The Three Rules of Everyday Magic

by Amanda Rawson Hill
First sentence: “There’s something about that moment right before the first star appears in the sky.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s got a lot of more mature themes, but they’re handled at an age-appropriate level. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Kate has a lot (a LOT) going on in her life. Her dad left five months ago because his depression got too much and he needed to go away. He didn’t want Kate to contact him, and she doesn’t know where he is, so mostly she just ignores the guitar she used to love to play and writes him letters that she can’t send. Her grandmother has developed dementia that’s advancing, and is no longer able to live on her own, so she’s come to live with Kate and her mother. And (as if that wasn’t enough!), Kate’s best friend, Sofia, has decided that she’s much better friends with another girl, shutting Kate out.

It’s a lot. I know that it’s better to have a lot of conflict in one’s book, but really: depressed and missing dad AND best friend problems AND a grandmother with dementia (and that’s not even mentioning the burgeoning crush on home school friend) is a LOT to tackle in one book.

Hill manages it pretty well. It’s not perfect, though I did appreciate she didn’t tie everything up in a nice little bow at the end. It’s hopeful, but the problems aren’t solved, which is nice.

I liked this one, but didn’t love it.

Audiobook: Furiously Happy

furiouslyhappyby Jenny Lawson
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Lots of swearing. Lots. And lots. You’ve been warned. It’s in the adult biography section of the bookstore.

I’m late to this party. I knew who Jenny Lawson was (I do work in a bookstore, after all) and I was aware of her book. I’d just never picked it up. I have so much else to read, that I figured a small book about a weird upbringing as the daughter of a taxidermist never really appealed to me.

But, when I was looking for a new audiobook, this one jumped out at me. Ann Kingman talked about it on Books on the Nightstand a while back, and so I picked it up.

I had no idea I was missing THIS.

In a series of short, random, wandering essays, Lawson tackles her mental illnesses (ADHD, anxiety, and depression), her crazy life and marriage, therapy, the ways she copes, and her adventures in, well, everything. It’s really random  and often super hilarious. I laughed a TON. Possibly because she’s super deadpan in her reading of the book, which just helped make it that more often. But, I also appreciated her being so candid about things I struggle with. She’s right: it does help to know that there are other people out there talking about struggling with depression, who have ways of dealing with it (or not), to put in perspective your own struggles. It’s wonderful. And the fact she does it with a sense of humor is that much better, too.

I probably should backtrack and get her first book, just to be complete.

The Memory of Light

by Francisco X. Stork
First sentence: “Nana, I tried to write you in Spanish by my Espanol no es muy bueno en este momento.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: January 26, 2016
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s frank talk of depression and suicide, a few mild swear words, one (maybe two?) f-bombs, and some indirect drug use. Nothing too bad, though, so it’ll probably be in the YA (grades 6-8) section at the bookstore.

Vicky should have the perfect life. Her father is a high-powered Latino businessman, so she’s never wanted for anything. She goes to a high-powered private school, she has a popular boy who likes her. But. She doesn’t feel like anything’s worth living for. Her Nana is being sent back to Mexico, in spite of having been a part of the family since before Vicky was born. Vicky’s constantly being compared to her “perfect” older sister; she’s never quite good enough, smart enough, driven enough. So, one night, she decides to take her own life.

Except, it doesn’t work. She finds herself in the mental ward of a hospital, walking to a therapist and a group of other mentally ill teenagers — bi-polar, anger management, schizophrenic — wondering if there is a way to have depression rather than to be depressed.

I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. I am SO glad that there is a book out there about depression and suicide that isn’t depressing as well. Yes, Vicky is sad, a sadness that is impossibly empty, but the book itself finds hope and healing in it. Slowly, Vicky finds reasons to live, she finds her voice, she finds friends, she finds a community to connect with, and she figures out ways to deal with this depression she has. On top of that, in Stork’s hands this story — which is personal for him, since he suffers from depression as well — has a heart and soul that reached out and grabbed me. He’s so good a portraying pain, but he’s also incredible at portraying healing and friendship, all of which I needed at this point in my life.


All the Bright Places

by Jennifer Niven
First sentence: “Is today a good day to die?”
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Content: There’s teenage smoking and drinking and some off-screen sex. Not to mention the several f-bombs, and the weighty subject matter. All this puts it squarely in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Finch is just coming out of a two month’s “sleep”, as he calls it. Violet is dealing with survivor’s remorse, being the only survivor in a car accident that killed her sister. Both find themselves at the top of the school’s bell tower one wintery day, contemplating the idea of jumping off, ending it all.

It’s a weird way to start a relationship, saving each other from suicide, but Finch can’t get Violet off his mind. And slowly, through a class project and sheer determination, he wins her over.

There’s really not much else to the plot. I’m sure this one will get huge comparisons to Fault in Our Stars (teens fall in love in spite of Obstacles) or Eleanor & Park (teens fall in love in spite of Differences in background and in spite of Bad Circumstances), but I didn’t feel like it was as good as either of those.  I wanted to like Finch and Violet, but didn’t connect with either one. I felt like Niven was throwing WAY too much at me: suicidal thoughts, car accident deaths, neglectful parenting, abuse, depression, bi-polar, actual suicide, and bullying, with a smattering of eating disorders in there as well. It’s like all the crappy things that could happen to anyone in life were happening to Finch and Violet. And that was just too. too. much.

What I did like, however, were Finch and Violet’s trips exploring the state of Indiana. I enjoyed seeing the state through their eyes, exploring the nooks and crannies and off-beat places that people don’t usually go.

But that wasn’t enough for me to truly enjoy this book.


by Meg Wolitzer
First sentence: “I was sent here because of a boy.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 30, 2014
Review copy downloaded from Edelweiss
Content: There’s some talk of teen drinking and pot smoking, and some swearing (including a few f-bombs; I didn’t count). But, because of the nature of the book — it’s just has a very “adult” feel to it, it will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore. I don’t think, however, it’s beyond the reach of an interested 7th- or 8th grader, though.

Jam — short for Jamaica — is falling to pieces. Her boyfriend, Reese, died, and so she has no real reason for living. After trying everything — pleading, therapy — her parents decide to send her away to a special boarding school for those with issues called The Wooden Barn. Jam is expecting to behave much the same way at this school as she has before: detached, uninvolved, not caring. But then she’s signed up for Special Topics in English and everything changes.

Special Topics is a teacher-selected class of only five students. They only study one author, and this semester it’s Sylvia Plath. They’re required to come to class, to discuss the works, and to write in their journals. But what Jam and the other students don’t realize is this: their lives are about to change.

At first, I loved this book. I like the idea of studying one author in depth, and even though I don’t know much about Sylvia Plath (I really ought to read her stuff), I was enjoying Wolitzer’s writing about it. I didn’t even mind the slight magical aspect of it: whenever the students write in their journals, they enter an alternate reality, a place where the worst thing hasn’t happened. I thought it was a little weird, particularly since I was expecting a realistic fiction book, but it worked for me.

However, the book fell apart for me at the end. Especially with the twist. (I’m not going to tell you what that is.) I do think, though, that it’ll hit the spot with it’s intended audience; I think a lot of my reluctance to go along with it is just age and experience showing.

And the writing is gorgeous. Wolitzer really does know how to turn a phrase. And much like Katherine Howe, I found myself thinking that I really ought to read some of Wolitzer’s adult stuff.

Not bad, in the end.