Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

Torn AwayTorn Away by Jennifer Brown
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

From the publisher:

Jersey Cameron has always loved a good storm. Watching the clouds roll in and the wind pick up. Smelling the electricity in the air. Dancing barefoot in the rain. She lives in the Midwest, after all, where the weather is sure to keep you guessing. Jersey knows what to do when the tornado sirens sound. But she never could have prepared for this.

When her town is devastated by a tornado, Jersey loses everything. As she struggles to overcome her grief, she’s sent to live with relatives she hardly knows-family who might as well be strangers. In an unfamiliar place, can Jersey discover that even on the darkest of days, there are some things no tornado can destroy?

I was a huge fan of Jennifer Brown’s first two novels for teens, Hate List and Bitter End, but she’s written several since that I haven’t read, so I was excited to dive back into her work with Torn Away. Let me tell you, this book left me an emotional wreck. From beginning to end, I held Jersey close to my heart and what happens to her in this novel is beyond devastating. I read this book in one sitting and I pretty much sobbed throughout the entire second half.

The thing about Torn Away is that the book starts with this tornado, almost from the very first page. The reader gets to know about Jersey’s life before the tornado through flashbacks and her describing things for the reader – so really, the whole book is just Jersey and what she’s going through, you don’t have much time to get to know other characters. So it’s next to impossible NOT to let this one character take over the reader’s whole heart as the story goes on.

What happens to Jersey is beyond heartbreaking. Not only does she lose her family, home, friends, everything to this tornado, but the one person left in her life (her stepfather) ends up sending her away to her biological father’s family – a family she’s never even met, let alone is close enough to where she’d want to live with them. This family is AWFUL. I cried the entire way through Jersey’s time with these people, I just could not get how it was possible to treat another person, your FAMILY member at that, so horribly. 

Oh, and about Jersey’s stepfather? Yes, he lost everything too, but my goodness what a selfish man he was. It was just truly sad to read how he basically refused to take care of her and passed her off to whoever would take her. So, so sad. 

Ultimately Jersey does end up with people who love her and her story is one of hope and resilience against the most difficult of odds. I was satisfied with the ending, after feeling so deeply for Jersey I was desperate for her to find the love and home she needed. This is an emotionally difficult read, but it’s so worth it. Jersey will crawl into your heart and stay there, and she’s not a character I’ll soon forget. Highly recommended.

Mini-reviews – The Death Cure and Neverwhere

The Death Cure (Maze Runner, #3)The Death Cure by James Dashner
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

This third book in The Maze Runner trilogy was, thankfully, a good conclusion to the series. After severely disliking the second book, I was nervous to pick up The Death Cure, but luckily for me Dashner turned it around and I was pleasantly surprised by the final installment. What made me happiest about this novel is that, for the most part, answers about this world and why things are the way they are were provided. Also, several of the relationships between characters were solidified to my satisfaction. It’s difficult to review a third book in a series for fear of spoiling the other two books, so I won’t say much else. But the ending was interesting – I thought things were all tied up, but when I was talking to a friend about it, she thought something completely different, which would have meant that Dashner ended the whole thing with an ambiguous twist. So I’m still puzzling over that. Thoughts from those of you who have read the series? Email me if you want!

NeverwhereNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks

This paranormal fantasy stuff isn’t usually my thing, but I’ll read just about anything for one of my book clubs, so here we are. Hmm. What to say about Neverwhere? I don’t know that I appreciated it as much as I should have. I feel like Neil Gaiman is this epic author, a guy who has tons of fans and millions of people absolutely adore his books and think he’s a genius, yet I don’t know that I necessarily got what was so special about this novel. Sure, I am overwhelmed by the creativity at work here. This is an entirely new world Gaiman dreamed up and communicated to the reader in amazing detail in just one novel – a pretty incredible feat, in my opinion. I was invested in the main character’s fate and very intrigued by the world Gaiman created. While I was entertained while reading Neverwhere, I never had the experience that I just could not put the book down. I liked this book, it was different from what I usually read and therefore a fun departure from that, but not much else. It wasn’t earth-shattering by any means, at least not for me. What else should I read by Gaiman to get a full picture of his brilliance? Because, sadly, Neverwhere didn’t exactly convince me.

This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready

This Side of SalvationThis Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready
Published by Simon Pulse

From the publisher:

Everyone mourns differently. When his older brother was killed, David got angry. As in, fist-meets-someone-else’s-face furious. But his parents? They got religious. David’s still figuring out his relationship with a higher power, but there’s one thing he does know for sure: The closer he gets to new-girl Bailey, the better, brighter, happier, more he feels.

Then his parents start cutting all their worldly ties to prepare for the Rush, the divine moment when the faithful will be whisked off to Heaven…and they want David to do the same. David’s torn. There’s a big difference between living in the moment and giving up his best friend, varsity baseball, and Bailey—especially Bailey—in hope of salvation.

But when he comes home late from prom, and late for the Rush, to find that his parents have vanished, David is in more trouble than he ever could have imagined…

This is another book I learned about through another blogger, but this time it was Michelle who raved about This Side of Salvation. It peaked my interest because books about different kinds of faith almost always appeal to me. Apparently the author also wrote a paranormal series? I’m not super into fantasy but she’s an excellent writer and now I’m interested to see what else she’s got out there. Anyway, let’s get to the book.

I was drawn into this novel immediately. Smith-Ready does this really great thing where she alternates telling the story between now (right after the parents disappeared) and then (starting from about a year before the disappearance). This keeps the energy of the novel up, as David and his sister are frantically trying to figure out what happened to his parents, while at the same time constructing the back story and helping the reader get to know these characters and their motivations. I liked this a lot because I was kept VERY invested in what was going on, in both time periods. I do tend to like when authors do that, though, so I might be a little biased.

The characters in this novel are great. David carries a lot of pain in his heart because of the death of his brother, but he doesn’t quite know how to express it, as his parents have taken their grief to a whole different level and aren’t really interested in dealing with David’s. I liked seeing the brother-sister dynamics between David and his sister, Mara, because they actually liked each other a lot and got along well, despite the fact that they were two very different teenagers. And when their parents went missing, they were truly there for one another, they put their heads together and came up with a plan, instead of fighting or arguing.

I liked David’s girlfriend, Bailey, and I particularly liked that Smith-Ready wasn’t afraid to write a girl with more sexual experience than her boyfriend. This is treated SO well in this book, there is no shame or negativity at ALL attached to the fact that David is a virgin and Bailey is not – it just IS. It’s so, so easy for books to take sex, especially when teens are involved, to this good girl/slut dichotomy, and the author stayed so far away from that, which was fantastic to see.

While the truth about what happened to David’s parents is fairly predictable, that’s really not the point. This Side of Salvation is more about the relationships between these people, about the potential reconciliation of this family, and about how everyone has to grieve – and recover from grief – in their own way. The ending was pretty perfect and I loved where Smith-Ready took these characters by the time the book was over.

Highly recommended! I’m glad I gave myself the opportunity to read this new-to-me author.

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner, #2)The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Published by Delacorte Press

From the publisher:

Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end.

Thomas was sure that escape from the Maze would mean freedom for him and the Gladers. But WICKED isn’t done yet. Phase Two has just begun. The Scorch.

There are no rules. There is no help. You either make it or you die.

The Gladers have two weeks to cross through the Scorch—the most burned-out section of the world. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Friendships will be tested. Loyalties will be broken. All bets are off.

There are others now. Their survival depends on the Gladers’ destruction—and they’re determined to survive.

I really liked The Maze Runner but this one? Not so much. Allow me to start with what I did like – the book is almost impossible to put down. There is SO much going on, one thing right after another, you can’t possibly stop at even a chapter break. There is always the hope that after the next obstacle the boys face, new information will be obtained. Something in this crazy world will start to make sense. The new characters that they meet in the Scorch will illuminate something for them. One can only hope.

Unfortunately, I felt like this didn’t happen. It felt, to me, like the author threw a bunch more challenges and setbacks and obstacles at the characters and the story just didn’t move along enough. It was all action and no information – and by the second book in a series, I want some more information. I don’t like feeling THIS in the dark about what’s really going on in a world.

I liked the addition of some new characters, and the complexities added to some of the existing characters’ personalities (Teresa, specifically), but I still wasn’t clear on who these new characters actually are – do they work for WICKED? Do they actually have the Flare? What the heck, Dashner?

I guess for some readers the not knowing is part of the fun of the series. But for me, by the end of book two, the complete lack of information got old. I wanted some answers, and I wanted them right then and there. Guess I’ll have to read the third book to (hopefully) get those answers!

 

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

RoomiesRoomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

From the publisher:

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl’s summer — and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they’ve never met.

I’m a huge fan of Sara Zarr and always read her books, but Tara Altebrando is a new author for me, so I went into this book with a mix of curiosity and excitement. It turned out that these two author’s voices work extremely well together, and the two of them wrote an engaging, fun, adorable novel about that weird time in life between high school and college.

Elizabeth and Lauren are very different people, and over the course of the summer they take the time to get to know one another through email, in the hope that when they begin living together it will be slightly less awkward. I had fun getting to know these two girls and the book brought back powerful memories for me of my own summer between high school and college. It’s such a unique time – full of anxiety, excitement, bittersweet feelings of leaving home for the very first time, all of that and more was captured in Roomies very well.

While the book had a premise that resonated with me and likable characters, I’m finding that I don’t remember a whole lot about it almost a month after reading it. So, I would say this is a very enjoyable read, but not one that really will stick with you. I did like that the last part of the book was just before they met for the first time in their dorm room, leaving it open to a possible second book about their time at college, which I wouldn’t shy away from reading. So, overall, good book but nothing that knocked my socks off.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Published by Delacorte Press

From the publisher:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers–boys whose memories are also gone.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out–and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

The first two volumes in this trilogy have been sitting on my bookshelf for what feels like forever, but it was a combination of it being a book club pick and the movie coming out soon that got me to finally read it. Overall, I was pretty impressed by this dystopian novel that is like nothing I’ve read before.

What’s different about The Maze Runner is that you know absolutely nothing about this world for pretty much the entire book, along with our main character, Thomas. Thomas and the rest of his new friends in the Glade (aka Gladers) have no memories of their time before the Glade, and they have no knowledge of what exactly their purpose is in the Glade. They think they have to figure out a way out of this huge maze, but they’re just guessing, really – and as the book goes on, it seems more and more likely that there’s no possible way out of the maze. And if they’re not supposed to get out of the maze, what could possibly be the point of their existence?

The reader, and Thomas, glean a little understanding of that very question by the end of the book, but things are left extremely fuzzy and there are still a ton of unanswered questions. At my book club meeting, we had a LOT to discuss because there is so much that you can speculate based on the lack of real information Dashner gives the reader about what’s going on here.

I thought that the pacing of the book was just perfect for this kind of novel. I couldn’t put the book down, anxious as I was to get some answers. I also liked Thomas as a character although it bugged me how quickly he figured things out in this world when it took the other Gladers forever just to get their bearings. I guess that’s just supposed to tell us that Thomas is special, somehow. Dashner did a good job developing his characters and creating very distinct personalities among all of these boys.

I liked The Maze Runner a lot and I definitely recommend it!

 

More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than ThisMore Than This by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books Ltd

From the publisher:

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.

Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive.

How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?

As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

From multi-award-winning Patrick Ness comes one of the most provocative and moving novels of our time.

Who here loved the Chaos Walking trilogy and has been dying for something else from Ness that has that similar feel? *raises hand*

Well, you are in luck because More Than This is that book. This is a gorgeous novel about stuff that I don’t even want to tell you because that will just spoil it. But I will tell you that it has that same sense of urgency, that same OMG SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN feeling that runs through the entire Chaos Walking trilogy. Like all Patrick Ness books, this book is saying something, and by the end of the novel you will get it loud and clear. But to explain what, exactly, is happening here would ruin the experience. So I won’t.

Ness writes in such a way that causes the reader to truly feel the emotions the characters are feeling. He causes the reader to question his/her own life – how what we think and feel is filtered through our own limited experiences and how our memories are shaped not just by what happened but by the emotions we associate with those events. And he makes the reader wonder – how would we react and respond to a situation the characters in this book are faced with? Would we do the right thing or would we panic, save ourselves, and make choices with devastating consequences?

Please read this book. It is truly fantastic.