Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAY

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAYLeah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
Also by this author: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
four-half-stars
Series: Creekwood #2
Published by HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray on April 24, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 339
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Review:

Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is one of my favorite reads from the past few years.  Simon and his fabulous group of friends just made me smile the entire time I read that book so when it was announced that Albertalli was doing a follow up book called Leah on the Offbeat about Simon’s best friend, Leah, I couldn’t pass up the chance to read it.  I don’t even know where to start aside from to say that I absolutely adored everything about Leah on the Offbeat, especially the main character herself.  How do I love Leah Burke?  Let me count the ways!  I love her snark, her sarcasm, her badass drummer girl persona, that she’ll let an F bomb drop without batting an eye, and most of all, I love that she is so much more than all of the things I just listed.  She is a teenage ball of angst just like most of the rest of us were when we were in high school.

It was just so wonderful to visit Creekside High again and see Simon and the gang as they are going through their senior year and getting ready for college.  I know it’s been ages since I was a senior but Albertalli so vividly portrayed all of the quintessential senior activities – like senior prom and applying to colleges and stressing while you waited to here if you got into your first choice, and of course constantly thinking about how this is the last time you’re going to hang out with your best friends before everything changes, etc. – that I felt like I was right back in high school myself. Her dialogue is fantastically spot-on, and I especially loved how many Harry Potter references she had sprinkled throughout the book.

Albertalli also does a fantastic job of realistically portraying all of the relationship turmoil that inevitably happens in high school and the impact it can have on even the most solid of friend groups.  I think many people will find Leah’s predicament relatable as she feels stuck in the middle watching couples in her friend group break up and not knowing what to do about it.  The angst that she experiences as she realizes she is attracted to one of them is also very relatable, not to mention the added stress that she is bisexual but has yet to come out to any of her friends, even though at least two of them are openly gay themselves.  Leah’s life is just a big ball of awkwardness beneath that cool drummer girl persona.

One of my favorite qualities about Albertalli’s books is that on the surface, they feel like light, fluffy, feel good stories, but at the same time, they’re also filled with meaningful messages about family, friendships, and love.  This is the third book by Albertalli I’ve read and I look forward to reading many more from her. 4.5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LEAH ON THE OFFBEAT and I HAVE LOST MY WAYI Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman
four-half-stars
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on March 27, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 258
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A powerful story of empathy and friendship from the #1 New York Times Bestselling author of If I Stay.

Around the time that Freya loses her voice while recording her debut album, Harun is making plans to run away from everyone he has ever loved, and Nathaniel is arriving in New York City with a backpack, a desperate plan, and nothing left to lose. When a fateful accident draws these three strangers together, their secrets start to unravel as they begin to understand that the way out of their own loss might just lie in help­ing the others out of theirs.

An emotionally cathartic story of losing love, finding love, and discovering the person you are meant to be, I Have Lost My Way is best­selling author Gayle Forman at her finest.

Review:

Set in New York City, Gayle Forman’s I Have Lost My Way is a poignant story that follows three young people – Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel – each of whom has lost their way in life and needs help getting back on track.  Freya is an almost famous singer but has mysteriously and unexpectedly lost her singing voice right in the middle of recording her debut album and doesn’t know what will become of her or her career if it doesn’t come back.  Harun is a gay Muslim who is desperately trying to figure out how to come out to his parents.  He is sure his family will react badly, but he also knows if he doesn’t come out soon, he is in danger of losing James, the love of his life.  Nathaniel is a young man who has come to New York with nothing but a backpack.  All we know when we meet him is that he seems confused and disoriented upon his arrival to the city, keeps calling a phone number and listening to a message from his father, and that he also appears to be starving.  Nathaniel definitely appears to be lost, both physically and in other ways, but it doesn’t become clear until much later in the story just how lost he really is.  An accident of fate brings these three lost souls together and as they slowly bond with one another, they realize that perhaps helping each other is a way for them to find themselves again.

I Have Lost My Way is a relatively short book but it packs a huge emotional punch, particularly if, like me, you’re a fan of character-driven stories.  Forman presents her story from the perspectives of Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel so that we are able to dive deep into their minds and see firsthand just how lost and alone all three of them are feeling.  I also loved the way the book was structured in the sense that even though the story itself only spans the course of a single day, through the use of flashbacks throughout the novel, Forman is able to really flesh out each of these characters and give Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel each a rich history as we explore their complicated relationships with various family members and other loved ones and how exactly they found themselves in the emotional states that they’re in when we meet them.  Those flashbacks allowed me to quickly become very invested in the well beings of all three characters even though I only really met them for one day.

I Have Lost My Way was also a captivating read for me because it explored so many themes that we can all relate to.  It touches on love, loss, family, loneliness, the healing power of friendship, and acceptance.  If you’re looking for a beautifully written and moving read, I would highly recommend this book.  The only reason it’s not a 5 star read for me is that there is a romance involved between two of these characters and I think the story would have been even more powerful without that as it was a little distracting.  Still an incredible read though.  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction. Her debut novel, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, released from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on April 7th, 2015.

About Gayle Forman

Award-winning author and journalist Gayle Forman has written several bestselling novels for young adults, including the Just One Series, I Was Here, Where She Went and the #1 New York Times bestseller If I Stay, which has been translated into more than 40 languages and in 2014 was adapted into a major motion picture.

Gayle published Leave Me, her first novel starring adults in 2016 and her latest novel, I Have Lost My Way, came out in March of 2018.

Gayle lives with her husband and daughters in Brooklyn.

Book Review: Transcendent by Katelyn Detweiler

Book Review:  Transcendent by Katelyn DetweilerTranscendent by Katelyn Detweiler
three-half-stars
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on October 4th 2016
Pages: 448
Source: Press Shop
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Press Shop. All opinions are my own..

Goodreads Synopsis: 

A beautiful work of magical realism, a story about a girl in the real world who is called upon to be a hero.
 
When terrorists bomb Disney World, seventeen-year-old Iris Spero is as horrified as anyone else. Then a stranger shows up on her stoop in Brooklyn, revealing a secret about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Iris’s birth, and throwing her entire identity into question. Everything she thought she knew about her parents, and about herself, is a lie.

Suddenly, the press is confronting Iris with the wild notion that she might be “special.” More than just special: she could be the miracle the world now so desperately needs. Families all across the grieving nation are pinning their hopes on Iris like she is some kind of saint or savior. She’s no longer sure whom she can trust—except for Zane, a homeless boy who long ago abandoned any kind of hope. She knows she can’t possibly be the glorified person everyone wants her to be… but she also can’t go back to being safe and anonymous. When nobody knows her but they all want a piece of her, who is Iris Spero now? And how can she—one teenage girl—possibly heal a broken world?

 

My Review:

Katelyn Detweiler’s Transcendent is definitely one of the most unique books I’ve read this year.  I’ll admit that I almost changed my mind about reading the book once I saw that it was about terrorists bombing Disney World and killing tens of thousands of people, many of whom were children.  I just didn’t know if my heart could handle going there.  I’m glad I gave it a chance thought because Transcendent turned out to be an incredibly thought-provoking read that resonated with me on many levels – both as a parent and as someone who has occasionally questioned my own faith when horrific events happen in the world.

What really intrigued me was that the terrorist attack itself is not really the focus of the novel.  Instead, Transcendent focuses on the power of hope – what it takes to move people past grief and despair when tragedy strikes so they can begin the healing process and start to live again.  In the case of Transcendent, that sense of hope comes in the form of a young lady named Iris Spero.

Seventeen year old Iris is living in Brooklyn at the time of the attack and, like the rest of the world, is going through the motions of her day-to-day routine, but all the while trying to wrap her head around what has happened – what kind of monsters would choose a target like Disney World, where the bulk of the casualties would clearly be innocent children?

Then as if the world hasn’t been thrown into chaos enough by what has happened, a stranger named Kyle Bennett enters the picture and drops a bombshell on Iris.  Kyle and his family were at Disney World when the terrorists struck; one of his children died there and his remaining child was critically wounded.  Desperate to save his daughter, Kyle has latched onto an old story from his hometown about the “Virgin Mina”, a young woman who turned up pregnant even though she claimed to still be a virgin.  Though he didn’t believe the story at the time and gave Mina and the rest of her family a hard time because of it, Kyle has had a change of heart and has searched far and wide looking for Mina.  He shows up on Iris’ doorstep, proclaiming that Iris is the “Virgin Mina’s” miracle baby and that she has the power to heal his daughter.  Even though Iris’ family tells him he is mistaken, Kyle becomes more and more insistent that Iris is the miracle he needs, and when he doesn’t get what he wants, he outs Iris to the world and turns her world upside down as the media and every other person seeking a miracle begin coming at her from all sides.

What shocks Iris even more than Kyle Bennett and his seemingly ridiculous claim, however, is that Iris’ parents actually confirm Kyle’s story.  Iris’ mom is, in fact, the famed “Virgin Mina” and they’ve been in hiding for Iris’ entire life in an effort to protect her identity and allow her to live a normal life.  The bulk of the novel deals with the psychology of what Iris goes through as she tries to cope with, not only the issue of learning that her entire life up until this point has been a lie, but also the pressure of having so many people desperately clinging to the idea that she is some kind of miracle worker.

What I Liked about Transcendent:

Iris:  I loved Iris and was immediately drawn to her kindness and her compassion.  This is a girl who volunteers at the local soup kitchen to feed the homeless, plays her violin in the park for anyone who wants to listen – strangers, children, and yes, even homeless people.  This is a girl who can’t stand to hear people spew hatred toward the Disney attackers, not because she doesn’t believe that they should be punished, but rather because she doesn’t think more hate is the answer. Hate won’t heal what has happened to their world.  In some ways Iris almost seemed too good to be true, but regardless, she was very likeable and therefore I felt very sympathetic for her when Kyle spilled the beans about her.  I thought the author did an amazing job here of conveying all of the conflicting emotions Iris experienced as she tried to make sense of what has been dropped in her lap – the initial denial, followed by the feeling that her parents have betrayed her, and ultimately her confusion about who she even is anymore.

Even if you’re hesitant to buy into the whole ‘immaculate conception’ scenario itself, Iris’ reaction to it is easy to relate to since she herself starts out skeptical. I was especially sympathetic to her need to disappear for a few days so that she could have some private time to come to terms with what she has learned about herself and decide what she wants to do about it.  I mean, seriously, who can think when, through no fault of your own, the media and basically everyone in the world are suddenly standing there with their hands out wanting a piece of you and trying to make you into something you don’t think you are.  Talk about pressure!

It Poses Big Questions:  The power of Hope is a big theme in this novel, and a powerful one.  Is hoping that someone or something is a miracle enough to actually bring about a kind of miracle – or in the case of this story – enough to heal those who are suffering so that they can live again?  This is one of the questions that Iris ponders as she tries to decide what the right answer is – flee again as her parents did before she was born, or stand up and try to actually help people.  Although I was very skeptical about the virgin birth angle initially, and like Iris, was wondering what a DNA test would show, by the end of the novel, I started thinking about the bigger picture – just because something seems to be impossible based on accepted laws of science, is it really impossible?  Or can miracles actually happen? Should we be open-minded to that possibility?  I always enjoy a book that gives me something to think about afterwards and, with these kinds of big questions, Transcendent did just that.

Magic or Religion?  I really liked that although the idea of the virgin birth has obvious religious connotations, Detweiler seems to leave it open to interpretation as to whether this is a religious event or if something magical or supernatural has taken place.  It seems like readers are free to interpret it in whatever way makes it best align with their own beliefs.

Issues I had with Transcendent:

Iris’ Family:  Since I mentioned my skepticism earlier, let me go ahead and elaborate on that here.  What nagged at me for most of the book was that I found it a little hard to believe how easily Iris’ grandparents and aunts bought into the whole idea that Mina was a pregnant virgin.  I know my parents would have been like ‘Yeah, okay, whatever.  Who did you sleep with?  Tell us the truth.”   What I learned after receiving this book from Press Shop, however, is that Transcendent is actually the second book in this series.  The first book Immaculate, deals entirely with Mina’s story and how her family and her town reacted to the idea of a modern day virgin pregnancy.  Although I think Transcendent works fine as a stand-alone novel because enough detail about Mina’s story is given so that you’re not lost, I still would have liked to have read it first so that Mina’s family’s lack of reaction and suspicion wasn’t an issue for me while I was trying to read and appreciate Iris’ story.   I definitely enjoyed Transcendent enough that I do plan to go back and some point and read Immaculate.

Who Would I Recommend Transcendent to?

I would recommend Transcendent to anyone who enjoys reading uplifting books that make you think.  I also think you have to have an open mind to the possibility of miracles, in particular, of a modern day virgin birth.  If you’re not even remotely open to that idea, I think you would find the story so far-fetched that you wouldn’t enjoy it.

I read somewhere that the target audience for Transcendent is ages 14 and up and I agree with that assessment. I think the themes presented and the questions raised are on a level that high school students can appreciate.

 

Rating:  3.5 stars

 

Thanks so much to Viking Books for Young Readers, Katelyn Detweiller, and to Press Shop for allowing me the opportunity to preview Transcendent.

three-half-stars

About Katelyn Detweiler

Katelyn Detweiler was born and raised in a small town in eastern Pennsylvania, living in a centuries-old farmhouse surrounded by fields and woods. She spent the vast majority of childhood with her nose in a book or creating make-believe worlds with friends, daydreaming about how she could turn those interests into an actual paying career. After graduating from Penn State University with a B.A. in English Literature, emphasis in Creative Writing and Women’s Studies, she packed her bags and made the move to New York City, determined to break into the world of publishing. She worked for two years in the marketing department of Macmillan Children’s Group before moving in 2010 to the agency side of the business at Jill Grinberg Literary, where she is currently a literary agent representing books for all ages and across all genres.

Katelyn lives, works, and writes in Brooklyn, playing with words all day, every day, her dream come true. When she’s not reading or writing, Katelyn enjoys yoga, fancy cocktails, and road trips. She frequently treks back to her hometown in Pennsylvania, a lovely green escape from life in the city, and her favorite place to write.