Monday, June 29, 2020

#AmReading YA


Alex Richards
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This timely, emotionally-resonant story about a teen girl dealing with the aftermath of a tragic shooting is a must-read from an exciting new YA talent.

Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, life is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she's being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.

Then he comes back: Robert Newsome, Johanna's father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that's not all he shares. A tragic car accident didn't kill Mandy--it was Johanna, who at two years old, accidentally shot her own mother with an unsecured gun.

Now Johanna has to sort through it all--the return of her absentee father, her grandparents' lies, her part in her mother's death. But no one, neither her loyal best friends nor her sweet new boyfriend, can help her forgive them. Most of all, can she ever find a way to forgive herself?

In a searing, ultimately uplifting story, debut author Alex Richards tackles a different side of the important issue that has galvanized teens across our country.
They said it was an accident that killed her mother - a car accident, but after 13 years, Johanna learns the truth. Though she doesn't remember it, she was responsible for her mother's death. Reeling from this bombshell, she must work through her emotions regarding her role in her mother's death, the lies her grandparents told her, and the return of the father she never knew. 

When I first read the synopsis for this book, I thought about how tragic the situation was and then tried to imagine what it would feel like to learn that I was responsible for the death of another person. I found I couldn't fathom the depth of the pain, the guilt, and the self hatred, and with that, I must commend Richards for capturing these emotions so well. When Johanna ached, I ached. When she cried, I cried. 

But, as always, I appreciate that the author tempered this pain with some of the most average teen joys. Look, I like romance and will forever welcome it. I was quite pleased with the bit of romance in this story. Not just because it gave me a bit of a break from the rather weighty issues, but because I needed Johanna to have someone on her side, to prop her up. She did have her two best friends, and it was beautiful the way many people reached out to her in a show of support, but I think him being new to her world and also dealing with daddy issues, brought her a perspective she needed. 

I also appreciated the way the author handled the central issue of gun violence. Her focus was on gun safety and accidental deaths. So, this was not a commentary on the second amendment or gun owners, but about being responsible, and highlighting the frequency of deaths like this. She allowed characters on both sides of the the gun issue to volley a bit, but the spotlight was always on safety. 

The theme of forgiveness permeated the story, as well. Johanna had to dig deep and find a way to forgive so many people in her life. Her father abandoned her and only came looking for her many, many years later. Her grandparents lied to her, and though it may have been to protect her, it was still a major deception from those she trusted. And then she was left with herself. How do you make peace with the fact that you, essentially, killed your own mother? The struggle came across as very difficult, but honest. 

This was quite an emotional journey, and I thought Richards did a wonderful job taking me on it. 

Love, Jacaranda

Alex Flinn
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: HarperTeen
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Alex Flinn comes a tale of taking a chance on love and letting your inner voice soar.

Jacaranda Abbott has always tried to keep her mouth shut. As a foster kid, she’s learned the hard way that the less she talks about her mother and why she’s in jail, the better. But when a video of Jacaranda singing goes viral, a mysterious benefactor offers her a life-changing opportunity—a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school to study musical theater. Eager to start over somewhere new, Jacaranda leaps at the chance. She pours her heart out in emails to the benefactor she’s never met.

Suddenly she’s swept up in a world of privilege where the competition is fierce and the talent is next level. As Jacaranda—Jackie to her new friends—tries to find her place, a charming boy from this world of wealth catches her eye. She begins to fall for him, but can he accept her for who she really is?
Jacaranda loved to sing, and she was doing just that, as she bagged groceries at Publix. Little did she know, a recording of her would go viral and attract the attention of a generous anonymous benefactor, who wanted to send her to the Midwestern Arts Academy. Jacaranda knew this was the chance of lifetime, but wondered if she had the talent to make the cut at MAA. 

Jacaranda had not had it easy. Her mother was an addict who would bring dangerous men into their lives. After her mother was imprisoned for attempted murder, while protecting them, Jacaranda was bounced around several foster homes. No, Jacaranda had not had it easy, but she kept her head up and held on her dreams. I had so much space in my heart for this sweet and charming young woman, and I was happy to cheer her on as she embarked on her next chapter at the school of the arts. 

This was an epistolary novel, and therefore, I spent a whole lot of time in Jacaranda's head which I rather enjoyed. Most of her letters related to her daily ins and outs, while she shared her past and her emotions in others. It was wonderful watching her life change from letter to letter. She made friends, learned new skills, and even fell in love. And each detail was conveyed via a voice that was clear and honest. 

It broke my heart that Jacaranda felt like she had to hide pieces of herself. She worried that coming from an economically disadvantaged background and having a mother who was incarcerated would bring the wrong kind of attention. She struggled with the guilt of not being herself, with not being honest, throughout the book, and it hampered her friendships. Yet, it didn't dampen my love for her, because Jacaranda was so sweet and endearing, and I just wanted everything to go her way. 

The story may be a bit predictable, but I think people will delight in meeting Jacaranda and watching her dreams come true. I know I did, and I was also really proud of all the ways she grew. Overall, I appreciated this story about a girl, who when given an opportunity, she grabbed on with two hands and worked and worked to get closer to achieving her dreams. 

**ARCs received in exchange for honest reviews.

Do you have a favorite musical?
Let us know in the comments!

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