Jane in Bloom by Deborah Lytton

August Falls Apart
 What do you do when everything you know changes? When the person you most relied on isn't there anymore? When the place you grew up in isn't your home? August takes a hard look at stepping outside your comfort zone, and growing up.
Today is Jane's birthday, and not just any birthday, it's her 12th birthday. The year her parents promised she could get her ears pierced. She can't wait to show off to everyone at school. She's so excited, she almost wants to rush through her favorite breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes just so they can hurry up and get to the mall! Almost ... until breakfast becomes more than a birthday celebration, and instead disintegrates into another war between her sister and her mother.

Pretty soon Lizzie is storming off on a run, "working off" the one bite of pancake her parents forced her to eat. Mom is staring off into space, sitting in her "I'm upset" spot. Ok, maybe this can still be salvaged. There's still time to go to the mall, and later there's dinner and a movie with Zoe. It was just a bad morning ...

But it's not that easy. Mom won't snap out of it. Lizzie is not the sister that Jane knows anymore. She accuses her of "being one of them" and "not understanding," like Jane doesn't feel the pressure of always being perfect. Like Jane doesn't know how hard her parents push. Then it gets so much worse, and the ambulance is here, and they are taking Lizzie away.

The next weeks are a blur. Lizzie is gone, hospitalized for her eating disorder. Her parents are shells: beautiful, perfect, and hollow. Her mother has almost disappeared, and her father is trying to pick up the slack. But how? When Lizzie comes home, it almost seems like things could get back to normal, but Lizzie is different. She is angry and bitter, sarcastic. Jane doesn't know what to think when Lizzie promises to teach her "new diet tricks" she learned in the hospital.

And then she is gone. Lizzie is gone. There is a hole where Lizzie used to be. There is no end to the tears. There is no end to the grief. There is only pain. Then the sun rises on another day. And another. It seems the world can continue without Lizzie, but can Jane?
"She sets the vase on my desk. 'This is for you, ' she says. 'They reminded me of your family. Out of one stem, four white blossoms.' I see what she means. All four roses are growing from one stem. The largest is pure white in full bloom. Ethel points to it.
'That there's your dad.' Then she points to the second largest rose. It is a bud halfway opened with some pink running through the petals. "And this one's your mama.
'That's you Jane.' Ethel indicates a tight bud with pink all around the outer petals and white on the inner petals. It is just beginning to flutter open on the edges. 'Just beginning to bloom.' There is only one rose left. It's a bloom in the early stages of opening, but it has already begun to die. The edges of the white rose have turned to parchment. It is frozen forever midbloom.
I touch the rose gently. No fear of killing this flower. 'Lizzie,' I whisper," (Lytton pg. 137, 2009).

If you liked this, check out:
Lytton, Deborah A. (2009). Jane in Bloom. New York, NY: Dutton Children's Books.

Golden by Cameron Dokey

Rapunzel has never had any hair, not since the day she was born. Nor has she seen her parents since that day; she lives with Melisande the sorceress, who took her in after her mother's unwillingness to love her. Her days consist mainly of general chores, helping Melisande around the house and garden, and looking out for Mr. Jones and his boy Harry, her best and only friend.

They stay away from large areas because of Rapunzel's oddity. The townsfolk do not taking kindly to it, but for the most part they leave her alone. Many of them also come to Melisande for small cures and curses.

After a secret is revealed, Rapunzel must take another look at her past, and sees it in a whole new light. Melisande is not as selfless and honest as she once thought. She must chose now, to save Rue and find a way to save herself, or be imprisoned in her place.

The two girls, similar in age, have one major difference: Rue's hair shines like it was spun from gold and starlight. Will Rapunzel find a way to break Rue's curse?

Lighthearted, enjoyable fairy tale retelling. Several fun quirks to keep it interesting. Very quick read as well, this is part of a series written by various authors (some are better than others).
"'They come,' the sorceress said at last, "Because they confuse seeing a thing with understanding it, and they believe that my true power lies in the bestowing of this shortcut.'
'Then they are idiots, as well as lazy,' I snorted. 'For the first lies within your power, it is true, but the second may or may not. And either way, it makes no difference. A shortcut may be fine if you're walking through a field, but it hardly seems in order when you're dealing with the heart,'" (Dokey pg. 26, 2006). 
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Before Midnight by Cameron Dokey
Beauty by Robin McKinley
The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal

Dokey, C. (2006). Golden. New York: Simon Pulse.

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

In this sequel to If I Stay, the story is told from Adam's perspective. Spoiler alert! Quit reading if you haven't read the previous book! Stop now! You can never turn back! ;)

We are reintroduced to Adam, now the international rock and roll frontman of Shooting Star, three years later. He is no longer the Adam we remember. This Adam starts his day with "It's just one day, one twenty-four-hour period to get yourself through," (Forman pg. 1, 2011). He pops some anti-anxiety pills to take the edge off, drinks a pot of coffee, and chain smokes on his way to the studio.

He isn't sure when everything got so complicated. Then again, maybe he does. A magazine reporter brings up Mia. Everyone knows that is a taboo subject. No one talks about her, or their past, or the accident - or the devastating aftermath. It's an unspoken agreement.

His new girlfriend is a movie starlette. She is the epitome of what every straight guy wants. So why does it feel so forced? This new life, the tours and stardom, it has truly taken its toll on him. It all started with their breakthrough album, Collateral Damage. After Mia left for Julliard, she started to leave him too. Soon the phone calls became briefer, the texts less frequent, the emails more terse. Then she was just gone, and he was lost. He fell into his own hole, and writing the album dragged him out of it. At least until the high from that first tour started to wear off, and then it seemed like the fame was something he had to endure instead of enjoy.

On the eve of his next tour, he's all alone in the city. His agent and the rest of the band have already left for London, and he's set to follow the next day. It's partially on a whim, and partially as a act of defiance that Adam buys a ticket to see Mia play at Carnegie Hall. He doesn't even dress in disguise - not that she could see him anyway, not that there is the slightest chance that he'll really run into her, not that she could possibly want to see him too. He just wants one last whim before sacrificing himself to the tour gods for the next 7 months.

When she requests his presence backstage after the show, he's not sure what to think. It seemed that she never looked back from that day so many years ago, maybe this was her last goodbye. His heart isn't so jaded that it won't let him hope, however slight the chance ... Adam and Mia, meeting again, getting a new beginning. Can they let go of the past and move forward? Is the pain they shared too deep to mend?

Follow two truly likeable characters on a wild adventure through New York City on their last night before they both take off on international tours. Forman intersperses the text with flashbacks to the time following the accident, highlighting how Adam has held on to this pain. He is a survivor of the accident that got left in the shadows, and he is here with Mia, trying to heal old wounds. It's a little predictable, but it's still sweet.
"I've blamed her for all this, for leaving, for ruining me. And maybe that was the seed of it, but from that one little seed grew this tumor of a flowering plant. And I'm the one who nurtures it. I water it. I care for it. I nibble from its poison berries. I let it wrap around my neck, choking the air right out of me. I've done that. All by myself. All to myself," (Forman pg. 190, 2011).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Forman, Gayle. (2011). Where She Went. New York, NY: Dutton.

The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler

How did Penny end up in the middle of nowhere? One minute, she was a city girl, living in Manhattan with a mother who was a gallery owner, and a father who is a doctor. The next, her mother is hauling her off to "Hog's Hollow," and opening a cupcake shop. As if that wasn't bad enough, the summer is almost over ... and she's going to have to face a new school.

As if she wasn't already feeling pressured and out of place, her mother drags her along to a birthday party set-up for another girl her age. Charity is the picture of prim, pink and perfect ... which is why the disaster that follows is even more damaging. Even if it was an accident, there is no way that Charity is going to let Penny live it down.

Luckily, not everyone in Hog's Hollow is like Charity. There is a boy she sees walking along the beach with his dog. There is something about him that draws her to him, some sense of a shared pain. Even starting school, she makes a friend. Tally is about as far away from Charity as you can get with her technicolored hair, funky wardrobe, and strange but cool fascination with "Rock, Paper, Scissors." In fact, Penny is invited to join the RPS society.

Penny misses the city. She misses her father, she misses how they used to be a family. She misses a mother she could talk to, or at least one that noticed she was there. She wants to know when they are moving back to New York. She wants to have more in common with her mother than frosting and chocolate.

Her mother isn't talking, and her father seems too busy most of the time. So Penny begins to find her own way into small-town living, and she finds there are even parts of it that she likes. Like Marcus (the boy on the beach) and Sam (Marcus' dog), and how he brings her grape Jolly Ranchers. How he smiles like she's the only one in the room. How he takes her to his secret places, and shares his pain with her. How he makes her feel like she's not alone. And she begins to think that maybe Hog's Hollow isn't so bad. But when her father calls asking her to move back, she is faced with a tough decision. Return to everything she knows, even if it will never be the same, or stay in this unfamiliar place.

This is a Truman Missouri Library Award nominee (my library kids know what that means), and I did enjoy this sweet story about adapting to change with the help of a little buttercream.
"Tally is standing in the doorway, a faraway look on  her face, like she's trapped in her own memory. And I know my face must look the same way, half haunted by something. I wonder what she's thinking about. Underneath it all, does she feel sad, like I do? That sadness you feel when you realize that the last time you did something was really the last time. And how you wish someone could have told you it was the last time, so you could pay extra attention. So you could really memorize it, because the memories were going to have to last forever," (Hepler pg. 195, 2009).

If you liked this, check out:
Hepler, Heather. (2009). The Cupcake Queen. New York, NY: Dutton Children's Books.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra

Yorick may not be the most accomplished, or the richest, or the most handsome, or the most gainfully employed ... but he loves his girlfriend Beth, and he can't wait to propose. That's when the Plague hits, and suddenly, despite his shortcomings, he's literally the last man on earth. Well, he and his monkey Ampersand. Out of nowhere all the men on the planet, any males of any kind actually, suddenly drop dead. The pilots flying the planes, the bus drivers on route, the train conductors, the doctors, the lawyers, the mechanics, the engineers, the scientists, the children - most of the Government - all instantly dead.

Despite what you may think about females being in charge, such a dramatic change does not exactly happen smoothly. In fact, there is mass chaos (as you might expect). Communication and technology come to a screeching halt. Nuclear reactors are suddenly unmanned. Transportation becomes nearly impossible. The Government doesn't seem to even be functioning. New vigilante groups are springing up trying to control the food supply ... which without electricity is becoming more scarce by the day. The Daughters of the Amazon, one of these groups, is brainwashing women with their militant anti-patriarchy message. They claim the Plague is a blessing, and men were eliminated for a reason. The newly structured American government is busy squabbling amongst themselves as to the best course of action. The Israeli Defense Force is the only trained female military presence, as Israel is the only country to require compulsory service for women, and the new commander Alter has less than peaceful plans for the future.

Meanwhile, Yorick is hiding in plain sight, on his way to find his mother. When he finally locates her, he is less than excited about her plan to turn him into a genetic experiment to save humankind. Agent 355 is assigned to aid him in locating Dr. Mann, a genetic specialist who's experimented with cloning. The path is hardly an easy one. Everyone and their sister want a piece of the last man, including several groups who want to fix the universe's apparent oversight. All Yorick wants to do is find a way to Australia, to reunite with his girlfriend (fiance?) Beth.

This 10 volume graphic novel is thought provoking, entertaining, unexpected, and less sexy than you might imagine. In fact, I would caution against this title more for the violence and gore than anything else. It's a winner of the Eisner Award for writing, and a great classic. Recommended for older teens into college age, this is not appropriate for younger audiences.

(Vaughan and Guerra pg. 34, 2003)
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

Vaughan, Brian, Guerra, Pia, Marzán, Jose, Rambo, P., & Robins, C. (2003). Y: The Last Man : Unmanned. New York, N.Y: DC Comics.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Vera knows the only thing worse than losing your best friend, is losing him twice. Charlie is gone, dead, never coming back ... her best friend since they were old enough to walk ... but the worst part is that she had lost him months earlier.

Charlie and Vera grew up neighbors. They spent time in the forest near their houses, they flew paper airplanes off the Pagoda, they built a tree house and practically lived in it. Vera spent most of her life secretly in love with Charlie Kahn. There were even a few times she thought it might go somewhere, but she knew it could never really happen.

The other thing that Charlie and Vera do together? Everything they can to avoid turning into their parents. Charlie's dad beats his mom, treats her like dirt, and expects Charlie to do the same, at the expense of teaching him responsibility and decency. Vera's parents got married when her mom got pregnant at 17 years old. Vera's mom used to be a stripper before she took off when Vera was 12, and her dad used to be an alcoholic. They spend so much time trying not to be their parents, sometimes they forget to be themselves. Charlie stands in the spotlight; Vera spends all her time trying to be invisible.

When Charlie starts to drift away from Vera, it's like he's on a crash course to turning into his father after all. He starts hanging out with the detention heads, starts drinking and smoking pot, starts spending time with Jenny Flick - a pathological liar who takes pleasure in ruining other people's lives. It all comes to a head the day that Jenny Flick tells Charlie a lie that breaks their friendship into pieces. How could he believe her? After everything they have been through together, how could Charlie believe Jenny over her?

As much as it hurts, she knows that their friendship is over. Vera is staying out of it. She wants nothing to do with Charlie's new deadhead friends. She's ignoring it. She's staying on her own path, the one that gets her out of this town, and onto becoming a vet. Until that day ... when Charlie doesn't wake up. Now he's following her, 1000 Charlies from the afterlife who want her to tell the truth, clear his name, and let him go. But she can't, she doesn't know how to let Charlie go, she doesn't know how to live without him. That's when the drinking starts.

Can Vera find a way to save Charlie's memory? Can she find a way to save herself? Told in honest, heartfelt prose that pulls no punches, this is a story that shouldn't be missed. Coming of age meets coming to terms with our own mortality in this Prinz Honor award book. Several difference voices weave together a story of love, friendship, and broken families - as sad as it is at times, this book leaves you with a warm feeling in your stomach. Recommended for high school aged teens.
"I felt a mix of wanting to kill him and wanting to kiss him at the same time. When I thought of what true love must be like, I figured it must be like this, and not the stupid eighth grade infatuation most girls my age felt. True love includes an equal part of good and bad, but true love sticks around and doesn't run off to Vegas with a podiatrist," (King, 2010). 
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
King, A.S. (2010). Please Ignore Vera Dietz. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.