrum of YA people. Meaning 12-18 year olds. Meaning both Sixteen and Thirteen are good. Glad we got that covered.

The Low Down:

What Happened to Goodbye
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Viking Juvenile (Penguin)
Published: May 10th, 2011
Classified as: Young Adult