Second Look: ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie PerkinsThe Story: Most teens would be stoked to spend their senior year in Paris, France. Not Anna. She’s been shipped off to a private school in Europe courtesy of her father who sent her there, well, simply because he could. Completely clueless about French culture and language, poor Anna anticipates a year of misery and homesickness. Fortunately, her next door dorm-neighbor, Meredith, is more than happy to show Anna the ropes and introduce Anna to her group of friends. Unfortunately, Anna seems to be combating feelings for one of those aforementioned friends, Etienne St. Clair. What’s worse, he seems to be rather friendly towards her as well, which definitely could complicate things with his longtime girlfriend. As friendships are strengthened and tested, they learn that just about anything can happen in the city of lights (and love).

The Low Down: Anna and the French Kiss isn’t just some fluffy romance for hormone-fueled teenagers. This is one of the most adorable teen romances I’ve read in ages, but it’s not all hearts and rainbows. This book is very issue-heavy, while still managing to maintain a lighter tone.

Anna is sent to Paris because her Nicholas Sparks-like father just secured yet another movie deal for one of his best selling tragic romance novels. He wants the glory of saying his daughter studies in France, so he feels it’s appropriate to uproot her life for that sole purpose. No one could blame the girl for having daddy issues. Enter Etienne, who also has some serious daddy issues himself. Anna’s father is selfish, but Etienne’s may as well be the devil. There’s definitely some parental conflict as these two try to cope together with their controlling fathers.

Another issue we run across that’s semi-related to the parent issue is how someone’s world can collapse when a parent is diagnosed with cancer. While the story is not primarily about a parent’s cancer battle, it’s a big enough part of the story to be a prime factor in developing some of the characters’ relationships.

There’s a lot of ups and downs among friendships, which is what makes this a terribly realistic teen novel. In the real world, teens don’t meet and see that starry-eyed twinkle and decide to be together forever. In the real world, let’s face it: it’s ugly. There are very real emotions and other relationships involved, and that’s exactly the types of dynamics that are explored in Anna. Anna and Etienne clearly have a friendly attraction, but Etienne has a serious girlfriend. Meredith, who has known Etienne for years, also has a crush on him, and Anna doesn’t want her to know she as feelings for him, too. Anna infuriates Etienne with all her hot/cold attitudes towards him, and he drives her crazy in return with all this “serious girlfriend” business. See? Complicated. But it’s probably as close to real life as you’re going to get. Despite the drama, the story is still funny. The romance is still adorable. The tone is still light and fun.

Lola and the Boy Next DoorIsla and the Happily Ever AfterIn short, I absolutely loved Anna and the French Kiss. I generally try to steer away from romance (because I’m clearly very bitter and cynical), but I liked all the relationships in this story and how they developed over the course of time. Check out the companion novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and the last book in the Anna series (Isla and the Happily Ever After), which will be released in September 2013 and returns to Paris to follow up with two characters previously seen in Anna. Stephanie Perkins’ writing is a delight to read and I can’t wait to see more from her.

The Bottom Line: Anna and the French Kiss is a fun, lighthearted, and realistic romance that artfully portrays the ups and downs of young love, as well as tactfully dealing with family conflicts and tested friendships. Great, easy writing by Perkins makes this a perfect choice for reluctant readers who enjoy romantic stories. Can’t wait to read the two companion novels.

OFFICIAL RATING: 9/10

Second Look: THE FUTURE OF US by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler

I have been eagerly waiting four long years (49 months to be exact, but who’s counting?) for another groundbreaking novel by Jay Asher. Let me tell you, the man does not disappoint and can do no wrong in my eyes. He and Carolyn Mackler are an awesome tag team duo. The plot is very original, and when you have a brilliant concept + two brilliant authors, it = awesomeness.

The Story: The year is 1996, and Emma is excited to be getting the internet in her home for the first time. She pops in the America Online CD-ROM, installs the software, and BAM! Emma experiences the miracle of dial-up internet. As she begins to dabble with the information superhighway, a link to a site called Facebook pops up on her screen. She logs in, and sees a picture of… herself. 15 years in the future. After telling Josh, her next door neighbor and BFF, they discover he has a profile, too. Together they begin to learn the hard way (and by clicking “refresh”) that minor changes in their present lives can lead to some very big changes in their futures. However, what they discover about their futures is affecting how they are living their lives now. Will Josh and Emma’s lives be destroyed by Facebook… before it is even invented?

The Low Down: Told in alternating chapters, Asher writing as Josh and Mackler as Emma, I love how the different voices of the two characters stand out. Emma and Josh are both lovable protagonists. A couple of times I wanted to smack some sense into them (much like I would like to smack my own high school self for some of the stupid things I said and did…), but I genuinely enjoyed reading about them as characters. Their friends (and on again off again couple), Tyson and Kellan, are very likable and my life would have been a whole lot different if I would have had pals like that in high school.

I also love how primitive all the technology sounds. And, let’s face it. Compared to modern day technology, it WAS primitive in 1996. For the characters in this book, cell phones were considered a luxury, caller ID was a relatively new idea, and no one had ever heard of an iPad. It reminded me that there once was a time when we didn’t have a constant stream of information at our fingertips.

The one criticism I have is that I fear a lot of the 90’s references (which had me laughing out loud) will be lost on today’s younger teens. Speaking of young teens, as far as content is concerned, it’s not tame but not explicit either. Talk of sex but no on-screen stuff, with some language and suggestive dialogue. What I’m basically saying is that I would recommend this book to EVERYONE.

The Bottom Line: Asher and Mackler nailed this one. Though young teens may not understand all the 90’s references, The Future of Us is original, entertaining, heartwarming, and thought provoking. It is definitely on my list of Top 10 Favorite Books of All Time. Also, film rights have been bought by Warner Brothers. If you don’t read it now, you’re probably going to want to when it becomes a major motion picture.

OFFICIAL RATING: 9/10

=      =      =      =      =      =      =      =

Related Goodies
Also by Jay Asher:

Thirteen Reasons Why (2007)

Also by Carolyn Mackler:
Love and Other Four Letter Words (2000)
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things (2003, Printz Honor Book)
Vegan Virgin Valentine (2004)
Guyaholic (2007)
Tangled (2009)

Second Look: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

My apologies.

My internet connection has been painfully slow and has been driving me CRAZY. So my routine has been to open a browser window, take a shower and do my hair while it loads, click “check mail”, make dinner while mailbox loads, open an email, eat dinner while email loads, read the aforementioned email… you get the idea. Hence the lack of posts lately.

BUT FEAR NOT! Because amid all this slowness, I was able to tear myself away from my computer and managed to do some reading… on with the reviewing!

PLOT:
Rhine Ellery lives in a post-apocalyptic world where science has made great genetic advancements. An entire generation of people is able to happily live without the threat of disease and ages slowly and gracefully. Unfortunately, all the children of this generation are not so lucky, as a virus kills all women at age 20 and men at 25.  When Rhine is kidnapped by the Gatherers to become a bride in a polygamous marriage, she is ripped from her twin brother and whisked to a luxurious, secluded mansion. She faces a life with her new husband, companionship with her two sister wives, and a sadistic father-in-law who is desperate to find a cure so his son will live past the age of 25. Since Rhine’s arrival at the mansion, all she wants is to escape and make her way back home to her brother. Now she has a decision to make: live the remaining four years of her life in luxury (or a facsimile of it), or attempt an escape with Gabriel, a servant she’s attracted to… and shouldn’t be.

CHARACTERS:
All DeStefano’s characters have a rich, emotional depth that make you to feel what they feel. Rhine is a smart, strong young woman. She knows how to take care of herself and manipulate a situation to her benefit when she needs to. Normally that’s not a trait I’d consider positive, but, given the circumstances, I’d say it’s commendable. She is terribly distraught after being separated from her twin, but manages to have the presence of mind to take care of her sister wives, and formulate the best plan for escape. Linden, her/their husband, is an odd character. He’s incredibly naive and sheltered, which is largely because of his domineering father, Housemaster Vaughn. I want to hate Linden for what he’s done to these girls, but I just feel sorry for him. Jenna, Sister Wife #1, is an awesome partner in crime. At 19, with only one year left to live, she’s got nothing to lose. She watches out for Rhine and supports her by laying some groundwork for some of Rhine’s stealthy schemes. Cecily, Sister Wife #2, is like everyone’s typical, annoying, 13-year-old little sister. That’s right. 13. Who is actually excited to be a child bride. Despite how aggravating she may be, she does have some redeeming qualities which shine through as the book progresses.

EXTRA GOODIES:

  • Wither just might shape your view of parenthood.  After the birth scene, it made me realize that the whole concept of motherhood kind of repulses me.
  • DeStefano’s writing is a treat all by itself, plain and simple.

OPINION:
The long and short of it is that Wither is an incredible book. Lauren DeStefano has a true gift for words and has managed to craft an amazing page turner. I fear the brain that spawned such a brilliant work of YA lit. She took a touchy subject (sister wives, polygamous camps with child brides, etc) that has been steadily gaining more and more national attention and gave it a uniquely creative twist. As for content, there’s not much violence or language at all. Among the wives, there’s talk of “consummating the marriage” and getting pregnant to perpetuate the human race, but DeStafano’s language is classy, and never immature or crude.

As icky as the thought is of being a polygamous child bride, there are positive messages that shine through. There’s no sense of rivalry or competition among the three girls and they manage to bond through their past and present experiences. They also rally around each other when they need to, despite still wanting to do what’s best for themselves. There are two very intense scenes, one dealing with the aforementioned birth and one with a death, that drive that point home.

What worries me about The Chemical Garden Trilogy? Most trilogies follow the same pattern: Book 1 kicks major ass, Book 2 is just a bridge to Book 3, and Book 3 either rocks a satisfying conclusion, or sucks so bad you weep for what should have been an awesome series (for those of us who hated Mockingjay, see: The Hunger Games). By itself, Wither would make a fine stand alone novel. I have a vague idea where DeStefano is going to take Fever (Book 2), but I think the series would be interesting if the next book focused on the POV of one of the other wives. But, then again, with her creative imagination, maybe she’ll surprise me.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Second Look: The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, & June by Robin Benway

PLOT:
April, May and June are very special sisters. One morning the three randomly develop weird and wonderful powers. They quickly realize that their secrets aren’t so secret anymore, since April can see the future, May can disappear and travel anywhere she wants without being seen, and June can read minds. Just when it seems like their newfound powers will drive them even farther apart, April sees a vision that will bring them together whether they like it or not.

CHARACTERS:
Anyone with two siblings can easily relate to the first, middle, and third child syndrome that the main characters have. April, age 16 and the oldest, is the sister that’s large and in charge. She’s not bossy, but has a maternal air about her. She’s studious, orderly, a control freak, and likes things the way she likes them. May, the middle child, always feels invisible. She’s just trying to find out who she is, and being sandwiched between her sisters makes this feel impossible to her. June is the typical annoying younger sister. She’s 14 and succumbs easily to peer pressure has a bit of a rebellious streak in her when it means earning points with the school’s popularity princess, Mariah. She’s obsessed with popularity, friends, makeup, clothes, and everything else that reeks of teenybopperness. Once she starts reading minds, she takes “annoying” to a whole new level.

EXTRA GOODIES:

  • SUPERPOWERS! What would YOU do if you had them?
  • You’ve heard of love/hate relationships? Well this story has love/hate love interests. It makes the romance portion of our program that much more fun.

OPINION:
These girls were a lot of fun to read about. Though June got on my nerves (A LOT), as any little sister would, May’s sense of humor kept me cracking up throughout the story. April was high strung big sister I never wanted, but I can’t hold it against her. You’d be high strung too if you had a psychic vision of yourself losing your virginity to the random, unknown dude you happen to share locker space with. Watching the sisters learn how to handle their powers was a total trip and understanding where the story was headed was like taking a mini adventure. Though I wouldn’t necessarily call this a coming of age novel, we see the girls grow and learn about life, love, and each other. Similar to her other novel, Audrey, Wait!, Robin Benway once again hits a homer with her addictive, fast paced, laugh-out-loud writing. This most definitely is a stand-alone novel and I don’t foresee and sequel, however I would love to see what else the sisters learn to do with their powers. While The Extraordinary Secrets has a bit more suggestive content and strong language than Audrey, Wait!, it’s still a sure hit for young teens and reluctant readers.

OFFICIAL RATING: 8/10

Second Look: Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

Keep the Kleenex handy for this one, folks...

You know how you always hear about “that one teacher” that changed someone’s life? This is one of those stories about one of those teachers. 

PLOT:
Mr. Terupt is the new fifth grade teacher at Snow Hill School. Because of Mr. Terupt focuses on his relationship with seven specific kids in his class, each one with their own brand of behind-the-scenes drama. Throughout the school year, Mr. Terupt affects their lives one by one. But one day halfway through the school year, an accident happens that will change everyone forever.

CHARACTERS:
Mr. Terupt is the teacher we all wanted as kids. He’s cool enough to let some things slide and tries hard to make everyone happy, but he knows when someone crosses a line and lays down the law when he has to. As a student, I’d adore him. As an adult (such as I am now), I’d probably want to date him. Jessica is the new girl. Alexia is the mean girl. You know, the kind you just want to smack on the back of the head. Danielle is the doormat. Anna is the outsider. Peter is the class clown. Luke is the smarty-pants. Jeffrey is the kid you would find sitting in the back row digging grooves into his desk with a pencil point.

EXTRA GOODIES:

  • Each chapter is told from a different person’s POV, and I am a fan of those types of books. We can get inside the heads of the different characters, and it gives the author an opportunity to showcase how he/she can write in different styles for each character to make them more individual.
  • The Unknown. Mr. Buyea doesn’t have any tells as to whether there will be a happy or sad ending. You just have to wait it out until the end, which really enhances the story.

OPINION:
I am not ashamed to admit that this book made me cry like a little girl. Unless you’re made entirely of stone, I defy you to read this and not weep. The entire last half of the book (yes, you read that right), I was a freaking puddle on the floor. The amount of emotion poured into the story is overwhelming. After the accident, we see how each character responds and how they better themselves as a result and I think that is a great message for kids. This is an incredible story of friendship, forgiveness, and overcoming obstacles. I think middle graders (5 & 6) would understand the merit and moral of this story better than younger graders would, but it is a truly amazing book. It is spectacularly written, and manages to tackle many difficult subjects (fitting in, bullying, ethical dilemmas, grief, guilt, etc.) in ways that young readers will understand.

 OFFICIAL RATING: 10/10 (Yes, I gave it a 10, because I saw no reason to give it any less. It’s that fantastic.)