Tag: abuse

Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

still-life-with-tornado-by-as-king

Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King (InfoSoup)

Sarah has stopped going to high school after an event that she doesn’t want to talk about or even think about. Sarah is a master at not thinking about certain things, like what she witnessed on vacation in Mexico with her family. Instead Sarah thinks about things like doing something original and what art is. She spends her days on the streets of Philadelphia, visiting a derelict school building, speaking with past and future versions of herself, and wondering about art and how to start creating again. She isn’t able to continue keeping the secrets deep inside hidden even from herself. So she begins to work through her thoughts, ideas and what she has seen. She contacts the brother that she hasn’t seen since the Mexico trip six years before and begins to wake up to the problems that have always been there in her family.

My goodness, this book is impossible to explain in a single paragraph. It is multilayered book that shifts and grows and builds underneath the reader as Sarah’s memories are revealed. It is wild and powerful, the tornado in the title an apt image for the rawness of this book. King depicts the dangers of living lies, whether they are built by those who say they love you or yourself. The force of those lies, the determination it takes to keep them hidden, and the emptiness of the world shaped by those lies make for a landscape that filled with traps and danger. King is a master at allowing a character to tell her own story at her own pace while making sure that the book continues to move forward, building tension upward and showing the deep humanity inside.

Sarah is an exquisite character. She is an enigma for the first part of the book, since she is determined to keep the lies spinning and not allow the truth to escape into the world. She is the epitome of an unreliable narrator, one that becomes more reliable as the book continues. Yet even as she is unreliable, she is completely relatable. Her pain is tangible on the page, her loneliness is palpable. It is in hiding her real truth and living the lie that she becomes most human.

A powerful novel filled with pain, lies, guilt and searing truth. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers.

 

Review: Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu (InfoSoup)

Silly is the youngest of four sisters and the older sisters tend to leave her out of a lot, like the secret boyfriend one of the twins has and what they are doing for hours in their bedroom so quietly. Their family has moved to New Hampshire to a home that used to be used just in the summer, the house where their mother grew up. But the move is not helping their mother who is quickly declining into alcoholism and abusive behavior. It isn’t until their mother turns on Silly too that the sisters bring Silly into their secret: their closet can take them to a different world. The sisters are shocked when Silly joins them and the magic becomes much stronger. As the sisters turn more and more to the closet for relief from their lives, they have to face the darkness they discover there as well. It may just be the answer for them all.

Haydu has created a lush book based loosely on The Twelve Dancing Princesses. She embraces the darkness of family life, offering a family dancing on the edge of something terrible, avoiding the truth about what is happening to their mother and what happened in her past, a father unable to cope with reality, and children trying to hold them all together. It is against that dark backdrop that the closets glimmer and glitter, beckoning the sisters and the reader to a different place where there is wonder and magic. But escaping into that place is not reality and Haydu shows this with a daring climax that speaks volumes about facing truth and being a family.

A book filled with four sisters can be challenging. Haydu pulls it off with grace and style, offering each of the girls a distinct personality but keeping them from being stereotypical. Silly is the main character, a girl who has been left out of much that the sisters have done and feels that she has no special sister to pair with the way the twins do. Silly feels alone even in a bustling houseful of people, which speaks volumes about her family. Silly is also the one protected from much of the abuse, but she witnesses more than the others do.

This brilliant starry novel takes a dark reality and a dazzling magic and creates wonder all its own. Appropriate for ages 11-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: You Can’t See the Elephants by Susan Kreller

You Cant See the Elephants by Susan Kreller

You Can’t See the Elephants by Susan Kreller, translated by Elizabeth Gaffney (InfoSoup)

Mascha has been sent to spend the summer at her grandparent’s house. Their neighborhood is perfect in many ways with neat yards, gardens and neighborly gatherings. When Mascha meets Julia and Max at the playground, she is desperate for friends. There’s not a lot for a 13-year-old to do. Soon though Mascha realizes that something is wrong and then witnesses for herself Julia and Max being abused by their father. Mascha tells her grandparents and even other neighbors, but no one is willing to do anything. So Mascha decides to step in herself and stop the abuse.

This German novel has already won several international awards. The writing is haunting and beautiful. My quibble with the translation is that I wish it had maintained its German setting rather than being moved to the United States. It reads as a European book and I’m not sure the story works as well with an American setting. But that is a minor factor in such a powerhouse of a book.

First, the setting in an upper-class community focused on image rather than real warmth is a cunning choice. It reveals the thin veneer of neighborliness, the unwillingness to look deeper at what could be happening, and the ability to turn away from the ugly truth to see only the good. Mascha herself is a brilliant heroine. Facing the death of her mother and sent to stay long term with her grandparents, she is not connected to this community at all. She sees the truth, speaks the truth and then is forced to find her own solution. And what a solution it is. It is clever but flawed, a plan only a child could produce. It is entirely believable and therefore a truly riveting read.

A great book, this novel about abuse, friendship and the importance of protecting the vulnerable in our world is one of the best of the year. It is startling, provocative and timely. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

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.