Monday, November 18, 2013

Mini-Reviews: Contemporary YA Debuts


There's something special about a first novel.  Sometimes it's the only book the author will write; sometimes it's the best book they will write.  Here are three contemporary YA debut novels.

How to Love
Author:  Katie Cotugno
Publisher:  Balzer & Bray, 389 pages
Publication Date:  October 1, 2013

From Goodreads:
Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he’s never seemed to notice that Reena even exists…until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind.

After: Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena’s gotten used to being without Sawyer, and she’s finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn’t want anything to do with him, though she’d be lying if she said Sawyer’s being back wasn’t stirring something in her. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?
In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.

Review:
Hearbreaking, realistic, and hopeful, this is a book about second chances and forgiveness.  Told in alternating chapters of past and present (which I loved), it tells the story of Reena, a high achieving good Catholic girl who just wants to get out of Broward County, Florida and see the world.  She wants to go to Northwestern and be a travel writer.  So of course she gets pregnant at 16 and is forced to stay home, now going to community college and knowing she'll never be going anywhere.  Even though it's told in first person, from Reena's POV, this is also the story of Sawyer, who Reena's been in love with forever and what I loved about the writing was that we get to know Sawyer just as well as we get to know Reena.  Sawyer's got issues, to say the least.  He's so messed up (and with good reason...when you find out the whole story about Allie, it's just so sad), but I liked Sawyer, even though I read many reviews from people who didn't.  Even in the Before story, it was clear that Sawyer loved Reena and he was actually more open with her than she was with him.  And as you learn more and more about what actually happened, you find out that there are two sides to this story and Sawyer really isn't the complete jerk he's portrayed to be.  Basically, they are both flawed. Reena's fairly stand-offish and the things she said to Sawyer...ouch.  Sometimes I winced at the cruel words that came out of her mouth.  And this was not just in the After story, when she obviously has reason to be angry with him, but Before as well.  She's a sympathetic character and I felt so bad for her that she had to go through this alone, but I also felt like, even when Sawyer acted like a jerk, his heart was in the right place.  And After, he came back and he will be there for her, no matter what.  This is a beautiful, well-written story...what an amazing debut.

What Happens Next
Author:  Colleen Clayton
Publisher:  Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 310 pages
Publication Date:  October 9, 2012

From Goodreads:
Before the ski trip, sixteen-year-old Cassidy “Sid” Murphy was a cheerleader (at the bottom of the pyramid, but still...), a straight-A student, and a member of a solid trio of best friends. When she ends up on a ski lift next to handsome local college boy, Dax Windsor, she’s thrilled; but Dax takes everything from Sid—including a lock of her perfect red curls—and she can’t remember any of it.

Back home and unable to relate to her old friends, Sid drops her college prep classes and takes up residence in the A/V room with only Corey “The Living Stoner” Livingston for company. But as she gets to know Corey (slacker, baker, total dreamboat), Sid finds someone who truly makes her happy. Now, if she can just shake the nightmares and those few extra pounds, everything will be perfect... or so she thinks.

Witty and poignant, Colleen Clayton’s stunning debut is a story about moving on after the unthinkable happens.


Review:
This is such a beautiful book, but also so heartbreaking.  Sid...what an incredibly likable and relatable character, I just wanted to give her a big hug.  She's never felt attractive (bright red hair and curvy) and never had a boyfriend so when a college guy flirts with her, she makes a decision to sneak out during a school ski trip to meet him and ends up being raped, although she doesn't remember it (she was drugged).  She doesn't tell her mom or her best friends and since her friends covered for her, they get in trouble too and they stop talking to her.  She's alone, trying to get through this absolutely horrific thing that happened to her, and switches out of a class to avoid a girl that hates her and ends up being an A/V aide.  There she meets Corey, who is known as a "stoner." Corey, I have to say, has got to be one of the greatest fictional guys I've ever read about.  He's amazing and absolutely perfect for Sid (he even bakes).  Their relationship grows slowly and realistically from a friendship into something more, and when he tells Sid about the first time he saw her...my heart almost stopped.  An emotional and remarkable debut, I look forward to reading the next book by this author.

OCD Love Story
Author:  Corey Ann Haydu
Publisher:  Simon Pulse, 352 pages
Publication Date:  July 23, 2013

From Goodreads:
When Bea meets Beck, she knows instantly that he’s her kind of crazy. Sweet, strong, kinda-messed-up Beck understands her like no one else can. He makes her feel almost normal. He makes her feel like she could fall in love again.

But despite her feelings for Beck, Bea can’t stop thinking about someone else: a guy who is gorgeous and magnetic... and has no idea Bea even exists. But Bea knows a lot about him. She spends a lot of time watching him. She has a journal full of notes. Some might even say she’s obsessed.

Bea tells herself she’s got it all under control. But this isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion. The truth is, she’s breaking down...and she might end up breaking her own heart.


Review:
Fascinating, but also difficult to read because of the subject matter.  I don't know much about OCD and I'm assuming that the author did her homework, but I was surprised that stalking can be OCD behavior.  I felt so bad for both Bea and Beck because it's clear that they don't want to be living like this, but obviously they can't help it.  And it makes you realize how debilitating OCD can be.  The romance is touching and I found myself really rooting for them.  There's so much energy to the writing, and I could hear Bea's voice so clearly.  “I think of everything and I'm pretty sure if I could use my organizational skills for something else, like wildlife survival kits or preparing people for nuclear warfare, I'd be a millionaire. Or at the very least actually a useful human being.” Intense, emotional, sometimes humorous (but not a light read at all), this is an incredible debut.  


Posted by:  Pam

10 comments:

  1. I love when you do mini reviews! You're so good at quickly summarizing what you liked. Mini reviews are so hard for me because there are always so many things I want to talk about. All of these books sounds amazing. I have heard good things about the first two, but haven't heard of the last one yet. Sounds interesting though. I will definitely be checking all of these out. Awesome reviews!

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    1. Thanks! Mini reviews are sometimes easier for me because I can just cut to the main things I want to say and it doesn't take as long. I was starting to ramble about How to Love, that one was getting a bit long. ~Pam

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  2. YAY! These are ALL books on my want to read list. I'm glad I can bump them up to 'must reads'. Thanks for the reviews -- and I agree with Rebecca LOVE when you do mini reviews!

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    1. Thanks! I enjoyed them all, but especially the first two. ~Pam

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  3. I have an ARC of How To Love that I got from BEA but I haven't read it yet because of personal reasons but after your review, I think I might have to. Thanks for such a touching review of it.

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    1. It wasn't a book I would normally have picked up based on the subject matter, but I read a few reviews that raved and so I thought I would read it, and I'm so glad I did. Definitely well done. ~Pam

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  4. I love What happens Next I actually wrote the author about it. I think its a beautiful piece of writing!

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    1. I thought so too, I was definitely impressed. ~Pam

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  5. Really really fantastic review for How To Love (for all of them really, but I only read How to Love so I can especially tell how well you covered the feels). I didn't realize What Happens Next and OCD Love Story were such heavy books (OCD Love story has a fun-ish looking cover which all it's bright colors - decieving!) But I don't mind a heavy read when relevant and powerful, which these seem like they are so I will definitely read these among my next serious reads. Great reviews!

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    1. Thanks! I really enjoyed How to Love, it was such a fantastic book. All three definitely involved serious issues. I was surprised by how heavy OCD Love Story was, I was expecting that one to be a little lighter, to be honest. ~Pam

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