ARC Review: Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy & OliverTitle: Emmy & Oliver

Author: Robin Benway

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance

Publisher: HarperTeen

Release Date: June 23, 2015

Source: E-Galley from Edelweiss

I’ve been on this kick lately where I’m reading contemporary romances. I don’t know why. I don’t usually like that kind of book, especially since I’m kind of still recovering from a break up. However, this was just too stinking cute. Here’s your synopsis from Amazon:

Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. In Emmy’s soul, despite the space and time between them, their connection has never been severed. But is their story still written in the stars? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles—impossible to fit together?

Emmy just wants to be in charge of her own life. . . . She wants to stay out late, surf her favorite beach—go anywhere without her parents’ relentless worrying. But Emmy’s parents can’t seem to let her grow up—not since the day Oliver disappeared.

Oliver needs a moment to figure out his heart. . . . He’d thought, all these years, that his dad was the good guy. He never knew that it was his father who had kidnapped him and kept him on the run. Discovering it, and finding himself returned to his old hometown, all at once, has his heart racing, and his thoughts swirling.

1. The opening of this book surprised me.

I didn’t read the full synopsis when I requested this from Edelweiss. The cover really caught me because come on, it’s so cute! This opens with a kidnapping. Emmy and Oliver are sitting in class (2nd grade class, to be exact) when their friend Caro passes Oliver a note, asking if he likes Emmy. He circles yes. After school, Oliver gets in a car with his dad – seemingly innocent since it’s his dad picking him up from school – then Oliver vanishes. For 10 years. His absence cripples his community, and not just his friends and family. Parents become more overprotective and Oliver’s mother, Maureen, goes on a ten year search for her son, never losing hope. Then, one day in their senior year, Oliver is found. His fingerprints are picked up in a database in New York. Oliver comes home!

2. The friendship between Emmy, Oliver, Drew, and Caro is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a book.

This is my first experience with Robin Benway, but now you can DEFINITELY call me a fan! She writes these friends so realistically. The way they talk to each other (minus Oliver there for awhile, since he is missing for 10 years) and the way they’re always there for each other was one of my favorite parts of this book. Drew is gay while Caro is one of six kids. They all have their own issues, but they’re always there for each other at the drop of a hat – or a text message, if that’s more your thing. I love a good book friendship, and this one was GREAT. It’s odd to see two guys and two girls be so close to each other, but there they are. There’s no weirdness, just friend love, which is the best love.

3. Emmy lies to her parents A LOT.

Emmy lives next door to Oliver. Their family is extremely close with Oliver’s – Emmy and Oliver even share a birthday: July 7th. When Oliver disappears, Emmy’s family is a huge support system for Maureen. Maureen ends up getting remarried and has twin girls with her new husband, but nothing could ever replace her missing son. Once Oliver disappears, Emmy’s parents essentially put her on lockdown. They’re petrified of losing her, so she misses out on a lot of that rebellious teenager-y thing. She has a really early curfew (during Daylight Savings, she has to be home before it’s even dark yet) and she’s not really allowed to DO anything. However, Emmy has a secret. She loves surfing. Drew’s brother taught her when she was 14 and it is her escape. She hides her surfboard and wetsuit (which doesn’t fit right – she bought it on Cragislist) hidden in her van. She steals a few hours here and there, and that is where she is able to clear her head. Understandably, she hides this from her parents, because can you imagine how hard they would freak out, being so overprotective? Even as she gets older, her parents are still paranoid that what happened to Oliver would happen to her. Now, I’m not a parent, but that seems a little ridiculous to me! But her relationship is a huge part of this book, so I won’t ruin that for you!

4. The humor in this book is so great!

One of my favorite lines in this book is when Emmy takes Oliver surfing after his return home. Oliver expresses his fear that there would be sharks in the water. Emmy asks if he’s seen Point Break, which he affirms that he has. So, being the quick-witted, awesome girl she is, Emmy tells him: “Patrick Swayze would punch that shark in the nose!” (23% in the ARC). This book is peppered with witty humor, which happens to be my favorite type of humor! Even during some of the heavy parts, Emmy and her friends try to lighten the situation with a punny joke or something equally amusing. Even when I was crying (is it happy or sad crying? I’ll never tell) I was giggling through my tears. It was such a breath of fresh air.

OVERALL: FIVE STARS!!! I was swooning, laughing, and crying while reading this book. I finished it in a day because I could NOT put it down. I stayed up entirely too late to read because I wanted to get lost in this tale of friendship, love, commitment, and change. The family and friend dynamics in this book are spectacular and funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. Take it from someone who doesn’t normally like romance or icky stuff: this was absolutely great. Especially if you’re coming off of reading something emotionally draining or heavy. This book was perfect. Click the link below to pre-order!

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ARC Review: Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last WordTitle: Every Last Word

Author: Tamara Ireland Stone

Series: None

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Release Date: June 16, 2015

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Mental Illness

Source: E-Galley from publisher via NetGalley

Guys, this book was great. It centered around poetry (which I hate. I really hate poetry) and a girl with OCD. I’m always scared to read about mental illness because I feel like this is a tricky book to do well nowadays. However, Stone did this beautifully and I have a lot to gush about. Here’s your synopsis from Amazon:

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

1. Samantha is your basic popular girl…with one little twist.

This story opens with Samantha having a breakdown involving her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). She has the type of OCD that focuses on internal thoughts and obsessing rather than the outward tics that people are used to seeing on TV shows documenting people with the illness. She has a thought that goes into her head when she and her friends are assembling roses for a school activity. She has a thought that she could just cut her friend’s hair off and just keep cutting. This is how we’re introduced to her OCD. Then, we see her life. She is an athletic swimmer and a super popular girl at school who is a part of the Crazy Eights (her group of friends). The Eights run the school, even though they’re only five now. The Eights are the worst. The absolute worst.

2. One more thing before I get super into what I thought about the book:

Sam has a “thing” with the number 3. All of the chapter titles are three words long. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to figure this out. However, I thought this was insanely clever of Stone and I appreciated that little touch SO much.

3. It’s refreshing to see a main character with a mental illness actually look forward to seeing her therapist.

Shrink-Sue is Sam’s therapist and she loves Wednesdays with her. I think love could be used loosely, but she doesn’t kick and scream about going to her therapist appointments like I’ve seen in other books with mental illness. Sue is a genius. If I had a therapist, I would want her to be Sue. There is a particularly heartbreaking part towards the end (which I won’t tell you about) and Sue is immediately there for Sam, no questions asked, and she even brings Sam to her house after hours so she can make sure she’s okay.

4. Caroline.

Caroline is a new friend Sam meets on the first day of school who really sets this whole story into motion. When Sam freaks out about a thought, she needs a dark place to collect her thoughts. At school, that place is the theatre. On her first day, she meets Caroline. The next day, Caroline introduces her to Poet’s Corner – a secret poetry club hidden behind the stage. There, Sam meets AJ who seems to be the keyholder of this organization, and Sam doesn’t quite know why AJ hates her so much. When Sam finally figures it out, no wonder. But don’t worry, I won’t tell you.

5. Poet’s Corner.

I hate poetry. I hate writing it and I hate reading it. The poets in this book are so eccentric and wonderful that I found myself falling in love with each character. When they read at Poet’s Corner, they always say where they wrote the poem and when they’re done, they glue their poems on the walls. The walls are covered in different hues of paper all sporting poems of all kinds. Some are funny, some are heartfelt, and some are heartbreaking. Poet’s Corner itself is almost like a character in this book and I really can’t tell you much more about it.

6. The romance is just too much (in a good way).

Maybe it’s because I’ve been super sensitive lately, but the romance in this book is too cute. Sam has a lot of problems, especially when it comes to relationships with other people. Shrink-Sue always tells Sam to get away from the Eights because they’re simply horrible people (she’s right) and is always trying to get her to find more healthy relationships with friends. When she meets Caroline, she feels calm for the first time in a long time. There is none of the harsh judgment as with her other “friends” (who I think are horrible, horrible jerks). The romance, I’m sure you know who it’s with, is so stinking cute, I had tears coming out of my face. Sam hides her OCD from everyone at school, so that is a huge part of this book. She struggles to come to terms with her disease (she calls it her “broken brain”) and she really tries to see it as something special rather than a hindrance.

OVERALL: 4 STARS! I really loved this. I read two books about mental illness (the one before this was Made You Up by Francesca Zappia) in a row. This one involved OCD and I always forget how debilitating it is for people who suffer from this. A lot of people who suffer from OCD have a hard time having friends or being productive because they’re always worried about their obsessions. The author’s note explains that the a friend of hers has a daughter who was diagnosed with OCD when she was seven and that this story was inspired by her. That made even more tears come out of my face. You need this book in your life. It comes out on June 16, so click the link below to preorder!

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ARC Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Made You UpTitle: Made You Up

Author: Francesca Zappia

Series: None

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Release Date: May 19, 2015

Genre: YA, Mental Health, Contemporary

Source: E-Galley from the publisher through Edelweiss

This. Book. Was. Amazing. With the barrage of YA about teen mental health lately, this book kind of scared me since they all feel like the story’s been done before. This book delivered. I’ll get into the finer points after your synopsis from Amazon:

Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. For fans of Silver Linings Playbook and Liar, this thought-provoking debut tells the story of Alex, a high school senior—and the ultimate unreliable narrator—unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion.

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out what is real and what is not. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8 Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal. Can she trust herself? Can we trust her?

1. The beginning of this book confused me so much, but it was a running theme throughout the book.

In the beginning, we see Sam in a grocery store. She is seemingly obsessed with the lobsters in the tank because she believes that the lobsters share her hair color. We meet a boy she dubs Blue Eyes and he helps her set the lobsters free from the tank into the grocery store. At the end of the first chapter, we find out that it wasn’t real – she never set the lobsters free – and we find out about her schizophrenia, when she was diagnosed, and how she proves to herself that things are real: taking pictures of them. That sentence was long, had a ton of punctuation, and was totally worth it. We also find out that Alex loves Yoo-Hoo and it made me crave one horribly. Now that you mention it, I haven’t had one in awhile…

2. Alex’s mother is probably the worst.

Call me naive, but I think that parents of children with mental illnesses – especially illnesses like schizophrenia – should be understanding and supportive. I’m not sure if that’s how it works in the real world, but Alex’s mom really made me hate her.

3. Miles. Oh, that Miles.

As soon as Alex gets to her new school (she is forced to go to her rival school because of some past…transgressions) she is forced to do community service, of which Miles is the leader. Miles is brash, rude, insulting, and really cute. Throughout the entire book, I knew something was off about him. He comes from a severely broken home and he has a severely douchey exterior. But is that exterior protection? If it is, from what or who is he protecting himself? (I know the answers to these questions, but I’m not telling. You have to read this book).

4. There are some SERIOUS mean girls in this book.

You will not believe the lengths one of these mean girls goes to in order to get the things she wants AND to try and turn the school against Alex. And, once you find out why she’s doing these things, it’s kind of heartbreaking. But through most of the book, I hated her because she was way more crazy than Alex could ever think she is. Celia is one serious mean girl and she has some seriously dark secrets to go along with her.

5. Character development: this book does it so well.

Alex tries to hide throughout her first months in her new school. She’s basically resigned to the fact that she won’t have any friends because of her schizophrenia because that’s how it was in her old school. By the end of the book, she goes through a LOT of crazy stuff that is actually real and not in her imagination that her changes astounded me. The same goes for Miles, who we find out has a lot of secrets of his own. I felt so invested in these characters that when one was in trouble, my Kindle was in danger of taking a flight across the room.

6. The stigma around mental illness is so well addressed.

I know that mental illness is kind of a big thing in YA right now, and that makes me so happy. However, some of these books surrounding mental illness seem like they kind of piggyback and copycat off of each other until they all seem like the same story. Not so with Made You Up. Schizophrenia is something I have dealt with in an ex-boyfriend’s mother and let me just tell you how scary it is experiencing it as an outsider. Imagine dealing with it in your own brain. People with schizophrenia are treated like it is their fault they have this disease. It isn’t their fault. All they are trying to do is get control of their own minds and you cannot believe how much medication these people are prescribed. Most of the time, the meds don’t work. If they work, they have horrible side effects and all they make you want to do is sleep all day or make you feel loopy and not yourself. The way Alex handles this is brilliant. She takes pictures of everything to show herself what’s real. She makes sure to look at the pictures later so she can tell herself when her own mind is tricking her. Sorry about the mental illness rant. It’s an important topic that needs to be talked about.

OVERALL: 4 STARS!!! I loved this book so much. There was a huge twist at the end (which of course I won’t tell you) and this was totally heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time. This was full of so much hope and love. I couldn’t put it down. This comes out on May 19, so click the link below to preorder!

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ARC Review: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not

Title: More Happy Than Not

Author: Adam Silvera

Series: Stand alone.

Publisher: Soho Teen

Release Date: June 2, 2015

Genre: YA, Contemporary

Source: E-Galley from the publisher

The publisher provided an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This book astounded me. The writing was gorgeous, the story was phenomenal, and the message delivered was much needed. YA needs more books like this. Here is your synopsis from Amazon:

The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto — miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can’t forget how he’s grown up poor or how his friends aren’t always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he’s can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

1. I hear a lot of people complain about “mature language” in YA books.

This book has a lot of rated R language, which I love, in case you were wondering. However, in the case of this book, the story wouldn’t make sense without the language. When you see the neighborhood where Aaron grew up, the friends he grew up with, and how he was raised, it only makes sense that the younger characters in this book would have potty mouths. Which, coincidentally, is a quality we share. I have a horrible potty mouth. I have to HEAVILY edit myself when I’m at work. (Sorry about that small tangent). Anyway, without the mature words, Aaron wouldn’t have felt like someone real to me. I am aware he is a fictional character, but I like being able to relate to characters. They can’t lie to themselves and pretend to be something they aren’t. Well…to an extent.

2. This book dealt with a lot of heavy issues including dealing with homosexuality in a community that actually hates that lifestyle, and suicide.

Aaron’s dad is continuously referred to as a “manly man” throughout the book. His dad also committed suicide, which is a huge recurring theme in the book. Aaron’s dad haunts him constantly. He is always being reminded of his father, and we really only get good memories of the man. He seemed to be a loving father, and Aaron blames himself for his suicide. Throughout the story, Aaron strives to be a man that his father would be proud of while constantly feeling lost. Aaron is one of the most self actualized characters I have ever seen in any book, let alone a YA book. He impresses me with how self aware he is and how strong he is in accepting the HUGE changes and discoveries that happen to him in this story. He is truly a hero. I say this based on everything he’s been through and everything he will continue to go through. (I loved Aaron so much, can you tell?)

3. I haven’t read a story this original in awhile.

I only recently got into contemporary and I was honestly scared to read this book. This was a pleasant surprise not only because of its subject matter, but because of the stellar writing. This was engrossing and even though I am not a member of the gay community, I identified with Aaron so much. I think at one point, I even made a note that Aaron is more self-actualized than I’ll ever be. Aaron attempts to commit suicide and is saved. Throughout the book, he keeps referring to this as a cry for help. Most people who attempt suicide (that I know, anyway. I’m not trying to make sweeping generalizations) don’t have the self-awareness to admit that they wanted help.

4. Adam Silvera’s writing is beautiful, and with a beautiful message.

Silvera wrote this book to tell everyone, not just teens, that it’s okay to be unequivocally and unapologetically who you are. Accept no substitutes or changes. Aaron is gay. You might be gay or straight or trans or you could even be a part of a group that does not identify with either gender. Either way, More Happy Than Not has a message for you and it is: Just. Be. You. Aaron’s friends try to shame him for who he is. The only person who truly supports him is his mother. There is a particularly heartbreaking montage of memories in the book (don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything) where we hear Aaron’s father tell him to “be a man” and to “stop being a girl.” It’s such a glaring view into today’s society and its obsession with what is truly masculine or feminine. I don’t normally get tears in my eyes when reading books, but this one absolutely did it. Don’t tell someone to man up when they’re crying – that denotes that crying is something weak, something ONLY females do. Don’t tell someone to stop being a girl when they’re in a sensitive state – that denotes that being sensitive and feeling feelings is something only women do and that it is also a sign of weakness. Silvera delivers this expertly and I really need this book to be out immediately. I have a few students who could benefit from his message.

OVERALL: 5 STARS!!! I adored this book. I know I didn’t really go over the story too much and that’s because I want you to read the book. I don’t want to spoil anything, so if I delve too much into the story, I’ll spoil it. This was a great look at modern society. How we treat gender equality, human rights, and our ability to feel. Silvera will make you feel a lot of things. The ending. Sweet baby jesus, the ending. It tore my heart out but also made me happy at the same time? You’ll know what I mean when you read it. So, if you’re ready for feels (trust me. You are) click the link below to pre-order this fantastic book. It releases on June 2nd. Perfect start to your summer!

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ARC Review: Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Extraordinary MeansTitle: Extraordinary Means

Author: Robyn Schneider

Series: Stand alone.

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Release Date: May 26, 2015

Genre: YA, Contemporary

Source: E-galley from the publisher on Edelweiss

If you read Schneider’s other book, The Beginning of Everything, you may also be excited for this book. The Beginning of Everything was an insanely beautiful page turner about a young man trying to find his place and finds love along the way. However, this book disappoints compared to that one. I hate writing less than stellar reviews, but I’m nothing if not honest. I don’t mind being the black sheep. Here is your synopsis from Amazon:

Up until his diagnosis, Lane lived a fairly predictable life. But when he finds himself at a tuberculosis sanatorium called Latham House, he discovers an insular world with paradoxical rules, med sensors, and an eccentric yet utterly compelling confidante named Sadie—and life as Lane knows it will never be the same.

Robyn Schneider’s Extraordinary Means is a heart-wrenching yet ultimately hopeful story about the miracles of first love and second chances.

1. The disease in this book is scary because this could actually happen.

I am by no means an expert on science or infectious diseases, but I know for a fact that diseases can mutate into something MORE and DIFFERENT. Lane is diagnosed with a new, incurable strain of Tuberculosis and is sent to a sanatorium called Latham House. This is a place where young people are sent to get better. Their medicines are rest, relaxation, yoga, nature walks, and naps. This doesn’t sound so bad, except kids still die because of this new strain of TB. Lane has to deal with his disease, a social ladder similar to a high school, and his “classmates” dying on him. This is a lot to put on a young person’s shoulders.

2. Lane kind of annoyed me because he treated his disease like a test grade in school.

Lane is kind of a nerd. He’s in all AP classes and has his eye set on Berkeley for college. He aces everything at school and then he’s hit with his TB. While he’s at Latham House, he constantly complains about how much school he’s missing. While his doctors tell him to rest – IN ORDER FOR HIM TO GET BETTER – he continues to work on his backlogged AP coursework when he should be getting rest. Every time he sees the doctor and is told that he isn’t yet getting better, he treats it like he’s failed a test. Like, hello Lane: you’re SICK. Like, DEATHLY ILL. There is nothing you can do to get better other than what your doctor tells you! His constant complaining about what he’ll miss drove me nuts.

3. Sadie and her group of friends felt extremely flat for me when they were supposed to be this bright light to Lane.

Sadie is one of the main characters. The POVs alternate between her and Lane. When we first meet Sadie, she’s all rude to Lane because of something that happened at summer camp in middle school. Are you serious? That alone irritated me. Sadie is full of life and she and her friend Nick are the main source of contraband at the school. They smuggle in alcohol, snacks, and things the teens had taken for granted. Keep in mind, they have this infectious strain of TB, yet they go into the town without any kind of mask over their faces and mingle with healthy people. I know they’re teenagers, but wouldn’t you think twice about possibly infecting more people who are unaware of your condition?! No? Just me? Okay. These kids like to drink at movie nights, party in the woods, and generally disobey the rules of Latham House. While I know that without these instances, we’d have no story, I just feel like these jerks should know better. Other than that, I had zero connection with Sadie or any of her friends. The only character I had even a remote connection to was Lane, and he annoyed me half of the time.

4. The writing felt kind of disconnected, almost like Schneider didn’t really want to write this story.

As previously stated, I didn’t feel a connection to this at all. Maybe that was because I felt like this story has been done before or maybe it was because I didn’t really like any of the characters. I didn’t feel like there was any emotion in this book. If you read The Beginning of Everything, you know that that book was FULL of emotion and connections, almost as if the characters were your friends or the story were your story. This book held none of that for me, which was insanely disappointing. I almost felt like Schneider decided to write this because she should, not because she wanted to. I never like reading books that feel like work, because they read like work. This book read like it was work.

OVERALL: 3 stars. I gave this 3 because the writing was solid, but the story was not. This may be a perfect book for some people, but I found it lacking in too many areas. I wanted to love this so much, but it definitely missed the mark for me. This book comes out on May 26, 2015 so if you’d like to decide for yourself, click the link to preorder!

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