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Search tags: young-adult-juvenile-fiction
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review 2016-02-22 17:53
"The Boy in the Black Suit" by Jason Reynolds
The Boy in the Black Suit - Jason Reynolds

My wife, a middle school special education teacher, recommended this book to me. She really liked it because there is such a dearth of books about young black men who are not addicts or gang members or tragically abused or otherwise completely dysfunctional. Matt, the teenage narrator of this story, is a normal kid: he goes to school, he goes to work, he crushes on girls, he hangs out with his best friend. The conflict in his life (and in the story) is external to him. His mother has died of cancer, and his father has turned to booze for solace, leaving Matt to fend for himself in a rough neighborhood. He finds a mentor and a job with Mr. Ray, the director of the local funeral home. To his surprise, Matt finds a great deal of comfort attending funerals at work: seeing other people deal with their grief helps him to process his own.


Matt's emotional journey through grief was subtle and, at times, very beautiful, but on the whole I found this book a little slow. I think it could be a very, very meaningful story for someone going through (or who has gone through) a similar loss, but it didn't register with me on an emotional level (likely because my life experience is very, very different from Matt's), and so while I could appreciate and enjoy the story, it never fully engaged me.

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review 2016-01-25 13:08
"Crossing the Line" by Katie McGarry
Crossing the Line - Katie McGarry

Just too short to feel invested in the story or the characters. It was a freebie, though, so no problem.

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review 2016-01-20 20:26
"Take Me On" by Katie McGarry
Take Me On - Katie McGarry

I think some authors, in their zeal to avoid the cardinal sin of telling too much and showing too little, err on the side of brevity so much that they leave the reader hanging. This fourth installment of Katie McGarry's Pushing the Limits series, which I have totally devoured this week, is an example of such a book. This story has an interesting premise: both the hero and heroine are homeless, though by very different circumstances. Haley's family has been on a slow slide from lower middle class stability since her father lost his job, and they've been bouncing around from shelters and friends and finally settle in an overcrowded two bedroom house already occupied by Haley's mean-spirited and controlling uncle and his family. Meanwhile, West goes from being the pampered scion of Louisville's wealthiest family to living in the back of his car overnight when his rebellious behavior gets him kicked out of school, which is the last straw for his father, who kicks him out. There are so many issues this book could have explored about the similarities and differences between West and Haley's positions and their attitudes toward their shared circumstance, and it's not that the book didn't touch on these things... but it only touched on them, it didn't sink its teeth in.


That's true of so many of the subplots as well. There's a lot going on in this story: issues with Haley's family and West's family, Haley's history of domestic violence with an ex-boyfriend and the trauma associated with it, West's discovery of a deeply guarded secret regarding his past, West's sister's recovery from an almost fatal car accident, Haley's efforts to find a way to pay for college, Haley's history as a champion kickboxer (a sport she's walked away from) and West's introduction to that sport, a final confrontation between West and Haley's ex, and West's and Haley's developing feelings for each other. "Take Me On" deals with all of these things, but only glancingly. The plot skips right along, but all of these issues are too weighty to be addressed as summarily as they are. The whole book whet my appetite, but didn't satisfy.

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review 2016-01-16 21:59
"Dare You To" by Katie McGarry
Dare You To - Katie McGarry

This second installment in the "Pushing the Limits" series wasn't as angsty as the first book (Pushing the Limits), which I liked. At the same time, though, Beth and Ryan's story doesn't pack the same emotional punch. That's not to say it's not chockfull of melodrama: Beth has a truly horrible backstory, trying to keep her addicted mom away from an abusive boyfriend, when her mom doesn't want to save herself or Beth, either. When Beth gets arrested (taking the fall for something her mom did), a long-lost uncle swoops in to take her to the suburbs for a better life -- but like her mom, Beth doesn't exactly want to be rescued. Also, living in a bible-thumping backwater isn't her idea of a better life. 


By comparison, Ryan is living the dream: steadily (if not happily) married parents, popular at school, good grades, champion baseball pitcher being courted by professional and college scouts. Yet Ryan's life isn't as charmed as it seems: his older brother was disowned after coming out of the closet, and in the wake of that scandal, Ryan's nuclear family is in the midst of a nuclear meltdown. 


I liked Ryan. I liked Beth. I enjoyed most of the individual subplots of this story. On the whole, the writing was well done and the plotting was tight and well-paced. I just didn't really feel Ryan and Beth as a couple, and I'm not sure why. 

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review 2016-01-16 21:39
"Breaking the Rules" by Katie McGarry
Breaking the Rules (Pushing the Limits Book 6) - Katie McGarry

Breaking the Rules picks up right where Pushing the Limits leaves off, following Noah and Echo as they spend the summer road tripping after their college graduation. As I noted in my review of Pushing the Limits, Noah and Echo have especially tragic backstories, such that, much as I liked and rooted for them both, it was hard for me to envision them living happily ever after. As I expected, Breaking the Rules makes clear that their relationship is not going to be all sunshine and roses -- though there are sunshiny, rosy moments throughout. Noah and Echo both have a lot of baggage to unpack and destructive patterns they need to break out of, and this book is about them figuring out how to start doing that. It's honest, it's believable, it's emotional... but it's not fun. This book is more painful that Pushing the Limits, but in many ways it's more credible. 

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