Debut Author Challenge :: FAULT LINE

(A note… I set out to read and review at least twelve debut novels in 2013, and including the review below, I have officially accomplished that goal. As of today, I’ve read fourteen debut novels, but a couple slipped by without official reviews. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch up before the end of the year!)

Today’s 2013 Debut Author Challenge review is
Fault Line by Christa Desir

From GoodreadsBen could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want. But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone. Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame? Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves.

(Disclaimer: Christa Desir is a dear friend, but her personal awesomeness has in no way impacted my review of her novel.)

A little background… While I’ve read a few of Christa’s (currently) unpublished manuscripts, Fault Line was written and sold before she and I became friendly and began trading work. Because I know and very much appreciate Christa’s stark, no-holds-barred writing style, and am often drawn to dark contemporary YA, I have been (impatiently) awaiting Fault Line‘s release for ages. Seriously… I teared up a bit when the beautiful hardcover was finally delivered to my house last week. I started reading immediately, and could hardly put it down.

Fault Line is not the kind of book that sweeps you off your feet with romance and exoticism, nor is it the sort of book you’ll fall traditionally head-over-heels in love with. It’s not a book that’s going to leave you with that warm, content feeling that’s common in contemporary YA. Fault Line not a pleasant read — in fact, a good deal of this story is downright painful — but it is an affecting book and, I think, an incredibly important novel.

Fault Line is the sort of book that’s going to make readers wonder what they’d do if they found themselves in Ben’s (or Ani’s) situation. It’s going to put them in its characters’ shoes and force them to ponder all of the what ifs? and if onlys Ben and Ani had to face. Fault Line is going to keep readers up at night. It’s going to make them worry about its characters, feel for its characters, and wish for better outcomes for its characters. This novel is going to start conversations about rape, victim blaming, and the “right” way to cope. It is remarkably relevant.

I’ve read a few reviews of Fault Line that took issue with its ending. Yes, it is abrupt, and yes, it is open-ended. But to me, it felt right. There are no easy outcomes when it comes to sexual assault, and to have given Ben and Ani a shiny, ribbon-tied coda would have been disingenuous. I’m so proud of Christa for ending her novel in a real (though difficult) place, a place that allows readers to imagine their own conclusion for these captivating characters.

Congratulations on a story well told, Christa. ♡

Learn more about the Debut Author Challenge HERE.

What’s the last debut novel you read?

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Debut Author Challenge :: CANARY

Today’s 2013 Debut Author Challenge review is Canary by Rachele Alpine

From GoodreadsStaying quiet will destroy her, but speaking up will destroy everyone. Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete. But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes. Canary is told in a mix of prose and verse, and has earned tons of fantastic author endorsements and complimentary reviews.

Such a beautiful cover, right? I like the story beneath it too. Canary is an issue book that deals with a lot of issues: death of a parent (Kate’s mom), athlete elitism (something I don’t see addressed often in YA), academic integrity at an upper-class private school, sexual assault, and anxiety over a military family member’s well-being (a topic that strikes particularly close to home for me).

Kate’s a great narrator. She’s a “normal girl” (for lack of a better term), and I had no trouble relating to her as a high schooler who’s trying to find her niche at a new school and in a new life. My favorite part of Canary are the blog posts — penned by Kate, and mostly in verse — sprinkled throughout the narrative. Kate’s online words are confessions, thoughtful and profound, and sometimes cheeky and clever. Check out a bit of this obviously sardonic “post,” about proper care and handling of a Beacon basketball player boyfriend…

“Maintain a happy attitude, even if you feel sad. Smile and laugh often. Let him know life is perfect for you when he’s around. Agree to what he wants to do, be where he wants to be, watch what he wants to watch, and become interested in the things that interest him. Remember constantly how lucky you are to have acquired a Beacon basketball player boyfriend.”

Another aspect of Canary I appreciate is Kate’s connection with her big brother, Brett. The push-and-pull of their authentic sibling relationship is incredibly well done, and I love the protective role he plays in Kate’s life, especially when it comes to her boyfriend Jack (who I’m still a little torn about). Brett is mature, and he’s often the voice of reason Kate herself sometimes lacks. He’s my favorite of all Canary‘s characters.

I recommend Canary for fans of serious, issue-based contemporary YA, books like Daisy Whitney’s Mockingbirds, and Chelsea Pitcher’s The S-Word

Learn more about the Debut Author Challenge HERE.

Also, hop on over to YA Confidential to check out today’s From the Vault post. We want to know what you’d like to see more of in YA.

What’s the last debut novel you read? 

Bookanista Rec :: OCD Love Story

I’m thrilled to recommend one of my favorite 2013 debuts:
OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu
(Reviewed for the Debut Author Challenge and The Bookanistas)

From GoodreadsWhen Bea meets Beck, she knows instantly that he’s her kind of crazy. Sweet, strong, kinda-messed-up Beck understands her like no one else can. He makes her feel almost normal. He makes her feel like she could fall in love again. But despite her feelings for Beck, Bea can’t stop thinking about someone else: a guy who is gorgeous and magnetic… and has no idea Bea even exists. But Bea knows a lot about him. She spends a lot of time watching him. She has a journal full of notes. Some might even say she’s obsessed. Bea tells herself she’s got it all under control. But this isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion. The truth is, she’s breaking down…and she might end up breaking her own heart.

OCD Love Story is one of those rare “issue books” that doesn’t make you feel like you’re reading an issue book. It’s got so much personality and style, so many unique and interesting characters, it reads like an incredibly thoughtful and entertaining contemporary YA story — which is exactly what it is.

One of OCD Love Story‘s greatest strengths is its voice. The story feels authentically teen without ever trying too hard. Bea’s narration is spunky and seamless, so frank it made me squeamish at times (she admits she’s got no filter when it comes to saying what’s on her mind–it’s one of the things she works on in therapy). Mental illness is an uncomfortable, complex, messy topic, and Bea does some truly scary things, but she speaks about her disorder (and her life) with such disarming honesty, she’s an easy character to empathize with. While I didn’t necessarily like all of Bea’s choices, I always liked her, and I was rooting for her to come to terms with her OCD every step of the way.

Bea’s love interest, Beck, is as absorbing as Bea herself. At first, his OCD seems less severe than Bea’s, but as the story progresses, Beck’s obsessions and compulsions became clear and alarming. His reason for behaving the way he does is sincerely heartbreaking, and mostly I just wanted to give him a big hug. That said, I often found myself wondering if he was really a good match for Bea, or if they were set on a path of mutual destruction. The way Corey Ann Haydu handles their developing romance is clever and compelling, and I was incredibly impressed with how the story wrapped up.

Don’t let OCD Love Story‘s cheery yellow-and-pink cover mislead you; it is a heavy book about teens dealing with a sometimes debilitating mental illness, and there are some truly cringeworthy moments within its pages. But there are also moments of humor and friendship and a sweet, sweet romance, making OCD Love Story one of my favorite debuts of 2013.

Don’t forget to check out what my fellow Bookanistas are recommending today:

Lenore Appelhans adores IN THE AFTER by Demitria Lunetta

Jessica Love raves about GOLDEN by Jessi Kirby

Tracey Neithercott is wowed by A TALE OF TWO CENTURIES by Rachel Harris

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And learn more about the Debut Author Challenge HERE.

DAC :: STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson
(Reviewed for the Debut Author Challenge)

From GoodreadsWhen seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi. Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her over-generous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world. Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.

First, I love this book’s cover. I think it’s gorgeous, and it totally draws me in. Its muted color palette and elegant font very much convey the tone of the story. It’s the reason I purchased a copy even though historical fiction (which Stands of Bronze and Gold is, sort of) is not normally my thing. Book Cover = Win

Strands of Bronze and Gold is a hard book to review. It is exactly what it claims to be: a fairy tale retelling set against a historical backdrop, and it does almost everything right. Its characters are engaging. Its prose is lovely, and boasts some of the most delectable food descriptions I’ve read. And its plot, while a bit slow in the beginning, moves along at reasonable pace and includes some interesting twists and turns. All in all, Strands of Bronze and Gold is very well done.

But… I’m not sure it’s the book for me. It’s just not the type of tale that moves me. And that’s what I’m looking for when I read — a story that gives me an emotional walloping, rips my heart out and makes me feel, and then, just when I think I can’t stand another moment of anguish, slowly restores my sense of hopefulness. I found myself wanting more from Strands of Bronze and Gold, particularly in the way of the Underground Railroad thread, and in the hinted-at romance with Mr. Stone. I thought these elements were the most compelling of the story, and I would’ve loved to have seen them expanded on.

For me, knowing that Strands of Bronze and Gold is a Bluebeard retelling stole a bit of its magic. Early on, I had a basic idea of what was going on with Monsieur Bernard de Cressac and his previous wives. And while I liked Sophie and wanted her to solve the story’s mystery and escape Wyndriven Abbey, I pretty much knew she would, somehow. That kept me from becoming truly invested in her plight. But, as I mentioned, there are a few surprises in the story and they, along with Jane Nickerson’s enchanting prose, kept me reading through to the end.

Strands of Bronze and Gold is everything it’s supposed to be — though it’s simply not the right story for me. That said, if you enjoy historical fiction and fairy tale retellings, I suspect you’ll love this one, and I hope you’ll check it out.

Have you read Strands of Bronze and Gold? Thoughts?
Do you have a favorite fairy tale retelling?

(Learn more about the Debut Author Challenge HERE.)

Bookanista Rec :: NANTUCKET BLUE

I’m so excited to share one of my most anticipated 2013 novels:
Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland
(Reviewed for the Debut Author Challenge and The Bookanistas)

From GoodreadsFor Cricket Thompson, a summer like this one will change everything. A summer spent on Nantucket with her best friend, Jules Clayton, and the indomitable Clayton family. A summer when she’ll make the almost unattainable Jay Logan hers. A summer to surpass all dreams. Some of this turns out to be true. Some of it doesn’t. When Jules and her family suffer a devastating tragedy that forces the girls apart, Jules becomes a stranger whom Cricket wonders whether she ever really knew. And instead of lying on the beach working on her caramel-colored tan, Cricket is making beds and cleaning bathrooms to support herself in paradise for the summer. But it’s the things Cricket hadn’t counted on–most of all, falling hard for someone who should be completely off-limits–that turn her dreams into an exhilarating, bittersweet reality. A beautiful future is within her grasp, and Cricket must find the grace to embrace it. If she does, her life could be the perfect shade of Nantucket blue.

Nantucket Blue turned out to be just what I was expecting: beachy and romantic, a fresh take on mature contemporary YA. It’s similar in tone to the stories I write, and very much the type of book I enjoy reading. I adore its lovely, washed-out cover, and the fact that Jenny Han blurbed it, well… that says a lot.

It took some time for protagonist Cricket to grow on me. She’s got a lot going on with her parents and her best friend, and at the beginning of the novel, she struck me as needy and rather dense. I never disliked her — her flaws made her feel like a fully drawn character — but at times they also made her a bit difficult to connect with. While Cricket always has the best of intentions, I think she comes into her own when she starts working at the Cranberry Inn. The friends she makes there (Liz and George in particular) help Cricket find confidence, at which point she becomes a protagonist who is  easy to relate to, and a joy to root for.

Cricket’s voice is definitely worth mentioning. It’s authentically teen without ever feeling like author Leila Howland is trying too hard. There are times when Cricket makes some truly excellent life observations, and times when she is genuinely funny. I love when a novel makes me laugh in public, and Nantucket Blue did on several occasions.

I have two favorite things about Nantucket Blue. First, the setting. I have never visited Nantucket (or any of the surrounding areas) but obviously I need to. I adore small oceanside towns, and Leila Howland makes Nantucket feel positively magical. The sandy beaches, the specialty shops, and the quaint inns. The tasty food, the Fourth of July celebrations, the warmth and the water and the phosphorescence… Who wants to plan a writers’ retreat in Nantucket?

And my second favorite thing about Nantucket Blue? The romance, of course! I won’t tell you who Cricket’s off-limits love interest turns out to be, but I will say that the relationship is very well done. The boy is adorable and respectful and honest, and the romance is an innocent, tingly, delightful kind of romance. It’s one that makes both characters better, fuller people, and it makes this book a total page-turner. Too cute! Also, I love how it all wrapped up. ♥

Pick up Nantucket Blue if you’re looking for sweet, summer read with just the right amount of depth, and don’t forget to check out what my fellow Bookanistas are recommending today:

Carolina Valdez Miller celebrates 17 & GONE by Nova Ren Suma

Carrie Harris awakens you to INSOMNIA by Jenn Johansson…with giveaway

Christine Fonseca praises THE PLEDGE by Kimberly Derting

Corrine Jackson is wild for WHEN IT HAPPENS by  Susane Colasanti

Elana Johson invites you to her ABANDON release par-tay!

Lenore Appelhans  swoons for STAR CURSED by Jessica Spotswood…
With an annotated snippet

Stasia Ward Kehoe is wild for THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
by Stephen Chbosky

Tracey Neithercott  highlights WHERE THE STARS STILL SHINE
by Trish Doller

Tracy Banghart  raves over JUMP WHEN READY by David Pandolfe

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And learn more about the Debut Author Challenge HERE.

DAC :: THE S-WORD

I’m excited to discuss Chelsea Pitcher‘s intensly honest, issue-driven  debut novel The S-Word
(Reviewed for the Debut Author Challenge)

From GoodreadsLizzie’s reputation is destroyed when she’s caught in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend on prom night. With the whole school turned against her, and Angie not speaking to her, Lizzie takes her own life. But someone isn’t letting her go quietly. As graffiti and photocopies of Lizzie’s diary plaster the school, Angie begins a relentless investigation into who, exactly, made Lizzie feel she didn’t deserve to keep living. And while she claims she simply wants to punish Lizzie’s tormentors, Angie’s own anguish over abandoning her best friend will drive her deep into the dark, twisted side of Verity High—and she might not be able to pull herself back out. Debut author Chelsea Pitcher daringly depicts the harsh reality of modern high schools, where one bad decision can ruin a reputation, and one cruel word can ruin a life. Angie’s quest for the truth behind Lizzie’s suicide is addictive and thrilling, and her razor-sharp wit and fierce sleuthing skills makes her impossible not to root for—even when it becomes clear that both avenging Lizzie and avoiding self-destruction might not be possible.

The S-Word is very much an issue book. Suicide, homosexuality, date rape, child molestation, slut-shaming, bullying, and cutting are all given varying degrees of attention throughout the course of the story. Sound like a lot? There were times when it felt like a lot, to be honest. While the novel was entirely absorbing, I wish author Chelsea Pitcher would have narrowed the story’s focus a bit, allowing me more time and space to fully absorb the gravity of the issues presented. That said, she handles the heavy content with the courtesy and reverence it deserves, without ever crossing into preachy territory.

My favorite thing about The S-Word, hands down, is protagonist Angie’s voice. She reads as so spot-on eighteen, it’s hard to believe the author isn’t a teen herself. Angie’s brutally honest stream-of-conscience narration and facetious conversational comebacks made this book a swift and entertaining read. But as much as I enjoyed Angie’s voice, there were a few instances during which I found her a little too flippant for the subject matter. Her lifelong best friend has just killed herself and Angie’s harboring tons of guilt. While I understand that distancing herself is a coping mechanism, there were times when Angie felt too clever and catty. I found myself wanting more emotion and less wit.

The S-Word‘s conclusion is another of its strengths. The story wrapped up in a way that felt satisfying and realistic. I thought the principal characters (with the exception of one — highlight: Lizzie’s father) got exactly what he or she deserved, and Angie made some big strides in becoming a more compassionate, more mature person. I found myself thinking of her even after I finished reading the novel, wondering what she might’ve chosen to do with her life after high school.

If you’re a fan of issue books with authentic teen voice, you will probably like The S-Word. Its tone reminded me of Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers, as well as Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally. Definitely check out The S-Word if you’re a fan of either of those novels, or of serious contemporary YA.

What’s the last issue book you read and enjoyed?

(Learn more about the Debut Author Challenge HERE.)

Book Talk :: USES FOR BOYS

Uses For Boys, a contemporary YA novel by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
(Reviewed for the Debut Author Challenge and The Bookanistas.)

From GoodreadsAnna remembers a time before boys, when she was little and everything made sense. When she and her mom were a family, just the two of them against the world. But now her mom is gone most of the time, chasing the next marriage, bringing home the next stepfather. Anna is left on her own—until she discovers that she can make boys her family. From Desmond to Joey, Todd to Sam, Anna learns that if you give boys what they want, you can get what you need. But the price is high—the other kids make fun of her; the girls call her a slut. Anna’s new friend, Toy, seems to have found a way around the loneliness, but Toy has her own secrets that even Anna can’t know. Then comes Sam. When Anna actually meets a boy who is more than just useful, whose family eats dinner together, laughs, and tells stories, the truth about love becomes clear. And she finally learns how it feels to have something to lose—and something to offer. Real, shocking, uplifting, and stunningly lyrical,  Uses for Boys is a story of breaking down and growing up.

I first heard about Uses For Boys on author Sarah McCarry‘s blog, The Rejectionist. She wrote an honest and affecting piece on slut-shaming as it relates to this debut novel and its Goodreads reviews. The undeniable thread of ignorance in the review excerpts Sarah included in her post hurt my heart and made me wonder, yet again, at the lack of compassion in some people. The excerpts Sarah posted also made me wonder about the book itself. So, I did a little more research on Uses For Boys. While it was pretty clear from the story’s summary that Anna and I don’t have a lot in common, her journey intrigued me.

Uses For Boys is a tough book to read. It’s a character study, an in-depth, unflinching look at what it’s like to live in Anna’s shoes, and it is haunting. Throughout most of the story, Anna is just trying to survive. Yes, she makes some crappy choices. Yes, there were several occasions when I thought, Oh, Anna, don’t do that! Yes, Anna sleeps with a lot of boys, and yes, several of them are one night stands. But the thing is, Anna has her reasons for behaving the way she does. Reasons that, for the most part, spiral back to her neglectful mother and the varied occasions of assault Anna suffered early-on. I may not have been able to relate to Anna’s experiences, but I was certainly rooting for her to find happiness and some inner peace. Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s fearless flair for storytelling and stark, lyrical prose helped me empathize with her protagonist in a way I didn’t think I’d be able to.

My favorite parts of Uses For Boys were the chapters involving Toy, Anna’s incredibly complex best friend, and Sam, the gentle boy who comes along toward the end of the novel and, with his awesome family, becomes a catalyst of change in Anna’s life. Additionally, and this is sort of a small thing, but I also loved the way Erica Lorraine Scheidt described Anna and Toy’s clothing. Fashion is such a big part of their lives — it’s what brought them together and, at times, it’s what keeps them together. Their senses of style and clothing choices were so eccentric and odd, they added a very cool bit of color to an otherwise dark story.

Uses For Boys is definitely one to check out if you’re a fan of edgy, upper YA (this book is very frank in its discussions of sexuality), and if you enjoy character-driven contemporary stories.

Check out what my fellow Bookanistas are up to today:

Corrine Jackson is swept away by SUCH A RUSH

Christine Fonseca interviews THE LIES THATBIND authors
Lisa & Laura Roecker

Elana Johson celebrates THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass

Stasia Ward Kehoe parties with the Academy of American Poets on
POEM IN YOUR POCKET DAY

Jessica Loveis wowed by WHERE THINGS COME BACK by John Corey Whaley

Tracy Banghart delves into THE HOST (book & movie) by Stephenie Meyer

And learn more about the Debut Author Challenge HERE.