Reading Through the Dog Days Of August

John Clark having read 233 books thus far with some recent YA favorites to help you escape heat, COVID and mosquitoes. No matter how much I read, the TBR pile never shrinks, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Last Chance Summer by Shannon Klare: Alex was already on a short leash when her best friend twisted her arm to sneak out and go to a party in the woods. Instead of a fun time, things went terribly wrong and after failing her year at school, her desperate parents gave her a choice: Go to rural Texas to her aunt’s camp, go to boarding school, or lose her college funds. Kicking and screaming, she ends up with her aunt, only to discover she’ll be a counselor for troubled younger teens. The first person she meets is Grant who’s there as a counselor as well, but has a history with the camp. While they start off like a cat and a dog, hackles raised, the longer they know each other, the more each gets under the other’s skin. The worst fear Alex has keeps her from believing anyone who learns what happened that sent her into her tailspin won’t reject her. Fortunately, the demons in her mind and the overwhelming sense of guilt she struggles with aren’t as unique as she might believe. Read the book and discover how she comes to a new realization. It’s a very satisfying story.

He Must Like You by Danielle Younge-Ullman: Few have more on their plate than Libby. Her college fund has been hijacked by her father, her brother quit college and ran off to Greece, her home life resembles living in a war zone, she has suspicions her experiences with two guys might have crossed the consent line, and she’s frequently harassed while serving an older and extremely self-important patron at the restaurant.
When everything comes to a head and she loses it when said patron grabs her rear end, it’s the messy and painful beginning of sorting out her confusing life. Following her as she does, is not only fascinating, but develops into a tribute to girls finding their strength, opens the reader to how much waitstaff have to endure to earn a living, what’s out there in terms of help and healing for sex abuse survivors, and how the messy chaos of a family can result in healing. It takes a masterful author to tackle so many issues in one book, but it’s done extremely well in this one.

More Than Maybe by Erin Hahn: A mix of love story, ‘families are messy,’ and coming of age that works very well. Take a girl whose dream is to be a music reporter, but has a deadbeat father who denigrates her after getting drunk in the bar where she works. Give her the ultimate secret crush on one of two brothers who do a music themed podcast from the bar every weekend. Note that the straight brother has an equally strong secret crush on her. Mix in that his dad is a former rock star and dad’s pushing over the years has soured performing the music he loves to write. Sprinkle with drama, great chemistry and neat supporting characters and savor. It’s a dandy read, satisfying and ending nicely.

Splinters of Scarlet by Emily Bain Murphy: A dandy fantasy set in 1800’s Denmark. Marit lost her mother, then her father and finally her sister, leaving her an orphan. Dad was killed in a mining accident, her sister succumbed to Firn, a residue that crystallizes the blood, then the entire body when a person uses too much magic.

After she ages out of the orphanage, her focus is on doing whatever she can to protect Eve, a girl she befriended and loves like a sister. On the night Eve is adopted by a wealthy former orphan and ballerina, Marit manipulates a tear, then uses her seamstress magic to fix the woman’s torn coat and asks for a job as her seamstress in return. That leads to her joining a large staff of servants in the Copenhagen manor owned by the woman. At first, there’s resentment, even hostility from the other servants, but as she begins to fit in and start probing in an effort to discover whether her father’s death was really an accident, bonding happens and the more she learns, the more dangerous things become for all who live there. It’s a great plot with intriguing magic, plot twists and plenty of action, particularly toward the end. That conclusion is particularly masterful and makes this a perfect story for YA fantasy lovers.

The Stepping Off Place by Cameron Kelly Rosenblum: There are several powerful aspects to this story. Reid and Hattie’s friendship, for one and how Reid comes to understand it and their respective roles, for another. Then there’s the relationship dynamics, some between the teen players, others between them and their parents. Reid, for example doesn’t, at first, realize how her role in the family has been largely scripted by her younger brothers autism. That’s just one of several realizations, most of them very painful, that she has to process in conjunction with her coming to grips with Hattie’s death. First she’s in serious denial, then angry and tempted to retreat from the world, and then she teeters on an emotional razor blade as she wrestles with three possibilities regarding her best friend’s death. There’s plenty of emotional messiness here, but I was really floored by the way Reid, Hammie and the others decided to honor Hattie’s death. It’s powerful and freeing. This is a terrific first book and a great one for libraries of any type to add not only as a great story, but one that can be a resource for those teens dealing with loss or depression.

My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmerman: Imagine having almost every moment of your life ruled by a body part. Meet Greer Walsh. For maybe a day she was comfortable in her skin when puberty hit. After that, she was ultra self-conscious, let her insecurities run rampant and endured endless dialogues with Maude and Mavis as she calls her oversized breasts. Comfort is an elusive experience for her as is finding bras and tops that fit. She slouches and hides in oversized sweatshirts. She’s very smart, particularly in math, but when it comes to thinking about a social life, she’s a babe in the woods. Having a mother who is ultra confident and believes she has all the answers makes confiding a wishful, but impossible thing. Add in a younger brother who’s a cross between Attilla The Hun and a barnyard animal and you start to understand why she endures with little hope of living.

All this begins to change when her mother drags her along to meet Jackson, son in a family Mom’s working with in her capacity as a relocation specialist. There’s an immediate connection between them. It grows as the story progresses, even though Greer’s continual dialogue in her head with Maude, Mavis and how she things the rest of the world looks at her gets in the way. Add in a chance to try out for volleyball and a website the coach gives her that starts changing her life, great friends and situations that force her out of her head in time to start living, and you have one heck of a book. Quinlan, Jackson’s little sister, may be a minor character, but she almost steals the show. Read the book to find out why. This deserves to be in lots of libraries. It’s funny, painful, honest and will strike a chord with any teen with image of self consciousness issues.

There are aspects of this story that will remind readers of the Harry Potter Series and I say that in a very favorable way. This, however, stands on its own merits in multiple ways. Manuela has been isolated most of her life because her eyes are different. They have gold star shaped pupils, necessitating her wearing sunglasses at all times outside the cramped apartment she shares with her mom and an elderly lady they befriended while living on the streets of Miami. Her father is a mystery, supposedly the scion of an Argentine crime family, possibly dead, maybe hiding out somewhere. Whenever Manuela asks Mom, the responses are vague and guarded. Every month, when the moon is full, her period starts and the cramps and discomfort are so severe that her mother gives her three mysterious blue pills that knock her out for several days.
When she notices suspicious people watching the apartment house, followed by a near fatal attack on the elderly woman they live with, Manuela panics and rushes off to find Mom at the home where she works as a maid, but what she finds is a completely different workplace and no sooner does she enter, than ICE agents raid it, carting off everyone save her when one of her mother’s co-workers creates a distraction, allowing her to escape.
She ends up hiding in the back of a pickup driven by one of the suspicious watchers, ending up deep in the Everglades at a secret compound where other teens with similar eyes are attending school. What follows this discovery is not only intriguing as all get out, it reveals a hidden society, another dimension which is accessible only during a full moon and the revelation of several aspects of her life that make the story impossible to put down. The book ends with that perfect blend of partial resolution and cliffhanging that sets up the sequel.

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