Saturday, November 5, 2016

I'll Give You the Sun

Volume Twenty Eight in the Books that Matter Series

"'Maybe we're accumulating these new selves all the time.' Hauling them in as we make choices, good and bad, as we screw up, step up, lose our minds, fall apart, fall in love, as we grieve, grow, retreat from the world, dive into the world, as we make things, as we break things."
-Jandy Nelson, author of I'll Give You the Sun

I'll Give You the Sun is a young adult novel of family, love, loss, and being true to the person you are. Noah tells part of the story when he and his sister start off as NoahandJude, thirteen year old twins who are half of a whole. Jude tells the other part when she and Noah are sixteen, no longer talking to one another, and have become totally different people than who they used to be.

Jandy Nelson writes a masterful tale told in alternating points of view set three years apart. This story pulls at the reader in the most emotional, heartrending ways. I'll Give You the Sun is a beautiful story told with intrigue and mystery. Characters are woven in with careful precision. Because like one of the story's characters reflects: "Maybe some people are just meant to be in the same story."

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Wrecked

Volume Twenty Seven in the Books that Matter Series

Wrecked is the young adult novel by Maria Padian, told in alternating points of view from Haley and Richard. Haley is a college freshman, rooming with Jenny who has just been assaulted at a recent party. Richard is also a student at the same college whose housemate, Jordan, is accused of the assault. Neither Haley nor Richard attended the party in question. They don't even know the connection when they first meet, when they start to fall for one another. But as events unfold, they are soon forced into a college investigation involving their roommates. This story shows the reactions of others from the outside looking in, how it all impacts the victim, why a judge in an investigation makes certain decisions, while providing pieces of the incident between each chapter so the truth is not revealed until the end. Wrecked is a book that matters for dealing with such an intense, heavy topic that needs to be discussed.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Holding Up The Universe

Volume Twenty Six in the Books that Matter Series

Jennifer Niven has done it again. Her new book, Holding Up The Universe, soars into the books that matter category with flying colors. Much like, her first novel, All The Bright Places, her new young adult novel is told in alternating points of view from two high school students who are anything but ordinary.

Libby is heading back to school after several years of being homeschooled. She hasn't been to school since fifth grade, the year she lost her mother, the year she was bullied relentlessly. Then at the age of thirteen, when she had to be rescued from her house, Libby was labeled America's Fattest Teen, weighing in at 653 pounds. Now, she is about to enter her junior year and has lost the weight of two whole people but is still over 300 pounds. Ready to face the world again, Libby knows who she is, has endured the worst of people, and won't let that stop her from achieving her dreams.

Jack is popular but is holding onto a secret that is turning him into someone he doesn't recognize. He is face-blind and has trouble finding even his own family in a crowd. With his father having recently survived a battle with cancer while in the midst of an affair, Jack's condition has gone unnoticed for many years. Jack has swagger and charm that allows him to bury his fear and mask the condition that could lead to disaster.

But when their two worlds collide, nothing may ever be the same for either of them again. This is the story of Libby and Jack. It is for anyone who has ever felt unwanted. It is inspiring and beautifully written. It is a book that matters.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Truth About Alice

Volume Twenty Five in the Books That Matter Series

"I stared at the graffiti and watched how quickly the shiny Sharpie writing dulled to a permanent black stain." (excerpt from The Truth About Alice)

Alice Franklin is a junior at Healy High and the talk of her small Texas town, mainly because word has spread of her actions at a party in the summer. But when a car accident in the fall claims the life of Healy High's star quarterback, Brandon, soon Alice becomes the even bigger talk of an even bigger story as she gets blamed for the events leading up to the crash.

The Truth About Alice is very much her story and yet it is told from multiple outside points of view. Elaine is the girl who threw the party, who had an on again, off again relationship with Brandon. Josh is Brandon's best friend and fellow football teammate who survived the car crash. Kelsie did not attend the party, but as Alice's best friend, she is very much a driving force in this story. And Kurt lives next door to Brandon's family, is genius level smart, and has a crush on Alice. These four players tell a story that does not belong to them but yet is very much their own to share.

Author, Jennifer Mathieu, weaves a tale about truths and lies, the secrets kept and the ones shared, and the power of rumors that can soon take on a life of their own. The Truth About Alice is certainly a book that matters. It is a young adult novel of how each new event, new lie, new secret, new truth, new story can bring out the worst in people and can change the lives of others forever. It is the story of high school students set in a small town, so true it could be anyone's tale. The Truth About Alice is a must read for teenagers and for parents alike.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Unbelievable FIB: Over the Underworld

Volume Twenty Four in the Books That Matter Series

As I have stated before, fantasy can be a powerful portal into the world of books that matter. Adam Shaughnessy's second book in The Unbelievable FIB series once again proves that it belongs in this category. In the sequel, readers are reunited with Pru, Mister Fox, Odin, Thor, Ratatosk (the insult squirrel), and even Mrs. Edleman but this time the events are told from ABE's point of view. The Unbelievable FIB: Over the Underworld has many twists, turns, and cliffhangers that will leave the reader yearning for more. Join ABE, Pru, and Mister Fox for this next tale. It is a new year, a new grade, a new teacher, and a new adventure. So much can (and does) happen.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Seventh Wish

Volume Twenty Three in the Books That Matter Series

A couple months ago, I bought The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner. At the time, I was reading another book so I put it in my to be read pile, not realizing what a gem I had waiting for me. Then last week, when a friend said that she'd read the book and would let me borrow it, I remembered I had it so I fished it out of my pile and started reading it.

The Seventh Wish is a middle grade fantasy novel with a much deeper reality. Charlie Brennan is a normal middle school student with an older sister in college, several close friends, and a passion for Irish dancing. But one day when Charlie is ice fishing with a friend and his nana, she catches a magical fish that grants wishes. Having read stories of people who make wishes through other magical sources, Charlie understands the risks but still gets caught up in the allure of her wish-fish. However, Charlie's addiction is not the only one faced in this story. There is a more serious situation working its way into her life, but you must read the book to find out what it is.

I met Kate Messner a few years ago at a conference where she gave an inspirational speech. Then, she was talking about her book, Eye of the Storm, and of course I read it after that. So I was excited when I heard that she was releasing a new book, this one a fantasy. I was surprised--though I should not have been--by how serious this novel was and how much parallel there was between the fantasy elements and the true life moments. The Seventh Wish proves that fantasy can be a powerful vehicle to bring forth deeper real world problems that many are struggling with today. There is an author's note at the the back of the book that provides important information for people who are seeking additional resources. The Seventh Wish is a must read and a book that truly matters.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Still A Work In Progress

Volume Twenty Two in the Books That Matter Series

Author, Jo Knowles, is the master of books that matter. Her new middle grade novel, Still A Work In Progress, proves to be anything but that. Much like See You At Harry's (Volume Five in the Books That Matter Series), there is a clear before and after to this book. The story opens with Noah, a seventh grader going about everyday activities with his two best friends, Ryan and Sam; his older sister, Emma; her dog, the Captain; the school's hairless pet cat, Curly, who wears various handmade sweater vests; and his parents who live by Emma's ever growing vegan food rules. Throughout the beginning, Noah hints at a scary problem under the surface of his everyday life and refers to it as "the Thing They Don't Talk About."

With his two best friends becoming more interested in girls and Emma's well being a growing concern on everyone's mind, Noah often feels unnoticed. He's the one who is not supposed to cause waves, not give his parents any trouble, and not complain about Emma's demands when it comes to food. He's the one who blends into the background, only allowed to shine through his artistic abilities.

Still A Work In Progress is heart wrenching and Noah's devastation is palpable. It moved me to tears several times, but also made me laugh out loud in other moments. It balances humor and everyday life with the heartaches and struggles of a family just trying their best to help a loved one through a serious illness. But this is not Emma's story, it is Noah's.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Paper Things

Volume Twenty One in the Books That Matter Series


"Ever since I can remember, I've had this theory that when each person is born, he or she is given an imaginary sack with the same number of happy moments, same number of horrible-news moments, same number of please-let me-die-now embarrassments. So, while some people may have a bunch of bad moments all in a row, in the end, we'll all have experienced the same ups and down. We'll all be even."
- Ari 's reflection in Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Eleven year old Arianna Hazard has had more than her fair share of tough moments. She doesn't remember her father who lost his life while serving his country. Her mother passed away four years ago after being sick, but Ari has never forgotten the promises she made to her. First, she must get into Carter Middle School. It is where her parents, brother, and legal guardian all went but it is now a school solely for the gifted and talented. Second, she must always stay with her brother, Gage. Now, eighteen, Gage is tired of butting heads with Janna, their legal guardian, so when he moves out, Ari goes with him. Only, he has no permanent work and no place to live. Despite Ari's attempts to see it otherwise, she and Gage are now homeless and no one can know.

With her grades slipping and her appearance questionable, Ari tries to be invisible and keep everything a secret, even from her best friend. But as the application deadline closes in, Ari wonders how she is ever going to get into Carter Middle School when she can't even fill out the simplest question on the form: her address. At night, Ari and Gage never know where they will end up: a friend's apartment, a stranger's house, a storage unit, or even a car. Sometimes, they can get into a shelter but only if they sneak in with the help of West, because if anyone finds out, Ari will get taken away from her brother.

It is her paper things that get Ari through. Ever since her mother died, Ari has created a paper world by cutting out people and furniture from catalogs. To most people, they appear to be nothing more than paper dolls, but to Ari, they are a large family, each member with names and stories. They are the home she's always wanted but never had. Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson is the touching and heartbreaking story of a young girl caught in the middle of the promises she made to her dying mother, the love she has for her struggling brother, and her own needs to just be a child.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Art of Being Normal

Volume Twenty in the Books That Matter Series

Fourteen year old David Piper has only ever had one wish: to be a girl. Fifteen year old Leo Denton is about to start a new school and just wants to be blend into the crowd and be left alone. But when their worlds collide in the school cafeteria, it becomes clear that Leo will not get his wish.

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson is a must read book. I found it tucked away on the bottom shelf of the young adult section at a fairly new independent bookstore. All I could see was the spine. Between the title and the tiny bit of design, I fished the book out away from the others and read the jacket description. I had not heard about it before but I instantly knew I wanted to read it. I bought it Saturday afternoon. I was in the middle of another book, but by Saturday night, I decided I couldn't wait to read it. Within twenty four hours, I had finished it. I didn't want to put it down.

These characters will stay with you after the book is over. David and Leo were instantly likeable. They face insurmountable struggles that are both sad for the reader and devastating for the character. But there are also positive moments that shine through, including some excellent British humor. The Art of Being Normal should be in every bookstore, library, and school. It is truly a book that matters and has the makings for a modern classic.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Season of You and Me

Volume Nineteen in the Books That Matter Series

The Season of You and Me is a young adult love story. Two teenagers meet on a beach, one in a car and the other with her bike. Their encounter is brief but then they meet up again at a summer camp where they will both be working. Sounds like a classic boy meets girl romance. Only, the girl is spending the summer at her father's bed & breakfast, trying to escape a bad break-up back home. And the guy, he is paralyzed.

Bryan, a former surfer, had an accident a year and a half ago that left him in a wheelchair and he is just getting back to work at the summer camp. Parents have concerns about whether he will be up for the physical demands of camp but Bryan doesn't let that stop him. He refuses to let anything hold him back, except when it comes to surfing. Despite the encouragement of his friends, Bryan has not surfed since the accident and doesn't want to talk about making the adjustments that would be needed to make it happen.

Cassidy 's boyfriend has cheated on her and her answer is to flee for the summer. Leaving her mom and Nan, Cassidy moves in with her father, step-mother, and half-brother.  When school starts again, her ex-boyfriend will be away at college and she won't have to see him again. Running sounds like the perfect plan...until it isn't.

The Season of You and Me by Robin Constantine is an alternating point of view novel of two teenagers falling in love and helping one another heal from the things that hurt and scare them the most. It is certainly a book that matters.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Volume Eighteen in the Books that Matter Series

Junior year is tough: what with schoolwork, friendships, family, and extracurricular activities. No one knows this better than Simon Spier who is trying to juggle school, his diverse group of co-ed friends, his interesting family, and the demands of the upcoming drama production. But Simon has more than just all of this going on. He is being blackmailed by Martin Addison, one of the theater students who has read Simon's personal email when he forgets to log out at school. Martin wants to date one of Simon's friends. In exchange, he won't tell anyone Simon's secret. Simon Spier is gay. And Martin has screenshots of Simon's personal emails to prove it. If he doesn't help Martin, soon his correspondences with another gay student, who uses the name Blue in his emails, might become public. And neither Simon nor Blue have come out yet.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is thought-provoking, funny in parts, and poignant throughout. Simon is likable and it is easy to feel sorry for him as events spin out of his control. Author, Becky Albertalli, does an amazing job with her characters. Each one has a unique voice and style that is true to teenagers.

This young adult novel is the story of a gay teenager in Georgia, not ready to out himself to the public. And why should he? Because as it is stated in the email correspondence between Simon and Blue, why is that everyone isn't expected to come out-- whether straight, gay, or bi? It is the Homo Sapiens Agenda against Simon. And that is precisely why Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a book that matters.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Out of My Mind

Volume Seventeen in the Books That Matter Series

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is surprising in many ways. It is told from the point of view of Melody, a fifth grade girl with cerebral palsy who is unable to talk, walk, or care for herself.

However, Melody has a photographic memory and an exquisite vocabulary. Only, everything is trapped inside of her, yearning to get out.

Melody endures many people in her life who can't see past her diagnosis but she has some amazing individuals who know her true abilities. When a communication board shows its limitations, Melody discovers the Medi-Talker, a device that allows her words to be heard. Once she has that, she is able to participate in inclusion classes and prove her superior intelligence when she joins a quiz team.


Melody faces many obstacles in this book, and the ending was a complete surprise that moved me to tears several times. This is Melody's story and Out of My Mind is a book that matters.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Don't Touch

Volume Sixteen in the Books That Matter Series

Sixteen-year-old Caddie Finn is scared. She has just changed schools, having been accepted to an arts academy so she can study acting. She has been reunited with a former friend and her father has recently moved away. These might be some of her reasons for being worried but her true fear is that someone might touch her. Caddie fears that any skin contact might cause negative things to happen. Don't Touch explores the inner workings of a teenager dealing with OCD and anxiety.

Caddie is easy to relate to. Like all teenagers, she wants to find a place where she fits in, to have friends, and to be in love, but her fears are keeping her from all of these things. Author, Rachel M. Wilson, has created a believable character who readers will connect with. She uses Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, to parallel Caddie's own journey. As Caddie prepares to play Ophelia in the school play, she finds herself wondering what makes her similar and different from the character she is portraying. It also brings her closer to Peter, the guy she has a crush on, who is playing Hamlet. With her feelings intensifying for Peter but not wanting to be touched, Caddie finds it hard to keep control with her mantra, "Don't touch."


Ms. Wilson's author note at the end of the novel explains her own battle with OCD, answers questions readers may have, and offers important phone numbers and websites where people can go for help. Thank you, Rachel M. Wilson, for writing this novel and shining a spotlight on the struggles that come with OCD and anxiety. Don't Touch is a book that matters.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Leaving A Mark

Volume Fifteen in the Books That Matter Series

Just recently, I received the book, Leaving A Mark, by Nicole DeRosa Cannella and Dorian "D-Strong" Murray. For those of you who don't know, Dorian was eight years old, dreamed of becoming famous around the world, and had cancer. Dorian fought his battle for half his life, diagnosed at the age of four. Nicole DeRosa Cannella started writing this story after her sister was diagnosed with cancer but she teamed up with Dorian after she heard of him and his efforts to become famous. Sadly, Dorian passed away before Leaving a Mark was released.

Leaving A Mark certainly fits its title. It is a picture book that helps children who have cancer and their families, something Dorian did throughout his battle. He fought with strength and courage and so often with a smile on his face. Tim Hodge captures the spirit, energy, and determination of young cancer patients in his vibrant illustrations. The story is age appropriate to even young children facing this fight. It covers the entire journey and shows the positives that may come out of it as well, like the friendships made along the way. Dorian's mom wrote the afterword and gives an important message to families facing this fight with their children. Dorian was only eight years old and he inspired so many with his courage, smile, and faith. Leaving A Mark continues his mission.

If you are looking for ways to help pediatric cancer patients and their families, this book lists several organizations where you can donate including: St. Jude Children's Hospital, Dana Farber Boston Children's Hospital (Jimmy Fund), and Hasbro Children's Hospital (The Tomorrow Fund).

Thank you Dorian, Nicole, and Tim for making this book to help others. And thank you to Dorian's family for sharing his story with the world. Leaving A Mark is a book that matters.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Always Remember

Volume Fourteen in the Books That Matter Series

Up until now, I have focused on middle grade and young adult novels for my books that matter series. Picture books, however, can be, and perhaps are, the most likely candidate for such an honor. If a picture book is good, it could shape a child's whole view on reading and help them become an adult who appreciates books. Picture books are simply books that matter. But the true treasure is to find a picture book that addresses a serious issue in an easy, light, and understandable way while still showing the depth and complexity of the issue. Always Remember by Cece Meng (illustrated by Jago) is just such a book.

Once again, this book found me at a time when I needed it. I didn't even know it was out there. I was browsing for some books and there it was: the only copy on the table. The illustration of the turtle on the front drew me in. I flipped to the book's description and didn't even finish reading it before I was at the register buying the book. The topic of this book was one that is hard for most people: grieving. When someone close passes away, it is a difficult thing to deal with. Everyone's grieving process is unique even if psychology tells us there is a pattern to it. And yet, worse than our own grief is how to explain loss to children. This book takes elegant ocean illustrations and simple, straight-forward, and beautiful words to tell the story of how the sea animals remember Old Turtle after his passing. It is a must have for parents, educators, writers, and illustrators. It masterfully shows children how to recall the times they have shared with someone while also showing them what kind of acts will be remembered.

At a time, when I needed it most, this book found me. Always Remember is a book that matters.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Maybe A Fox

Volume Thirteen in the Books That Matters Series

"What happens after you die?"
-Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee (authors of Maybe A Fox)

This is the question that sisters, Sylvie and Jules, ask themselves.

"Maybe you turn into wind.
Maybe you turn into stars.
Maybe you go to another world."
-Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee (authors of Maybe A Fox)

These are a few of the possible answers Sylvie and Jules come up with. And this is why Maybe A Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee is a book that matters.

With so many beliefs on what happens after someone dies, this middle grade book touches beautifully on where a spirit might go, especially if some unfinished business needs to be resolved before moving on.

Having faced some difficult losses, this is a book I needed to read. I have said it before but sometimes books have a way of finding a reader at exactly the appropriate time. While visiting a new local independent bookstore on Sunday afternoon, I found Maybe A Fox on the shelf. I had not heard anything about it (a strange occurrence for me). The cover drew me in with a beautiful image of a fox and subtle pictures in the words. I read the description and immediately decided to buy it. This book called to me, almost as if it knew I needed to find it. And I did need to find it.

Thank you, Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee, for writing this book and making it a book that matters.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Off the Page

Volume Twelve in the Books That Matter Series

"...she somehow is able to create a story that is exactly what the reader needs at the moment he or she is reading." -Oliver

Nothing sums up this book better than this bit of reflection from Oliver in Off the Page. Almost as if he is thinking about the two authors, Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer, and the way they mastered the art of speaking to a reader. It is for this reason that Off the Page is a book that matters.

Off the Page is the companion book to Between the Lines, the story of a teenage girl obsessed with a fairy tale only to realize the main character in the story is alive and wants out of his book. While Between the Lines deals with the predictability of being stuck in a story with a guaranteed happily ever after ending--even though it is not the one the main character wants, Off the Page deals with the realness of life and all the uncertainties that come with it.

I am a big fan of the television show, Once Upon A Time, so naturally I was drawn to Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer's book, Between the Lines--structured into three different sections that switched between the fairy tale story, Prince Oliver's story when the book was not being read from the point of view of the main character, and Delilah's story from the point of view of the reader in the outside world. I love the full page color illustrations that accompany each fairy tale section, reminding me of Henry's storybook in Once Upon A Time.

After reading Between the Lines, I moved to its companion book, Off the Page. I figured it would be hard to beat the first book but I was pleasantly surprised. The second book far exceeded my expectations. In an effort to not give too much away, Off the Page centers on what happens when life is not dictated by written words. There is so much freedom, so many choices, and so much to experience but as Oliver thinks: "There's a moment when you realize you have gotten everything you wish for. And right on its heels is the understanding that this means you have so much more to lose."

Just like in Once Upon A Time, and in so many fairy tales, there is a strong message of hope. With so much to lose, there has to be a reason to not stop in the face of fear. And of course, as one character reflects, that reason is: "hope." And yet, I think Oliver's reflection is so observant when he realizes: "...desperation and hope are twins, merely altered versions of each other."

In the real world, there is no guarantee for a happily ever after. Loss is at the heart of this story and it came to me at a time when I needed to read it. This story truly spoke to me, not the way in which Delilah experiences, but in the way Oliver reflects: "What one person takes away from a book might be different from what the next person takes away--almost as if the story is altered depending on who's reading, where, and when. Maybe all books are like that--a little different each time they are opened. The real question is who's doing the changing: the story, or the reader."

This book is not just for someone who likes fairy tales. It is for all authors, illustrators, and anyone who enjoys the creative process. As a writer, I often question my work. Is it good enough? Do I have something worth saying that is not already out there? And as I read Off the Page, I felt like the characters were speaking directly to me, answering these questions. People need books. And in the words of one character: "Everyone has a story." Thank you Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer, for writing this one. Off the Page is a book that matters.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sword and Verse

Volume Eleven in the Books That Matter Series

"This was all writing was, in the end: markings in the dust. It didn't do anything, couldn't change anything. They kept it a secret, made it seem powerful--and that had made me want it more. But it was nothing." -Raisa (from Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan)

Nothing could be further from the truth in Kathy MacMillan's Sword and Verse and that is why it is a book that matters. It took me a little while to get into it, but once I did, I couldn't believe the depths of which the author drew me into the story.

Raisa is an Arnath slave, turned Tutor, tasked with the job of one day teaching the future king's heir how to write. Unlike most slaves in Qilara, who are forbidden to learn how to read and write, Raisa is in an unique position. She is the child of the Learned Ones, a secret she must keep from everyone if she hopes to survive as a slave and Tutor.

In a time when so many Young Adult novels are about dystopian societies and revolutions, this book stands apart from the pack. It has the feeling of being set in ancient times, but there was also a strong sense of the Civil War era too. The aspects of the Resistance and the dystopian society make it current to what is already in the market but it also addresses the power of the written word and how taking that from people is a means of keeping them down. Because of this creative aspect, it spoke to me as a writer, an educator, and an avid reader. At times, I question if writing actually can make a difference, and then I look to my books that matter series, and I remind myself that it can and it does.

If you are looking for a good book that fits solidly in the Young Adult market while still being unique, then I highly recommend Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan. The power of words can make a difference. Not to mention, the ending is pure genius but you will have to read it to find out for yourself.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Year We Fell Apart

Volume Ten in the Books That Matter Series

"Tracing the infinity pendant on my necklace, I wonder where the invisible line is. The line that determines which parts of our past are still close enough to go back and fix, and which parts we have to live with forever."
- Harper Sloan (The Year We Fell Apart by Emily Martin)

Harper's summer has just begun and it is not looking any better than junior year. Rumors have been floating around about Harper and her indiscretions regarding "the pool incident" that happened in the spring. Her childhood best friend and ex-boyfriend, Declan, who she hasn't talked to since October, has just returned home from a year at boarding school, which he was sent to after his mother's death. And Harper's mom has just been diagnosed with cancer.

In The Year We Fell Apart, Harper has a lot to deal with. The death of Declan's mother was hard on her and now she is faced with her own mother's illness. In the beginning of the story, Harper reflects on the drunk driving accident that killed her best friend's mother by thinking: "But this is a world in which beautiful people die ugly deaths all the time." It is such a bleak thought but one that cannot be disputed because it does happen. Afraid to lose more people who are close to her, Harper copes by pushing people away and finding distractions to take her mind from the things that could hurt her most. Sadie, her supposed friend (and bad influence), gets Harper mixed into the party scene. Sadie is the type of person who, as she puts it, does not believe in giving "someone the power to break your heart" because "you won't see it happen when they do."  And Harper falls into that line of thinking as well. Between the booze and the guys, it is not helping Harper's reputation any. Because as Harper thinks: "We carry our past with us everywhere we go." And yet, it becomes clear to the reader early on that Harper feels like all of the rumors are well deserved, even if the reader cannot understand why at first.

Author, Emily Martin, does a superb job of getting the reader to believe all of the rumors, so much so, that even the reader might not believe Harper when she finally starts denying some things. Despite Harper's many flaws and her constant mistake of putting herself into bad situations, readers will root for her. She blames herself so much for everything that is going on that all she can do is hit the self-destruct button and fall into the trap of letting the rumors define who she is. The story is masterfully told and Emily Martin has some beautiful quotes that will stick with readers long after the book is closed.

Harper is a girl struggling to accept the things she cannot change while trying to decide if it is better to close herself off to those closest to her so she never has to feel the pain of loss again. She looks for distractions to keep her out of the house so she doesn't have to deal with her mother's illness, and the perfect image her parents are trying project. But the more she avoids her family and home, the more she is brought back into Declan's life, forcing her either to face the mistakes she has made with him or to run to Sadie for the distractions that caused them in the first place.

Having several friends and acquaintances who are battling cancer or coping with a family member who is going through the fight, I needed to read this book. With so many people going through this, it can feel like things are out of control for them, for their family, and for all those who care about them. But yet, they remain positive and continue to face each day with courage, hope, and strength. And Harper's thoughts stuck with me at one point when she is reflecting on her mother and thinks: "I mean, if she can manage to enjoy life despite having freaking cancer, then there's really no reason for me to wallow in my mistakes and let them dictate my whole future." After all, life is about the way you live, despite the obstacles you may face.