Saturday, June 27, 2020

Girl in Pieces, by Kathleen Glasgow

Amazon.com: Girl in Pieces (9781101934715): Glasgow, Kathleen: Books


[TRIGGER WARNING: Drugs, alcohol, self-harm, suicide, sexual violence]

Charlotte "Charlie" Davis lived through a nightmare of a childhood, to put it lightly. Her father drowned himself when she was young. Her mother hit her frequently. Charlie had run away from home and ended up living in a "sex house." She ran away from there too, and lived on the streets. Charlie drank, struggled with addiction, cut herself. 

Sometime the book begins, she was attacked by a man under an overpass, and found practically bleeding to death by two of her friends, who took her to a nearby hospital. After she recovered, she was sent to Creeley, a residential clinic for women who have led a traumatic life and/or have depression which has led them to self-harm, attempt suicide, or both. When we meet Charlie, she is already at Creeley.

During her stay, Charlie refuses to speak, instead writing out what she wants to say. She refuses to talk about her past, preferring to try and forget about it instead. Eventually, Charlie is discharged from the clinic after her grandmother is unable to pay for her stay. Charlie must live with her mother until a halfway home becomes available. 

Charlie's mother knows that she is unable to care for Charlie, and she also knows that Charlie won't want to live with her. She gives Charlie money, some basics and toiletries, a bus ticket, and directions to find and friend of Charlie's in Arizona. This friend, Mike, will help her.

Mike gives her a temporary place to live, and Charlie finds a job working as a dishwasher at a diner. She starts having a relationship with a man named Riley West, her boss's brother. Riley uses drugs and is often drunk, But Charlie trusts him. Even when he sends her to buy drugs for him. Even when she has to go to his house every morning to wake him up for work. Even when he won't share a bit of his past with her after she tells him about hers.

Charlie is trying to break away from her addictions and her old habits. She learns to cope with her pain in other ways than cutting. She begins to enjoy things in life when before all she knew how to do was suffer. But she also knows that anything could happen to force her back into her old life. For example, her boyfriend Riley, whose behaviors are threatening to lure her back into that way of life.

Girl in Pieces is about a teenage girl who is haunted by memories of her past, no matter how hard she tries to forget. Author Kathleen Glasgow herself struggled with depression when she was younger, and now bears permanent reminders of her self-harming behaviors on her own skin. She writes that 1 in every 200 teenage girls reports self-harm, but the actual number is closer to 1 in 6. She says that it is very likely that you know someone who has self-harmed or is self-harming. 

This story hits very close to home for me. Like I had said in a previous post, I have and still sometimes do struggle with depression, and I have taken it out on myself in ways that I wish I had never done.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the National Child Abuse Hotline.

I recommend this for 15+. This book has excessive profanity, detailed mentions of sex, descriptions of self-harm and suicidal idealization, and many, many mentions of drug and alcohol abuse, among other things that would be overwhelming for younger readers. Mostly, it is up to the parents to decide whether or not the story line and plot isn't too much for their child. I am 14, and it was almost too much for me. 

All in all, a heart-wrenching, emotional story that reveals the struggles that many teenagers in our society face today. Despite the book being difficult to get through in parts, I actually enjoyed the book. Maybe "enjoyed" is not the right word, given the subject matter. But it is an excellent book.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Amazon.com: Wintergirls (8601200507249): Anderson, Laurie Halse: Books

[TRIGGER WARNING: Eating disorders, self-harm]

Cassie and Lia had sworn a pact, sealed by blood. They swore to compete over who could be thinner. Cassie was bulimic, Lia was anorexic

They were wintergirls, not dead, not alive.


They got thinner and thinner, until one day, Cassie died. Alone, in a motel room. She and Lia had fought months before, and had sworn never to speak with each other again. But the day before she died, Cassie had called Lia. 33 times. Lia didn't pick up once.


Lia is living an imitation of life. She counts her calories, but only if she eats. She eats one meal a day, maximum. Other days she eats nothing at all. She lives with her father, stepmother, and stepsister. Her stepmother, Jennifer, weighs her every day, to try to keep her at a healthy weight, at least 110 pounds. Lia doesn't like that. She's striving for 85 pounds. Anything more is unacceptable. Lia cheats the scale by placing quarters into the pockets of her bathrobe to make herself heavier. 


At night, voices haunt her. They call her ugly, fat, stupid, and worse. But one night, there's a new voice. Cassie's. She's standing in the doorway; Lia actually sees her. Then, she appears beside Lia, and begs her to go with her, to cross over: to die, so she and Cassie can be together again.

Lia doesn't tell anyone: about how she's cheating the scale, or about the fact that she is seeing (and talking to) a ghost. Not her mother, not her stepmother, not her father, not her therapist. She doesn't want to be sent back to a mental health clinic again. Lia calls it "the prison."


In addition to all of her quarters, Lia is weighed down by guilt: by the feeling that she could have done something to save her best friend's life, by the fact that Cassie had called her 33 times while she was sick, dying, begging for help, praying that Lia would pick up the phone.


She hopes that the spirit will go away after Cassie's funeral, but it does not. Lia still goes through her daily routine, of eating very little, going to school, arguing with her father and stepmother, and cutting herself in the bathroom. Except now, at random intervals, she is visited by Cassie's ghost, a searing reminder of how Cassie had begged for Lia's help, and Lia never knew. Now, Lia struggles with anorexia as well as survivor's guilt. Plus, she feels as though her parents don't care, she feels that giving in to her hunger makes her weak, and she believes that Cassie was the only one who could ever understand her -- and now she's gone. Lia is lonely, angry, and depressed. 

Anorexia and bulimia are severe, chronic eating disorders that affect millions of men, women, and children worldwide. Lia exhibits common behaviors of anorexics, such as avoiding food, playing with food, exercising constantly to burn fat even though she has none to burn, wearing slightly baggy clothes to hide weight loss, and keeping an emergency supply of laxatives and emetics (drugs that make you throw up). She is also suffering from severe depression, she cuts herself on a daily basis, and has made more than one attempt at suicide. 

Will Lia decide to "join" Cassie?

Author Laurie Halse Anderson wrote Wintergirls after she was contacted by fans telling her their own stories about their struggles with eating disorders.

The book is written almost like a series of diary entries, though it is not clear if they are actually written entries or just a series of her thoughts. Throughout the book we see certain words and sentences crossed out, revealing what Lia is truly thinking, and what she doesn't want to think, or admit. Anderson also plays with font size, style, and space to mark Lia's changing emotions: her guilt and sadness over Cassie's death, her fears. Reading this kind of book is a much more immersive experience, and very emotional.

I recommend this for 13+ because I am 14, and when I read this, I was literally crying. I was also unable to put it down until I had finished it -- it was that good -- but it is a very powerful book and probably not for younger readers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Judenrein, by Harold Benjamin

Judenrein: A Jewish Dystopian Thriller - Kindle edition by ...

Zack Gurevitz is a former Green Beret turned junkie living in Chicago, during a time of fear and unrest in America. As a young Jewish man on the streets, life is doubly dangerous for him. The government has ordered the round-up of all American Jews, so they can be moved into ghettos, supposedly for their own protection.

Power in the US government has been seized by an organization called 88wh1te. They are a white supremacist organization that aims to make America (cough) great again, by which they mean ensuring that only white, non-Jewish people can live freely in America. And so, dark history is repeating itself. In author Harold Benjamin's terrifying America, Jewish families have been robbed of everything: jobs, property, money, and basic rights. They aren't even allowed to go out from their police-guarded ghettos into open society without a Star of David pin on their clothes containing a tracking device. 


Zack doesn't really care. He has his own problems. He was excommunicated when he was young by his own father after being kicked out of his yeshiva school for getting into a fight, and subsequently sent to a military academy. Later, in the Army, he was able to join in the Special Forces as a sniper, only to be shot himself in Afghanistan. Since his discharge, he has been living on the streets trying to beat a heroin addiction. But when an old friend from the Army pays him a visit at a local methadone clinic, Zack knows something is up. It can not have been easy to find him. He has no house, and no car. Therefore, he has no address, no phone number, and no license plate. This friend, a man by the name of Moshe Rosenblatt, brings news of a brewing situation. 


There have been rumors circulating that an attack is being planned on the Jewish "Protective Zone" (read: "ghetto") in Detroit. Rosenblatt wants to recruit Zack to help stop the attack, largely because of Zack's expertise as a sniper, but also because the secret nature of his missions means that neither his identity nor his Jewish blood is a matter of record in military databases.


Rosenblatt takes Zack to the ghetto to meet the man in charge, a man named Reuven Simkin. Simkin tells Zack about the plan, which is to dispatch Zack to uncover the truth about the attack: who is in charge of it, what kind of attack it is to be, and when it might happen. Zack wants no part of this mission. Simkin's son is the one with whom he got into the fight that led to his being expelled from school, and Simkin himself who saw to it that his life was ruined afterward. But lingering memories of a once-strong connection to his faith convince him to accept. 


Zack has to use the skills he picked up from the Army to hide from, dodge, and fight anyone who threatens his mission, but he soon discovers that there is much more to the plot than anybody realizes, even the people actually wrapped up in it.


Judenrein is a dystopian novel that portrays what America will end up like if we continue to go down a path of discrimination and xenophobia. In the streets, prejudice and violence against minorities are common happenstance. Laws are made to prohibit them from enjoying a normal life. Jews especially suffer these injustices, though the antagonists in the book are also clearly hostile towards African Americans (there is much use of the n-word), Latinos, and the LGBTQ+ community.


The word judenrein is German for "free of Jews," the 88wh1te organization's hope for America. The members have swastika tattoos, and greet each other with the phrase "Heil Hitler." In the book, Benjamin makes direct, clear, unmistakable connections to the current situation in America: At one point, MAGA graffiti is spotted, there are a couple of references to Fox News, and the characters use of words like "libtards." Benjamin shows clear dissatisfaction and disgust with the current state of race/cultural relations in this country, and I sadly have to agree with him in that regard. 


I really enjoyed this book. Not only is it politically aware, but it is current. Anti-semitism is again taking root in America, and we still deal with racial, sexual, and religious discrimination despite our progress as a nation. Just look at the news this week, and you'll see the story of how a white police officer killed a black person for no obvious reason. The fact that it is 2020 and we still have to deal with unwarranted prejudice is astonishing, and we need to take a step back and realize what could happen if we let hatred spread unchecked. It has happened before!   


Judenrein provides an excellent snapshot of what will happen - again -  if hatred, discrimination, and violence are allowed to continue to pollute the hearts and minds of people.


Full disclosure: I was contacted by the author himself roughly a week ago via email, and he offered to send a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I agreed. Two or three days later, I got this copy with a handwritten note inside, saying, "For Julia, Wishing you much success in all your endeavors! Harry B." Mr. Benjamin, I want to thank you for your generous gift. I loved every page of your book!


Monday, May 25, 2020

The Aviary, by Kathleen O'Dell

The Aviary: O'Dell, Kathleen: 9780375852268: Amazon.com: Books


Clara Dooley has been shut away for her entire life of 12 years, because she has a weak heart. She lives in the old Glendoveer house with her mother, a maid/caretaker/family friend named Ruby, and old Mrs. Glendoveer.

Clara likes being in the house, but she does get lonely and upset. She is not allowed to have any friends over, out of concerns for her health, and she is homeschooled. She can see the schoolchildren on their walk to school as they pass by from a window, and it just makes her feel worse. 

On top of that, there's the aviary.

The aviary is a massive birdcage, big enough for multiple people to fit inside. The cage is home to five birds. A mynah bird, a cockatoo, a grackle, a kiskadee, and a honeycreeper. All five are as loud and as noisy as can be. The birds scare Clara. Every time she gets close, they start shrieking and screeching as if their lives depended on it.

One day, the mynah bird speaks. "Elliot!" it says. Clara runs to Mrs. Glendoveer and tells her, then asks her who Elliot is. Mrs. Glendoveer explains that Elliot was her son, who was kidnapped a long time ago. 

Mrs. Glendoveer has fallen ill, and is getting worse by the day. She dies within a week, and Clara is allowed to go to her funeral at the Glendoveer family crypt. Inside, she sees the names of members of the Glendoveer family: Helen, and Arthur, Peter, Frances, and George. And Elliot.

Days later, she sneaks her new friend Daphne into the house, and Daphne tells Clara that there used to be children in the Glendoveer house, but they went missing. No one knew what happened to them, until their bodies turned up in a nearby lake. Except for one. The body of baby Elliot. Clara is shocked. She and Daphne vow to find out the mystery of the children's murder, and what really happened to Elliot.

The Aviary is an awesome thriller about a kidnapping/murder cold case. It features two young girls, old secrets, tragedy, and talking birds. Plus a bit of magic. This is a bit "younger" of a book than I have been reviewing lately - less YA and more "big kids chapter book" but I still enjoyed it, and I would recommend this for ages 8+, as the story line and language are tame enough for young readers, but older readers will still get enjoyment out of the story as well.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Evil Librarian, by Michelle Knudsen

Amazon.com: Evil Librarian (9780763676407): Michelle Knudsen: Books

Cynthia "Cyn" Rothschild spends her days doing homework, spending time with her friends, Leticia and Diane, and her BFF, Annie, and obsessing about her crush, Ryan Halsey, to a point where it's almost scary. She daydreams in most classes, and/or passes notes to Annie, typically about Ryan. Annie teases her mercilessly about her crush, so Cyn looks forward to the day where she can return the favor.

Cyn gets her shot when, one day, Annie comes running up to her with a wild look in her eyes and gasps out the words, "New. Librarian." Cyn has an uneasy feeling as Annie practically drags her to the library because, I mean, come on. A librarian? What makes a new librarian so interesting that they cause a person to be out of breath?

Then she sees the librarian. He is ridiculously attractive. Annie is crushing on the librarian.

But first of all, ew. He's a teacher. She's a student. Second of all, Cyn is pretty sure that something about him isn't right. Like, maybe, how anyone who comes into physical contact with him (like a handshake, or bumping into him in the hallway) turns into a zombie-like version of themselves, with a vacant look, shuffling feet, and general non-responsiveness. They become a hollow shell of what they once were. Cyn sees it in teachers, fellow students... and Annie. 

But oddly, she wasn't affected by this when she came came into contact with him. Multiple times. Cyn is sure that the librarian, Mr Gabriel, is doing this on purpose. But how? She wants answers. Annie would know, but every time she approaches her with a question about this topic, Annie turns cold and hostile.

Cyn and Annie end up having a fight. A big one. It's after school hours, but both of them and some other students are still hanging around because of school clubs. Annie is staying to work in the library, and Cyn is staying because she's heading up tech and set design for the fall play. Cyn hears shouting behind her, and when she turns around, she sees Ryan angrily yelling at one of his friends, who is in that zombie-like trance that Mr. Gabriel keeps causing. 

Cyn decides to tell Ryan what she thinks is going on. At first, Ryan acts like she's crazy, but he agrees to follow her when she heads off to the library to see if she can see something suspicious. When they arrive, they get an eyeful: Mr. Gabriel standing in the middle of a circle. With wings and horns. Covered in blood.

Mr. Gabriel is a demon.

He explains that he is currently draining the souls of people in the school, to gain strength. He is also corrupting Annie's soul so he can take her to the demon world to become his bride. Why, exactly? The demon king has died, and contenders for the throne need a human consort. And as for all the blood? He has just murdered someone, for extra strength and sustenance. Demons need to kill to stay in the human world. 

As to why his "charm" hasn't worked on Cyn, well, she seems to have special resistance to it. Cyn drags Ryan (who is charmed) away, and they hastily make their way out of the building to try to formulate a plan to stop Mr. Gabriel, save the school, and especially, save Annie.

But there's going to be trouble, when other demons arrive on the scene.

Evil Librarian is a hilarious first novel in a deliriously fun trilogy. It features loads of lewd humor, and as if that weren't awesome enough, it also features demons. An amazing novel, this had me spellbound until the very last page (and don't worry, a demon was not at fault here)!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Brothers Torres, by Coert Voorhees

The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees (2009-08-11): Amazon.com: Books


Francisco Towers is a nobody in his New Mexican high school, compared with his older brother, Steve, a popular senior who is the soccer team's star player, and who has recently accepted a soccer scholarship for a college.  

While Steve is winning his soccer games, hanging out with his girlfriend, and getting drunk with the local cholos and cholas, the tough punk-like guys and girls who are decorated with tattoos and black leather clothes, Frankie is blowing up rocks and anthills with his friend Zach, obsessing over Rebecca Sanchez, his crush, and working at Los Torres, his parents' restaurant.

Frankie has looked up to Steve since he was a toddler, but he couldn't really care less about Steve's efforts to earn respect from the cholos and cholas until Frankie himself finds himself in a fistfight against John Dalton, the rich, popular boy whose parents own the Tortilla Emporium, a company that ships tortillas across the country, and that has been swallowing up smaller companies and family-run restaurants like Los Torres. On top of that, John is just a complete jerk. (Actually, jerk is an understatement.)

That fight launches Frankie into a world he's never known. Steve starts treating him as an equal (as opposed to being treated as the annoying little brother), the cholos respect him, and Rebecca says "yes" when he asks her to be his Homecoming date. 

But John, being the entitled, spoiled brat that he is, will not let this all slide. He retaliates, and that is simply the last straw for Steve. Steve is set on having his revenge against John for beating up his little brother, and nothing will stop him.

Frankie knows he should be on board. John was a jerk to him, to his brother, and to his friends and his parents. But instead, he feels a sense of an impending catastrophe. He is happy that he is finally earning some respect, but Steve may be taking it too far.

Frankie has a choice to make. It's a difficult choice, and as the author himself writes: "Soon he'll have to make a choice between respecting his brother and respecting himself."

The Brothers Torres is a stunning novel that was actually written by a guy my dad used to teach with. I was never originally going to review this book. It had been sitting on my dad's bookshelf for a while, so I didn't have immediate access to it. I was sitting on my bed, reading The Librarian of Auschwitz (which I had reviewed earlier; you can find a link to that post here), when my dad came in, holding this book. He said, "Julia, why don't you review this book next?" So I agreed to consider it, and a few days later, when I was searching for something new to read, I picked it up out of boredom and started to read.

And I must say, no regrets whatsoever. It has replaced The Hunger Games as my (for now, anyway) favorite book of all time. 

This novel has the right level of profane and "mature" humor combined with emotion and a deeper meaning that is heartfelt and strong. I highly, HIGHLY, recommend this novel for anyone 13+, as its use of profanity, mentions of sex, and overall tone may be overwhelming for younger readers (and distressing for their parents).


Monday, April 6, 2020

Where The Streets Had a Name, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Image result for Where The Streets Had a Name, by Randa Abdel-Fattah


Hayaat is a Palestinian living in Bethlehem's West Bank in 2004. She and her family are separated from the land they grew up in, Jerusalem, by a massive wall. Hayaat had spent a portion of her childhood there (through the age of 9), her mother had grown up there, and her grandmother before her. But the Israeli army forced them out, along with the other Palestinians there. Now Hayaat is thirteen, living in a dingy apartment, with her mother, father, sister, two brothers, and her grandmother.


The Palestinians, who are Arabs and mostly Muslims, are restricted by travel laws, curfews, and checkpoints. Protesters are often shot, sometimes even if they are kids. People trying to leave illegally are jailed, even if they are only trying to visit family. People out after curfew are arrested. People jumping over the wall are arrested. Hayaat's friend Maysaa was shot dead when she was caught in a protest. She was only around ten years old.

Hayaat and her friend Samy and everyone living in the West Bank hate the Israeli occupation, hate the people who forced them out and are now living in the homes and the towns and the cities that used to be theirs.

Her grandmother often tells stories about what it was like before the occupation, when she lived in a beautiful villa with her family, in Jerusalem. When her health starts failing, she tells Hayaat that she did not want to die in her daughter's house, but in her own homeland. So Hayaat hatches a ridiculously dangerous plan.

She and her friend Samy will go (illegally) to Jerusalem and collect soil from Hayaat's grandmother's village, the one she lived in before the occupation. They will bring it back to her so she can have a piece of her land with her.

The journey to Jerusalem is only about six miles, but with all of the obstacles in the way, the wall, the checkpoints, and the army, the trip could very well take forever.

Where The Streets Had a Name is about the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, told from the point of view of a Palestinian teenager. Hayaat and her family represent all of the Palestinians who were forced out of their homes and into dirty towns and refugee camps. If they had legal deeds to their land, the deeds became void. Some homes were given to Israeli citizens, others were destroyed in demolition projects.

I'm not speaking ill of the Jews; I come from Jewish roots myself, but I am talking about what has been happening since 1967. People being inhumane towards other people, all for the sake of religion. But I don't know why I'm surprised. People have been doing things like this, in the name of religion, and politics, ever since civilization began. But author Abdel-Fattah seems to go out of her way to present most of the Israelis as one-dimensional or evil, so there are definitely some issues with bias and one-sidedness.

Still, I loved this, it is a truly moving story.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Librarian of Auschwitz, by Antonio Iturbe

The Librarian Of Auschwitz (Special Edition) - By Antonio Iturbe ...

Edita Adler, or "Dita" as she's known, is fourteen years old and living in the Auschwitz concentration camp. She doesn't work in the warehouses, the crematoriums, the kitchen, or the factories. She works in Block 31, the "family camp." This camp is where families can live together, and children can run around and play. It is also the site of a secret school. She works as the secret librarian for Block 31's secret school, housing and delivering the few books that the camp has to teachers within the camp. Books and education in Auschwitz are forbidden, and those who are caught teaching, or those who are caught with a book in their possession, are executed.

Dita (a real person!) is running these books to various teachers in the camp. Everyone is on edge; an informer, an unexpected inspection, an SS guard walking in, someone acting suspicious, anything could give it all away. All of these risk factors make Dita's job very dangerous.

On top of all this, the family camp is regularly visited by Dr. Josef Mengele, a man infamous for performing deadly experiments and vivisection (dissecting a live subject) on live and, often awake, Jewish and Gypsy (Roma) prisoners, often twins and/or children. Mengele seems to be keeping a watch on Dita, as if he can't wait for the day when it is she that is on his dissection table.

Fredy Hirsch, the Jew in charge of running the family camp, is the one who entrusted Dita with the books. He puts on a strong, brave, happy demeanor, but secretly has many troubles of his own. All prisoners are tattooed, and his tattoo has the marking "SB6" along with everyone else who had arrived in the camp last September, signifying that they would receive "special treatment" after six months. He is also gay, and people who were gay, lesbian, or transgender were described as "diseased" or "sick" by the Nazis. During the night, Hirsch is secretly meeting up with his boyfriend in the camp.

The books that Dita literally guards with her life are more valuable than gold in the camp, and more deadly than a bullet. But she guards them for Fredy, for the teachers, and for the children they are responsible for. These books remind her that there is the possibility of life, of a world after the war, where she can finally live without fear and sadness.

The Librarian of Auschwitz is a WWII novel, based on the true story of Dita, who is still alive today at 91, and author Arturo Iturbe's interview with her is also found in the book.


The atrocities of Auschwitz-Birkenau are in no way sugarcoated in this book. Hangings, starvation, gas chambers, crematoriums, mass graves, and the gruesome experiments by Dr. Mengele are all described in astonishing detail.

The Holocaust was the mass slaughter of 13 million people, of which 6 million were Jewish, during WWII. People were first evicted from their homes, and sent to live in filthy ghettos. They were then sent to concentration (read "death") camps, where they were forcibly separated, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, parents and children, and cruelly sorted and separated according to gender and age. They were then either immediately killed, or put to work, doing backbreaking, deadly, or simply boring jobs such as making bombs, moving rocks, working in the kitchens, or (and in my opinion, these were the worst) working in the gas chambers and ovens. 

The Librarian of Auschwitz depicts the horrors and heartbreaks that took place in the Hell on Earth that was Auschwitz-Birkenau. But in the middle of that Hell on Earth, for a little while, there was hope.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Matched, by Ally Condie

Image result for Matched, by Ally Condie

The Society has created a seemingly Utopian life for its citizens. People are "matched" with a partner at age 17. Their Match is chosen based on common interests, intelligence, and if the genes of each person pair nicely to create healthy offspring. The matched pair marry at 21, have children around the age of 24, and die at 80.


Teens learn important skills needed for a job assigned to them when they get older by practicing after school. Some get their work position while they are still 17.


The Society is divided into the Provinces and the Outer Provinces. Cassia Reyes lives in Oria Province. She is nervous. It's the night of her Match Banquet, a party thrown annually where all the 17-year-olds find out who their Match is. It's also her 17th birthday.


When Cassia learns her Match is her best friend Xander, she feels elated and relieved. It's a rarity to be Matched with someone from your Province, and even rarer to be Matched with someone you've known your whole life.


But when Cassia gets home, she plugs in the microcard she received, a small credit-card-like object that contains information about your Match. Cassia already knows everything about Xander but she plugs the card in anyway.


For a minute, it's Xander's face that appears on the portscreen, which takes up the greater portion of a wall. As his picture appears, a voice connected to the card announces, "Cassia Reyes, The Society is pleased to present you with your Match." She smiles, looking at his face. But then the screen goes dark. The voice says again, "Cassia Reyes, the Society is pleased to present you with your Match." And a new face appears. 


This face belongs to one of Cassia's classmates, a boy named Ky. This must be some sort of cruel trick. The Society makes no mistakes, and no one has two Matches. Later, she learns that Ky also couldn't have been Matched with anyone because of his classification. Ky is an Aberration, meaning that he or one of his close relatives broke the law and was caught. 


Cassia is told by an Official that there was simply a malfunction on the microcard and she has nothing to worry about. Cassia knows she should feel relieved, but instead, she feels sorry for Ky. 


As time goes on, however, she begins to have feelings for Ky, even though she's already Matched.


Ky begins to open up to her about his past, how his village in the Outer Provinces was attacked, how he now has to live with his aunt and uncle in Oria. He also shares forbidden knowledge; he shows her how to hand-write, and he gives her forbidden poems (The Society has preserved only 100 of certain things - the Hundred History Lessons and the Hundred Poems - the rest have been destroyed.)


Cassia knows that her feelings for Ky are illegal, but she can't help it. How can she be with her Match, but love another?


Matched is the first novel in a trilogy about a future, where everything is as it should be, people marry their (seemingly) perfect Match, early death is almost nonexistent, and even cancer has a cure. The Society governs all, keeping its citizens in a safe little bubble. However, everything is only great until it's not, when a flaw is found in the system... 


I would recommend this book for ages 12+, as the topics of forbidden love and a totalitarian government might be a bit much for pre-tweens. The Lincoln Journal Star, from Lincoln, Nebraska, compares it to The Giver, for those of you who have read that.


I enjoyed the story a lot, and can't wait to begin reading the sequel, Crossed


Monday, March 23, 2020

The Program, by Suzanne Young

Amazon.com: The Program (1) (8601404441714): Young, Suzanne: Books

Don't cry. Don't be upset. Mourn privately. Hide depression. These are the unspoken rules followed by every American aged 13-17. Showing that you are upset, acting depressed, or crying in public are all things that could land you in The Program, a six-week intense therapy session in a mental clinic. The Program is the only known cure for teen depression, and was started when teen suicide was declared a pandemic.

People never go to The Program willingly. They are turned in if they are suspected of being depressed. Then they are taken (or, more accurately, dragged away) to The Program from school, a friend's place, a vacation site, or even their own home, wherever they are. If a teen runs away from home, they are tracked down by The Program, and they become the subject of a national manhunt.


Patients leave The Program happy, carefree, relaxed. They leave, literally starting a new life, because The Program works by erasing memories. People leave remembering nothing except what they are told.


Sloane Barstow is having a hard time suppressing her emotions every day, acting calm filling out the depression assessment at school, acting happy talking with peers and family, not reacting when a student is dragged out of the school by the handlers, medical personnel who manage The Program. Her brother drowned himself. Her friend was taken away. One of her other friends ingested Quikdeath, a poison sold on the black market.


She can only reveal her true feelings when she is around James, her boyfriend. She can't tell her therapist (whom she sees to cope with her brother's suicide), she can't tell her teachers or peers, and she definitely can't tell her parents. Parents are the most likely to turn a teenager over to The Program, out of fear for losing them.


James had made Sloane a promise, that he'd do anything and everything to keep them out of The Program. But when that promise fails, and they both get caught, will they make it out, together?


The Program is the first dystopian novel in a series of six. It immerses us in a world where so many teens, 1 in 3, actually, have committed suicide, that traditional therapy has been abandoned as a means of treatment, and replaced with mind-altering drugs in a mental health facility.


Teens live in fear that they will be taken by the white-coated handlers, and have their mind erased. (Perhaps it is precisely that pressure and fear from The Program that has driven teen suicide  up?)


This book hits a bit closer to home than most. I will admit that I have struggled with depression on multiple occasions, and that I had been afraid to tell people, so I dealt with it in other ways. Sometimes I wished I could just forget everything.


Teen depression is becoming way too commonplace in everyday life, and something needs to be done. But maybe memory erasure is not the way to go. Teenagers, children, and adults of all ages need to know that it's okay to talk to someone if they are sad or scared. Needing help is not a weakness, asking for help makes a person strong, because it takes courage to admit it. Hiding suffering is a weakness, because a person is afraid of confronting it.


Teens, don't be afraid to talk to someone like I was. It is okay. You can tell someone. Your parents, your school counselor, a therapist, anyone. Even writing it down in a journal or diary can help relieve a bit of the pressure. Find a healthy outlet to make yourself feel better. Playing a sport, curling up with a good book, trying out a new recipe, writing a cool story, listening to your favorite songs, calling someone up just to chat, these are all great ways to release a bit of that pent-up emotion.


Parents and teachers, if you think that your kid/student is struggling with depression, don't be hesitant to talk to them about it. Even asking the simple question of "Are you feeling okay?" or "How are you?" will let them know that you are there for them and care about them. If they know that, then they feel like they can trust you and can come talk to you if they are having issues.


Deep and heartfelt, this novel is sure to win a spot among your favorites. I recommend this for an audience of 13+. 



Friday, March 20, 2020

SORRY FOR MY LONG ABSENCE! A LETTER TO MY READERS...


Hi,

I’d like to apologize for the long wait on new posts. 


I’ve just started high school and have been very busy juggling my classes and homework, as well as other stresses and pressures (I’m a 14-year-old girl in America, so you do the math…). I’ve also had swim practice to go to. 

But as of a week or two ago, my school shut down on account of the spread of COVID-19. I will be taking the opportunity to put up more posts in the near future, at least for a while!

Love,

Julia K.

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