Bites
And I’m winded over here! I almost didn’t think I’d make the YA Reading Challenge in time and if I didn’t, I would have missed it by a single book. That would have rendered some serious self-ass-kicking. But I did it. I only participated in three this year, the Fantasy Reading Challenge, the Young Adult Reading Challenge and the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. Just click on the respective images below to go check out my lists.
In 2011 I’m doing quite a few more but I have an epic shitload of books to read and since I can overlap all of the challenges, it’s going to work out in the end and I won’t be scrambling around on December 30th trying to wolf down books. I’ll post those lists posts probably this weekend. I was going to do it tonight but it’s already after 10 and I’m tired.
I hope everyone else’s reading challenges went smoothly and you all have some good ones picked out for the coming year. Read on!

Published August, 2010.

It looks like a pizza exploded on Nick Barry’s face. But bad skin is the least of his problems. His bones feel like living ice. A strange rash – like scratches – seems to be some sort of ancient code. And then there’s the anger . . .

Something evil is living under Nick’s skin. Where did it come from? What does it want? With the help of a dead kid’s diary, a nun, and a local professor, Nick slowly finds out what’s wrong with him. But there’s still one question that Nick must face alone: how do you destroy an evil that’s inside you? (book back blurb)
Another creeptastic installment in the Night Fall series from Darby Creek. If the cover doesn’t skeeve you out, then the contents surely will. And it’ll have you looking at your own emerging zits in a whole new, and terrifying, light.
If you didn’t know, the Night Fall series is a YA series written specifically for the reluctant or slower reader that might not be able (or willing) to take on the bigger, heavier (not necessarily physically) tomes otherwise seen in YA. While the read is quick, it’s effective. The writing’s simple yet it portrays the horror the story is trying to get across. While it may be lacking in detail, the simplicity that it does provide is enough to make you question leaving the light on at night, proving that effective horror doesn’t have to be a labyrinthine door stopper.
But just like the last Night Fall book I reviewed, Unthinkable, I wanted more from the story. As someone that certainly is not a reluctant reader, I wanted more depth than the story offered. The reasoning in this story is insane and oh so freakishly demented. God, I wanted more. I was craving details that I couldn’t get. I wanted to feel more for Nick although I felt plenty for him already. I wanted a little more sense of his invisibleness although it was pretty evident considering those that helped him out were not his peers but adults.
Really, the only bad thing about this book was that there wasn’t enough. I wanted more! More history! More Nick! More freaky ass skin issues! What was there had me freaked right the hell out. I can only imagine how creepy it would be if there was more fat to the story. I’m guessing I’d rightly lose sleep if there were any more to it because it had me cringing as it were. And it has me yearning for even more horror to come to the surface in the YA market.
If you know someone that’s a reluctant reader and want to break them into the awesome that is books, the Night Fall series is a really good place to start, especially if they enjoy getting freaked out. Skin was just as good, if not better, than Unthinkable. I actually think I was a little more scared this time around. And I loved it.

Published September 1, 2010.

Lily: “For three years, I’d been trying to hold on to Simon and pull him up against me. He was a bar of soap in the shower, though: slippery as hell, and one false move – squeeze a little too tight – and he’s gone. And picking up a wet bar of soap in the shower is pretty difficult.”

Noah: “Lily has these big brown eyes. It sounds corny, but they totally get me. They make my stomach and heart flip five times a piece. So I looked away quickly, because I have a tendency to kind of stare at her if I don’t catch myself. It’s been like that forever.”

Simon: “I never thought much would change with Lily being my girlfriend. I mean, she and Noah were the only people I hung out with much anyway, so now I’d be kissing her and fondling her and she’d be kissing me and fondling me. Not much of a difference, really.” (book flap blurb)
Don’t let those blurbs fool you. The only one that’s the most relevant is Lily’s. The others all look like they’re wrapped up in some weird love triangle of angst but it’s so much more than that. Except for Lily. That’s really all it is about since she had such tunnel vision for Simon.
Again, Carolrhoda Lab has not let me down with one of their books. Brezenoff’s writing digs so deep, gets down underneath the emo and the angst and the teenagery to something so much more powerful. Lily and Noah are chasing pipe dreams, from a pipe. Just not each others. And Simon, he’s the absolute value. He’s not a positive or a negative. He’s the normal, the end result of walking through the absolute and coming out the other side alive.
The story is told in three very distinct points of view: Lily’s, Noah’s and Simon’s and they all cover relatively the same timeline but you get to see the world from different eyes and it makes all the difference in the story.
Lily’s story is rose-colored but running, like red ink splattered with water. She has her eyes set on Simon and she’s so blinded by that want she doesn’t see the forest for the trees. There is no forest, no trees. Just Simon. Noah’s world is a baked out Scooby van with douchier friends. Like Lily, he’s so blinded by the path he’s made out for himself that he can’t see the change. Or doesn’t want to. So he envelopes himself in a protective seal in order to save himself. He likes what he has. It saves him from what he walks away from every day and it’s worked. Why change something that works so well? It could ruin everything.
And Simon. Simon’s the be-all end-all of the storyline, in so many ways. His piece of the puzzle is the most powerful, the most poignant. When he cries, you can feel his tears hitting your hand. You can feel the pain he feels when he starts learning hard truths. And through his eyes we see just how absolutely far away from Lily and Noah he really is. From their eyes, he’s the quiet dude that keeps to himself but smokes a lot of bud. No one digs any deeper and if they tried, he really wouldn’t let them in. But he’s not. He’s coping. He’s normal. Sort of.
There really wasn’t anything about this book not to love. I could have been reading the stories of three real kids for how authentic all three voices sounded. The only issue I had with any part of the story was Suzanne. I’m not sure of her relevance nor if she was even necessary for the story. As Simon’s sister she was definitely a crutch for him and at times I found their relationship uncomfortable for how close they were. I saw the path it was headed on really early on but I don’t know why the story went there, especially since it happened so late in the plot (like the last few pages) and the aftermath wasn’t delved into at all except they kept their distance from each other at the grieving. I honestly don’t know if it was another wrench in the spokes of life or if there’s a bigger picture I’m missing. I just didn’t find that particular part necessary. I think it was too underdeveloped for what it became.
Other than that, this could be a life study of teenagers in the wild. This is what it’s like to be a fly on the inside of their craniums. You see how they act and you’re privy to what they think and it’s so much deeper than the cigarettes and beer and weed and cutting class and slang and whatever. There’s pain and torment and sorrow and loss and longing and love going on underneath it all and Brezenoff captured it all fantastically. Reading from one cover to the other was as effortless as walking from one side of the room to the other. At the end I wanted more, especially of Simon. There was so much left hanging there that I didn’t want it to end. But it did. And it was oh so good while it lasted.
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Published October 25, 2010.

When you piss off a bridge into a snowstorm, it feels like you’re connecting with eternal things. Paying homage to something or someone. But who? The Druids? Walt Whitman? No, I pay homage to one person only, my brother, my twin.

In life. In death.
Telemachus.

Since the death of his brother, Jonathan’s been losing his grip on reality. Last year’s Best Young Poet and gifted guitarist is now Taft High School’s resident tortured artist, when he bothers to show up. He’s on track to repeat eleventh grade, but his English teacher, his principal, and his crew of Thicks (who refuse to be seniors without him) won’t sit back and let him fail. (from netgalley.com)

Sad to say, this was another Did Not Finish. By the halfway point I just felt the plot was sluggish and I really couldn’t stand the voice. Not to mention it went far too into guitar detail for my liking. I mean, I get it. The kid’s a guitar player. But with all of the chord talk and types of guitars, I found myself zoning out. I like a good guitar as much as the next guy but I’m not at that level. I just couldn’t appreciate the knowledge.
The voice of the story was the biggest issue for me. It was angsty to the Curt Cobain degree. Like the kid stepped out of 1992 dripping in unwashed plaid and Doc Martins. Not only did I feel the voice was misplaced for the setting (it’s a current setting but seeped in 20-year-old music, surely not every teenager in Seattle is gaga for the ancient grunge scene still), it was just trying too hard to be all “I don’t give a shit” pissy and I just found it really annoying. Yeah, I get it. The kid’s brother died (whom I couldn’t get over the fact that anyone would name their kid Telemachus) and he’s coping but I’m not a fan of anyone wallowing in their own self-pity, let alone a kid set to his own devices in a contrived situation where no one really gives a crap.
I could blame it on his mother but I just felt her really cliche. Some deadbeat pseudo-whore that leeches off of her son, forcing him to make a better life for her instead of being the mother she actually is. Yeah, it’s a shitty situation but I just felt it was tired so I couldn’t really empathize with anything.
So between Jonathan’s pissing and moaning and constant guitar-playing and “LOOK AT ME” pseudo-suicide attempts, the mismatched and misplaced voice and a stumbling-along plot, I just couldn’t make it to the end. Maybe if the voice were different. Maybe if it didn’t try so hard to be a byproduct of Curt Cobain’s preemo emoism and Mitch Albom’s latent inner-teen’s nightmare. Maybe if it was just truer to itself, I would have liked it more. Maybe someone with a little more patience than me could make it through to the end but I just didn’t care enough about the MC, or his story, to do it.

Published May 8th, 2010.

Mom knew that the mermaids – hand-carved from driftwood by the owner of a souvenir shop – were all I wanted to take home from Florida. As she bought them, she looked down at me, her eyes not just glittering but snapping with fire like two Fourth of July sparklers. She ran her fingers down the length of my nose, almost like you’d stroke a favorite pet, and said to the salesman, “We’re just alike, me and Aura.”

And you know, back then, the idea of that didn’t scare the absolute hell out of me. (book back blurb)
For once, a book about teenagers with real problems. That’s not really to undermine the issues that teenagers have. At that age, when you don’t have any other worries, what your reputation is, who you’re dating, who you’re friends with, etc. is everything. But this is real. This is the real that makes all of that other stuff trivial shoe dirt. On the one hand you have a girl that’s been saddled with being the sole caregiver to a schizophrenic mother and on the other, you have her friend that could go on the Teen Mom show, complete with deadbeat dad and the ‘I know it all and my parents know nothing’ attitude.
I was sucked into the story immediately. Aura just has a great voice; so much more mature than a lot of the other stories I read and for good reason. If you had to take care of a mentally ill parent all by yourself, you’d age really quickly too. But while I believed the voice as a whole, I didn’t necessarily believe all of the references she made. Like equating her grandmother to Imelda Marcos. I’d like to meet a fifteen-year-old that even knows who Imelda Marcos is let alone how to use her person correctly in a reference joke. But those little things aside, Aura held her own throughout. You see just how strong and solid of a character she is by how she handles everything going on around her. I’m sure a lot of others would have ceased to even function in her situation but Aura carried on strong. She did what she could to protect her mother, who was number one to her even above herself.
But with that being said, it’s also a horribly sad situation. You have the deadbeat dad that’s perfectly content with stepping out of the situation and saving himself, leaving his teenage daughter to handle the problem that’s no longer his because he signed on the dotted line making you empathize with Aura even more. Unfortunately, that really is an all too common situation, sad as it is to say. And the school not stepping in to help out? Unless you have outstanding teachers that actually want to help out their students (or super important students), the public school system is not there to function in that manner. Again, another sad thing to say, but it is true. When your bottom line is to have the kids functioning at a high enough level to bring in government funding, if one slips through the cracks, well, it probably would have been one that brought down the curve anyway. And if there aren’t parents there to rally for that child, they’re going to fade away. So while I think these elements help to isolate Aura even more and force her to function more independently (thus making them look a little contrived), they’re not really out of the ordinary situations and they just made the situation all the more real.
I could have lived without Aura’s love interest. I just felt like he was a jerk from the beginning. “Paint my board.” No please, not even asking. Just do it. Why haven’t you done it yet? Where’s my board? I just wanted her to say, “dude, I burned it in the pit in the backyard.” Granted he didn’t know Aura’s situation but even mutually exclusive from that, I thought he was a jerk and not worth the notice Aura was giving him.
I even really liked Janny for the basketcase that she was. New moms in desirable situations have a hard time adjusting and here you have a new mom that’s barely 16, just emancipated from her parents and without the sperm donor helping out. As much as I wanted to slap her from backing away from Aura when she needed her (and as much as I didn’t think Aura leaning on Janny earlier in life was touched upon like it should have been), I didn’t hate her for it. She had enough issues on her plate and she couldn’t fit Aura’s on there anymore either. I get that. Still, I would have liked to have seen Janny be the lean-to earlier in life (as opposed to just a stronger personality) for Aura in order for the situation to be a little more balanced. While I did understand Janny’s situation, without that weight behind it, it looked like she was just plugging her ears, demanding that Aura understand her situation but not offering the same understanding in return. It could have been the way I read it and just missed it. But it looked unbalanced to me.
This book is as real as real can get. It’s the effects of a mental illness not on the sick individual but on the family around them. When one spoke is broken, it gets harder and harder for the rest to pick up the slack and that’s seen here with Aura and her mom. There is only one path to crazy for Aura and it’s through creativity so she tries to stifle it as much as she can, in herself and her mom when she gets too bad. Stamp out the crazy and you can stamp out the sickness, keep it from coming back to haunt. At times it’s painful to read but it’s something that should be read. I’m sure there are more kids going through something like this than the numbers care to admit and like Aura, they’re suffering with it. They’re beating themselves up over their decisions when they shouldn’t even be making decisions like that in the first place. It’s sad but Aura’s strength is revitalizing. Throughout the entire story it’s a beacon of hope. You can see she knows what the right thing to do is. The real right thing to do. It just takes her a while to actually get there.
This is one of those stand-out books in the pile that is YA. There’s nothing paranormal about it. There’s no love triangle. Actually there’s barely any love at all and what love is there is shredded, stressed to its breaking point. But there’s perseverance and strength and you won’t be able to help but root for Aura from beginning to end. You want everything to work out okay for her. You’re desperate for it. It just has to. And that’ll keep you turning the pages until the end.

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Want my copy? Then just fill out the form below for your chance to win. Open to US residents 13 years of age and older only. One entry per person per email address. Duplicate entries will be deleted. Contest ends January 17th at midnight, EST.