Hope and Other Punch Lines

by Julie Buxbaum
First sentence: “Tuesday, the least descriptive day of the week.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some talk of teenagers drinking and hooking up, but none actual. There are two f-bombs. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Abbi Hope Goldstein has a terrible claim to fame: On 9/11, a photographer snapped a picture of her, at age 1, being rescued by a worker from the Twin Towers, running away from the destruction. She was named “Baby Hope” by the media, and her picture splashed across the country as a sign of hope and reliance. Which meant, over her seventeen years of living, she’s had a lot of awkward encounters. Mostly, though, this summer — especially as she’s developed a worrisome cough that’s probably linked to the 9/11 attacks — she just wants to be a normal teenager.

Except there’s Noah: his dad died in 9/11 (they’re both from New Jersey), and Noah’s mom — though remarried now — has always been reluctant to talk about his dad. This summer, though, Noah wants to get answers from what he’s always suspected: his dad was in the background of the Baby Hope picture, and he wants to know what happened. And so when he runs into Abbi at a summer camp they’re both working at, he thinks it’s Fate and goads her into helping him contact all the people in the photo.

It sounds like a lot, and in some ways it’s a heavy book. It deals with loss and survivors guilt and grief — and not just the overarching 9/11 loss; there’s also loss of friendships, as Abbi has dealt with the dissolution of her friendship with her former best friend (nothing malicious; they just grew apart). But, in many ways, this is a typical teen romance. Noah is sweet and dorky and charming (and who doesn’t love a lovable guy in a teen romance) and his best friend, Jack, is the best. Abbi’s problems don’t seem too heavy; she is dealing with a lot but Buxbaum doesn’t ever let that control the narrative.

It was definitely a charming read, one with depth and heart.

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The Light We Lost

by Jill Santopolo
First sentence: “We’ve known each other for almost half our lives.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 9, 2017
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including a bunch of f-bombs. Plus sexytimes, though tasteful. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

When she was 21, on 9/11, Lucy met the person she thought would be her True Love. Her one and only. The person she would spend the rest of her life with. And for a while, she and Gabe were happy. They were together, enjoying each other, being in love. And then their interests diverged: Lucy was working on a children’s TV show based in New York, and Gabe got a job with the Associated Press to travel the world into war zones and take pictures. And suddenly, their lives weren’t headed in the same direction.

Lucy was heartbroken.

But then she met Darren, someone who she realized she could build a life with. She’s moved on. Until, Gabe shows up again in her life. And something drastic happens, and she has to make a life-altering decision.

I’ve had a difficult time writing this one. Partially because it left me without words. It’s well-written, but it’s not brilliant, partially because it’s cut through with New York-ness, which wore on me after a bit. It does hit all my buttons, and Santopolo does know how to write about heartbreak and loss and captured the excitement of first love, and how difficult it is to let that go.

But even so, it’s not something that will stay with me.

Lone Survivor

lonesurvivorby Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson
First sentence: “Would this ever become easier?”
Content: It’s a non-fiction military book so there is a lot of harsh situations and swearing. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

No, this is not my usual reading. But I figured I’d branch out and give something that’s completely outside of my comfort zone a try. And I was willing to read this story of a Navy SEAL and their mission to capture and kill Osama bin Laden. I’d like to think I went in with an open mind, willing to hear Luttrell’s story, to listen to the justifications for war, and to try and understand what makes someone become a Navy SEAL.

And at the beginning I was mostly okay with it. I was fascinated and impressed with his recounting of his training, of the hardships he had to endure. But, the longer I read this the more one thing bugged me: this book didn’t have an editor. And it was driving. me. nuts.

“Didn’t have an editor” is an assumption. I’m sure someone went through for spelling and punctuation. But what was missing was a cohesiveness, a tightness to the story. Luttrell would repeat himself time and time again. He’d go off on a pages-long rant on the “liberal media” (two words I’m tired of hearing together; what they really mean is corporate east-coast based media, and that includes Fox News). He would quote someone and then have a paragraph explaining how this wasn’t accurate but you get the gist. In short: the publishing company did Luttrell a disservice for not giving him a good editor and making him tighten up his writing: Luttrell sounded much less intelligent than I am guessing he is. No, he’s not a writer. I get that. That’s why publishing houses hire ghost writers (and if this is Robinson’s doing, then he’s not a very good ghost writer): to make the “celebrity” story more cohesive.  It just got to a point where I couldn’t stand the circular writing, the opinionizing, and the plain bad editing.

Which is sad, because I think Luttrell’s story is a valuable one. I just wish I could have gotten through the book.