Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

June is Winning!
All of these books have won various awards. I admit to being an "award junkie." It takes away some of the guess work, because I know lots of people already like it! That doesn't always guarantee that I will enjoy it, but I sure enjoyed these!

Samantha Kingston has it pretty good. She's popular, has a hot boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and it's Cupid Day! The day everyone sends each other roses, and let's face it, it is a popularity contest. She, Lindsay, Elody, and Ally have carefully chosen their matching outfits to complement what will soon be their luscious bouquets. The day is off to a winning start as they snag the last parking spot on Senior Alley, edging out another senior. Then it's off to class to begin collecting their roses. Every hour brings another wave. It isn't until 4th hour that the rose from her boyfriend Rob arrives, reminding her of their big night...tonight is the night she will lose her virginity. She gets a rose from Kent, the dweeb who is like totally obsessed with her. He should get over it.

Instead of going to 5th hour, she and Lindsay skip out to TCBY. They spot Alex on their way, who is cheating on his girlfriend Bridget with skanky Anna. They can't resist giving them a hard time. Finally school is over, and the four of them get ready for the big party at Kent's. Sure he's a dork, but he's getting two kegs! Lindsay drives, because everyone knows she never gets drunk. Rob is there, already drunk. Juliet "Psycho" Sykes even shows up, and calls them bitches. It doesn't work, they throw drinks at her until she runs off. It's a successful day, even if she ditches Rob at the party. There's always tomorrow right? Until there is the sound of glass breaking and metal squealing, and then nothing. Nothing at all.

Then she wakes up, alarm going off next to her in her bedroom. Everything is fine! It must have been a dream...right? As the minutes pass, things start to feel way too de ja vu. It's not possible, right? She can't be reliving this day's just a mistake. The sinking feeling in her stomach as all the events of yesterday keep cycling through her head gets worse. It's the little things she notices: Sarah gets their parking spot from yesterday and they are the ones who are late. She remembers something Elody said: little changes make big changes somewhere else. The day keeps happening, and there is nothing she can do to stop it. It all ends the same way, with broken glass and twisted metal and nothing.

Then she wakes up. Is this for real? She's reliving the same day over and over like some sick version of Groundhog Day? If that's true, then today she's going to do things differently. She isn't going to let it happen this time. She'll stay home, not go to the party, that will stop things right?

Then she wakes up. There's got to be a reason this is happening, right? There has to be a way to stop it. Maybe if she...

This book deals with a lot of issues: bullying, death, the impact we have on the people around us. It's well written, and hard to put down. Sam's character really shows dynamic change in a way that we all wish for ourselves. It may even inspire you to treat the people around you differently, to take the time to think before you act. Powerful, moving, and inspirational, Oliver delivers a hit. It's nominated for a Missouri Gateway Award, as well as being a YALSA Top Ten (among many others).
"Maybe when you die time folds in on you, and you bounce around inside this little bubble forever. Like the after-death equivalent of the movie Groundhog Day. It's not what I imagined death would be like-not what I imagined would come afterward-but then again it's not like there's anyone around to tell you about it.
Be honest: are you surprised that I didn't realize sooner? Are you surprised that it took me so long to even think the word-death? Dying? Dead?

Do you think I was being stupid? Naive?
Try not to judge. Remember that we're the same, you and me.
I thought I would live forever too," (Oliver pg. 131-132, 2010).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Oliver, Lauren.(2010). Before I fall. New York: Harper.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

Sam is your average underachiever. He dropped out of college, and he works at the local fast food place, Plumpy's, with his three best friends. He lives in a crappy apartment, and skateboards whenever he can. Other than that, there isn't a lot to say...until a round of potato hockey in the alley behind the restaurant introduces him to Douglas.

Suddenly really really strange things start happening to him. He gets beat up by some crazy guy with talons for fingernails for no reason. Then his friend Brooke shows up at his door, as a living disembodied head! A visit to the zoo to meet Douglas (of course he's the one behind all this) introduces him to Tsing Ling...the living dead panda. Douglas is a necromancer AKA can bring people back from the dead. He tells Sam that Sam is a necromancer too - is this really happening? Given an ultimatum (join me or die), Sam goes looking for answers.

First up, he learns that the medicine bag he wears around his neck has been hiding his aura. That leads him to number two: the person who made the bag for him, his mom. After the initial shock, Sam is surprised that he believe the things everyone is telling him. He really is a necromancer, and he inherited it from his biological father (who then proceeded to take off). Some of the stuff his mom told him about binding his powers has him feeling really disconnected, and unsure of what to do. It's all a little much to take in, but Douglas gave him a week to think it over. He has some time to digest and decide on his next course of action.

Until Douglas decides that a week is too much time, and imprisons him in a freaky cage in his also freaky basement...with a naked girl. What?! Sharing his cage is a (after offering his shirt and boxers) slightly less naked, but still pretty hot, chick who tells him that she is a hybrid: half werewolf, half fey. She's also next in line to take over her pack, which makes her a prime commodity. Something is definitely going on.

Can Sam find a way to unbind his powers? Will they be able to get a message to someone who can help? McBride does a fantastic job of weaving paranormal with teen angst, without making it feel like every other book about the subject. It really is a funny book, and I loved the little touches: all the chapters are song lyrics. This book was a runner up for the debut Morris Award, and well deserved.
"I opened the box, then quickly dropped it and scrambled up onto the counter , making very difnified shrieking noises. Ramon stared. Frank came into the kitchen just in time to see the box bounce onto its side and its contents roll laxily out. Ramon tried to back up, but he was already agains thte wall. Frank managed a quick hop back as Brooke's head rolled to a stop in the middle of the floor. It had been severed cleanly at the neck, making her ponytail appear longer as it trailed behind like the tail on a grotesque comet. I couldn't see any blood. In fact, the wound looked cauterized, which didn't make it any more pleasant.
Nobody said a word.
Nobody but Brooke.
'Ow, cut it out, you guys!' Her blue eyes popped open and swung around until they found me. 'Ugh, so not cool. Really, Sam. You don't just drop somebody's head. Especially a friend's...." (McBride pg. 49, 2010).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out
Necromancing the Stone by Lish McBride (sequel to Hold Me) Sept. 2012
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst

McBride, L., Hall, T., & Henry Holt and Company. (2010). Hold me closer, necromancer. New York: Henry Holt.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi hasn't been herself for...well, about the last two years. Can it have really been two years since her brother Truman's death? It feels more like yesterday. She is in her senior year at St. Anselm's, a fancy prep school for genius rich kids in NYC, but the only thing she's paying attention to is her music class. The only thing she cares about is her music anymore, and her mom. When she gets home every night, she checks to see that her mom has enough paints, and something to eat. All mom does anymore is paint portraits of Truman...she's not really coping well, to say the least. At least she isn't throwing things anymore.

When St. Anselm's threatens to kick her out of school, and sends a letter home, she doesn't think anything of it. Until her dad flies in for a surprise visit. Suddenly her mom is institutionalized, and she's on a forced trip to Paris with him. He's a world famous geneticist, known for his work on the human genome. This visit to Paris is work related, namely he's been asked to verify if a heart - found in a jar - could possibly have belonged to Louis-Charles, the son of Louis and Marie Antoinette.

Andi wants nothing to do with the whole thing. It's too sad, not to mention Louis-Charles looks strikingly like Truman. She just wants to go back home and see her mom. The doctor won't even let her talk to her mom! So she makes a deal. She'll finish her thesis (which is a requirement for graduation), and in exchange, she can go home early. It's while she's rifling through G's papers that she finds the guitar, and it's a moment of frustration that leads her to try the key (Truman's key) in the lock. Andi uncovers a secret panel containing a diary...written at the time of the French Revolution. Could it really be over 200 years old?

Down on her luck, and out of cash, she meets Jules. Hungry and cold, they go to Remy's to play for their supper. It's there that she meets Virgil. ", wow, but he's fine," (Donnelly pg. 125). They all play together, with Virgil MCing. He drives her home, and asks her to come out on Sunday...but she'll be on a plane back to New York by then. So what's the point, right? Until he calls early the next morning to let her know that she left her iPod in his car. They talk about music, and end up singing each other to sleep.

Determined to finish her thesis outline on time, Andi renews her research, but the diary keeps distracting her. It's written by a girl, Alexandrine, who is a companion to Louis-Charles, the prince. Could it be true? The diary tells of the Revolution, and of the horrible treatment of the prince, and of Alex's desperate attempt to save him. She becomes the Green Man, setting off fireworks to let Louis-Charles know that he is not forgotten. Andi starts seeing things, strange things, but it's probably just her meds. She needs to quit taking so much.

One night they end up in the catacombs, and that's when things get really weird. I loved this story, how complex it was (incorporating music, science, history), but so effortless to read. I loved the different voices of the characters, and the juxtoposition of the present day with Revolutionary France. This is a Missouri Gateway Award nominee, and I will be recommending it to everyone I can.
"If I had coal and fire
And metal fine and true
I'd make an iron band
An iron band for you
I'd pick up all the pieces
From where they fell that day
Fit them back together
And take the pain away," (Donnellly pg. 157, 2010).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Donnelly, Jennifer. (2010). Revolution. New York: Delacorte Press.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Cullen Witter is a pretty average kid. He has a best friend and protector in Lucas Calder, and they both hang out with his younger (although he looks older) brother Gabriel. It starts out as a typical summer until that bird begins getting all the attention. Some crackpot from out of town claims to have seen a Lazarus woodpecker that is supposed to be extinct, and suddenly the whole population of Lily, Mississippi has Woodpecker Fever!

The local burger place has a Lazarus Burger...which is really a Number Three without cheese. His aunt even gets in on the action offering a Woodpecker haircut: a mohawk-style with bright red tips. The whole town is obsessed!

Annoyed as they are, there isn't much they can do about it. Cullen even goes on a date! His date has problems of her own, having just escaped a shotgun wedding with a man slightly obsessed with The Book of Enoch. (It's a long story.)

It's a typical summer, until that day when Gabriel disappears. Just vanishes without a trace. No signs of struggle, no forced entry, nothing... The police ask "Could he have run away?" but only someone who didn't know Gabriel would ask that question. At first, it seems like a possibility. Any moment he could walk back through the door. Time stands still, waiting for him to return...and so does Cullen.

At first, his father throws himself into the investigation. Calling the police for updates at all hours, going to the public library to do research, giving up jobs to stay home. His mother, on the other hand, deteriorates over time. The longer Gabriel is gone, the more she seems to check out. How do you deal with not knowing?

To pass the time, Cullen comes up with book titles to describe his situations: It Is Not a Sin to Kill a Woodpecker, This Popcorn Tastes Like People, Five A.M. Is for Lovers and Lawn Ornaments.

This is a bittersweet coming of age story, peppered with humor and sadness, with twists and turns, just like real life. It's a little weird, but I like weird. It won both the Prinz Award, and the Morris I'm not the only one :)
"Gabriel, though, didn't really like going outside or swimming or anything like that. He liked to stay in, read books, watch TV, and pretend he was grown up. I never wanted to feel grown up, to be like an adult. I wanted to scream until it hurt my throat and made me talk funny for the rest of the day, and I wanted to run through my neighbor's sprinklers and track mud into the house and shake my wet hair like a dog would in the middle of the living room. In church, I used to try and get my brother to play tic-tac-toe on the bulletin, but he always refused, shushing me and pointing to the preacher. My brother once told me that God was like the best musician in the world, because he put together all the sounds of nature and gave people like Jimi Hendrix his fingers and John Lennon his brain," (Whaley pg 121, 2011).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Whaley, John Corey, & Atheneum Books for Young Readers. (2011). Where things come back: A novel. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.