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review 2016-10-24 02:12
Under Rose-Tainted Skies - Louise D. Gornall

In Under Rose-Tainted Skies, Louise Gornall is at her best describing the physical and emotional anguish her protagonist, Norah, faces as part of her daily existence as a teenager living with severe agoraphobia and OCD. These feelings are vividly real and are intimately expressed through the use of a first person narrative. The writing is honest and open, with no shying away from describing the ugly—those moments when impulse is rationalized and takes control over reason. A simple stimulus can easily mushroom into a full blown attack of the senses, jarring reality into a kind of nightmare. Everyday situations people take for granted, like saying hello, become feats that are nearly impossible to complete. As the novel shows, developing a friendship with Norah requires an enormous amount of calm and patience; and the novel provides a fairly realistic portrayal of what could happen when the patience of a teenage boy is stretched to the breaking point. Norah’s story is empathetic and invites the reader to engage in a thoughtful reflection as the novel progresses. In this respect, because of its focus on a specific area of mental health, Gornall’s novel serves as an important addition to young adult literature.


However at times, the novel takes a few liberties in regards to plot in a way that does not seem entirely plausible, given the age and medical condition of our main character. These details are not entirely necessary and might affect some readers’ enjoyment of the novel’s realism, for instance, the long periods of being left home alone and other issues concerning time, specifically the juxtaposition of the amount of time spent on school work vs. the increased amount of time spent on other musings and obsessions, in light of the fact that Norah is an academic and wants to maintain a 4.0 GPA. The time balance here is not effectively met. Additionally, it is somewhat surprising that the shocking denouement that leads to Norah’s moment of catharsis does not develop any additional feelings of introversion or immediate fears associated with the event. The resulting ending is entirely optimistic, which is nice. A more skeptical reader, though, might not view this turn of events in such a positive light.


Despite its faults, Ms. Gornall has penned an insightful thought provoking first novel, and I look forward to reading additional works by her. 


Copy provided by NetGalley

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review 2016-08-01 04:59
This Adventure Ends - Emma Mills

A reader might approach this novel thinking it’s simply one of those run of the mill teen contemporary stories that discusses traditional teen issues and offers a sensitive, if not uplifting resolution. But actually, Mills’ novel is a cut above the rest. Even though the novel deals with those traditional topics of family discord, parental death, confidence issues and budding relationships, they are presented in a way that allows readers to forego noting the obvious similarities found in comparable literary works (i.e., “Uh, this book is just like…” or “Oh, this same thing happened in…”), in favor of simply enjoying the various journeys Mills’ characters take over the course of her novel. 


As the novel progresses, Mills’ characters face many emotional obstacles, obstacles that are in part overcome by the characters’ budding friendships. Friendship is presented in a very natural way as it evolves across the story, and the novel does not shy away from describing friendship’s inevitable highs and lows. The presentation is enhanced by the novel’s dialogue. Character interaction is wonderful here; the novel is full of witty banter and entertaining one liners that at times help to assuage some of the more tensely emotional scenes that occur. 


However, not all of the relationships presented in this novel are actively involved in open forms of communication with each other. Sloane, the novel’s protagonist is lucky in having a supportive father, a confidant akin to a best friend. Vera and Gabe’s relationship with their father, on the other hand, is at an impasse. While the novel offers them a potential understanding of their father’s actions, it’s left to the reader to decide what may happen with their strained relationship. These juxtaposed interactions work well in presenting a truly authentic and natural story that helps ground the novel, assisting the actual adventure the protagonist embarks upon, which at times attempts to stretch the reader’s imagination. 


Despite this one flaw, the ending is supportive of the overall realistic tone of the novel. The novel does not attempt to solve all of the problems that are introduced. Instead, even though the adventure ends for us as readers with those final few pages, the adventure is still very much ongoing for the characters. All in all, this is a highly enjoyable novel that should attract many readers.


Copy provided by NetGalley

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review 2016-02-24 04:28
You Were Here - Cori McCarthy

What initially attracted me to this novel was the fact that it described accounts of urban exploration. From an artistic and architectural point of view, I think urban exploration is a fascinating and intriguing albeit dangerous sport; and I was truly interested in seeing how its highly sensorial elements could be portrayed in written form. 


Perhaps due to the fact that the novel was written for a young adult audience, the descriptions of the characters’ urban explorations are minimal. In truth, the characters’ meetings could easily have taken place in a park, an empty lot, or even under a highway underpass. McCarthy’s novel only provides the reader with the barest skeletal description of the abandoned places the characters visit. The author’s descriptions of the art and architecture of the various settings are blank and dull, and can easily dissuade young readers from attempting their own adventures to abandoned urban sites.


McCarthy’s focus is instead on character and relationships. All of the internal and external conflicts that affect the novel’s five main characters stem from a common cause: avoidance. The characters’ decisions to avoid topics of conflict add constant strain and tension that negatively impacts the level of trust that exists amongst them, including their own ability to trust themselves. The conflicts develop important questions concerning loyalty, friendship, self-knowledge and self-worth—qualities that are essential for one’s own sense of identity and for building and maintaining successful relationships with others. 


The characters are portrayed in a realistic way, though their respective conflicts don’t make for a comfortable read. At times, the characters can be insufferably oppressive and their attempts at moving on from various ugly revelations aren’t entirely healthy…another form of avoidance. A reader might hope for a feeling of positive change at the novel’s conclusion, but I don’t necessarily feel that all of the characters are emotionally ready for that to happen by the novel’s closing pages. Their relationships are still in a tentative state; and futures are as yet undecided. Ultimately, I think the way McCarthy ends this story is an asset to her attempts at depicting a realistic portrayal of teenage conflict. 


What doesn’t work is McCarthy’s use of the split narrative. McCarthy continues the growing trend in young adult literature of writing in different narrative styles, mixing first person and third person narratives with graphic novel scenes and photographs of poetic artwork. Rather than adding a personal element to each of the five characters’ stories, the split narrative creates distance and even arguably ranks the characters’ importance to the story, based upon the frequency and length of their chapter contributions. Given the fact that all of the characters share the same conflicts, each should have had an equal presence in telling their respective stories within the main tale. 


Additionally, the use of split narrative does a disservice to the characters’ voices. At times, it can be difficult to distinguish between Natalie and Zach’s chapters, which are written in third person, especially after revisiting the story mid-chapter from a reading break.


Though McCarthy’s novel does provide some important and relevant insights for readers both young and old, it does have elements that might detract some readers from finding the novel a truly satisfying read.


Copy provided by NetGalley

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review 2016-01-30 00:08
Into the Dim - Janet B. Taylor

Into the Dim opens with an intriguing mystery that readily captures the reader’s interest. Among the characters the reader’s initially introduced, it’s only the protagonist, Hope, who holds fast to the belief of solving it. A visit to an estranged aunt in Scotland unwittingly places Hope into a position to gain the answers she’s long sought, and even lead her to a few revelations that she little expected or even dreamed were possible.


Time travel and interactions with the past can make for an exciting and intriguing read. However here, the drama and mystery that is introduced quickly falls away into campy cartoonish action. When reading the interactions that take place amongst the adult and teenage characters, it is rather difficult to identify a mature voice—a voice of reason. The dialogue makes the various arguments that arise seem quite naive and even theatrical. This is especially true for the story’s antagonists.


Taylor also tends to overuse the “‘I need to tell you something important!” […] ‘Not now!’” interaction with her characters. Though it is meant to provide comic relief, it cuts the drama in the extreme. Moments where time is of the essence are drawn out with silly, unnecessary conversation and inaction, while instances where there is time to speak and divulge secrets are full of missed opportunities.


Yet though it might seem that this novel solely focuses on levity, the novel also describes situations that might be more appropriate for mature readers, namely attempted rape and descriptions of physical abuse. Into the Dim is a novel best suited for readers seeking comical fantasy entertainment. Those seeking a new twist to a more traditional historical novel with drama and intrigue might find this novel somewhat disappointing.


Copy provided by NetGalley

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review 2016-01-30 00:03
The Boy Most Likely To - Huntley Fitzpatrick

When I first learned Ms. Fitzpatrick was penning a sequel to My Life Next Door written from the point of view of Tim Mason, I was truly excited. My Life Next Door ends with many themes that could be further explored: Tim’s sobriety, his relationship with his troubled sister, parental issues, as well as his growing attraction towards Alice. 


In The Boy Most Likely To, the reader is introduced to a new source of conflict for Tim, one that unfortunately tests the boundaries of plausibility and even practicality. This new Hester/baby addition should have easily been solved in a matter of days, especially when Tim’s parents became involved, considering all of the expenses lost on lawyer’s fees and the like. This storyline is meant to demonstrate Tim’s willingness to change and adapt, tangible proof of his growing maturity. However, the fact that he does not immediately question the story he is told, and obtain proof of its validity arguably undermines this potential growth.


 Also since this storyline is the main focus of the novel, all of those other important themes and conflicts that were previously introduced become lost in the shuffle. Although Fitzpatrick does ultimately address them, their resolutions are seemingly insufficient given the depth of those problems, especially the issues his sister is facing. There are a lot of unfinished questions there, enough for a potential sequel. 


Though it pains me to say this, The Boy Most Likely To is not among Huntley Fitzpatrick’s best work.

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