Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
I don't know about you, but that cover definitely made me think I was in for a fluffy, romantic read. NOPE (read in Chuck Testa's voice) (you're my favorite if you got that reference).Sweethearts is about Jennifer, who used to be fat and almost friendless. Now she goes by Jenna and is popular and thin, but can't forget about the one friend that she did have back in the days of Jennifer, who disappeared after a traumatic experience that is alluded to in pieces throughout the book. When her friend re-enters her life, it causes Jenna to re-evaluate her priorities. It sounds like it could still be that fluffy, romantic read. However, it is not. Everything is awkward, and the entire premise for the book seemed implausible. I couldn't understand many of the characters' motivations. And the end of the book left me dissatisfied and with that slightly gross, off feeling you get about five o'clock when you've had a long day. Anyway, not my favorite. I will say that it was fun reading a book set in a place that I have lived -- I am a sucker for that.
Warnings: Language, child abuse
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
I did have a more positive experience with How to Save a Life. In this book, a teenage girl's mother decides to adopt a baby after the death of the girl's father. However, she goes about it in an unorthodox way, finding a pregnant girl on a website and inviting her to live with them for a few weeks until the baby is born. The girl, Mandy, naturally has a few secrets of her own.
I think the premise of How to Save a Life is as implausible as Sweethearts, but for some reason I could relate much more to this read, perhaps because of my recent pregnancy and childbirth experience. The characters were initially unlikable, displaying their flaws long before their redeeming qualities emerged, but by the end of the story I felt invested in them. Sara Zarr is also an excellent writer, and I think because I enjoyed this book as a whole more than Sweethearts I was able to appreciate her writing more as well. I also loved that the bookstore where Jill worked was called Margins. Ahem, could it possibly be Borders she was mimicking? I used to work at Borders and I felt like I was reading pages from my own life.
Warnings: Language, child abuse, some mostly off-page sensuality
Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
For some reason I can't get this picture to load, so I apologize for the lack of cover-age. Second Helpings is the second book in the Jessica Darling series. We were left with Jess's rage at Marcus Flutie in the last book. Now, Jess is doing things differently -- choosing different friends, different extracurriculars, and even finding a boyfriend -- one who is not Marcus Flutie. She is trying to choose a college as well.
I have had mixed feelings so far about the Jessica Darling books. There are many elements of the books that bother me, such as the negativity and some of the gratuitous innuendo. At the same time, I love the openness and snarkiness of Jessica Darling's voice. She is stressed out and over-analytical, and it is something I can relate to so much. I keep going back and forth on whether I'd like to finish the series. I probably will read the next book, but I'm not sure how far I will go.
Warnings: Language, innuendo, off-the-page sensuality
The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding
Okay, I'm just going to come out with it -- this is possibly my favorite contemporary YA novel ever. Ever ever. The premise is that Devan, who was raised by her father and (evil) stepmother, has never met her mother. All she knows is that she is an author named Reece Malcolm who lives in California. That is, until her father passes away and the evil stepmother doesn't want to be responsible for her anymore. Devan winds up moving to California to live with her mother. As she adjusts to her new life, she learns more about herself and her family.
I think what really made this book memorable was the characters. They all had so much dimension -- no one was perfect, everyone had their little quirks and annoying personality traits as well as their redeeming qualities. Every character felt so real and so genuine. The details of Devan's life also seemed so realistic to me -- I felt as if I was existing in her interesting little world. I loved reading about her performing, Reece Malcolm's messy and eccentric writerly life, the shopping and dinner dates Devan and Reece had together. Even though this is a contemporary book, I was completely transported into Devan's story while I read. This book was fun, with its share of drama and romance, but it also struck deeper chords, exploring the bonds between mother and daughter and the definition of what family really means. Definitely read it. Now.
Warnings: Language, discussion of sex (not at all graphic)