The Dead Inside by Cyndy Etler

Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: April 4th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cyndy Etler isn’t a model child, but she’s certainly not a druggie or a slut or anyone who should have ended up at Straight Inc. To the outside world Straight Inc. appeared as a drug rehabilitation centre for teens, but inside it was frighteningly more cult-like. In her cutting and honest memoir Etler shows us inside Straight Inc. and how it affected those unlucky enough to be inside.

Etler shares her story with shocking honesty and all the dirty details. What we end up with is a book that is difficult to read when you remember that it’s all true. It is difficult to believe that anyone lived the way that these teens were forced to during their time at Straight Inc.

As always, it is difficult to review a memoir of someone’s life as the plot and characters are all drawn from reality. Nevertheless, The Dead Inside proves to be a chilling and eye-opening tale of a child from a damaged family being forced into the worst circumstances and brainwashed. The slow descent into believing that Straight Inc. is a positive experience is captured expertly by Etler. It’s heartwrenching to watch her fighting spirit die and to see her slowly start to believe that she is the one who has done something wrong.

I do feel that the story was cut a little short. The sequel will cover Etler’s reintegration into society but it might have been nice to hear a bit more about that in this novel as we already know that Etler’s story ends with her thriving above and beyond any expectations. I also believe that this memoir would have benefit from a little more of Etler’s adult voice interjecting. It is fascinating and important to hear teenage Etler’s voice but the memoir seems to lack a lot of the women that Etler is now and I would have liked very much to hear more of her opinion.

The Dead Inside is not the most exciting or well-rounded novel to deal with this topic because it’s a true tale. But it is precisely because this is a real story that it is one of the most important. Anyone looking to work with teens, particularly troubled teens, should read this book. Etler’s insight into the psyche of a teen who wants to be good is absolutely invaluable.

For Fans Of: Tricks

Advertisements

Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Mystery
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: June 1st 2017

3  OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Trapped inside her house with agoraphobia, Tessa Hart doesn’t have much to do all day other than tweet. When she starts the #EricThornObsessed hashtag she has no idea how it will change her life. Eric Thorn is at the top of the charts, but he’s grown hateful and even fearful of his fans after a fellow popstar’s murder. When he’s commanded to follow one of them he does – from a secret second account @EricThornSucks. As Eric and Tessa continue to interact they start to form a relationship but when Eric arranges them to meet IRL he has no idea what’s about to happen.

Following the trends of many other social media books Follow Me Back is told through tweets, DMs and from two points of view. We get to know about both Eric and Tessa and watch the romance grow from both sides. Unfortunately, this works well for Eric but leaves Tessa feeling sort of hollow. Her anxiety is her only real personality trait and too many secrets are kept from the reader for too long for anyone to be attached to her. It also makes the ending rather confusing, there’s a difference between an unreliable narrator and just suddenly becoming out of character.

The book on a whole is very standard feeling. The romance is fluffy and has ups and downs but never anything spectacular. One antagonist is left with their story relatively unfinished while the other seems shoved in and dealt with too quickly. The ending really tips the book into a new territory. Spoiling the twist would be a terrible crime but the last few pages really change the game and leave the doors open for a sequel.

The reason this book is stuck at three stars is because it didn’t know what it wanted to be. It focused intermittently on both romance and the mystery/thriller elements and suffered for it. The romance feels cookie cutter while the mystery/thriller portion feels rushed and not well foreshadowed or incorporated into the other sections of the book. There are a few extra chapters on wattpad that apparently help but they are not in the book so my review will not consider them.

It’s an easy read that’s sure to suck you in, but in the end it’s nothing special. The whole story told from just Eric’s point of view might have been better as it would let Tessa keep her secrets and let us further connect with the better-written character. The ending was a shock, but because of Tessa’s writing and the neglect of foreshadowing it feels cheap rather than satisfying.

I enjoyed Follow Me Back and I read it quickly, but it’s definitely more of one-night stand than a soulmate.

For Fans of: Gena/Finn

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Coming of Age
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: January 5th 2016

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“What is it I plan to do with my one wild and precious life?”

Rachel has always known what God’s plan for her future was. Soon she would be getting married, having children and raising them to honour the Lord. She spends most of her days practising domestic life and being a good helpmeet. When Lauren, a girl who abandoned Rachel’s church, comes back from the city Rachel is curious. Despite being warned she begins to communicate with Lauren and she realizes that maybe she could have her own future.

Devoted is an excellent read about a girl finding herself after leaving a negative situation. Rachel’s life is never made dramatically terrible. There is no obvious abuse within her family, just a quiet tradition of oppression that everyone has grown to accept. The lack of tragedy in Rachel’s past makes the book more powerful because while abuse is very real more often than not these sorts of churches just foster a lifestyle where women are oppressed without realizing it.

Matthieu examines the lifestyle Rachel leads critically, but never dismisses Christianity as a whole. Devoted shows some of the uglier (though not ugliest) sides of almost cult-like Christianity – but it also offers up other interpretations of the religion. Interpretations that allow freedom, love and inclusion while still keeping your beliefs. It carefully balances good people who believe and who don’t as well as bad people who believe and who don’t. Matthieu has written such a respectful and honest representation of religion when it would have been easy to sensationalise and exaggerate and that takes a lot of integrity.

There are hints of flirtation but there is no real romance plot that would threaten to burden or overshadow the focus on Rachel finding herself.Instead, much of the book focuses on platonic love between family and friends. Rachel loves her family despite being unhappy with life at home, she makes friends who she grows to love and shares her true self with.

Devoted is a powerful portrayal of a girl questioning her beliefs and ultimately finding her own way to believe. It is a refreshing young adult read and doesn’t fall into any obvious tropes or clichés. A fantastic feminist read that will leave readers thinking. Perfect for anyone fascinated by the Duggar family or the Quiverfull movement in general.

For Fans Of: Only Ever Yours

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: March 7th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tea never meant to bring her brother back from the dead, but she did. Tea possesses a rare talent for dark magic – she’s a bone witch. She’s quickly taken from her home with her newly risen brother and carted off for training. While learning to be an asha Tea must learn to control her massive powers – and make some difficult decisions.

Chupeco sets up a powerful narrative style, linking the present and the past through storytelling. This could have been extremely useful for world building but it never quite meets its potential as a narrative device.It’s also quite confusing that the story being told doesn’t end in a way that explains why the present is so vastly different.Tea’s age is also a little jarring, even before asha training she doesn’t quite feel like a teenage in thought or dialogue.

Our protagonist, Tea, has two distinct selves. The Tea we see in the present is strong, enchanting and vengeful. She has a lot to say and a grand story to tell. The Tea from the past is bland, has little dialogue and doesn’t feel as powerful and dark as the storyteller. This would be fine if she transformed through the story but they’re never really properly linked.

Chupeco has brilliant descriptive writing. The huas and hair ornaments are intricately detailed. The food makes my mouth water. The world is charming and real. Unfortunately, the actual building of the world is confusing. Even after finishing the novel I feel like I must have missed something. Chupeco has set up a massive world with a plethora of rules – but it never gets entirely explained. I’m left with more questions than answers and there’s still a lot of the plot that makes very little sense.

There is just too much going on for one book. Almost no plotline is giving a satisfactory ending – even when plenty of them could have been dealt with in one book. The ending is extremely confusing because when present Tea finishes her story there’s still no indication of how she ended up where she is now or why she decided to seek revenge.

There are plenty of good concepts and set pieces in The Bone Witch but none of them ever quite reach their full potential. That said, it could be the beginning of a promising series if future books delve more into this world and its rules.

For Fans Of: Eon by Alison Goodman

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti

Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Romance
Publisher:  Sourcebooks
Publication Date: January 3rd 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Lizzie Lovett is missing. Hawthorn Creely never cared much for Lizzie until she disappeared while out camping with her boyfriend. Suddenly Hawthorn can imagine a hundred interesting scenarios – and she needs to be involved. She finds herself working Lizzie’s old job and befriending Lorenzo, Lizzie’s boyfriend, to try and figure out what really happened to Lizzie Lovett.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett is a fantastically unique young adult novel debut. It was easy to read, the dialogue and narration felt natural. Unfortunately, the “mystery” part of the book was not as important as the blurb would have you believe. For the most part, it’s just Hawthorn chasing a ridiculous theory that’s obviously not true.

Sedoti has managed to create a realistic teen, but it’s hard to support Hawthorn as the hero. Hawthorn has a fantastic voice, she’s annoying, lonely, selfish and rash. Sedoti has managed to make her memorable but she feels poorly used. Hawthorn is unlikeable because even while this is her story it isn’t. It is Lizzie’s story. Hawthorn is obsessed with some missing girl she briefly hated in high school. It is okay for a narrator to be unreliable/unlikable but when Hawthorn’s motives are so flimsy it’s hard to want to continue reading her story.

It’s almost like Hawthorn is too realistic. No one wants to read a story about a self-obsessed whiny teenager who barely learns to grow out of it by the end of the book. On the other hand, it can be argued that Hawthorn is ridiculously childish for a seventeen-year-old. She’s old enough to think she can date people over the age of twenty but still thinks it’s appropriate to make up and publically announce theories about werewolves while people are grieving.

Near the end of the novel a more realistic explanation is found and the plot sort of screeches to a stop. Everything it was building towards falls flat. Burgeoning romance suddenly cut off. A new empty romance forced in. Hawthorn just barely growing up. I feel the need to point out here that it is fine to believe in things, to want magic – but Hawthorn can barely distinguish reality from fiction even at the end of the novel.

Sedoti had a premise with promise, but an immature narrator wasting hundreds of pages with playing pretend makes this less of a magnificent mystery and more just mediocre.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: 13 Reasons Why

Unnatural Deeds by Cyn Balog

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Thriller
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: November 1st 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A copy of this novel was received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Victoria is quiet, she doesn’t have any friends at school. She suffers from anxiety and struggles through everyday – but her boyfriend, Andrew, makes everyday worth it. Victoria’s life is enough for her until her world is turned upside down by a handsome new kid, Z. She falls for him harder than she’s ever fallen before, but something terrible is going to happen and her connection to Z is the start of it all.

Balog expertly crafts a story full of lust, love, thrills and mystery. Z is to die for. He’s a perfect blend of charm and good looks while maintaining an unscrupulous air. Victoria plays the innocent lamb role while hiding a more thrill seeking side and even the classic mean girls aren’t quite what they seem. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Z as Victoria does, in fact it’s hard not to feel all of Victoria’s feelings along with her.

The writing style was particularly unique. Written as a message being recorded by Victoria as she lies wounded to her boyfriend Andrew the book opens with the reader knowing something terrible will happen by the end. Each chapter opens with a newspaper clipping about the murder to come or an interview with a teacher, parent or classmate. It’s incredibly successful at building suspense towards the eventual crime. Who is the murderer? How did things go so badly? It’s hard to put the book down when you need to know so badly.

An absolutely shocking ending. There are a lot of ways I predicted the story could go but I never even considered the way it went. Despite going into the book knowing there would be a twist I didn’t manage to see it coming and that is a feat all it’s own. However the twist isn’t entirely satisfying. It leaves several parts of the story feeling wrong. There are certainly parts of the story that foreshadow the twist, but there are parts that barely make sense when reread with the twist in mind.

A nearly perfect thriller, although it could have done with either a slightly altered ending or better foreshadowing it’ll definitely hit home with mystery and romance fans alike.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: Vanishing Girls

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Genres: Young Adult, Thriller, Contemporary, LGBT+
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: January 5th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Together we could be so strong, but the gun has made us individuals.”

Fifty-four minutes is all it takes. Told from four different points of view, This is Where it Ends tells a thrilling and tragic tale of a school shooting. Each of the four stories takes place in two to four minute chunks as they struggle to survive.

This is a review that is going to be extremely hard to write. To put it simply: I loved this book. It was exciting and fun to read, easy to finish in a single sitting. Above all books should entertain, but I’m not entirely blind to the issues that stopped it from being a complete masterpiece.

There were parts of this book where I could not suspend my disbelief. Where I realized certain things were just TOO ridiculous to be realistic. Three of the four main characters stare down the barrel of a gun while giving speeches. Two of these speeches read like prose from a John Green novel far more suited to a graduate of literature than a teenager. Courage does exist, but these characters spit in the face of death. They’ve crossed the thin line between brave and stupid. There are exchanges I cannot force myself to believe would ever happen between a teenager and someone who just murdered a dozen people.

It’s a novel that should have been about victims, but made itself about heroes.

I know that sentence sounds like it’s a good thing but it’s not. A lot of the trauma a shooting like this should create is lost because our protagonists are too busy giving speeches about their love or trying to save the whole school.  The protagonists are almost flawless caring for sick mothers, working hard, defending siblings; I could not give you a single flaw of any of the four main characters. Sure Tomás beats people up but only for good reasons. He’s lovably mischievous. The four protagonists barely even sound different in their narration; which doesn’t even cover that Claire is horrifically boring because she’s not even involved in the shooting or the rescue.

On the other end we have our shooter, what a twisted caricature he is. Tyler does at times speak like a school shooter would; but the entire affair has been made too black and white. Tyler is not a kid who snapped, he’s evil. Tyler is given a few good characteristics immediately swept away with more stories about how he was definitely pretty bad the whole time. It changes the situation from a tragedy no one could have seen coming to “yeah maybe you should have noticed when he did all this other evil stuff before this”.

He’s also a flawless murderer. The amount of set-up he does and the fact that almost nothing goes wrong for him is entirely unbelievable. Things only start to go wrong for him when it’s convenient story-wise and then they go so far in the opposite direction it’s still hard to believe.

it’s also very diverse, and diversity is a good thing; but Nijkamp chose to set this book in Alabama. We’re meant to believe that in Alabama an out-and-proud gay student has few issues and everyone loves him for standing up to bullying. Like discrimination against the LGBT+ community doesn’t exist in Alabama schools anymore. Not to mention that in this small town a shooting manages to last almost an hour while the police muddle around outside waiting – which is no longer something they do in school shooting scenarios.

I’m torn; I loved this book despite all the issues. It was a joy to read; but it is written with bare bones understands of school shootings and school shooter psyches. It puts good and evil hats on the characters and fine; we know school shooters are bad. What they are doing is bad; the interesting part is why. Tyler is given some very flimsy motivation and sent on his way.

This book is a good thriller. It is not a good book dealing with school shootings. It’s not a good book about the moral complexity and why shooters become killers. It’s not even very good at creating the diversity it strives to feature. But it’s entertaining. I have to give it that.

It may have MANY flaws; but it was a good read and if you don’t think about it too much it’s a lot of fun.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: All the Bright Places

One was Lost by Natalie D. Richards

Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Publisher:  Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: October 1st 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Damaged. Deceptive. Dangerous. Darling. Waking up drugged with labels on their wrists was not part of the camping plan. To make matters worse their teacher is out cold, all their equipment is destroyed and they can’t see the other girls across the river. People die in the woods all the time, but when you’re being hunted by a psychopath things are a little more urgent than usual.

Richards has woven a suspenseful and spooky tale that reads like a campfire horror story. It was thrilling trying to put the pieces of the mystery together while worrying about what might happen to the characters next. There was so much to be worried about and the pacing kept up through the whole book. There were very few moments of rest before something new happened.

The characters were good. It was hard to care about them until a while into the book when they got a little fleshing out. In the beginning it’s hard to get a feel for anyone but Sera who’s narrating. The relationships between the character were…alright. There was very little bonding outside of the romance – which felt unnecessary. The parts where Sera is remembering her brief romance or thinking about how she doesn’t want to be like her mother are definitely the weakest parts of the book, aside from the conclusion.

The ultimate ending felt a bit weak. All the suspense felt like it was leading to something bigger and more dangerous. Richards had set out a lot of pieces, but only some actually felt like they fit in the end. It felt like the little things should have had so much more meaning to make this book perfect. Richards’ messy ending throws away a lot of the work that went into making the story as clever as it was.

It’s a solid mystery, and some of the twists are generally shocking and satisfying. However a shoehorned romance and a climax that didn’t fit the vuild up left it feeling more average than anything.

BUY THE BOOK

Read this if you’re a fan of: Unspeakable