Category Archives: Contemporary

Book Review: If I Stay

Mia is on an everyday car ride with her parents and younger brother when a truck hits them from the side, killing her parents on impact and leaving her brother critically injured.  She finds herself observing unseen from a distance as her body is transported to an intensive care unit and doctors work hard to breathe life back into her.  The story progressives as she continues to watch her life in the hospital, struck with the realization that she is being given the choice to leave or to stay.

Through simple yet profound writing, author Gayle Forman gives us a story about life and love.  Met with the decision of her own fate, we follow Mia as she relives her past and comes to grips with what she has lost and what she has left.  The story flows beautifully between her time in the hospital in the present and what has happened in her past to bring her to this point, to the decision that she must make.

The stories of her past are filled with the reality of life and loss, seemingly preparing her for her present reality.  As you read, simple ideas and circumstances surrounding her stand out in your mind, helping to understand who exactly she is and why she must make the decision that she does.  Though we only really encounter her parents in the first chapter, before they meet their demise, they very much come alive throughout the rest of the novel, standing out as complex characters woven into Mia’s life.  A very deep and emotional contemporary novel, If I Stay is one that will stick in your mind and enable you to mull over your own fate and the decisions that you make every day.

If I Stay

by Gayle Forman

Published by Dutton

April 2009

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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Book Review, Contemporary, Penguin


Book Review: The Mockingbirds

Alex is in her junior year at prestigious Themis Academy and has a lot going for her.  Older sister Casey was a star athlete at the school and Alex has extraordinary musical talent that might just be Juillard-worthy.  So when she wakes up in a boy’s bed knowing she was date-raped, her world screeches to a halt and and she must put her future and stability in the hands of a student organization formed to protect other students and insure that justice is achieved.

When I first read the summary of this novel, I assumed that it would focus on the student organization, The Mockingbirds, and be solely about the greatness that is achieved through what they do on campus.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the novel hones in on protagonist Alex’s emotions and daily life after the rape and during the trial process.  As the reader, you see life through her eyes as she struggles to understand what has happened and her role in it.  You see her becoming both weaker and stronger throughout the judicial process and her recovery from the rape itself.  Her past is revealed in a way that makes her truly come alive as a character.

While there is a fair amount of action in this novel, namely The Mockingbirds enacting their processes, it is not a novel that I would say moves in a fast-paced manner.  However, I found myself turning pages quickly and not wanting to put it down because I wanted to know how justice would be served and how Alex would come through it all.  Even through confusion and conflict, I found myself rooting for her and the students that came alongside her.  Although the ending seemed to resolve abruptly, I was still left satisfied in the resolution and the person that Alex had become.

The Mockingbirds

by Daisy Whitney

Published by Little, Brown

November 2010


#36 Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

Where do I begin?  In its own time and varyingly so now, this novel is an important and necessary preteen coming-of-age novel.  And by coming of age, I mean discovering boys, desiring bigger breasts, and learning one’s own identity.  Main character and protagonist Margaret has just moved from New York to New Jersey with her parents, and is feeling the pain of being “almost twelve” and having to make new friends and deal with the changes that are happening both inside her and in her world around her.  She is not only separated from her friends and lovely apartment, but also from her loving Jewish grandmother, always there to support her and love on her.  But, alas, she does make friends, friends that encourage her to share her secret boy crushes and do exercises to increase her breast size.  All typical preteen activities, in my opinion.

While some of her worries and actions may seem childish and immature, she has serious concerns about who exactly she wants to be, including what religion to follow.  Following Margaret throughout this novel should take us all back to what it was like to enter teenage years, with hormones beginning to settle in, and confidence beginning to waver in our hearts.

Though rather dated and having set the precedent for more novels with a similar theme, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret should always ring true as our beacon of understanding the minds and journey of preteen girls.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret

by Judy Blume

Originally published in 1970


Posted by on February 10, 2011 in Contemporary, top 100 children's books


Book Review: Fall for Anything

Eddie Reeves is the daughter of famous photographer and revolutionary Seth Reeves.  She has not followed in her father’s footsteps of being an artist, but is so proud of what her father has accomplished and how much he values art and sharing his work with the world.  When her father commits suicide, she finds herself shocked beyond belief, trying to cope and grieve while her mother refuses to take off her father’s housecoat and can’t seem to move on or understand.  Milo, Eddie’s best friend, seems to be the one helping her through her plethora of emotions, but when an old student of her father’s shows up, Eddie believes he is the answer to finding out the mystery of her dad’s death.

Author Courtney Summers has, unsurprisingly, captured beautifully grief and the darkness surrounding death and suicide.  The pacing, wording and description of emotions are perfectly aligned to bring us a revealing novel, yet not one bogged down and held back by the dark side of experiencing death.  As we follow Eddie throughout the novel, there seems to be no interruptions for clarification of night or day.  The novel flows in a way that it never really matters whether the sun is up or everyone else in the town is sleeping, which puts us directly in the mind of Eddie and her mother, who cannot seem to establish normalcy in their lives, rightfully so.

Besides Eddie and her mother, other dynamic characters in the story shine.  Beth, her mother’s oldest and best friend, is practically living with them and trying to get them down a healthy physical and emotional track, accomplishing little more than driving Eddie away.  With her healthy green-tinted morning shakes and her demands for Eddie to get herself together, it becomes very easy to hate Beth.  Yet the author has not kept her a one-dimensional character, as there is more revealed about Beth that helps us peer into her helpful yet controlling heart.  Culler, Eddie’s father’s former student, is also a character to be mentioned.  As he plays a very important role in the grieving process for Eddie, it is critical for us to understand him, but only to a point, as is revealed towards the end of the novel.  Alongside Eddie, we feel the excitement, confusion and doubt in Culler’s presence.

Although every reader may not experience a death so tragic in their lifetime, Fall For Anything is not one to be missed.  The depth to which the author goes into the psychology and mannerisms of humanity is to be applauded and admired.

Fall For Anything

by Courtney Summers

Published by St. Martin’s

December 2010

This novel satisfies both the Canadian Reading Challenge and the Contemps Challenge.


book review: efrain’s secret

High school senior Efrain Rodriguez has very lofty goals.  His dream of attending Harvard seems unattainable not only because of the college’s prestigious status, but more so because of his family’s socioeconomic situation.  Growing up in the Bronx has never been easy, what with his father leaving and starting a different family, and having to see friends make poor decisions in the midst of the toughness of the ‘hood.  But Efrain wants to rise above and be an Ivy Leaguer, and ends up stooping lower than he expected by selling drugs on the streets to afford tuition.

Author Sofia Quintero obviously knows this setting well, growing up in the Bronx and being a part of a Dominican-Puerto Rican background.  The setting, in my opinion, was the best part of this novel.  I could imagine Efrain doing his day-to-day thing in his neighborhood and in his school, without feeling bogged down by the lack of hope in most working class Hispanic or black families.  The author reveals just enough of Efrain’s heritage to help us understand him as a character.

Speaking of characters, the secondary ones in this novel are severely lacking in depth and voice.  Efrain’s girlfriend is a transplant from post-Katrina New Orleans with an emotional story to tell, a story that doesn’t quite get finished being told.  Drug-selling buddy Nestor has so much potential as a critical part of Efrain’s story, but his character comes up shallow and dry.

The end of the novel left me wanting to know more about living in the Bronx and striving for more, as the author has apparently done with her life.  Efrain’s Secret is definitely worth reading, but don’t be surprised if you feel left in the dark.

Efrain’s Secret

by Sofia Quintero

Published by Knopf

April 2010

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Posted by on July 20, 2010 in Book Review, Contemporary, Knopf


book review: last summer of the death warriors

Pancho has experienced death more than anyone at his young age should, as his mother died when he was young, his father in an accident not too long ago and his sister, by a fatal dose of alcohol, which Pancho believes was intentional and is out to avenge her killer.

D.Q. knows that, for him, death is very close on the horizon.  Struck by a crippling and seemingly incurable cancer, D.Q. begins writing a Death Warrior Manifesto, with the intent of living life to the fullest and always choosing life and love.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is the story of how these two young men are thrown together and learn to choose life in the midst of trying situations.

Francisco X. Stork definitely knows how to piece a character together.  The true heart, soul, and struggles of Pancho and D.Q., as well as a few secondary characters, are beautifully revealed throughout this novel.  Though it is slow-moving and a little wordy and dull at times, the author uses every situation and conversation to reveal the dynamics of each character.  As the story takes place in New Mexico, most of the characters are Hispanic and I appreciated how the culture was a larger part of the story, but the focus of the novel was not on the characters ethnicity.

Through a wonderful blend of text and dialogue, the inner and outer turmoil we experience as humans facing an eventual death is revealed in this novel.  The tone seemed rather dark most of the time, but the outcome is one of hope, love and the beauty of life.

Would I recommend this novel?  Yes, if you are prepared for some serious thinking and pondering on the meaning of life.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

by Francisco X. Stork

Published by Arthur A. Levine

March 2010


Book review: every little thing in the world

Sixteen-year-old Sydney finds herself pregnant and practically alone, reeling from her parents’ decision to send her to Canada on a canoeing/camping trip in response to her recent rebellion.  During her time on the river and in the wild, with help from her best friend Natalia, she slowly comes to grips with the decision she has to make and how it will affect the rest of her life.

Confession:  When I finished this book, I wanted to throw it across the room and smash up some furniture.  The only thing stopping me was the fact that it was checked out from my local library and we live in a rented apartment.  Don’t get me wrong, the story was beautifully written and Sydney’s character was developed as well as a sixteen-year-old can be portrayed, but the selfishness that she exuded by her decision just disgusted me.  SPOILER ALERT!!!

I cannot help but bring in a part of my life story at this point in time.  My mother found out she was pregnant with me when she was barely eighteen and my father was barely seventeen.  I was born in August, my parents married in November and my father graduated from high school the following May.  They most definitely had the opportunity to abort me or give me up for adoption.  By the grace of God, my grandparents’ wisdom and a show of selflessness on the part of my parents, I am alive and thriving today and my parents will celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary in November.  However, their journey was not without struggle.

But back to the novel.  Sydney’s reasoning behind her decision, while thought-out and calculated, was extremely self-centered in its nature.  I would hate for young women to believe that this is an acceptable way out of the situation that she found herself in.  Today, I am taking a stand against abortion and should thank my mother every day for her stand against it as well. I do not know the authors’ background or history on the topic, but I would love a chance to hear her thoughts behind the conclusion of this novel.

Honestly, the most frustrating issue with this book is that it was well written and I can see young women connecting with the main character and her best friend on many levels.  But please, for the sake of life and beauty, let us not condone taking a life when a better way presents itself.

Every Little Thing in the World

by Nina de Gramont

Published by Atheneum

March 2010


Posted by on June 14, 2010 in Atheneum, Book Review, Contemporary