Audiobook: The Reckless Oath We Made

by Bryn Greenwood
Read by Alex McKenna, Kirby Heyborne, and a full cast
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, some drug use and drinking, and one tasteful sex scene. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Zee hasn’t had the best life: her mother is a hoarder, a habit only made worse by her father being sent to prison for a robbery gone wrong when Zee was eight. For most of her 26 years, it’s been her and her sister against the world. And Zee — whether by waiting tables or by running marijuana from Colorado for the wrong sort of people — is going to make it work. Somehow.

But then, she meets Gentry. An autistic man who speaks in Middle English and abides by a Code of Chivalry who was told by one of his voices — the witch — that he is to be Zee’s Champion. It doesn’t make much sense to Zee, but when her sister is kidnapped from the El Dorado prison during an outbreak, Gentry is the only person Zee can turn to.

From there starts a heartbreakingly sweet and tender story of the love that grows between Zee and Gentry. But it’s more than a love story (which it is, at its heart), it’s a story of trust and family and forgiveness. The audio is wonderfully done; I loved both of the main narrators — Zee and Gentry — but also all the side characters that got chapters in this wild, compelling story. And yes, the ending made me cry. There was so much heart and acceptance and love in this book that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the characters. Maybe it was an “I wouldn’t have liked it if I had read it” book (the audio really is excellent), but I think it’s just a really good story. Or at least my kind of good story.

Hey Kiddo

by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
First sentence: “C’mon, get behind the wheel.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content:  This is not a light graphic novel. There’s swearing, talk of drug use and abuse, and bullying. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, but it might appeal to younger teens as well.

I was told by my publisher rep that this one was incredibly powerful. I trust her judgement and opinion, but I didn’t fully appreciate what she meant.

In this graphic novel that was initially inspired by his TED Talk , illustrator and author Krosoczka puts down into pictures — grays and browns with a splash of orange — what his childhood was like. He was the grandson of  Polish immigrants — Joe and Shirley, the hardworking types who mostly showed tough love more than actual love. He was born to their second daughter (they had five children in all), and went to live with them  when he wa about three because his mother couldn’t take care of them. He writes about how this effected his life: the not knowing nothing about his father — not even his name — or much about his mother, where she was, or whether or not she’d show up. He talks about addiction and how it played a role in his life — not as a user, but as someone who loved a user. But, for me, it wasn’t just about his mother, it was about his grandparents as well. How they struggled to raise him (and their other children; Jarrett’s mom wasn’t the only teenage pregnancy in their family) and how they tried to make it day-to-day. Krosoczka doesn’t hold anything back, and I appreciated that. The through line was his art. And one of the things his grandparents did right was support his passion and talent for drawing. Even though they weren’t always the kindest to him, and even though it was weird being raised by his grandparents (it was the 1980s/1990s after all), it came through how much they loved him.

It also was nice that he didn’t pass judgement on his mom in the book. He could have railed on her for abandoning him, for never being there, for not being able to conquer her addiction to heroin. But he didn’t. He was honest about his feelings towards her — the times in his life that he craved her attention as well as the times when he was angry with her — but he didn’t pass judgement on her. I found that refreshing. It’s good to have stories of kids who are living with their grandparents because their parents can’t handle it. It’s good to have stories of forgiveness (because he does, eventually forgive his family for not being perfect). And it’s good to have stories about kids of drug addicts where the kids turn out okay.

It’s definitely worth reading.

 

Shine

by Lauren Myracle
First sentence: “Patrick’s house was a ghost.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: This one has drug use and drinking by teenagers and a pretty graphic rape scene. It would be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore if we had it.

Cat’s former best friend, Patrick, has been found at the local convenience mart beaten and tied up to a gas pump, left for dead. The local sheriff is calling it a hate crime, since Patrick is gay, and that it was probably some out of towners who did it. He was right about the hate crime part, but Cat’s convinced it’s someone in the small, southern town of Black Creek, North Carolina. So, she sets out to find out who, which means facing her brother’s friends and her past.

Oh, this was a hard book. It’s a mystery — sort of — but more, it’s a portrayal of what poverty and toxic masculinity can do to people. It turns them to meth, makes them suspicious of each other, makes them feel like they can just take things without any sort of consequences. There’s rape in this — and that was SUCH a difficult scene to get through — and just plain hopelessness. I think Myracle gave it a happy-ish ending in order to alleviate a lot of the general bleak feel of the novel (I certainly was expecting a different ending). I did figure out who committed the crime a little more than halfway through, and I even figured out why, but I kept reading because I wanted to see how it all would play out. Myracle did an excellent job with Cat’s character development — she went from a hurt, scared girl into a more confident one, facing down the boy who raped her and her brother’s friends for their various “boys will be boys” infractions.

It’s just a very hard read, emotionally.

Audiobook: Sing Unburied Sing

by Jesmyn Ward
Read by Kevin Harrison Jr, Chris Chalk, and Rutina Wesley
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, drug use, and violence. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

It’s not often I end up reading the National Book Award winner for fiction, and to be honest, I was surprised that I did. (I started listening to it before the awards…) I picked it up because people were talking about it, because I’ve never read Jesmyn Ward before, and because I was curious.

It’s basically a slice of life portrait of Mississippi. A black woman, Leonie, takes her two children — Jojo, whose story this is, and Kayla — on a road trip from the Gulf to Parchman, where their dad is getting out of jail after serving time for drug charges. It’s a hot mess of a road trip, partially because Leonie is a drug addict, and partially because she just can’t parent, interspersed with reflections from Jojo, his grandfather (Leonie’s father), and Leonie. It’s about relationships — Leonie’s brother was killed in a race-related shooting by her boyfriend’s (and baby daddy’s) cousin — and surviving and growing up and expectations.

I enjoyed the narration; there were three different narrators, one each for Jojo (I liked him best), Leonie and a ghost who shows up halfway through, but I wonder if this was a book that would have gone down easier read than listened to. It’s not that I didn’t like it; I just felt like I missed things — connections, imagery, story — and I could have taken it slower in print than in audio.

Still, a worthwhile read.

Audio book: Disappeared

by Francisco X. Stork
Read by: Roxana Ortega and  Christian Barillas
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it on Libro.fm
Content: There is talk of selling and doing drugs, of girls being kidnapped and sold into the sex trade and there’s violence.  It’s not explicit, but it is there. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

This one is hard to describe: nominally, it’s the after-effects of what happens to one reporter in Juarez, Mexico, when she won’t stop trying to find her friend who disappeared one night. Sara has spent the last four months trying to honor her friend, mostly through telling the stories of all the girls who have disappeared over the years in Juarez. But, she hits too close to home, and she sets off a chain of events that puts her and her family — her mother and brother — in danger.

But it’s also the story of her brother, Emiliano, who has fallen for a rich girl. The problem: he’s not. Sure, he works hard, has a small folk art business, helps out his family. But he can’t provide for this girl the way her family wants him to. Not without going into “business” in the one trade that makes money in Juarez: drugs.

I’ve not read all of Stork’s writing, but every time I read one of his books I am reminded what a powerful storyteller he is. He weaves together Sara and Emiliano’s stories in a way that they compliment each other, coming to a head at the climax. He had me on the edge of my seat (figuratively, since I was driving much of the time) wondering what was coming next. And while it isn’t a happy ending, it’s an honest and hopeful one.

And the readers were fabulous. Both of them make the story come alive, helped me connect to this tale.

Highly recommended.

Trouble Makes a Comeback

troublemakesby Stephanie Tromly
First sentence: “I don’t believe in Happily Ever After.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Trouble is a Friend of Mine
Content: There’s some drinking by other teens in the book, but it’s mostly off-screen. The book is in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Digby has been gone for six months and Zoe’s moved on. Popular friends at the school, dating a football player, living the “life”. And then, Digby shows back up. (Of course.) Still looking for his sister, he’s back in town to, well, stir up some more trouble. And, of course, he ropes Zoe into it. While the over-arching plot is trying to find out what happened to Digby’s sister nine years ago, there’s a nice little subplot involving a steroid ring on the football team. So, with two mysteries to solve (one of which they do, and the other they get closer to figuring out), Zoe and Digby are on the case again.

Much like the first book, this was a lot of fun. It wasn’t laugh-out-loud fun, but it was entertaining. I like the Zoe-Digby push and pull, and I like the way Tromly handles the situations she puts the two of them into. It’s nothing deep (though the unfolding story surrounding the sister’s disappearance is turning into a sad one), but it is entertaining.

Which is really all anyone can ask for. Right?

Spontaneous

9780525429746by Aaron Starmer
First sentence: “When Katelyn Ogden blew up in third period pre-calc, the janitor probably figured he’d only have to scrub guts off one whiteboard this year.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Um, well. You name it, it’s got it: sex, drugs, drinking, many many f-bombs. It’s all out there. And it’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but it’s not for sensitive souls.

The senior class of  Covington High starts out thinking that this year will be like any other: go to school, apply for college, take the tests, graduate. But then, people start blowing up. Seriously: spontaneously combusting for no reason. They just… explode. First one, then four, and soon it’s an epidemic. It only affects the senior class, and soon they become pariahs in their town. Is it catching? What’s the reason? Who is going to live and who’s going to be the next one to blow up.

And Mara Carlyle is in the middle of it. She witnesses the first few deaths, and suddenly is swept away in the macabre fascination of it all. The FBI get involved and Mara’s there. Scientists come to try and figure out why, and Mara’s there.  She gets a boyfriend, trying to find love in all this (spoiler: he explodes). She tries to keep the school together. She and her best friend try to keep their friendship together. It’s all falling apart around her.

This is the WEIRDEST book I’ve ever read. And I read Grasshopper Jungle. In fact, that’s an apt comparison: it’s a lot like Smith’s book with its sex and drugs and just out-there plot. I think this book was trying to explore what happens to a group when everything (literally) blows up around them. Most authors go for dystopian (or giant, man-eating grasshoppers), but Starmer picked the weirdness of people blowing up. And, for a long time, it worked. As it was going along, people were trying to figure out they why behind it, so there was a bit of a mystery. Is it DNA? Is it government conspiracy? Is it bad drugs? It was foul and it was weird, but it wasn’t really bad. Until it made a sharp left (after the boyfriend exploded) and became bitter and hopeless. The last quarter of the book just wasn’t, well, good. (At least for me.) I wanted some sort of answer, some sort of reason, some sort of solution, but it all fell apart in hopeless bitterness. At least with Grasshopper Jungle, there was a hope that things would work out in the future. But, with this, it was just passive acceptance, a knowledge that every. single. person. in the senior class was doomed to die. And it was depressing, frankly.

And weird. Definitely very, very weird.