The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
Genre: Young Adult, Romance
Summary: Andie had her whole summer figured out, she has a perfect internships away from home and can't be more excited. Then, a political scandal unfolds that not only makes her father a permanent fixture in their home again, but sends all of Andie's plans out the window. She faces the challenge head on and the places her summer takes her help her find a better version of herself.
Most Appropriate For: Middle school and up.
Sensitivities: Brief mentions of sex and teenage girls navigating their sexuality, but nothing to be concerned about. I am completely comfortable giving this book to my 6th graders, knowing they are wondering about these things anyway and this book deals with them in a healthy and honest way.
Enjoyability: 4 of 5 stars
I received an ARC of this book from Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.
I only have one complaint about this book and it isn't directly Matson's fault, so I'm going to start with that and get it out of the way: In high school, I became obsessed with Sarah Dessen to the point that I have read every book that she has ever published. Once her trifecta was published (in my opinion, This Lullaby, The Truth About Forever, Just Listen) she fell into a pattern of using the same plot line for every single book. Girl falls for boy despite some sort of personal issue, girl sabotages the relationship in some way, girl wins boy back and they end up together happily.
This book follows that plot line and my over-familiarity with it made it difficult for anything to be all that surprising for me. But the thing is, it makes sense for Andie and Clark. So my having a problem with this plot line wasn't anything to do with Matson and was very much a demise of my own making. And that aside, I loved this book for so many reasons.
1. Dogs. There are dogs. I know that I have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with dogs, but the constant presence of Birdie was an added bonus for me.
2. Clark won't put up with Andie's crap. There are a lot of ways that someone can be different enough to make us want to take a risk on them, but I really enjoy that the way he ended up breaking through her barriers was by not letting her get away with her normal half-assed way of dating.
3. THE FRIENDSHIPS. As much as this book is about Andie's relationship wth Clark, it is also about her learning what it truly means to be a good friend and realizing that some hurts can't be fixed with an apology and forgetting like it never happened. This especially struck home for me as I considered my group of friends from high school and some of the terrible things that we did to each other, and I can't help but wonder if some of that determined whether or not the friendships stuck past the convenience of them.
4. Andie's father. The trouble he runs into with his jobs allows them to confront the issues they've been dealing with since her mother's death and begin to rekindle their relationship. This was one of highest points of the story. Although their relationship didn't start out being a strong one, the work they put in helped get it there and I found the strong parent relationship refreshing as it isn't something I see a lot in YA.
5. And the icing on the cake is the storyline with the writer and how that plays in to the development of relationships and friendships as the story grows.
Overall, this is one of the best contemporaries I've read in a long time and is one my students are going to love too. I can't wait to get this into their hands and to get a finished copy for myself.
Teachability: This is not really the type of book that you would overtly teach with, but it is the kind of book that I would offer to students as an option of Independent Reading workshop or small "book clubs" in the room that would allow students to discuss and would open avenues for discussions about healthy relationships, both in the realm of dating and of friendships.
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The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I received this ARC from Simon and Schuster in exchange for an honest review.
I want to say up front that I hated Speak when I read it. Maybe because high school was too soon for me to encounter it, but I remember feeling disgusted by Melinda and not understanding why it was a book that won so many awards. It was about an important topic, yes. But I detested it.
This book is not like that one in all of the right ways.
Smith jerks you right into the reality of the story, the morning after Eden has been raped, and breaks your heart in a million pieces as Eden flounders in her pain, but that is not to say that Eden is likable throughout the entire story. Eden makes a host of poor decisions and treats people badly in her attempt to cope with and understand her feelings. Her journey is not one that shows her being Strong and making All The Right Decisions but is instead one filled with self-loathing and hate and destruction, but one that eventually leads her to a place of finding her "maybe"s again.
The way Smith crafted her story, taking you through each year of Eden's high school experience and therefore through Eden's healing process, allows you to see how she progresses through the grief of what she's lost. At the beginning of the story, I was incredibly frustrated with Eden and the terrible things she was doing to herself because I couldn't figure out how she thought it was helping, but by the end of the story Smith's artistry shines through as Eden begins to understand herself and her decisions more. The reader only knows what Eden knows and there is a power in the narrative being written that way that helps the reader understand her experiences and thoughts and feelings.
Although this story is one about rape and dealing with the terrible, ugly, unfathomable thing that it is, it's also the story of a person working through something terrible that happened to her in the only way that she knows how.
I didn't always like Eden, but I always loved her.
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