I’ve got three YA reviews and a MG review for you today. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich
Published by Poppy on October 9, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Narrator: Alana Kerr Collins, Tavia Gilbert
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing, Themes of suicide)
From the show's creators comes the groundbreaking novel inspired by the Broadway smash hit Dear Evan Hansen.
Dear Evan Hansen,
Today's going to be an amazing day and here's why...
When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family's grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.
Suddenly, Evan isn't invisible anymore--even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy's parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he's doing can't be right, but if he's helping people, how wrong can it be?
No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He's confident. He's a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.
A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.
I actually discovered this musical when I saw the book listed on NetGalley. I know, that’s weird and backward, and I have to stop living in a cave (a cave filled with books?), but that’s how it happened. I saw a YA book based on the “hit Broadway musical” and thought, I need to check this out. So, I headed over to Amazon for a quick listen—and instantly fell in love with the music.
So, I went into this book loving the musical and knowing the basic storyline (since I read a synopsis to fill in the gaps between songs). I wasn’t sure how the book would hold up, but I have to say it did pretty darn well. I love the addition of Carter’s perspective, especially. We finally get to see his side of the story and not just the picture that’s painted for us by others. And, of course, we get a deeper look into Evan’s perspective as well. This is the type of character who I might be tempted to really dislike—he does a myriad of horrible, unlikable things—but being inside his head, I found myself feeling sympathy instead of distaste. I love that his actions are never condoned—the overall message of the book is not that what he did (lying to the family of a kid who committed suicide) is alright—but we see why he felt trapped in the moment and then couldn’t quite dig himself out. He makes a LOT of bad decisions along the way, but I knew that going in, which probably helped. I will say that the book lacked some of the emotional impact of the musical (you just can’t replicate that heightened emotion that you get in song), and I missed the true connection to the moms that I get with the musical (since I’m a mom, I can completely relate to that feeling that you’re doing everything wrong and you have no idea how to make life better for your kids). Still, I was overall really pleased with this version of the story, and I highly recommend it to teens, who so often feel alone.
(While you’re here, check out my recap of the epic book tour event for this book!)
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
When My Heart Joins the Thousand by A.J. Steiger
Published by HarperTeen on February 6, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Narrator: Tavia Gilbert
Length: 9 hours and 12 minutes
Source: Edelweiss, Library
My content rating: YA (Somewhat explicit sex for a YA, Themes of Abuse)
Obviously I’m not what most people would describe as happy. But that has nothing to do with anything. Happiness is not a priority. Survival is.
Alvie Fitz doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care. She’s spent years swallowing meds and bad advice from doctors and social workers. Adjust, adapt. Pretend to be normal. It sounds so easy.
If she can make it to her eighteenth birthday without any major mishaps, she’ll be legally emancipated. Free. But if she fails, she’ll become a ward of the state and be sent back to the group home.
All she wants is to be left alone to spend time with her friend, Chance, the one-winged hawk at the zoo where she works. She can bide her time with him until her emancipation. Humans are overrated anyway. Then she meets Stanley, a boy who might be even stranger than she is—a boy who walks with a cane, who turns up every day with a new injury, whose body seems as fragile as glass. Without even meaning to, she finds herself getting close to him. But Alvie remembers what happened to the last person she truly cared about.
Her past stalks her with every step, and it has sharp teeth. But if she can find the strength to face the enemy inside her, maybe she’ll have a chance at happiness after all.
This book was a bit of a surprise for me. I went into it not remembering much about the storyline—I honestly just remembered that Sam over at We Live and Breathe Books adored it and she made me add it to my TBR.
The story focuses on Alvie, a girl with autism, and her struggles to find her way in the world and get people to see her as a fully functioning member of society.
I have to stop here to say that I don’t have autism myself, though I have some experience with it (that’s a long story that I won’t go into right now), but the way that Alvie is portrayed feels very authentic to me based on my knowledge of it (with the caveat that there is no one “autism experience”). If you want an #OwnVoices opinion, you should read Cait @ Paper Fury’s Review. Now back to my thoughts…
Alvie’s struggles to get people to truly see her are both heartbreaking and heartwarming. She doesn’t see herself as broken (at all), but she does realize that sometimes her neurodiversity makes life harder and she understands why people sometimes struggle to relate to her. I loved that, for the most part, there was no blame assigned—only a lack of understanding that needs to be fixed. And I also really appreciated that the moral of the story wasn’t that Alvie needed to fix herself in order to have a successful and fulfilling life.
This book isn’t an easy one. Not only is Alvie autistic, but she’s struggling to get past a trauma from early in life. And then there’s her love interest Stanley, who suffers from a genetic disease and also has some psychological trauma to get past. (I have to admit that by the time we got to that part, I felt like it was a little bit of “issue” overkill—but unfortunately in real life, mental trauma and physical/neurodiversity issues often go hand in hand, so I don’t know that I’d call it unbelievable.) This book is one that will twist your emotions into knots and get you thinking. I did see the main reveal coming from almost the very beginning, but that didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book. I highly recommend this one!
NARRATION: Tavia Gilbert was the perfect narrator for this book. I felt like she captured Alvie’s somewhat impassionate voice incredibly well, but still pulled us into the story—that seems like a difficult task! She also did an excellent job with the male voices in the book (enough that I specifically noted it).
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review (though I ended up listening to the audiobook version from my library). No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan
Published by Blink on August 14, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Narrator: Alana Kerr Collins
Length: 8 hours and 52 minutes
Source: The Publisher, Library
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing, Some violence)
King Midas once had the ability to turn all he touched into gold. But after his gift—or curse—almost killed his daughter, Midas relinquished The Touch forever. Ten years later, Princess Kora still bears the consequences of her father’s wish: her skin shines golden, rumors follow her everywhere she goes, and she harbors secret powers that are getting harder to hide.
Kora spends her days locked in the palace, concealed behind gloves and veils, trying to ignore the stares and gossip of courtiers. It isn’t until a charming young duke arrives that Kora realizes there may be someone out there who doesn’t fear her or her curse. But their courtship is disrupted when a thief steals precious items from the kingdom, leaving the treasury depleted and King Midas vulnerable. Thanks to her unique ability to sense gold, Kora is the only one who can track the thief down. As she sails off on her quest, Kora learns that not everything is what it seems—not thieves, not pirates, and not even curses. She quickly discovers that gold—and the power it brings—is more dangerous than she’d ever believed.
Midas learned his lesson at a price. What will Kora’s journey cost?
A retelling of King Midas? Sign me up! I was thrilled to see a unique retelling being done. There are so many unexplored stories out there, and this one has fantastic storytelling potential. I’m happy to say that the book lives up to that potential!
At first it seems that the story is going to be mostly a romance, which I was okay with, though it felt like things were moving along rather quickly in that department. Once I got a little further into the story, though, I felt like the romance wasn’t the point at all—it was more of a vehicle for Kora, the main character, to spread her wings and learn to rely on herself instead of others. (Honestly, all of the romances in the book developed a little too quickly, but the fact that I was able to overlook that tells me the book was special anyway.) I loved the way that Kora uses her power to change things into gold, and I also appreciated Kora’s struggle to keep herself from falling under the gold’s spell. While I guessed a few character elements in the story, others surprised me, and there was plenty of action and adventure to keep me interested.
NARRATION: I actually started reading the physical copy of this book, but then ended up shifting to the audiobook about a quarter of the way through when I realized I had three physical and/or ebooks going at once. :-0
I loved the narration, and found Alana Kerr Collins’s smooth British accent a delight to listen to!
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher (and then also listened to the audiobook via my library) in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on October 30, 2018
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: MG (MG-level kissing, Themes of death and dying)
The critically acclaimed author of Lily and Dunkin delivers another heartfelt story that will remind readers you never know who needs a friend the most, about two imaginative tweens who help each other find new beginnings.
Miles is an anxious boy who loves his family's bowling center even if though he could be killed by a bolt of lightning or a wild animal that escaped from the Philadelphia Zoo on the way there.
Amy is the new girl at school who wishes she didn't have to live above her uncle's funeral home and tries to write her way to her own happily-ever-after.
Then Miles and Amy meet in the most unexpected way . . . and that's when it all begins. . . .
This book about middle graders working through grief is sweet and heartwarming. I especially loved the emphasis on family bonds. Miles’s relationship with his grandfather is especially sweet, so it makes it all the more heartbreaking when there’s conflict between them. The book also deals with the topic of anxiety, as Miles struggles to let go of his fears. There’s a cute middle grade romance, and a strong theme of friendship as well, which both add to the book’s charm. With interesting settings (a bowling alley and a funeral home) and a ragtag cast of characters (one of whom has a slight disability), this book emphasizes that you don’t have to fit a certain mold to be happy or accepted.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***