Tag: abuse

Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes (InfoSoup)

Raised in a cult, Minnow left normal life behind at age 5 to start a new life in the wilderness with her family, other believers, and the Prophet. Minnow was taught to obey, to fear outsiders, to hate people of color, and to not think for herself. When she started to drift too far from the Community’s teachings, she was punished by having her hands cut off. Now she has been taken into custody after attacking a boy. In juvenile detention, she has plenty of time to think about what she has done and all that has happened to her. Her family is in tatters, her community burned to the ground, and Minnow had a part in all of it. Minnow now has to decide how to share the truth and how much of it she can tell without causing even more harm to those she is trying to protect. She also has to figure out what to believe in and how to trust herself at all.

Oakes has adapted a tale from the Brother’s Grimm as the basis of this story. You can hear the echo of those brutal times throughout this novel for teens. The truth of Minnow’s life is told in fits and starts through flashbacks which makes for tantalizing reading and a book that is impossible to put down. Oakes’ portrayal of the cult is very effective, from the wild premises of the faith itself to its leader, the cult is a devastating mixture of the ridiculous and the savage. Trapped in that world, Minnow learns to find beauty where she can and friends in the most unlikely of people and places. The life in the cult contrasts eerily with the order of juvenile detention where there is violence but also protection, enemies but also friends.

Minnow is a protagonist who begins the book almost like a wounded animal with her faith shattered but still clearly influencing her reactions. As the book progresses and she learns not only who she can trust but also of her own strength and her own duty to herself, Minnow grows and evolves. Not only does she turn away from things that she was clinging to in the beginning, but her own beliefs and language change along the way. The growth is organic and subtle. Minnow also thinks in poetry, connected to the wilderness where she spent most of her life. She sees things through that lens, and the beauty of that place returns to her and the reader again and again throughout the novel, strong and pure and lovely.

A book that wrestles with family, faith and truth, this teen novel is a dark and powerful read. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial.

Review: Dime by E.R. Frank

Dime by E R Frank

Dime by E.R. Frank (InfoSoup)

At age 14, Dime is kicked out of her foster family’s home and finds herself on the streets where she is helped by a woman who brings her a coat to keep her warm and feeds her. When she goes home with her, she finds herself in a safe place, one managed by Daddy, a man who only seems to want to help Dime. Quickly though, she is drawn into a life of prostitution in exchange for being kept safe, warm and fed. Dime falls in love with Daddy, one of the first people to shower her with gifts and compliments. She knows that she has to work on the streets to keep them all fed and happy, but soon things begin to turn sour and wrong. Dime is asked to leave school and not read any books anymore. She also finds herself helping teach and take care of a new girl who is only 11 years old named Lollipop. As Dime realizes that she is not part of a family and that she doesn’t love Daddy at all, she has to continue the charade to stay alive. When one final thing happens that is so horrific that Dime can’t go along with it, how will she be able to make things right?

This was one of the toughest reads I’ve read in a long time. It was gut wrenching and horrible, but it all rings so very true. Frank is a psychotherapist who specializes in trauma and this novel demonstrates her knowledge of real trauma. Frank manages to be honest about the life of a teen prostitute with all of its beatings, sexual acts and fear and yet she also shows how Dime is able to survive it and endure. The novel balances on that edge, where Dime is entirely human and understandable, and yet doing things that the average reader will not be OK with. As the book builds and things get worse and worse, it is impossible to look away and yet nearly impossible to read. It is only Frank’s skill as a writer that keeps this book readable by the end.

Dime is a protagonist who puts a face and a brain to teen prostitutes. The knowledge that a girl has never had a safe place to live and sees prostitution as a place of safety is presented in a way that makes readers realize that this is often the case. The grooming of Dime as a prostitute is particularly well drawn, giving the reader an understanding of her mental reasoning and the way she is seduced by her pimp. With everything presented through Dime’s point of view, the book is a powerful glimpse of desperation and survival.

Brace yourself before you read this one, but know that it’s important and beautifully written. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Simon and Schuster.

Review: Fell of Dark by Patrick Downes

Fell of Dark by Patrick Downes

Fell of Dark by Patrick Downes (InfoSoup)

This novel for teens is told in two voices, Erik and Thorn. Both boys are mentally ill and struggling with what they see and hear. Erik believes that he is a saint, able to do miracles like having a picked flower that never dies and the sign of a cross formed by his wet body that never evaporates. Erik is silent on the outside but constantly thinking on the inside. His hands bleed with stigmata and he sees things that no one else can. Erik searches for a girl he knows is his destiny. Thorn is haunted by the voices in his head, ones that push him to do things that he would never do otherwise. If he doesn’t submit to the voices, he gets horrible headaches that he barely withstands. As the voices grow more powerful and insistent, Thorn finds that he needs them more and more to make sense of his life. But what he sees as the solution may just be final step in his insanity when his path crosses Erik’s.

Downes has written a beautiful and dark mess of a book where madness lurks everywhere and nothing is quite what it seems, or is it? Woven into it are moments of coherence, times of loving families that turn brutal and cruel eventually. There are moments of love, barely seen through mental illness and still glowing and true. And then there is the insanity itself that winds around, crouches low and threatens everything. It’s impossible to tease apart what is reality and what is delusion until another perspective enters their world and tilts it on its axis.

The voices of the two boys dance together and blur, at times they are indistinguishable from one another and other times they are so distinct that they pierce with individuality. This too is masterfully done, the perspectives are unique and troubling. The two boys are writhing with their inner pain, but in two very different ways. The language is superlative, filled with darkness and horror and also a deep beauty that can’t be mistaken. There are images that dance in that darkness, ones that open it up and let in light and others that close it in so tight you can’t breathe.

Riveting reading, this book is not for everyone. Teens who enjoy a journey into a different haunting perspective will find themselves captured by the writing and the characters in this novel. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel.

Review: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

war that saved my life

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Ada has never been outside of her family’s one-room apartment.  Her mother won’t let her be seen by others, though Ada does sit at the window and wave at people.  Ada has one foot that is twisted and doesn’t work right, so she crawls around the apartment.  But when Ada realizes that she has to get stronger, she teaches herself to walk on her twisted foot, even though it is agony, making sure that her mother doesn’t find out.  World War II comes and children are being sent to safety outside of London.  Though her mother refuses to let Ada go, Ada escapes along with her little brother Jamie and gets on a train of evacuees.  From there they head into the country and are reluctantly taken in by a grieving woman.  Immediately Ada is given crutches which let her get around more easily and she stubbornly sets out to teach herself to ride her host’s ignored pony.  But there are many changes to come, ones that both test the strength of Ada and others that more strongly tie her to the woman who gave them shelter and care.

There are books that you read that tumble into, ones that are impossible to put down, but you don’t want to read them quickly because you are so entranced with the world they are showing you.  This was one of those books for me; I adored this novel.  All of the characters are human, they all make mistakes, lose their tempers, figure things out, move on and continue to care (in their own ways) for one another.  They are all brave in their own ways too, escaping from a life of imprisonment and hate, learning to live after loss, and creating their own family.  These are inspiring people, but the book also shows that community matters, that being accepted for who you are is vital, and that there are people out there to love us.

Bradley’s writing is exceptional.  It reads easily and beautifully.  She captures Ada perfectly, from her overwhelming fear of being beaten or put in a dark place to her determination and stubbornness; from her teaching herself to walk to the freedom of riding a horse.  Ada is remarkable.  She is a prickly child who does not let anyone into her world easily, but at the same time with the story told in her voice the readers understand her and witness how much she wants to connect and yet cannot.  That first person narration is a critical reason that this book works so well.

Brilliant characters shine on the page as this book looks at war, abuse, and love in a complex and heroic way.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial.

Review: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

rain reign

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Rose loves homonyms.  She spends her days looking for new ones to add to her list, and then once she gets home adding them or rewriting the entire list if she runs out of space.  Her dog Rain has a name that has two homonyms: reign and rein, which is why she picked it.  Her father also gave her Rain on a rainy night.  He found Rain wandering around after he left the bar one night.  Rain is one of the best things in Rose’s life, since her father spends most evenings drinking at the bar and Rose spends them alone.  Luckily, she also has her uncle in her life.  He takes her to school, helps her find new homonyms, and protects her when necessary from her father when he loses patience with Rose.  Then a fierce storm hits their town and Rose’s father lets Rain out into the storm and she disappears.  Rose’s father refuses to explain why he let Rain out in a storm and also refuses to help Rose find her dog.  It is up to Rose to find Rain so she devises her own plan and calls on her uncle for help.  But when she finds Rain, she also discovers that Rain has other owners and Rose has to make a heartbreaking choice about right and wrong and love.

Martin captures a truly dysfunctional family on the page here.  Rose’s father is brutal, cruel and a constant threat in her life.  At the same time, the book glimmers with hope all of the time.  Rose herself is not one to dwell on the shortcomings of her life, preferring to immerse herself in her words, her dog and her time with her uncle.  Martin manages to balance both the forces of love and fear in this book, providing hope for children living with parents like this but also not offering a saccharine take on what is happening. 

Rose is an amazing character.  She talks about having Asperger’s syndrome and OCD.  She is the only child in her class with a full-time aide and it is clear from her behaviors in class that she needs help.  Yet again Martin balances this.  She shows how Rose attempts to reach out to her classmates and then how Rain helps make that possible and how Rose manages to use her own disability as a bridge to help others cope in times of loss.  It’s a beautiful and important piece of the story.

A dark book in many ways, this book shines with strong writing, a heroic young female protagonist and always hope.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.

Review: Beetle Boy by Margaret Willey

beetle boy

Beetle Boy by Margaret Willey

Charlie Porter never expected to have a girlfriend who cared this much for him.  Enough to bring him into her home after he had surgery on his Achilles tendon and care for him while he could not walk.  But now Clara is starting to ask pointed questions about Charlie’s childhood and his family, questions that Charlie does not want to answer.  Clara knows that Charlie was once billed as the world’s youngest author and sold story books about beetles.  She also knows that he has nightmares every night that usually involve screaming.  She doesn’t know though that Charlie’s dreams are filled with huge black beetles or that the books he sold were not really his own stories.  She doesn’t know that his mother abandoned him, that his father forced him to sell books, that his brother hated him then and still does for abandoning him.  She knows so little, but can Charlie open up and let her see the truth about him without her leaving him entirely?

Willey paints a tragic and painful look at a young man continuing to wrestle with the demons of his childhood.  At 18-years-old, Charlie continues to dream about his past and to live as if it is his future as well.  The book shows how difficult dysfunctional and neglectful childhoods can be to escape, even after one has physically left if behind.  Willey manages to create a past for Charlie that does not become melodramatic.  She makes it painful enough but not too dramatically so. 

Charlie is a very interesting protagonist.  He is not a hero, because he is too damaged to be called that.  He is certainly a survivor, wrestling with things that will not let him go or let him progress.  He is frightened, shy, and can’t see a future for himself.  He is a tragic figure, one that readers will root for entirely, but also one that drips with anger, shame and sadness.  One of the best parts of the novel is the end, which does not end neatly or give a clear path for Charlie.  The ending has hope, but continues the complexity of the issues that Charlie faces.  Perfectly done.

A brilliant and powerful look at neglect and abuse and the long shadow it casts over a life.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Carolrhoda Books and Netgalley.

Review: The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor

things you kiss goodbye

The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor

Bettina has been raised in a very strict family.  She’s not allowed to do anything other than attend dance classes, which ended when her best friend moved away.  Otherwise it is only school and home.  So when a very sweet basketball player at school asks her out, she is forced to say no.  But he doesn’t accept that and manages to charm Bettina’s family enough that she is allowed to go out with him.  At first everything is wonderful and Brady is a perfect boyfriend, who takes things very slow and doesn’t pressure.  But as they date more, Brady begins to change.  He gets angrier as pressure goes up on the basketball court.  Then Bettina meets a man who is everything that Brady isn’t.  He doesn’t ask for anything from her, never gets mad, and Bettina finds herself longing to spend more time with him even though her family would never approve.  Bettina knows she has to leave Brady before he hurts her more badly, but as she hesitates something happens so that the truth of the two men in her life must be revealed.

Connor captures an abusive relationship with a delicacy that allows the reader to begin to rationalize what happens to Bettina along with her.  This is not straight-forward beatings, but rather teasing taken too far, anger expressed in the wrong way, and as Bettina learns to tiptoe around Brady the reader realizes that they too have been drawn into the wrong relationship alongside her.  It is powerfully done.  When Connor adds the character of Cowboy to the book, it is a surprising choice.  His gentleness and quiet in an older man makes for a charismatic character unusual in teen novels.  While he is a foil for the young and angry Brady, he is also himself a complicated and intriguing figure.

Connor seems to write only complicated characters, much to her credit.  Bettina is a girl who is eager to leave the confines of her upbringing, pushing against her parents’ control.  Yet even her parents are completely drawn characters, struggling to do their best for their daughter.  The book plays with overprotective parents who don’t manage to protect their daughter from anything in the end.  Yet their love is what lingers beyond that.

A powerful read with moments of breathlessness from surprise and shock, this book is not only about an abusive relationship but about true love and hope too.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books.