Sunday, March 29, 2015

MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES by Jasmine Warga

My Heart and Other Black HolesI don't know about you, but if I heard of a website titled Smooth Passages, I would think I'd be looking at a site for some vacation cruise package.  I would certainly be in for a surprise if I clicked to open that site.


Sixteen year old Aysel isn't interested in going on a cruise.  She wants to commit suicide and Smooth Passages is a website designed to support the desires of those considering suicide as the only answer to whatever problems plague their lives.  Aysel is particularly interested in the area of the site devoted to "suicide partners."


When Aysel connects with Roman (screen name FrozenRobot), she is sure she has found a kindred soul.  With Roman by her side, she will be able to follow through on what she believes is the only way to cope with her greatest fear.  Roman is trying to escape the massive guilt he feels over his young sister's tragic death.  Aysel's need for escape revolves around the fear that she has inherited whatever darkness made her father snap and brutally murder a local teen.


Together, the two teens set a date and method to end their lives, but perhaps finding each other could provide a final spark of hope that might have at least one of them rethinking their plans.


Debut author Jasmine Warga has created a story illustrating the power of guilt.  Her characters are rich and real, and readers are sure to connect with the intense emotions that pack the pages of MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES.  I can't wait to see what Warga writes next.

Monday, March 9, 2015

PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD by Michelle Falkoff

Playlist for the DeadWhen Sam goes to apologize to his best friend Hayden only to find him dead, Sam's world begins to crumble.  Life was never the greatest for the two friends.  Both of them had family issues and neither really fit in at school.  Together, they found friendship through video games and music. 


Sam discovers a note from Hayden directing him to listen to a playlist of songs that will explain why he swallowed his mother's recently refilled prescription of Valium.  Sam begins to listen to the music hoping to find some answers and whatever peace he can after the loss of his one and only friend.  The music spans a wide range of selections, some favorites of Hayden's and others Sam knows Hayden included just for him.


The night before Hayden's suicide, the two had been at a party.  Not a usual event for them, but one they agreed on, each for different reasons.  The three bullies who constantly tormented Hayden were not supposed to be at the party, but the cancellation of a football game changed all that. 


There was an incident involving Hayden and the three creeps that ended in an ugly scene in which Sam spouted some unfortunate comments before leaving the party alone.  Now Sam is hoping the music Hayden left behind will help him come to terms with the fact that his final, cruel words may have been the last straw that drove his friend to take his own life.


Author Michelle Falkoff explores the world of those left behind by suicide.  Family, friends, and even chance acquaintances feel the effects from these tragic deaths.  As Sam discovers, there are no easy answers and usually many guilt-ridden survivors are left trying to pull together the pieces.  Similar to Jay Asher's 13 REASONS WHY, this book is a must read for teens and even adults. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES by Bryan Bliss

No Parking at the End TimesAbigail and her brother Aaron can't believe they are living in the family van.  Their parents, totally devoted members of a church led by a man known as Brother John, have sold everything and handed their money over to the church leader.  According to Brother John, those who are true believers will soon be ascending to heaven to take their rightful place with God.


Selling their house and traveling across the country to San Francisco started out as an adventure, but now that they are eating in church soup kitchens, wearing the same clothes day after day, and sleeping crammed in their van, Abigail and Aaron have completely lost faith in the religious promises their parents still cling to.  Abigail wants to continue supporting their parents, but Aaron insists that their father and mother have lost touch with reality.  He is sneaking out of the van at night and going who knows where and doing who knows what.  Abigail fears the worst.


One night she follows Aaron and discovers he has been hanging out with other homeless teens.  He reveals that he has a plan to escape their parents' craziness and head back home to North Carolina.  The plan excites Abigail, but she isn't convinced that they should leave their parents behind.  Will she follow her brother or will Brother John be able to draw her back to the fold and the misguided belief that the rapture is imminent?


NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES is the first novel by author Bryan Bliss.  Taking a look at a family caught up in zealous religious belief will be a new adventure for many teens, but one that will definitely resonate with some.  Bliss explores the powerful influence the promise of religious salvation can have over people.  Kudos to Bliss for tackling this unique subject.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY by Shaun David Hutchinson

The Five Stages of Andrew BrawleyAndrew is living in the hospital where his mother, father, and little sister lost their battle against Death.  His feelings of guilt over their deaths has kept him from leaving the last place he shared with them.  He works in the cafeteria, lends a hand in the ER, and befriends young patients in the peds ward.  He really shouldn't be there, but where else does he have to go?


Always in fear of being discovered by a woman he refers to as Death, Andrew knows his days are numbered.  When he isn't helping nurses or visiting two teen cancer patients, Lexi and Trevor, Andrew hides from Death in an abandoned storage closet hoping to remain invisible and escape the emotional pain that threatens to unravel him. 


One night Andrew witnesses the arrival of a teen who had been attacked and set on fire by bullies.  He feels an immediate connection to the victim and begins to make nighttime visits to the boy's bedside.  He spends time reading to Rusty and the two develop a friendship that begins to give Andrew hope that there might be a chance to avoid Death and find a life outside the hospital.


THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY is the tragic, heart-breaking story of a teen whose guilt won't allow him to process his grief.  Author Shaun David Hutchinson explores the aftermath of a tragedy and what it takes to recover and cope after a life altering event.  Packed with emotion, this story is a unique and captivating read.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

GRACE AND THE GUILTLESS by Erin Johnson

Grace and the GuiltlessGrace watches as a gang on horseback ride in and slaughter her family.  With her mother, father, sister, and two brothers dead, she vows revenge.


The only life she has known has been on the homestead where her parents settled hoping to raise horses and provide for their family.  When a group of so-called ranchers/outlaws decides they want the land her family will soon own, they set fire to the log cabin and kill everyone Grace loves.  When she emerges from her hiding place in the root cellar, she faces total devastation and the horrible task of burying her slain family members.


Grace heads to the nearest town to report the incident to the sheriff only to discover that the Guiltless Gang has been paying the lawman to look the other way.  Alone and inexperienced, Grace barely escapes town with her life.  She heads toward the hills where she believes the criminals have headed, hoping to use her father's gun to get her revenge.  Instead her lack of survival skills have her traveling in circles and becoming the victim of a bear attack. 


With the help of a young man, she winds up in the camp of a tribe of Apaches who tend to her wounds and offer her a safe place to stay.  Will their friendship and acceptance enable her to put aside her anger or will she still try to carry out her promise to kill the men responsible for her family's deaths?


Author Erin Johnson takes readers back to the wild west in GRACE AND THE GUILTLESS.  It may not be the usual time and place for a young adult adventure, but Johnson's smooth narrative and non-stop action will capture teen readers and no doubt leave them begging for more.  This is a must have for classroom and library shelves.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

BROKEN by CJ Lyons

BrokenScarlet doesn't have many memories that don't include hospitals, doctors, and being sick.  After countless medical tests and procedures, doctors diagnosed her with Long QT Syndrome.  The heart condition Scarlet refers to as a "broken" heart could end her life at any time.  The irregular heart beat it produces has prevented her from living the normal life of a teenager, but she has made a deal with her parents that if she follows all health instructions and promises to take every precaution, she can begin going to the local public high school.


It only takes a few hours for Scarlet to realize that high school is not exactly like what she has seen portrayed in movies and TV.  Her first moments involved curious stares and taunts from bullies.  Her presence has brought out the worst in some of the popular crowd, but with the help of a small peer support group, Scarlet makes a few friends.


Scarlet's mother is a constant source of support but also irritation for Scarlet.  Working as the school nurse, her mother is able to keep a close eye on Scarlet, but she isn't exactly convinced that her daughter's attempt to live as a typical teen is the wisest choice.  When Scarlet becomes involved in a science project with a fellow student, strange discoveries about her medical condition and her earlier life cause her to question her mother's motivations. 


Author CJ Lyons uses her medical knowledge and sense of drama to create an intense story that will capture the attention of the YA audience.  Having recently finished another one of her books, WATCHED, I am definitely a fan and can't wait to read her next book.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

WATCHED by C.J. Lyons

WatchedJesse has been controlled by a cyber-hacker for four years.  After his father left and they moved in with his uncle, things went downhill fast.  Jesse's uncle began forcing him to do unspeakable acts and then offered him up to an Internet creep.  With no one to turn to, Jesse has suffered in silence.


A mysterious envelop arrives with a cell phone wrapped in plastic.  Jesse also finds a note in the envelop with the words, "I can help."  One phone call later, Jesse may have found someone else who is being tormented by the same cyber bully.


Miranda has also spent years trying to escape the power of the man she calls The Creep.  He has ruined her family's life and pushed her to attempt suicide twice.  She is determined to use her own excellent computer skills to help others who have fallen prey to sexual abuse via the Internet.  When she connects with Jesse, she hopes he will be able to help her take down The Creep once and for all.


Author C.J. Lyons is the mastermind of this riveting tale.  The suspense begins on the very first page and never falters.  Bouncing back and forth between Jesse and Miranda, the story takes readers on a frightening ride all too close to the stories one hears on the news about cyber criminals who take advantage of the careless acts of kids and teens.  Lyons is also the author of BROKEN, the next book on my reading list.