Damage Done by Amanda Panitch

Damage Done is right. Damage to my time and my reading sensibilities and my respect for YA literature. I have got to stop picking books from generic lists of ‘awesome books’. But when I saw Damage Done on one of these lists, I was immediately attracted to the simple cover and the idea of a Gone Girl style YA book. And there’s something about a book on a subject as gutwrenching as school shootings that’s meant to be read by an audience that is the age of the typical victims that’s intriguing. A book that challenges our treatment, not of the perpetrators of such crimes but of the people related to them. That shows how those people treat themselves. How we are coloured by the actions of the people in our inner circle. That’s the book I wanted to read. Panitch promises the story of Julia Vass in the aftermath of her twin brother’s mass shooting at their high school. A shooting in which she, and he, were the only survivors. But what we get is a mildly ridiculous love story where the shooting feels a like little more than a plot device.

Julia is now Lucy Black. In a new town, with a new name, and a new past. Her family relocated to escape the nightmare of media and threats that became their lives after Ryan killed eleven students. They run from the blame. Julia/Lucy’s parents were easily the most interesting part of the novel. Their reactions to the shooting were heartbreaking. Even though we don’t see them often, we see the impact of their withdrawal. The Blacks have essentially cut off all interactions with their daughter. They refuse to talk about Ryan at all. All pictures and memories have been removed from the house, left behind when they moved. Lucy has only one picture left. Hidden in the back of a drawer away from her mother’s cleaning hands. Mrs. Black has irised her life into cleaning. All she does is scrub. Bleach and scrub. A physical manifestation of her need to remove the memories of her child. Mr. Black is mostly absent. He allows his work to take him away from his wife and daughter. And he refuses, absolutely refuses, to allow Ryan’s name in the house. Any reference to their life as the Vasses is met with an immediate shut down. At least it is when Lucy wants to talk about their past.

Turns out (and from here you continue at your own peril) there’s been more Ryan discussion happening than Julia/Lucy thought. Ryan’s been out of his coma almost since he went into it. He’s awake. He’s semi-healthy. He’s not talking to anyone except Spence – his former psychologist. Julia’s parents know. They’ve made a conscious decision not to tell her. If you haven’t predicted the upcoming twist by the time this information appears, it seems a little cruel, but also makes sense. Why would they tell her that her twin is awake when she’s never going to be allowed to see him? They’re protecting her from more pain. If they keep his condition quiet, they save their family more pain. But there’s more to their silence than initially thought. Julia isn’t the girl she’s led us to believe she is. Continue reading

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Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day (@LoriRaderDay)

Recently, I was wandering through the bug room at a museum. In the back corner, there was a wall of butterfly boxes. I turned to my friend and said, ‘If I’d grown up somewhere different, I wonder if I would have known that there were jobs like this. If I’d lived in a different town, I think my life might have taken an entirely different path.” And for a brief moment, I resented the life that brought me to this place where I wasn’t tacking these beautiful bugs in boxes. Then I got over it, because I was out with people I wouldn’t know on that life path. But the characters in Rader-Day’s “Little Pretty Things” are stuck in this cycle of life resentment. Especially Juliet. A once promising track star, she now cleans rooms in a rundown motel off the interstate. Her life is not sunshine and roses.

Small towns are… well, if you’ve never lived in one, you can’t really know. Literally. It is inexplicable to people who grew up in cities. I equate it to working in an office. You basically know everyone, and you have to be careful what you say where, cause information will always get back to someone it’s not supposed to. But in the small town scenario, there’s no going home. Home is just more people that you know. There’s no anonymous trip to the store. You buy tampons, you’re buying them from someone in your class, or the child of someone you work with, or the woman who’s been working behind that counter longer than you’ve been alive. If you’re trying to get pregnant (which everyone already knows), the town will soon know that it didn’t happen this month. If you don’t want people to know you’re having sex, you leave town to buy condoms. It’s a strange microcosm of awfulness. But for some people, small town life is exactly what they want. They like having the lack of anonymity. They like knowing their neighbours. They find security in it. Continue reading

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (@escottwrites)

This book was both exceptionally easy and exceptionally hard to read. Easy from the perspective that it’s short, the font is large, and the chapters are a few pages at most. Hard from the perspective that this minimalist style of writing gives you nowhere to hide. And hide is what you want to do in this book. Hide from the nightmare this girl has been living in for so long that it’s just normal for her now. So normal that when given the chance to escape, she doesn’t take it.

Alice has been living with Ray for about five years, starting when she was almost ten. She knows he’s not her father, no matter what he says. Even though she thinks the story of her life before is a lie. He’s the man that tricked the old her. The girl that used to be. He’s the man that made Alice. She’s now fifteen, and she no longer fulfills his ideals. She’s too tall. Too heavy. Too old. Too everything. She no longer fits in the tiny white dresses with the ruffled trim. Keeping her weight under 100lbs has become a constant struggle. He’s turning her into an anorexic – which she has no desire to be. When she gets the chance to eat, she does. As long as she can brush her teeth before she sees Ray again. She knows it’s not worth the pain she will feel if he catches her with food. Continue reading

Head Over Heart by Colette Victor – @chickenhsebooks

My YA tendencies usually lean towards books aimed at older teens that contain a bit of grit, but occasionally, I’ll pick up one aimed at the younger side of the YA spectrum. Head Over Heart is one of these books (I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review). The story focuses on the life of Zeyneb, a young Muslim girl going through the challenges of becoming a teenager in a busy and diverse London school. She is now of an age where she needs to make lots of big decisions – between family, friends, and boys. It’s a book a lot of young girls will be able to relate to, even if they don’t have to make the exact same choices as Zeyneb.

Family is very important in Zeyneb’s life and culture. Family comes first – at all times – at least according to her parents. But Zeyneb has other things pulling her attention. First there’s her best friend, Kelly, who comes from a single parent home and doesn’t understand the extreme demands put on Zeyneb by her family. Then there’s school and where that’s going to take her in just a few short years. Will she go to university for an education or follow in her sister’s footsteps and get married and have children. And then there’s Alex – the boy that sends her heart a flutter. The boy she is most definitely not allowed to have fluttery feelings about. And her decision about a headscarf. What she chooses in each of these scenarios is going to directly influence each of her other decisions. Continue reading

Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth

When I’m on vacation I like books that I can really get into, but that aren’t overly… um, mentally taxing. What I’m looking for changes depending on the season I’m reading it in. I was recently on a very relaxing vacation at a mountain resort in the off season. There was literally nothing to do except for read books and watch tv in front of the fire. It was exactly what I was looking for. There was more movie watching than there should have been, but I didn’t have to think about work for 10 whole days – perfection. I started the vacation with a really heavy book, and when I finally finished that one, I turned to Weirdo. It was exactly the kind of book I was looking for. A two fold murder mystery being told simultaneously. It’s a super fast, super easy read, but for the most part, it’s entertaining.

I don’t normally write about thrillers. They tend to be pretty generic – even the good ones. It’s part of what makes them enjoyable. Also, it’s nearly impossible to really talk about them without giving away the things that make them intriguing or unique. This one follows the expected format, but with the twist needed to make it interesting. There’s no possible way for me to talk about this book without talking about the specifics, so, if you’re one of those people that reads reviews before the book, turn away now. Beware all ye who enter here. Etc. Etc. As I mentioned above, there are two storied being told simultaneously in this book. The twist is that they are occurring in two different decades and one directly impacts the other. Continue reading