The Perfect Con

In Her Skin by Kim Savage was a recent teen mother-daughter book selection at my town library.  This book was a wild ride.

Jolene has been raised to be a master con artist by her mother, and was being used in sex trafficking by her mother’s rotten boyfriend.  Jo’s mom comes out of her drug-induced stupor long enough to realize it’s time to escape her boyfriend.  He kills Jo’s mom once he realizes her plan.  Jo escapes to a life of more cons and homelessness in Boston’s Tent City.

Jo discovers the perfect con to get out herself out of this life which is by impersonating Vivienne Weir.  Vivienne was a young girl when she disappeared from her friend’s home while the wealthy parents “watching her” dined at a nearby restaurant.  Jo is embraced into a new life as Vivienne by the very couple who were in charge when the true Vivienne went missing.  Jo is attracted to their daughter Temple, but also knows to be wary of her once horrible secrets are revealed.  Temple is not as perfect as one would assume.  Jo becomes obsessed with Temple and they form a twisted relationship with hints of romance.

Secrets, lies and survival are the major elements of this story.  Everyone is part of the deception in some way, and it comes down to who will come out on top.

Truth

The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity by Matthew Kelly was a Christmas gift to all parishioners of my church.  I read this book in a day, and found the author’s straight-forward, repetitive style to be thought-provoking and true.

The book establishes that our world is suffering.  I think we can all agree to this fact on multiple levels.  People have become complacent in doing nothing, or sleepwalking through life.  The “biggest lie” is that holiness isn’t possible.  When people believe this lie, they will continue to sleepwalk through life.

Kelly stresses that holiness is in fact possible and attainable through performing Holy Moments.  They are acts of pure beauty, love, and kindness that can ultimately change the world.  Holy Moments are founded on a relationship with God; they are collaborative acts.  Not only will they change the world, but they will create pure happiness for those creating them.

 

Want or Need?

Need by Joelle Charbonneau is a disturbing read about the extremes some will take to satisfy their own desires.

Kaylee is the main character of the novel.  She has made herself into an outcast because of her manipulative and overbearing ways of trying to find a kidney donor for her sick brother.  She has one true friend, Nate.  He shows her the Need website, which promises to fulfill a need in exchange for a bizarre task along with posted photo proof.  The tasks start seemingly basic, such as leaving cookies on a doorstep. Not so harmless when it’s discovered that the cookies are full of peanuts, proving fatal to the girl with severe allergies receiving them.

It becomes clear that there is a sinister hand playing the people of Nottawa against each other.  When the teens involved realize their part in the deadly events occurring, most choose to stay silent rather than risk getting in trouble.  Kaylee is determined to find the source of Need, especially when she realizes that her friend Nate has been kidnapped.

The ending reveals Need’s creator.  I felt it was tough to imagine someone going to such lengths out of revenge and for the government purpose described.  I found the book a bit dragged out in parts and hard to swallow in others.  But the premise is definitely interesting and it makes you think about how far people might go for what they need/want.  This very distinction (need versus want) is a repeated idea throughout the novel and an important theme.

Shivering Dolls

Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell was a recommendation from my daughter.  I consider this book both creepy and confusing.

It starts with a Ouija scene between Sophie and her friend Jay.  Anything with a Ouija has an automatic creep factor for me! Sophie mentions her dead cousin Rebecca, and it seems that in doing so she brings Rebecca’s spirit into their world.  Unfortunately, the Ouija also predicts that Jay will die that night (SPOILER- he does).

Shortly after this, Sophie goes to stay with Rebecca’s family (who she hasn’t seen in years), while her parents are on vacation.  Her uncle hides away most of the time with his art and sorrow, her aunt is in a hospital for mentally disturbed patients, and Rebecca’s remaining siblings (Cameron, Piper and Lilias) seem weary of Sophie’s presence.  It turns out that their home has been haunted/cursed by Frozen Charlotte dolls ever since the house was formerly an all-girls school.

Sophie makes it her mission to figure out more about Rebecca’s death.  In the process, more and more strange violent events occur at the hands of these bizarre dolls which are kept in a case in Rebecca’s old room.  Piper also wears a necklace of their body parts (weird, right??).  It turns out that friendly, perfect Piper isn’t at all what she seems.  Sophie and her cousins almost lose their lives due to Piper and the dolls.

The confusing points: why would Rebecca (who was killed and wants to share the true story of her death) injure an innocent waitress when she first appears and seemingly predict Jay’s death?  Why are there so many of these little possessed dolls all over the place?  How did they get possessed in the first place?  Is Piper evil all on her own, or is it because of the dolls?  Why hadn’t anyone gotten rid of them a long time before all this (instead of embedding them into the walls of the house)??

Since the creepiness started to get a bit muddled for me, I would say I can’t give this book quite as high of a rating as my daughter. But I can definitely see how it would appeal to teen girls who don’t mind creepy and somewhat gory subject matter.

Breaking it Down

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi joined my “must read” list after seeing the author speak during a panel discussion at Day of Dialogue in NYC (Spring 2018).  This is a love story, a story of racial tension, and … break dancing.

Main character Shirin is of Iranian descent and wears hijab.  The story’s post September 11 setting creates a lot of racial cruelty toward Shirin.  She endures people’s ignorant, cruel comments on a regular basis, and even incidents of physical aggression.  This treatment has hardened her to creating relationships, which isn’t helped by her parents constant moves to achieve a better neighborhood/life for Shirin and her older brother Navid.

Shirin is partnered with Ocean; a boy who seems genuinely interested in getting to know her.  This creates a lot of inner turmoil for Shirin.  She needs to decide if “dating” the school’s basketball star will be worth the trouble it may cause for both of them.  For me, the story reads like a teenage girl’s diary.  You feel the excitement and nerves associated with a first major crush.  You also feel the outrage at the comments made by kids and adults.

A fun twist to the story is that Shirin and her brother have been obsessed with learning to break dance ever since watching the movie Breakin’ (Remember it well! Loved it!).   Her  brother starts a break dancing club at school.  Hanging out with her older brother and his friends becomes her outlet and her way to make a mark on her school (talent show).  Break dancing events show her that there are places/events where people of all races can be together with a common passion without judgement.  She is able to let her defenses down.

Unfortunately, Shirin’s treatment isn’t just part of a story set during a sensitive time.  My daughter told me (days after I finished this book) that a new student at her school wearing hijab was rudely asked by an older student, “What’s that on your head??”  Stories like Shirin’s are necessary for erasing these behaviors by building cultural awareness and empathy.

Rocky Ride

I read Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt in one day.  This book pulled me in with its simple, straightforward narration.  The writing was simple, but told a great story with so many touches that I really appreciated (to name a couple- the farm setting, Jack’s mental tally of Joseph’s smiles).

Jack is a sixth grader whose parents make the decision to foster eighth grader Joseph.  Joseph is a very toughened individual who has been through a lot. He is still going through some tough situations adapting to the bullies at his new school.  Jack and his parents are the heroes of this story to me.  They are willing to take a chance and to stand up for this lost, angry boy.  They earn Joseph’s trust and love which is why he decides to disclose his background to them.

Joseph’s dad is abusive.  He met a girl (Maddie) who became the love of his life, but her parents were never aware of the relationship.  Her parents are very wealthy and never around when Joseph would visit.  She became pregnant which is when her parents took notice (obviously!) and completely shut Joseph out.

SPOILERS AHEAD!  Maddie dies during childbirth and their daughter, Jupiter, will be put up for adoption.  Joseph’s driving mission is to find his daughter.  Joseph does eventually locate and maintain communication with Jupiter’s adoptive parents through letters.  Meanwhile, his dad is causing quite a bit of trouble trying to get Joseph back.  I’d like to say this book ended on a happy note after this, but it didn’t.  In fact, the ending made me so angry!

This book is controversial because of Joseph’s age as a father.  For me, it is tough to read about a kid going through life events that he should not need to worry about at this age.  This book will bring out a variety of emotions and reactions in its readers.  I know it did for me.

Flipping the Switch

OCDaniel by Wesley King is about Daniel, an eighth grader with obsessive compulsive disorder.  Daniel doesn’t realize that his actions are part of a disorder until a friend (Sara) helps him.  He is able to (mostly) hide his “zaps” among his friends and family; although, there are definitely signs to everyone that he is different.

There are many story lines, with the most important being Daniel’s behavior.  He struggles in math because of his inability to write certain numbers.  He also gets by on very little sleep because of his nighttime routine, which can sometimes take hours.  Sara is the first person to give a name to what he is going through.

Next is the sports conflict.  Daniel is the alternate kicker on the school’s football team, despite his preference to arrange Gatorade cups on the sidelines rather than play.  His best friend Max is one of the team’s star players and he does his best to include Daniel.  Daniel needs to step in as kicker during the playoffs and final championship game which creates a high amount of anxiety for him.

Third is Daniel’s relationships with two girls.  One is his longtime crush Raya, who seems to like him back.  The other is his newfound relationship with “Psycho Sara.”  She has never spoken to anyone at school, except for when she suddenly begins talking to Daniel.  Sara suspects her mother’s boyfriend of killing her dad and wants Daniel’s help to discover evidence to prove her theory.

Throughout the story, Daniel is writing his own novella, which provides some therapy for him.  The book in some ways mirrors his feelings, with the exception that his and Sara’s characters are in a world in which everyone else has disappeared.  They need to conquer the monsters to bring everyone back.

While reading, I couldn’t help but question how his parents never caught on to his behaviors?  While they asked him about his moving around at night and even flicking the light switch, their questioning never went any further.  I found myself thinking about my own parenting.  Would I be able to catch these type of actions?  The author explains that he went through similar experiences and that his parents also had no idea of what he was going through.  This makes me sad for kids like Daniel and Sara.  Kids who feel alone, afraid and uncomfortable around others.  Daniel’s character is lucky in that he has a few solid friends that keep him grounded.  In this way, his novella mimics his life; he realizes that the strength of someone who understands you can help you face whatever is scary or uncertain in the world.

 

 

 

 

Together they work to find enough evidence to support her theory. Also writing his own book through the story.