I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

September is Overcoming Issues
I've been reading the nominees for the Missouri Gateway Award, and let me tell you, some of these books are depressing! The good news is that all of these have a mostly happy ending. We are all faced with tragedy and hardship, but it is how we overcome it that makes us who we are; who will you be?

Thanks to their crazy fugitive father Clarence, Sam and Riddle have been on the run for virtually their entire lives. Their father kidnapped them at a young age, and hasn't stopped moving since. They never stay anywhere long enough to put down roots, so neither boy has attended school really. Clarence mostly leaves them to fend for themselves while he goes off committing petty thievery.
It may seem appalling to you, but it's all they've ever known. Sam looks out for his little brother with a ferocity. Riddle is special. He's always been on the sick side, and doesn't quite act like other people...but he's smart. His favorite thing to do is to draw strange and intricate drawings. Paper isn't always easy to come by, so he uses an old phone book. He never goes anywhere without it.
At first, it seems like this new town won't be any different than the others. Sam visits the local church to hear the music, that's his church: music. While he's there, he catches the eye of a soloist. She's not a very talented singer, but there's something about her that captivates him. He catches up with her outside the church and they share a moment.

Maybe Sam doesn't consciously decide to change, but he takes Riddle to get a free haircut. It's possibly the first real haircut they've had. It goes so well, they decide to use the "before" and "after" pictures for their ad! That's how Emily learns his name...Sam Smith. It doesn't mean anything until she runs into him at IHOP. They make plans to meet up.

That's how it starts. Soon Sam and Riddle are stopping by Emily's house regularly. Emily's parents practically adopt the ragamuffin boys (after an initially chilly reception), and it seems like everything could be changing for them both...but it's only a matter of time until Clarence finds out. Sam knows what comes next: moving. But this time it's different. Clarence is listening to the voices in his head, and there's no telling what will happen next. Will Emily's parents be able to help the boys? Can the police do anything to find people who have spent their lives being invisible?
"Sam took small nails from one of the rusty cans of nuts and bolts and metal crap that his father kept in the back of the packed truck. He hammered the nails into the plywood so that the sharp points poked through. Then he carefully layered the worn river sticks on top, attaching them to the points of the nails.
In the end, he'd made a heart from many, many pieces of worn wood, weathered by wind and rain, the bark long gone, with only the smooth parts touching, like limbs.
It was a heart exposed.
And then Sam couldn't stop himself. In the middle of the night, he left it on her back doorstep," (Sloan pg. 73, 2011).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas
Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCollough

Sloan, Holly Goldberg. (2011). I'll Be There: A novel. New York: Little, Brown.

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin (Birthright, Book 1)

In 2083, chocolate and caffeine are illegal. Paper is hard to find, and water is rationed. New clothes are a thing of the past. Anya Balanchine is the oldest daughter of the notorious chocolate crime boss, or perhaps more accurately, his orphaned daughter. Both her mother and father were killed for their mob connections, and her older brother received permanent brain damage in the crash that killed their mother. While their legal guardian is their Nana, she is too old and sick to do much of anything, making her the defacto guardian to her brother and younger sister, Nattie. Not exactly the typical 16-year old's life.

Her entire life has been devoted to her family obligations, so when she meets Winn Delacroix - son of the new assistant DA - she knows she needs to stay far away. He has other ideas, and slowly starts to win her over in spite of herself.

Suddenly her life is turned upside down when her creep of an ex comes down with a case of chocolate poisoning...from her family's illegal chocolate. She's brought in for questioning, and thrown into Liberty Children's Facility. Anya learns that a name isn't really just another word when she gets hosed down, scrubbed raw, and thrown in solitary confinement for a week. Soon cases of chocolate poisoning are popping up all over the city, and it's clear that the supply has been tainted.

What does this mean for Anya, and for the family business? It doesn't mean good things for her relationship with Winn, that's for sure. His father makes that very clear after meeting with her. As much as she wants to do what is best for her family, she can't deny that her feelings for Winn are very real. There is something fishy going on with the business, and it's important to protect her family from whatever dangers are out there. Anya has to choose.

This is well written, and takes a very slice of life look at the future, organized crime, and how it affects the little people. Anya's story is touching and relatable, without being too mushy or self-absorbed. Recommended for fans of quirky love stories with touches of dystopia.

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin (Birthright, Book 2)
Chime by Franny Billingsley
White Cat by Holly Black (Curse Workers, Book 1)

Zevin, Gabrielle. (2011). All These Things I've Done. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Lucky never did anything to deserve Nader's attention. Just ran into him in the bathroom at a restaurant one day, and Nader peed all over Lucky's leg. That's how it started, and it never let up. From that day forward, Nader is his bully. The kid that never quit, never really got in trouble for what he did, all because Lucky keeps his mouth shut and tries to stay out of his way.

For a while, he even befriended Nader...which worked until his topic for social studies drew much more attention than he expected. It is just a stupid question, and a joke at that: "If you were going to commit suicide, what method would you choose?" Pretty soon, he is inundated with people asking about his social problems. He has meetings with the principal, the guidance counselor, the school district's experts...ugh...

There's one place that Lucky isn't the kid that gets picked on all the time. In his dreams, he visits his Granddad. Since before he was born, his dad's father has been listed as a POW/MIA from the Vietnam War. His grandmother was a vocal supporter of the cause until she died. It is just another part of his messed up life now, but many nights he tries to rescue Granddad. You wouldn't believe it, but sometimes he even wakes up with souvenirs of his adventures.

Back to reality, he must face his increasingly estranged parents. His dad is obsessed with cooking, his mom with swimming...and time together is growing scarce. Lucky isn't sure what to do or how to help. One day at the pool, Nader uses the rough concrete to peel off skin from his face. It's too visable, and sends his mom over the edge.

She decrees that they are both going to Arizona to spend time with her brother. On a forced exodus to soul crushing heat, combined with his hypocondriac wacky aunt, and his beefy uncle, Lucky isn't sure this is any better than being back at home. Will a summer away help him find some perspective? Will he finally save his Granddad? This non-traditional coming of age story looks at bullying without the rose colored glasses. It asks what we are doing to actually change the behavior. Clever, with elements of whimsy, at times painful and very real, King is a fantastic writer.
"I sit on my bed and think about Nader McMillan and wonder what I'm going to do. Ignore him. Stand up to him. Avoid him. Be "tough." I think of the stuff Dad has said over the years. How he finally gave up suggesting things. Why are you asking me this? I never figured out what to do about my own bullies. How am I supposed to know what to do with yours?
I tried all of his ideas. I even tried a few he never suggested. I tried sucking up to Nader and being his friend, which only worked for a little while during freshman year until I got him in trouble with the questionnaire. I tried talking to one of the guidance counselors last January, only to hear that Nader is a pain, yes, but the best thing to do is stay out of his way. 'He's probably a good kid underneath it all,' the counselor said, Which isn't true. But it meant Nader could keep treating kids like that, charming all the teachers with his perfect, whitened smile, and still play baseball in the spring. And it mean his lawsuit-happy father would stay off the school district's back," (King pg. 28, 2011).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Burn by Suzanne Phillips

King, A. S. (2011). Everybody Sees the Ants: A novel. New York: Little, Brown.

Clean by Amy L. Reed

They all took different paths, but ended up in the same place: rehab. They have a few things in common. They're all teenagers, all addicts, and all at rock bottom. They're here to get clean: Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Jason and Eva.

Olivia: addicted to diet pills and exercising. She got started at age 14 when her mom got her doctor to write her a script. She's from a rich and powerful family. All her siblings, and family members are perfect, and the pills help with that. There's just too much to do, and not enough time. Can she please do her homework now?

Kelly: pretty girl addicted to alcohol and cocaine. She got started at age 13 when her 17 year old boyfriend got her drunk, and took her virginity. After that, she just knew the two things went together: alcohol and sex. Her younger twin sisters have Down's Syndrome, and got all the attention. Her parents were never anything but understanding and kind. Of course, there was always a boy to boost her self esteem, make her feel beautiful, and get her drunk or high. She's secretly kind of dating Jason...if you can call it that in this place.

Christopher: addicted to meth. He's a homeschooled, deeply Christian boy who lives alone with his very obese mother. He got started with cocaine at age 15 when his neighbor brought it by. Todd would sneak in his window, and Christopher's mom never even knew he came by. Pretty soon they had moved on to meth, and he was getting it for free...in exchange for sexual favors.

Jason: addicted to alcohol. He got started at age 9 when his dad gave him a beer, and told him to chug it. From then on, it was just the thing he did. That and beating kids up, being a tough guy just like his dad wants him to be. Pretty soon he was knocking back 6 or 8 drinks in one go. His parents both drink too much. Funny how when his mom collapsed from "dehydration" no one sent her to rehab.

Eva: addicted to prescription pain killers and weed. She got started at age 14 when some kids at school offered her a joint. It was the summer after her mother died of cancer. Her dad pretty much checked out after that. Doing drugs was her way of coping with the pain of it all. It's not like anyone was paying attention anyway, right?

This is a no-holds barred look at teenage addiction, with a in-depth look into some of the circumstances surrounding the why's and how's of it all. These kids are from all walks of life, all different family situations, and yet they still end up in the same place. Very powerful, moving, and realistic depiction of how addiction affects not just addicts, but those around them as well. Written in a few different styles, and from several different points of view, this is a quick read. Highly recommended.
"None of you ended up here by accident. We don't take in every kid who's snuck wine at a bar mitzvah or inhaled once or twice. Listen to me: You do not drink or use like a normal person. You have moved beyond the point where you can ever drink or use like a normal person. If you don't believe me, fine, go ahead and try to prove me wrong. We're always open. I'm sure your parents would love to pay for another stay here. Hopefully you'll make it back. Hopefully you don't need to keep testing to see if you're like the ones who don't make it, the ones who OD and die on the streets, the ones who end up in jail, the ones who end up crazy and alone and living in a carboard box," (Reed pg. 118, 2011).
*Library Link*

If you like this, check out:

Beautiful by Amy Reed
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Smack by Melvin Burgess

Reed, Amy. L. (2011). Clean. New York: Simon Pulse.