July Reads — all young adult contemps. Go figure. :-)
(As always, covers link to Goodreads pages.)
Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu – Such a fascinating novel. Devoted focuses on a fictional Quiverfull family not unlike the Duggars. It’s a story that’s clearly well-researched, and its the book’s authenticity that makes it so unsettling. There are real girls living exactly the way MC Rachel does at the beginning of Devoted — girls who are taught to live subserviently, girls who are raised to believe that their only contributions to society are marrying and procreating, girls who are sheltered from the “regular” population. Watching Rachel slowly transition from dutiful Quiverfull daughter to strong, independent young woman was incredible. She’s forced to make some very tough choices and her courage is enviable. While Rachel has serious doubts about her family’s way of life and her church’s teachings, her faith in God never waivers, a dichotomy that brings even more complexity and nuance to this story. Devoted‘s secondary characters are just as interesting. Mentor Lauren is kind of a badass, strong but still vulnerable, and a wonderful example for Rachel. Cute boy Matt brings just the right amount of humor and charm. If you’re into YA that’s thoughtful and deep and not so romance-focused, definitely give Devoted a read.
Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway – Not sure I could love this story more. I’m a big fan of Robin Benway’s Audrey, Wait!, but Emmy & Oliver… There’s something so special about this book. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and romantic and sorrowful, infused with a slightly subdued version of the humor that first made me a Robin Benway fan. Emmy is a fantastic narrator. Her voice is flawlessly teen, and her observations about friendship and love and life feel spot-on. Her uncertainties and insecurities are incredibly relatable, and I love how fiercely loyal she is to her family, friends, and, especially, her next-door-neighbor/childhood BFF, Oliver, who was kidnapped by his father when he was seven-years-old. Speaking of Oliver — he is adorable. After ten years away, he’s plunged back into a life he hardly remembers while his father, the only parent he truly knows, is on the lam. I had so much sympathy for Oliver, torn between allegiances to his mom and dad, trying to fit in at a new school, and attempting reconnect with former friends. Together, Emmy and Oliver are pretty much the greatest. They’re so considerate and affectionate with one another, and I love they way they support each other unconditionally. Emmy & Oliver is a story about friendships and family, first love and sacrifice. I’m pretty sure it’ll be on my Favorites short-list for 2015.
The Devil You Know by Trish Doller – Oh, man, this book is a trip. It’s dark and raw and sexy and scary, and I could not put it down. Trish Doller is one of my few auto-buy authors; her style is unique, and she is fearless when it comes to writing about provocative topics and gritty relationships. The Devil You Know‘s protagonist, Cadie, is such a captivating character. She’s different from a lot of YA protagonists in that she has no idea what she wants out of life. Her mom died when she was young and her dad fell apart, and Cadie’s been expected to raise her little brother and maintain the household ever since. It’s a dismal, frustrating existence. When she meets road-tripping cousins Noah and Matt, she becomes swept up in the idea of escape and, even though she knows very little about the guys — with the exception of one’s certain criminal history — joins them on their journey. There are a few delightful road trip moments in this story, but mostly I was just waiting for things to go bad. And they do — like, really bad. The Devil You Know is a thriller mashed with a romance, and it’s incredibly well done. Its quick pace, swampy Florida setting, and impending sense of doom make it unputdownable.
A Summer Like No Other by Elodie Nowodazkij – Love this sweet and steamy YA novella! It’s a prequel/set-up story for Elodie’s up-and-coming October release, Always Second Best, and it’s super entertaining. I had so much fun reading Nick and Emilia’s quick-witted banter, not to mention their dance scenes, which feel intensely charged and full of longing. A Summer Like No Other‘s not a fluffy story — these characters have goals, and they’re facing turmoil and some serious challenges. Nick’s parents are on the verge of splitting; his father doesn’t support his dream of dancing, and he’s incredibly demanding. And Emilia, who’s adopted, is on the hunt for her biological family, a task that proves to be more painful than she ever could have imagined. Together, Nick and Emilia create such a spark. There are plenty of reasons they shouldn’t be together, yet their chemistry is off the charts. Fair warning: A Summer Like No Other‘s ending is going to leave you desperate for more of these characters, which is actually sort of perfect, since you can read the rest of their story this fall when Always Second Best releases.
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen – In the grand tradition of Sarah Dessen’s many contemporary YA novels, Saint Anything is heartfelt, character-driven, and focused on friendship and family. Main character Sydney’s older brother, Peyton, has always been the shining light of their family, but now he’s in prison for crashing his car while driving drunk and critically injuring a teenage boy. Sydney’s parents are reeling, trying to come to terms with Peyton’s sentence, and Sydney feels lost in the shuffle. She leaves her ritzy private school for the local public high school, and ends up making a eclectic new group of friends. It’s these friends, sister-brother duo Layla and Mac, the members of his fledgling band, and their fun-loving, rag-tag family, who give Saint Anything its spark. I loved getting to know this crew alongside Sydney. It was so compelling to watch the small ways in which they helped her come to terms with her family’s difficulties and grow into a more courageous, more autonomous person. I was interested, too, in Sydney’s complicated and ever-evolving relationship with her parents, plus Ames, her big brother’s creepy (Sydney’s word) friend. Saint Anything is a quiet book about stepping up and out, and finding people who help you to become your best self. Plus, there’s a really (really!) sweet romance — Sarah Dessen writes the dreamiest YA boys. <3
So? What’s the best book you read in July?