Embracing Nature

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is an account of Christopher McCandless’s untimely death. Shortly after graduating college, he decided to go off the grid. He cut contact with his family and belongings to travel around much of the western half of the U.S. before reaching his final destination in a remote section of Alaska.

The author shares various perspectives surrounding Chris’s death. He includes some of the people he befriended, his life and travels leading up to the trip, and other accounts of young men who died due to an encounter with nature. There are also snippets and quotes from Chris’s journal along with the author’s musings.

These various pieces all create a thought provoking and emotional look at a person whose deep love of freedom and nature cost him his life.

A Fateful Love

The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon is a story about love, fate and family.

Natasha is experiencing one of the worst days of her life. It is the day her family is being deported to Jamaica. Daniel is on his way to a college interview when he catches sight of Natasha. He decides to follow her. Daniel is under pressure from his Korean parents to attend Yale for a medical degree.

Natasha’s no-nonsense, scientific approach is challenged by Daniel’s poetic, spiritual side. They spend an incredible day together. During this time they support each other with family issues and their respective life goals while falling in love. The story is told through multiple characters’ points of view which results in an intricate and meaningful plot.

Love Letters

To all the boys I’ve loved before by Jenny Han is a fun, teen read.

Lara Jean is middle sister to Margot and Kitty. Margot breaks up with her boyfriend/neighbor before going off to college in Scotland, leaving Lara Jean to take over big sister responsibilities. Lara Jean’s world is rocked even more when her private love letters to previous love interests all get mailed. One of her love interests was her sister’s ex-boyfriend.

This creates some crazy scenarios as Lara is forced to face a couple of these boys face to face. In one case, an actual relationship even begins to emerge.

I enjoyed this read. It was mostly lighthearted and had cute humor that made me laugh out loud a couple times.

Island Secrets

We were liars by E. Lockhart combines elements of romance, family drama and mystery.

Cadence is the eldest granddaughter of the beautiful and wealthy Sinclair family. She spends every summer on her family’s island with her grandfather, aunts and cousins. Her mom is the youngest of three daughters and they each have a home on the island. Her closest cousins are Merrin and Johnny. In their teen years they are joined by her aunt’s boyfriend’s nephew Gat. The group of four are inseparable. Feelings develop between Cady and Gat; however, Gat will always be an outsider due to his Indian heritage.

A terrible near drowning changes everything at the end of Cady’s fifteenth summer. Afterward, she becomes very sick with headaches, withdraws from all activities, and spends the next summers away from the island. She can’t remember anything that happened.

Her seventeenth summer is finally a chance to go back to the island and figure out the missing pieces of her memory. In doing so she remembers the toxicity of her family’s relationship as it revolves around wealth and status. She also is reminded of the unspeakable acts that drove her to nearly drowning.

The writing portrays Cady’s spotty memory and emotional state, and her story kept my attention.

Desperate Times

The Hunger Between Us by Marina Scott was a coworker’s recommendation.

It is a historical fiction novel taking place in World War II following the siege of Leningrad. Historically, many thousands of lives were lost during this time to starvation, illness or violence. Liza’s story includes all of these elements as the opening scene begins with Liza burying her mother.

Liza is managing to survive by swindling people in the marketplace along with her best friend Aka. During an illness, she loses touch with her friend. At this point the story shifts to Liza’s search for Aka. She will do whatever it takes to find her friend, including lying, stealing and inadvertently killing.

Her mother’s advice for survival is a constant internal voice. Liza will do whatever it takes to protect herself, but she refuses to cross certain boundaries. Her bold refusal creates a lot of trouble for her during the story.

This book offers a view of how suffering and desperation can change people in many ways.

A Romantic Tragedy

If he had been with me by Laura Nowlin is a story of relationships over time spanning from elementary through post high school graduation. The very beginning alludes to a tragedy, and readers will wonder what could possibly go wrong throughout the book.

Autumn and Finn have been neighbors and friends most of their young lives. As is customary, this changes once middle school rolls around. Although they no longer hang out together, they are still in each other’s lives based on proximity and because their mothers are practically sisters to one another.

As both move on to new friend circles as well as a respective boyfriend/girlfriend, Autumn begins to realize that she is in love with Finn. It is pretty clear to the reader that the feeling is mutual; however, it seems unlikely that they will connect romantically. Spoiler ahead-

Until they finally do.

This story is compelling and beautifully sad, and it will definitely appeal to teen readers.

Hungry for Love

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller is Matt’s journey of coming to terms with his eating disorder.

Each chapter offers one of Matt’s life rules to the reader along with that day’s calorie count. He perceives himself as a disgusting, unlovable person who achieves superhero abilities by starving himself. By eating minimally, he notices every sense sharpen and his ability to handle difficult social situations improve.

This is important to him since he is trying to figure out what terrible thing happened to drive his older sister away from him and their mother. He feels that their mutual crush Tariq and his jock buddies are to blame. It also helps him navigate teen life as a gay male.

Spoiler- Over time, Matt realizes that his senses aren’t as acute as he thought. He comes dangerously close to dying (more than once) before being able to face the truth about himself and his family.

Girl Power

Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu is a book I randomly grabbed from a high school display showcasing books about strong women. It met this claim.

Vivian has always been a quiet, good student. Her high school is in a small Texas town with a very macho vibe. The school is focused on its football team and the star player’s dad is the principal. Girls are subjected to random dress codes while boys can wear and behave however they want. She is fed up with the injustice.

Vivian pulls inspiration from her mom’s punk rock, feminist background and creates a zine called Moxie. Moxie is a way for girls to unite against their unfair treatment. However, she doesn’t tell anyone except her new boyfriend that she is its creator.

Moxie begins to unite the girls, despite school administration’s threats to stop them. Vivian makes a new friend while rekindling some previous relationships along the way. Ultimately she learns that it’s better to use your voice than to suffer in silence and that the strength of a common group can accomplish anything.

Strike Out

Heroine by Mindy McGinnis is my second tough topic read in a row.

Mickey Catalan is a strong senior in high school with a promising future as a softball catcher. Everything changes the night her and best friend Catalina get into a car crash. Mickey’s hip is in bad shape and she has a long road to recovery. Her Oxy prescription seems to be the only thing that can get her through the pain of recovery.

While at a doctor appointment, Mickey is approached by an older woman who offers to supply her with more pills since her doctor won’t. This is when Mickey meets three other teens from a surrounding town who all use. Soon the Oxy isn’t enough and they progress to using heroin.

Mickey is completely addicted and justifies her use to manage the pain and get her through her softball season and a possible championship. There are plenty of family and friend dynamics at play through the story. Events come to a lethal climax when they resort to buying from an untrustworthy seller.

This story explores the harsh realities of addiction. It can affect anyone.

Time to Repair

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow is an emotional ride into a world of mental illness, depression, drug abuse, trauma and a slow journey into recovery.

The story begins with seventeen-year-old Charlotte’s vague memories of being dropped off outside a hospital. She nearly died from a suicide attempt. After hospital care, she is out-placed to a facility (Creeley) that specializes in helping girls who self harm.

It is here that readers learn a bit about Charlie’s traumatic background beginning with her father’s death, being bullied at school and abused by her mom which spiraled into homelessness and assault. While at Creeley, Charlie manages to engage with some of her peers, and forms a couple relationships that will last after she leaves.

When Charlie leaves Creeley, she tries joining with a former friend to make a new start. This is when the real tests begin. She must find a job and try to take care of herself without falling into old patterns. She is put to the test. Her struggles are very difficult and realistic. Recovery isn’t easy. It takes a special intervention to bring her back to finding herself, or one of my favorite analogies, putting the pieces of herself back together in some new way.

This book impacted me all the way through to the author’s note. I was rooting for Charlie and her friends the whole way through. The power of kindness in supporting others is a radiating message. While not always easy, there is always hope and promise.