Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Darius the Great Deserves Better, by Adib Khorram

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

Darius the Great Deserves Better

by Adib Khorram

Dial Books, 2020. 342 pages.
Review written August 31, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I was delighted when I heard this book was coming out. Its predecessor, Darius the Great Is Not Okay came out during my Newbery year, when I was reading everything, so I compared it with lots of other books, and still named it my #3 Sonderbooks Stand-out in General Teen Fiction for that year. In the first book, Darius is dealing with depression in the context of bullying and trouble getting along with his father. Then the family makes an extended trip to Iran to see the grandparents he’s never met, because his Babou is dying of cancer. In Iran, he feels like he fits in even less, but makes his first true friend, ever.

In that book, the reader is pretty sure Darius is gay, but it’s never explicitly stated, and Darius hasn’t put it into so many words. This book begins as Darius is with his boyfriend getting a haircut to match the other guys on his soccer team.

So Darius came out as gay in between books, though he hasn’t told his grandparents in Iran. Relationship issues are a big part of this book, and Darius’s boyfriend wants to have sex, but Darius isn’t ready. This involves discussion of body parts that I don’t even have, so I didn’t relate to it quite as much as the first book, but I still love Darius and his over-willingness to examine his feelings. Because a book narrator who examines his feelings makes the reader realize their own feelings are not so unusual.

Darius is getting along better with his father, but his family is under stress because of the money they spent to go to Iran, and they’re working extra hours. So they decide to have his father’s parents come stay with them – Oma and Grandma. Darius hoped they would have some insight into being queer, but they aren’t very forthcoming. I was interested when I found out that Oma is a transgender woman, and she didn’t come out as transgender until after her grandson Darius was born.

It’s hard to explain why these books are so heart-warming. Darius is someone I can’t help caring about. He’s so authentic, and cries much more often than he’d like to. In this book he’s dealing with romantic problems, which are perhaps more typical problems for an American teen. He handles them with thoughtfulness and sensitivity, but also enough mistakes that you root for this kid.

The cover does give away that there will be some romantic decisions to make, but they didn’t show up in the way I expected. And it does point out that romantic quandaries are universal, whether you’re gay or straight. I hope this isn’t the last book about Darius the Great.

adibkhorram.com
PenguinTeen.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Igniting Darkness, by Robin LaFevers

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

Igniting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 540 pages.
Review written August 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Ahhhhh! Such a magnificent series!

Series? you ask. Isn’t this supposed to be the second book in a duology? Well, yes it is, but you can think of the duology as a continuation of the trilogy that began with Grave Mercy, because it begins where the trilogy ended, and you will better understand the characters and relationships of the duology if you’ve already read the trilogy.

The main way the trilogy is different from the duology is that in the trilogy, each book was a stand-alone story in its own right, though they all went together well. Each book featured a different trained assassin from the convent that served Saint Mortain of Brittany, the god of Death. Each book told a love story, and each love story was different from the one before.

I got annoyed with the first book of the duology, Courting Darkness, because it did not follow this pattern. Though it did tell of a new daughter of Death from the convent, it did not complete her story at all and most issues were unresolved. All that intricate pulling together of a tapestry of threads was missing.

Because of my annoyance, I did not preorder my own copy of this book, but just read a library copy. I have already rectified that mistake. I ordered a copy so I can have my own when I reread all five books, which I have no doubt I’m going to want to do from time to time.

Was I missing intricate tying together of disparate threads? They’re all pulled together here. Courtly intrigue and daring adventure? It’s here. Satisfying love stories? Yes. Apparent doom and an appearance that victory is impossible? Yes. Utterly clever plans to overcome the insurmountable odds? Yes, again we’ve got them.

And it all comes together in an ending that’s worthy of the five magnificent books.

I won’t say a whole lot about details, since I want those who haven’t started this series to start at the beginning with Grave Mercy. I will say this is rich historical fiction of the kind I like best – for all we know, it could have really happened. It features the Duchy of Brittany, which at the start of the series and in actual history was ruled by a young duchess who had been promised in marriage to competing nobles from various places.

It also features assassin nuns! In the small touch of fantasy in these books, the heroines are daughters of Mortain, the god Death, one of nine gods of Brittany who were cleaned up and made saints by the Church. They serve the Duchess of Brittany during a time when women aren’t usually given that kind of power. Indeed, the Duchess’s new husband isn’t too happy about her wielding power of her own, and his sister who had been regent before he came of age, has her own plans for holding onto power.

This is a book of historical political intrigue, of desperate plots within plots, and women apparently without power figuring out what they can do to stand up against evil men who are accustomed to doing anything they want. It does help that those women have gifts from their father, the god of Death, and training from those who serve Death.

And you are lucky, Dear Reader – you don’t have to wait for the next book to come out! I’m definitely planning to sit down and read all five books some time in the near future.

RobinLaFevers.com
hmhbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of We Used to Be Friends, by Amy Spalding

Friday, August 21st, 2020

We Used to Be Friends

by Amy Spalding

Amulet Books, 2020. 362 pages.
Review written March 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is ultimately a sad book. It’s about the Senior year in high school of two lifelong best friends and how by the end of the year, they weren’t friends any more.

However, although I’m not generally a fan of sad books these days – I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this one. The story is gripping and you get to understand who the girls really are and how this could have happened, even though it wasn’t what either of them wanted.

I hope that a lesson readers will take away from the book is that people who love you can’t read your mind if you don’t tell them what’s going on, but also that you probably need to be receptive. Anyway, it’s not a book about lessons – but it’s a book with friendship dynamics that seem very real, so don’t be surprised if readers pick up some insights.

The story is told out of chronological order, in a way that makes you very eager to know how each part happened. The chapters alternate the perspectives of the two girls, and the book opens with James (one of the girls) headed off to college, wishing Kat were there to say good-by. And then we scoop back to the beginning of the year, when Kat found out her boyfriend had slept with another girl. It’s not too many chapters in when Kat replaces him with a girlfriend.

The skipping around keeps things intriguing. I was honestly amazed that the author pulled off the non-chronological order. I did go back and read the first chapter after reading the last one. Right at the beginning, James mentions that they wrote letters and put them in a time capsule four years ago – “back before Kat’s mom died, or my mom left.” We find out more about those things later in the book.

This is a novel about friendship in high school. And life. And pressures. And secrets you never meant to be secrets. And popularity. And how you care about people. It’s refreshing and it’s fun, besides being touching. And Amy Spalding tells a really good story.

theamyspalding.com
amuletbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Hand on the Wall, by Maureen Johnson

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

The Hand on the Wall

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 369 pages.
Review written March 17, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Hand on the Wall is the third and final book in the Truly Devious mystery series, and ties everything up beautifully. Yes, you have to read these books in order. You will be rewarded with an exquisitely crafted series.

In this trilogy, each book gives you pieces of the mysteries in the past and in the present, and each book gives you parts of the solution. You get information about the past mystery in flashbacks as our hero, Stevie Bell, figures out clues. You also have at least one death in each volume. In this book, Stevie and the reader figure out what happened.

This book also has the added drama – perfect for a mystery – of a bunch of students blizzard-bound at the ever-so-interesting isolated Vermont campus created by the eccentric millionaire Albert Ellingham. A blizzard always makes a good backdrop for murder! Can Stevie figure out the solution before the snow melts and she has to go home?

I so appreciate all the atmosphere and nods to great detective fiction that Maureen Johnson slipped into this book. Both mysteries – past and present – have layers to them so that even stretched over three books, they didn’t lag. And enough happened in each book to feel that it deserved to be a book and not just cram the whole thing together.

But the final volume, pulling everything together, was indeed the most satisfying. This is a mystery series with teens taking the starring roles, including the brilliant detective and the person getting a little too close to the truth for her own good. Mystery and danger both! And the fantasy of a school where you can study what you’re good at – even if that talent is finding a murderer.

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Gravity of Us, by Phil Stamper

Friday, July 24th, 2020

The Gravity of Us

by Phil Stamper
narrated by Michael Crouch

Listening Library, 2020. 9 hours, 21 minutes.
Starred Review
Review written June 26, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

Here’s a story of Cal, a teen who already had a large social media following on “Flash Fame” and plans to be a journalist, who has his whole life uprooted when his father is chosen to be an astronaut for NASA’s mission to Mars.

The whole mission has its own reality show, Star Watch, which is basically responsible for the fact that the project got funding in the first place. But Cal is uneasy about their lives going under a magnifying glass when they have to leave New York City for his father’s opportunity and go to Houston.

Cal knew all about the other astronaut families from Star Watch, so he already knew that Leo was incredibly handsome. But he didn’t know that Leo’s sister follows his Flash Fame posts and Leo thinks he’s cute. Their romance makes Cal begin to think Houston might not be so bad.

But as Calvin comes into conflict with Star Watch and their coverage turns more negative, can Calvin use his own following to turn things around?

This story was engaging and wonderful to listen to. I enjoyed that nobody batted an eye or made a big deal about the boys’ gay romance, and it was a nice romance with believable obstacles and misunderstandings along with the excitement and joy. On the audio, the Star Watch portions had a full cast, which did make it sound like you were listening in on a professional show.

I was a little drawn out of the story because they used dates in the present for the Star Watch broadcasts. They started out at the end of 2019, and progressed to hearing a date in August 2020. I wish they had set it about five years in the future, so it would be easier to believe it could really happen. Since obviously, NASA hasn’t put any of this in place yet, and what’s more, the book of course made no mention of any pandemic. So that was a glaring reminder that this is fiction.

But as fiction goes, this story gave me realistic and thoughtful romance, a believable family situation with – this was a surprise – parents who fight a lot at the beginning who grow together when the father gets his dream-come-true job, and even inspiring thoughts about the space program. Add in a teen protagonist figuring out what he wants out of life and working to save the day, and this all came out to a wonderful listening experience.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an eaudiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Vanishing Stair, by Maureen Johnson

Friday, July 3rd, 2020

The Vanishing Stair

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2019. 373 pages.
Review written March 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Vanishing Stair is the second book in the Truly Devious trilogy. Yes, you need to read the books in order, because this is a mystery series, and clues are revealed along the way.

Stevie Bell was invited to Ellingham Academy to work on a decades-old mystery about the kidnapping of the wife and daughter of Albert Ellingham, the founder of the academy. In the first book, though, a present-day student dies, and another one disappears.

This book begins with Stevie back with her parents because of the death at Ellingham Academy. But, no surprise to the reader, she quickly gets back to the school, and more of the old and new mysteries unfold. In fact, this volume has Stevie making a major breakthrough about the old case – but we also have another death.

Fortunately, this time I’m reading with the book that comes next checked out and ready to go! I read the first book much too long ago, but anyone who starts the series now will not have the same problem. Check all three books out – you’re in for a well-crafted mystery, with many different layers. On top of that, the characters are quirky, interesting, and fun to spend time with.

Stevie does make a breakthrough in the old case in this book, but there’s still a lot to find out. These books finish at a satisfying place, but still make you eager to find out more.

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Queen of Nothing, by Holly Black, read by Caitlin Kelly

Saturday, June 13th, 2020

The Queen of Nothing

by Holly Black
read by Caitlin Kelly

Hachette Audio, 2019. 9.5 hours on 8 CDs.
Review written February 28, 2020, from a library audiobook
Starred Review

The Folk of the Air trilogy is so good! The Queen of Nothing is the third and final volume of the trilogy. The whole series is full of twists and turns and reversals. Each book has multiple moments where you’re not sure how the main character is even going to survive, let alone triumph. The books are full of assassinations and betrayals and political intrigue, and each book is more intense than the one before. I listened to this audiobook on my commute, and it’s one of those that once I got somewhere near the end, I had to bring the final CD inside the house to listen because I couldn’t bear to stop.

Jude has been brought up in Faerie after the redcap former husband of her mother killed both her mother and father, but pledged to take care of her and her twin sister. This adopted father taught her to be a deadly fighter, but at the start of this book, he’s fighting on the other side.

I don’t want to say much about how the book opens, because it gives away some of what went before. (And, yes, you must read these books in order.) I’ll just say that Jude is in exile in the mortal world. Her twin sister, Taryn, convinces Jude to go into Faerie “just for a few hours” pretending to be Taryn, so she can truthfully testify in the case of Taryn’s murdered husband.

Not surprisingly, things do not go as planned, and Jude is trapped in Faerie with people planning to make war against the High King of Faerie. Perhaps Jude can get information to use against them….

Twists and turns and treacheries follow. Holly Black is unsurpassed in her ability to surprise and shock her readers. But she is also able to delight us.

It is just as well I listened to this book, because in print form I don’t think I would have been able to stop. This way the enjoyment lasted longer. As it is, this book is responsible for me not remembering where I was going on an evening when I planned to go to choir rehearsal after work.

blackholly.com
HachetteAudio.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Dreadnought, by April Daniels

Monday, June 1st, 2020

Dreadnought

Nemesis, Book One

by April Daniels

Diversion Books, 2017. 279 pages.
Review written April 8, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I picked up Dreadnought because of a recommendation by a transgender woman I follow on Twitter, and was so glad I did.

The set-up for this book is maybe a little typical: A fifteen-year-old is present when a superhero dies, so the mantle is passed to her and she gains all the powers of the superhero, to be the next one with that persona.

But in this case, there’s an extra twist. Danny, the person who received the mantle and the superpowers, is a transgender girl, who wasn’t out to anyone but herself. But part of the superpowers includes Danny receiving her ideal body – and in Danny’s case, that’s the body of a woman. She now looks like the girl she’s long known she is.

So besides figuring out what to do with her new superpowers and whether to let the world even know she has them, Danny also has to navigate suddenly looking female.

Danny’s abusive father does not take it well. He insists on bringing Danny to doctors and trying to set up testosterone therapy. Danny’s former best friend thinks he’s doing Danny a favor when he says he’s willing to date her. And the local Legion of superheroes doesn’t allow underage “white capes,” and not everyone currently in the Legion is okay with being joined by someone who’s transgender.

Meanwhile, Utopia, the supervillain who killed the last Dreadnought, is still out there. Danny does make a friend in Sarah, who has her own super abilities and acts as a “gray cape,” not affiliated with the Legion. Sarah convinces Danny that they need to deal with Utopia, and Danny thinks she owes it to Dreadnought for the wonderful gift of a female body.

The story that follows is intense. First, Danny’s father greatly increases his abuse, and then Utopia threatens the Legion itself as well as the world. And she hints that there’s something even more dangerous coming, something called Nemesis. Since right on the cover, we see Nemesis – Book One, I’m looking forward to reading more.

This book is beautiful with all the things any superhero book might have about grappling with new powers and whether great power really does bring great responsibility. But layered on top of that, Danny grapples with what it means to finally have a body that reflects the person she’s always been, and how people react to her. Danny has a very hard time with her father’s abusive words, and I appreciate that no simplistic answers are given to that. Even with superpowers, it’s hard to stand up to abuse.

This is a wonderful book, and I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up. (As soon as I can get to the library.)

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

The Astonishing Color of After

by Emily X. R. Pan

Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 472 pages.
Review written in early 2018 from a book sent by the publisher
Starred Review
2019 Asian/Pacific American Literature Award Honor
2019 Walter Award Honor
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Teen Speculative Fiction

Wow. This book ties together symbolism and back story and grief and young love and magical realism and puts it all together into a package with punch. That sounds trite, and this book is anything but trite.

This is how Leigh begins her story.

My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.

I know it’s true the way I know the stain on the bedroom floor is as permanent as the sky, the way I know my father will never forgive himself. Nobody believes me, but it is a fact. I am absolutely certain.

We learn that Leigh’s mother committed suicide. The same day that Leigh’s best friend Axel kissed her and changed everything between them.

But then her mother appeared to her as a giant red bird. She said Leigh’s name. And left behind a feather.

The bird finds a way to tell Leigh to go to Taipei and meet her grandparents for the first time. In Taipei there are more appearances from the red bird. Leigh and Waipo and Waigong start traveling to the places her mother loved. It is Ghost Month in Taiwan. She learns that ghosts move on after forty-nine days. There isn’t much time left for her mother. She wants to figure out what her mother is trying to tell her.

But meanwhile, the red bird shows her a box of incense sticks. When she burns a stick, she sees memories – memories that belong to other members of her family. She begins to understand her mother better, but also her father and her grandparents. She learns why she never met them while her mother was alive. She understands better what her mother was up against.

These memories are interspersed with Leigh’s travels around Taiwan and time with her grandparents and sightings of the red bird. Also interspersed are Leigh’s memories of the last couple years with her friend Axel. The complication when he got a girlfriend who wasn’t Leigh. Their friendship and Leigh’s love of making art – which her Dad thinks she should give up to pursue something “serious.”

I am not always a fan of magical realism. I like fantasy where I understand how it works, which this didn’t fit at all. But Emily X. R. Pan won me over with her well-crafted story. The threads of grief, family history, following your passion, and falling in love with your best friend – all worked together to make an amazing book.

I’m writing this review before I’ve talked with anyone else about it – so this is solely my opinion. I am just not sure if I think this fits the age range for the Newbery. Leigh is fifteen – so there will certainly be many fourteen-year-old readers. I was personally trying to rule out any books that begin with discussions of sex, and this one begins with Leigh thinking about how much she wants to kiss Axel, so it’s not quite that.

I do think that the approach taken in this book is to a child audience – to the teenager as a child. Leigh approaches her grief as a child missing her mother, as a child becoming acquainted with her grandparents. Yes, there’s an aspect of hoping her best friendship with Axel will make the jump to an adult relationship, but that is only starting to happen.

But that’s only my opinion. And I’m only saying I do think this book is distinguished – but I’m making no claims at all to it being most distinguished. Or even if it’s in my top seven. I’m only saying that it made a strong impression on the first reading. I’ll indulge in a little speculation — whatever the committee decides – I hope this will also get some Morris and Printz love. I am amazed that Emily X. R. Pan is a debut author! But even if she doesn’t get any award recognition – this is an amazing book, and I hope many people read it. I will be looking forward to reading more books by this author.

exrpan.com
lbyr.com
theNOVL.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

As You Wish

by Chelsea Sedoti

Sourcebooks Fire, January 2018. 412 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 2017 from an advance reader copy
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Teen Speculative Fiction

I’m so excited! As You Wish is the first book I’ve read that’s eligible for the 2019 Newbery Award, being a book published in America during 2018 for an audience that includes some group between the ages of 0 and 14. (In this case, it’s for 14 and up.)

I’m writing this review in August 2017 after finishing the book and before having discussed it with anyone at all. So this is entirely my opinion and not the opinion of anyone else – and I have no idea at this writing if the committee will consider it (or even if they’ll decide that the age range doesn’t fit the criteria) or what anyone else on the committee thinks of it. That’s my disclaimer – but I can still post this review after our decision has been announced in 2019. Writing a review will also help me remember what happened in this book as the year goes on and the number of books I’ve read gets bigger and bigger.

As You Wish is about a small town in Nevada near the site of Area 51. Alien hunters come through town often – but the town conspires to give them the message, “Nothing to see here! Move along!” Because the town of Madison, Nevada, has a secret.

That secret is that on their eighteenth birthday, every teen living in Madison gets a wish. And the wish will come true.

There are rules about wishing. The scope of the wishing is the town itself. You can’t wish for something that will affect things outside Madison and thus bring the attention of outsiders. For example, you can’t wish to be the best football player in the country, but you can wish to be the best football player in Madison.

The book starts 25 days before Eldon Wilkes’ wish day. Eldon used to be the best football player in town – he was always naturally talented. But that was before this year, when his friends started getting their wishes. Now he’s a bit at loose ends, not used to being an average player. He doesn’t know what he’s going to wish for.

Eldon has seen lots of wishes go wrong. His dad wished to be the best football player in town – and then he got injured. Now he coaches their team. Eldon’s mother Luella wished that Harmon Wilkes (Eldon’s dad) would love her and only her forever. Trouble is, somewhere along the way, Luella stopped loving him.

She knows there’s no reversing her wish. She could divorce Harmon and move out of Madison. She could go to the other side of the world. But no matter what she says or does or how far away she moves, Harmon Wilkes will never stop loving her.

Eldon does some exploring. He asks people about their wishes. What did they wish? Why did they wish for that thing? Are they happy with it?

I like the way this premise is explored. I like how wishing has taken over the dynamics of the town. People in Madison don’t ask kids what they’re going to be when they grow up. They ask kids what they are going to wish for.

And so many people regret making the wish they did. Even the one person Eldon meets who gave up his wish regrets giving it up. There’s a lot riding on his choice – what will Eldon do?

This book also presents a realistic picture of a jock in a small town who is no longer the star of the team and looking for some meaning, dealing with friends, and also with missing his little sister, who was in a horrible accident when hit by a speeding car driven by a kid who was late for making his wish. If only they hadn’t taken his sister out of Madison so soon, but now she’s in a hospital in Las Vegas in a vegetative state.

My reading year is off to a great start!

chelseasedoti.com
sourcebooks.com

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Source: This review is based on an advance reader copy.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?