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.

Dear Family

Without Merit by Colleen Hoover tackles depression due to years of dysfunctional family dynamics combined with a love story.

Merit and Honor are identical twin sisters with absolutely nothing in common, except for liking the same boy. Merit is the main character. She is overwhelmed by everything in her life and decides to drop out of school. Nobody seems to notice or care.

Her sister’s boyfriend and a long lost step-uncle move into the house. This creates new household dynamics that ultimately bring out all the secrets that Merit has been harboring. She is faced with confronting her own weaknesses while also making amends with each family member.

A Hero’s Journey

Fairy Tale by Stephen King combines elements of some series and story favorites: Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, and of course, classic fairy tales.

Charlie narrates his unbelievable tale. He starts with some of his childhood before progressing to saving a grumpy old man named Bowditch at the age of seventeen. This interaction changes the course of his life. He gives up sports to help with Bowditch’s recovery and his aging dog, Radar.

In doing so, he learns that Bowditch has an incredible secret. His locked shed holds a well that leads to another world. This world contains huge amounts of gold and a way to turn back time. Charlie decides to travel there in hope of saving Radar’s life. Once there, he realizes that there is an entire kingdom that needs to be saved too. There is a terrible curse over the remaining people causing them to be horribly disfigured. Any goodness that remains is in danger.

Charlie is captured and seems destined to die in this world. But his prison mates believe he is a prince destined to save them all.

This book has all the elements of an amazing tale, including fantastical creatures, monsters, danger, adventures and several heroic characters. I was reminded within only a chapter or two that Stephen King is truly a masterful story teller.

Ghostly Memory

Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak combines elements of a ghost story and mystery.

Mallory is a recovering addict, who is fortunate to land a job as a summertime nanny to sweet, imaginative, five-year-old Teddy. All is going great until Teddy starts drawing pictures of his imaginary friend Anya. The pictures (which are shown throughout the book) depict a murder and cover up.

Mallory begins investigating the real Anya, who lived in the cottage where Mallory is currently staying. Her observations cause Teddy’s parents to question her sobriety.

Cracks begin forming between Teddy’s parents and their relationship with Mallory, leading to a major surprise ending.

Deadly Secrets

Five Survive by Holly Jackson is a suspenseful teen read.

Six friends head out for spring break in an RV. They manage to get stuck in the middle of nowhere while trying to find a campsite. An active shooter takes out all their tires and gas tank. He communicates his request by walkie talkie: the person holding a secret must reveal it. This is the only way to prevent them from all dying.

This begins their desperate attempts at survival while also sifting through each character’s possible secrets. There are intense moments with plenty of double crossing, mafia involvement and suspense.

Red is one of the main characters. She lost her mom tragically and hasn’t been able to recover from her own guilt. Her mom is in her mind constantly through their ordeal which all connects to the final secret once it’s revealed.

This is a fast paced read with an unexpected ending.

A Brutal Time

Kindred by Octavia Butler is a captivating mix of science and historical fiction. I decided to read it in preparation for an upcoming lesson with eleventh graders.

Dana is a black woman from California who is suddenly transported from her current time in the 70s to a plantation in antebellum south. She quickly realizes that she is there to save the plantation owner’s son (Rufus). Rufus is a distant relative, and Dana seems destined to travel back in time whenever his life is in danger – which is quite often. This creates a clash of worlds as she must transition from more modern times to a setting of brutal slavery.

Time is meaningless as she can be gone for days or months that only equate to minutes or hours in her time. It is only when her own life is threatened that she is able to return to her real life.

Dana manages to accustom herself to moving between times, even bringing along her white husband the second time. It becomes unclear whether Dana and her husband will ever be able to live normally in their correct time. Readers get to know the southern characters which makes every hardship even more horrific and Dana’s presence even more necessary, as perhaps she is not there to only help Rufus.

This book is unlike anything I’ve read before and one I won’t forget.

Best End Day

The First to Die at the End by Adam Silvera is the prequel to They Both Die at the End. I did not read the latter.

The book explores the idea of being able to learn your exact death day by buying into a company called Death Cast. The book jumps to various characters (Death Cast owner, an employee and others), but is primarily focused on Valentino and Orion.

Valentino just moved to NYC to start a career in modeling a day before his twin sister. He is at the debut of Death Cast in Times Square when he meets Orion and Orion’s best friend who is like a sister for the first time. Orion has a heart condition and has bought into Death Cast. Valentino decides to join in by buying a one day membership. The very first phone call is made, and shockingly it’s Valentino who receives the call.

This moment speeds up everything, especially Valentino and Orion’s relationship. Orion does his best to give Valentino the best end day possible, all the while not knowing when/how death will come.

It’s a love story first that also raises some thoughtful questions about life and death, fate and the people who come into our lives at different moments.

Strength of Story

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera is a beautiful novel conveying the power of story and humanity.

Petra and her family are selected to begin life on a new planet because Earth is about to be destroyed by Haley’s comet. They will “sleep” for several hundred years during the voyage. During this time, they are at the mercy of their caretakers.

When Petra awakes, she realized that plans changed. She is one of only a few other originals. They are named Zita and are expected to work only for the good of the Collective. The Collective seeks complete uniformity and will go to any measure to prevent original thought or discord. This will be difficult for Petra considering that she remembers her previous life, which is unlike the others.

Petra makes it her mission to save the remaining Zita. She will need intelligence, bravery and confidence similar to the characters in stories she’s carried with her all these years. The stories from her grandmother are the strength that get her and the others through.

Finding Family

Somewhere Sisters by Erika Hayasaki is the true story of identical twin sisters separated shortly after birth. One is raised by her aunt in Vietnam while the other is adopted by an American family along with another girl from the same orphanage.

The author provides historical and scientific background about adoption and twin studies throughout the book. The twins, Isabella and Ha, don’t learn about each other until they are quite a bit older. The book switches back and forth between each sister’s different upbringing and reaction to finding out about the other. While their experiences are very different, both are raised with lots of love and an appreciation of learning.

Eventually the girls meet. It takes time for them to build a relationship, but their bond becomes very strong. This is an interesting read about family, history and values.