Nightingale by Amy Lukavics

When I first read the description of Nightingale, I knew that it would be a book that I added to the collection.  It sounded right up my alley.  1950’s, not wanting to conform to the norm, wanting to be a writer.  Then add the insane asylum (an iffy trope for me) and something that sounds like maybe cannibalism and I knew that I would have to read this.

Nightingale goes back and forth in time, dividing this time into “the institution” and “days past”.  We learn that June is in the institution because she believes that her parents have been replaced.  Leading up to this incident, June has been under a lot of stress.  She has been writing a horrific sci-fi novel and wants to be published someday.  While her parents map out the perfect future for her with her father’s boss’s son, June has secretly applied to a writing program.  But the morning after her disaster of an engagement party, June’s mother calls her “nightingale” and June is sure that her parents are no longer her parents.

Shipped away to Burrow Place Asylum, June finds herself in a strange kind of nightmare.  She befriends her roommate, Eleanor, who thinks that she is dead, and Eleanor’s friends and quickly discovers that things are not normal here.  The nurses and doctor seem off.  The medical treatments are brutal.  The sanitation is questionable at best.  Even worse, when someone speaks up they are bound to disappear or die.  Can June unravel the mystery of the asylum and of herself in time to save them all?

I was surprised by the direction this one took.  It definitely had a twist that I should have seen coming but didn’t.  I don’t know what was more horrifying: the institution or watching June being forced into a mold at home.  This was a great read and much more horror than I expected.

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Alright, I love John Green.  For a while I worried that it made me too “mainstream” but that’s just stupid.  He’s a great writer.  I love his characters.  He makes me FEEL things.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from Turtles All the Way Down, which is Green’s first book in six years.  That gap felt huge and I worried that he would have lost his touch.  I can see how this was a hard book to write, though, and Green deals with mental health excellently.

Aza lives in her own mind.  She suffers from anxiety and OCD.  She is constantly worried about bacteria and the fact that she may not be a real person, just a fiction or a vehicle for said bacteria.  Her best friend Daisy is her opposite, outgoing and daring.  Daisy writes fan fiction and works at Chuck-E-Cheese.  She’s saving up for college so when she realizes that Aza knows a missing billionaire’s son, Davis,  and that there is a reward for information leading to the arrest of the billionaire, Daisy convinces her to paddle down the river in a canoe to Davis’s property and snoop.  Davis saves them from mansion security and Aza and Davis start a maybe-more kind of friendship.

Aza wants to be normal.  She wants to be able to listen to conversations without falling into her own thought spirals.  She wants to be able to hold hands and kiss without thinking that the other person’s bacteria is invading her body.  She wants to be a good friend and daughter and girlfriend.  Aza is trying but things are getting harder and harder and the spiral is getting tighter and tighter.

One of the highest praises that I can give to this book comes from my own experiences with anxiety.  Green describes this thought pattern so well that when I was talking to a fellow anxious person he actually told me to stop because it was such an apt description that it was going to give him a panic attack.  High praise indeed.  This book also made me laugh and cry and feel grossly romantic a couple of times.  Excellent read.  He still has it!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I don’t remember what made this book pop in my head way back in July.  All I know is that I was sitting at my desk one day and I thought about it and I could see that green spine on the shelf and I decided that I wanted to re-read it.  I’ve been kind of in the mood for re-reading lately and it seemed like the kind of thing that I could get through quickly.

Now, when I first read this book seven years ago, I thought it was okay.  It was one of those books that had a cult following and I liked my favorite book with a cult following better and that was that.  Though, I apparently liked it enough to give it four stars.

This book was so much better than I remember.

I mean, it’s serious and it deals with really serious issues but it does so with a lot of heart and humor.  I laughed.  I cried.  I gasped at one point and said, “Charlie!  No!”  I read some of it out loud to Hubby, much to his dismay.  I really enjoyed it and it was the kind of book that I found myself wanting to read every chance I got.  It was a great experience.

This is the story of Charlie, who is writing letters to someone who he heard didn’t sleep with that person at that one party.  Charlie is about to start high school and he is nervous.  His only friend, Michael, committed suicide and Charlie is just kind of alone in the world.  Not long after he starts school, he goes to a football game and sits with Patrick, who he knows from shop class, and Sam.  They are seniors and they take him to Big Boy and take him under their wing.  Meanwhile, Charlie’s English teacher is giving him special reading and has told him to participate in the world.  Charlie writes letters through the year as he falls in love, dates, notices things about his family, deals with some heavy stuff, and experiments with illicit substances.  Charlie is mostly clueless which is kind of endearing, even when he does blatantly stupid stuff.  Charlie is also dealing with his mental health and always gives off a feeling of fragility that isn’t explained until later in the book.

This was excellent.  I’m so glad that I reread it!

Jay’s Journal- “Anonymous” (Beatrice Sparks)

One day I was playing around online and come across someone talking about how Go Ask Alice was made up.  Now, somehow I had failed to notice this scandal.  I vividly remember reading the book in high school because it was THE book to read about drug use and teens, even though it was old.  As a teenager I was super into reading books about drug use and Alice was “real.”  I still have teenagers reading it and thinking it’s true but apparently it’s not.  Or, at least, Sparks eventually admitted that she drew some of it from the diary and some of it from her work as a youth counselor in the Mormon church.

Go Ask Alice was a sensation and when it came out Sparks was approached by a mother whose son had recently committed suicide.  She felt that Sparks would be able to use his journal to write another book and help more kids.  The result was Jay’s Journal and when the book was released the boy’s parents were very upset.  Apparently, Jay wasn’t into Satanism and Sparks only used about 25 entries from the original journal.  Again, Sparks claimed that she filled it in with her history of working with teens and with interviews with the boy’s friends.

Literary scandal and a book about Satanism just seemed up my alley because I’m strange like that.

Honestly, though, this book was a bore.  It took me way too long to read.  It’s just entry after entry of a dramatic, egotistical, wishywashy boy who really likes his mother’s bread.  The story behind the book was much more entertaining.

Pass this one up.

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

Shortly after I started working in libraries, the young adult publishing started to blow up.  I was 16 and the library that I worked at had two small shelves of hardcovers and one small shelf of paperbacks.  When Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging came out, it caused a bit of an uproar.  It seemed like everyone was reading it and finding it hilarious.  So, I checked it out and I started it and… I couldn’t stand it.  Little goth me found Georgia so annoying and stupid.  What were all of these people laughing about?

Adult me is happy to say that this was a FAB listening experience!

I don’t know why I decided to give it another try but I am so glad that I did.  This is a perfect slice of nostalgia for me.  It’s like my high school years meets Bridget Jones.  I was laughing ridiculously in my car.  I even drove the long way around a couple of times to listen a little more.  It was short, fast, and funny.  It was kind of perfect for me.

Georgia is a 14 year old in England.  She’s stumbling through her adolescence, surrounded by friends who help to add to the comedy and drama.  They are just figuring out boys and kissing and who they are.  Georgia talks about her life, from her 3 year old sister to her huge cat, from her friends and the general chaos they cause to the boy down the street who is snogging all of the time, from the obnoxious neighbors to her hopeless father.  Georgia IS shallow and vain and hopeless in a way that can’t help but be funny.  It’s easy to see the disaster coming, like when she decides to pluck her eyebrows.  But there’s more to it than that.  There’s this mix of naive with knowing that feels very specific to that age and that time period.

I loved it.

Meet Me in the Strange by Leander Watts

I ordered this book for the library after reading a review that mentioned how the world had a David Bowie glam feel to it.  I checked it out a couple of weeks after it arrived and it sat in my TBR long enough for me to forget anything that I read about it.  I’m glad, though.  I don’t know what I would have expected if I remembered the summary I read.  I think this one was better to go into blind.

Watts crafts a world that is much different from our own without feeling completely otherworldly.  The city where most of the action takes place is some kind of holy city and there is talk of the New World without there ever being any real explanation of what the New World is.  The whole book has a surreal, otherworldly 1970’s feel to it.  Django Conn, the rock star that everyone loves, definitely feels like Bowie and the fashions that he’s ushered in fit the glam rock scene too and there is a lot of talk about the moon landing and what it might mean.

Davi has always lived in the Angelus Hotel.  His family has owned it for generations and there he has access to almost anything he could want.  He spends his time listening to music in his room and coming and going as he please, him and his sister having chased off any tutors long ago.  When Davi goes to the Django Conn concert, he spots a girl who is completely lost in the music and he can’t help but feel like they are the only two people who really get it.  When the girl, Anna Z, shows up with Davi’s sister’s boyfriend, Davi follows her, desperate to find out who she is.  Anna Z is unlike anyone Davi has ever met before.  She talk-talk-talks about strange things until they seem to be the absolute truth.  But Anna Z is trying to escape and she needs Davi to be more than he ever has in order to free her.

This was an iffy book for me.  It was short and had short chapters, which I loved, and it reminded me a lot of Francesca Lia Block, which is honestly what kept me reading.  There was a lot here and I would like to see it with more ratings and reviews because I definitely think it’s worth the read.  However, I was a little put off by the portrayal of Anna Z.  She’s almost the definition of a “manic pixie dream girl” but I still liked her as a character.  I liked this book enough that I would like to seek out some more of Watts in the future but it is definitely an acquired taste.  Read it if you love music enough to think it’s everything and don’t mind a few strange ideas being twisted page after page.

A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

I chose A Mango Shaped Space for the battle this year because it has been on my TBR list forever.  I came across it on a long list of must-read YA books about a decade ago.  Why not kill two birds with one stone?

This was an excellent read.  I read the last 50 pages of it trapped between a napping baby and a napping cat, petting said cat and sobbing.  Cat books, man.  They always get me.

For as long as Mia can remember, she has seen the world differently than other people.  Of course, she didn’t always know that she saw it differently.  In third grade an embarrassing incident having to do with making numbers the right colors clued her in and since then she has been pretending to see the world like everyone else.

Mia has synesthesia, a sensory disorder that makes things like numbers, letters, and sounds have colors.  Her cat Mango gets his name because his meow is mango colored, for instance.  Finally, faced with difficulties at school, Mia tells her parents about her colors and they embark on a journey to discover what is “wrong” with her.  Mia can’t imagine her world without the colors and having a name for her way of seeing opens a whole new world for her.  However, Mia has to learn how to juggle her new world and her old, how to keep her true friends and learn which new ones are real, and be true to herself.

Another great book for the battle this year!  This was well written and easy to read and it’s hard to be a little jealous of Mia’s ability!