What’s So Special About YA?

When we often think of children’s literature we immediately think of classics like The Secret Garden, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, etc. Yet, as many educators and parents know, a children’s section of a library does not just mean picture books.

When a child feels they have outgrown the “baby” books, but they are too young for the adult section, they are ready to enter the young adult (YA) section of a library.

But, what exactly is YA? What makes it so special? This genre is much more than just an in-between one for readers who are usually in middle and high school.

YA tends to focus on main characters who are between the ages of 12-18. Why? Because this is the main demographic of readers. Tween/teen readers want to read about characters who are around their age, so it makes sense that main characters in YA are on the younger side.

YA also tends to focus on plot points that deal with family, friendship, love, authority, leadership and growing up. While the YA genre can be broken down into subcategories such as sci-fi and fantasy, it’s important to realize that these same ideas are present regardless of the sub genre. Tween/teen readers are going through a lot at this stage of life. They are constantly dealing with bullying, social media, dating, family issues, puberty, and more. It’s not wonder they turn to YA novels to seek answers they may not even know they are looking for. While they probably won’t read a self help book, they may look at how Percy Jackson dealt with learning the truth about his family in The Lightning Thief, and see him as a role model.

YA novels are extremely powerful tools to help readers cope with reality.

Truthfully, any reader will tell you they read to escape reality, even if it’s just to relax at night before bed. The same happens to adolescent readers. If you were to Google popular YA novels, quite a few of them are sci-fi or fantasy based. Why? These types allow readers to completely forget about their reality. For just a little bit they can be a participant in The Hunger Games and watch Katniss kick some major butt.

There is also a sense of maturity in reading YA. Oftentimes the content can be more suggestive, gritty, and real. Gone are the G rated books, and readers can step into worlds where they mention sex, drugs, alcohol, smoking, violence, etc. This is where parents usually get nervous about YA. In truth, when I have read YA books aloud to my students I have omitted words, sentences, or whole sections of a chapter. We need to remember that these books are meant to draw in readers from ages 12-18, so of course there’s going to be some things not meant for sixth grade students.

However, with the aid of technology, it’s easy for a parent to check to see if a book is appropriate for a tween. My personal go to checker is CommonSenseMedia.org, which can be used as a guide for parents, educators and advocates.

Personally, I also find that YA is raw on an emotional level. Characters take us on an emotional journey with them as they make decisions and live through experiences. One of my favorite YA novels is Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. I read it in middle school and have returned to it a few times since then. We see the main character, Caitlin, go through the shock of dealing with her runaway sister, and how that emotional trauma led her down a dangerous path of drugs and a physically abusive relationship. Caitlin expresses why she stays with Rogerson and isolates herself from her friends and family, which is truly an emotional journey filled with anger, sadness, and love.

As an adult reader, I am still drawn to YA because of these factors. The writing is incredible, and the characters are truly real people to readers.

Project Dandelion: Reentry Book Review

It’s been a little while since I read a YA dystopian novel, so I decided to get back to my true love. In July I reviewed Project Dandelion, and I was so excited when the author sent me a copy of the sequel.

Project Dandelion: Reentry, by Heather Carson, is a fabulous YA dystopian novel that reminds readers how important it is to fight for our rights.

The story picks up right where the first book left off. The group is heading towards Katrina’s dad’s cabin to seek safety and hopefully answers. The nuclear explosions have cleared and the world is covered in ash. Early on, the group encounters survivors who realize the teens are part of Project Dandelion and try to capture them. However, the survivors don’t know they are dealing with incredibly resourceful teens who manage to escape.

During their trek to the cabin, the group uses their survival skills to hunt, fish, build shelter, etc. They work together to stay alive and they don’t leave anyone behind. I love that even those this takes place in modern day, the kids aren’t helpless without the use of a cellphone. There is no Alexa for them to ask for help, and yet these teenagers are able to make it through.

There is a smidge of teenage love, but it reminds me of the relationship between Tris and Four in Divergent. Katrina and James are like a team, supporting one another and keeping on eye out for the other. They do kiss, but other than that there is no mushy gushy stuff going on. Personally, I admire teenage relationships like this because it teaches readers about the important aspects of what to look for in a partner.

Without giving too much of the plot away, we learn more about Project Dandelion as the story progresses. The new government wants to keep all of the chosen teenagers safe so they can help create a new society. While this sounds good in theory, it quickly becomes obvious that the teens will not have many choices in the new world. They will be forced to have children in a few years and do what the new government tells them.

Katrina, Dreya, Mia, James and Jayden continue to go against the crowd, as they did in the first novel, to fight for their rights. They want the right to make decisions about their own lives, such as when to have children and where to live. By working together, they demonstrate the power of teamwork and perseverance. They don’t let petty teenage drama cloud their judgements, and show how important maturity is.

As we know, there is no utopia without a dystopia, and this novel is a fantastic demonstration of this idea. It is a quick read with a few curse words, so I would recommend the text for eighth grade and up.

To purchase the book click here.

The Ones That Got Away Book Review

Even though I love YA and children’s books, every once in a while I like to change things up and read an adult book. This is my third review for BLKDog Publishing, and I have to say the books from this company just get better and better. The Ring ¬†and I Am This Girl were both fantastic reads.

The Ones That Got Away, by Lisa Hill, is a charming adult novel about love, family, secrets, and mental illness.

Tilly lives with her mom, Elaine, and her gran, Lil. After an amazing opportunity is offered to her by her estranged aunt, Ruby, Tilly decides to leave her fianc√© and job to live by an aunt she’s never met, with her next door neighbor Archie, who is like a grandfather to her.

As the story follows this family we learn a great deal about Gran’s dementia, and the family’s history of mental illness. Ruby opened a home for those with mental illnesses using money from her divorce settlement. Ruby is an extremely well put together woman, who is blunt, caring and genuine. Ruby became pregnant with Elaine years ago, and since abortions were illegal at the time, Ruby gave Elaine to Lil and her husband Stan to raise. When Elaine became pregnant with Tilly, Ruby came back and told Elaine the truth about being her mother, and Elaine did not believe her. To thicken the plot even more, Archie, the next door neighbor, really is Tilly’s grandfather, but no one knows that except Archie and Ruby.

Can you tell this intricate plot just keeps getting better and better?

Along with a crazy family tree, there’s also a lot of focus on mental illness. Dementia runs in the family, but as the story goes, we also learn of an ADHD diagnosis, depression, and anxiety. Readers also uncover some deep family secrets that are based on mental illness.

While family members do use pills to help cope with their struggles, they also partake in various therapies, especially Tilly. Her determination to not take medication and to try and change her habits really help her become a new woman. She has clarity and a purpose, and even begins her own business.

Along with family secrets and drama, there are also a few little love stories going on. I’m hesitate to discuss these because they are so intertwined with secrets and the past. Just know that they are all brilliant and will fill your heart with joy.

With mental illness being such a big topic right now, I truly love how Hill gave such a realistic portrayal of life with one of these illnesses. Society is so accustomed to believing that a pill can fix anything, when in reality that is not the case. I love how Hill embraced such a difficult topic and made it relatable for all readers. Personally, I really enjoyed seeing how family and friends feel and handle situations caused by mental illness, especially because I don’t have any of my own experiences to connect with.

I recommend this book for anyone with a connection to mental illness, or if you’re looking for a book filled with family secrets and an intricate plot. This is definitely a great mom read.

To purchase the book click here.

The Ring Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

Last week I connected with BLKDOG publishing, a new independent publisher. I’m super duper excited to read these amazing books and share my thoughts with all of you.

The Ring, by Sarah Anne Carter, is a military romance book that will take you on an emotional roller coaster of love.

In all honesty, I wasn’t crazy about the start of the book. The main character, Amanda, meets Lucas while she’s working at a coffee shop. She repeatedly says that she doesn’t want to get seriously involved with a military man, but doesn’t really discuss why too much. I would have liked for the character to dive deeper into her reasons and open up to readers a smidge more. I felt the first few chapters were a little rushed and it was hard for me to connect with Amanda because I wasn’t getting enough of her.

However, once Amanda and Lucas start dating there’s a shift and as a reader I was not only able to connect with Amanda, but I felt emotionally involved.

I was definitely drawn to the innocence and simplicity of the dating relationship between Amanda and Lucas. There was no mention of social media, no drama, or bedroom activity. It was refreshing to see love blossom between two characters in such an authentic and traditional way.

As a character, I really like how determined Amanda is. She has her own personal goals that are realistic and she will do whatever it takes to achieve them. She works two jobs to pay her way through school, which is NOT an easy thing to do. She studies her butt off to earn her teaching certification and get a full time job. I LOVE that she doesn’t stop pursuing her dreams just because she meets a guy.

Personally, no one in my immediate family has ever been in the military, so I don’t have personal experience with deployments. The author did a lovely job explaining all of the military jargon that Lucas used, and kept the events simple enough for someone like me to understand.

Carter also did a really great job of communicating how strong the military community is. I really loved how she included the different events that military wives created among themselves, like book club. As a complete outsider to this world, I was able to get a sense of how much of a family military life can be, and the incredible bond between all of those involved.

The longer Amanda and Lucas are married, the more we see the true sacrifices of being married to the military. This book had me in tears and took me on such an emotional roller coaster. The plot twists were crafted beautifully and implemented seamlessly. I can’t say any more than that because you just have to read it to appreciate the strength of the incredible women married to military men.

If you’re looking for a sweet story that takes you on an emotional roller coaster, this book is perfect for you.

To purchase this book click here.

Swimming Sideways Book Review

It’s no secret that I LOVE a good YA novel. I’ve realized that I tend to gravitate towards dystopian, fantasy, sci-fi work, so it was nice escaping into a a realistic fiction piece.

Swimming Sideways, by C.L. Walters, is a relatable YA novel that focuses on the importance of family, love and friendship.

Our main character, Abby, has just moved from Hawaii to Oregon with her family (parents and twin brothers). Her parents are hoping for a fresh start so they can work on their marriage. Abby is hoping for a fresh start because of events that were out of her control in her old school (that involved social media).

As an older sibling myself, I love how protective Abby is when it comes to her family. Even though she is hurting from her own social media situation, she hides it from all the members of her family so they don’t have to worry, suffer, etc. She carries her secret alone and deals with the emotional side effects. Her pain is felt in the first few pages and readers question why there’s a Good Abby and a Bad Abby.

Abby’s home life is also not as clean as one would hope. It’s clear that her parents are having marital problems and the family is struggling emotionally. Usually, the YA books I read only focus on the love part of being a teenager, but Swimming Sideways also tackles the reality of problems at home. The realness that Walters created with this conflict not only puts readers in Abby’s shoes, but also shows adults how children are affected by words and actions. The use of Abby’s point of view really does shed light on how a teenager interprets experiences.

As with any great piece of literature, there’s a little bit of a love triangle. Abby spent time in Oregon growing up with her grandma, who happened to be neighbors with Seth. The two of them pick their friendship right up and start to date. Meanwhile, Abby is fascinated by the school “freak” Gabe, and makes friends with him. And just to thicken the plot, Gabe and Seth used to be best friends. If I say anymore I will give away some of the plot, but Walters does a beautiful job of showing readers that friendship is the foundation of a good dating relationship.

One of my favorite characters was Abby’s new best friend Hannah. Hannah approaches Abby in the cafeteria on her first day of school and goes out of her way to make Abby feel welcome. Through all that happens over the course of the novel, Hannah never leaves Abby’s side, providing a safety blanket that teenage girls need, especially in social situations. This reminds readers that it isn’t the quantity of friends, but the quality that is most important. There were a few times I wanted to reach through the pages and hug Hannah for being a true friend.

As a teacher, I know some of the situations my students have dealt with in their personal lives. What really drew me into this story was how so many real life situations are woven into this text. Dealing with relationships, family problems, abuse, social media, and the social pressure of being a teenager all come together in such a realistic way. The ending does leave readers on an intense cliff hanger, so be prepared.

This was one of those books that I stayed up all night reading. I messaged C.L. Walters on Instagram the next day because I had to tell her how sucked in I was (and that I was grateful the second book was already out).

I would recommend this book for students in grades 9-12, parents of teenagers, and teachers working with high school students.

For more information check out the author’s website here

The Fever King Book Review

I really feel like my TBR pile has exploded in the last few weeks. I feel truly touched that authors and agents have reached out to me for book reviews, so be prepared for a lot of great new texts appearing on this little blog in the near future.

In the past I have reviewed books I’ve won from Goodreads giveaways (see Dating a Quarterback Secret #3). Today I’m sharing another one of my wins!

Fever King, by Victoria Lee, is a YA political novel about trust, love, and change.

The setting is futuristic in America that is no longer the country we all know. We follow Noam, a teenage boy, as he navigates the world among refugees, a virus, and a very tense political climate. Early on, Noam is infected with the virus and turns into a witching (a survivor of the virus with magical powers). His magic is so special, he is to be trained with the most elite witchings and has private tutoring sessions with Lehrer. Lehrer is the most powerful witching, who survived the catastrophe that transformed America over a hundred years ago.

In all honesty, it took me a while to wrap my head around the history of story. While texts like The Hunger Games are super straightforward about the history, Fever King was not as upfront. There are bread crumbs here and there to provide the reader with more background (letters, videos, etc), but it was hard for me to keep all of the information straight. I’m also not very big into politics to begin with, so my brain isn’t used to reading about political issues in a text. In my opinion, this text is a HUGE social commentary, and the timing of it is perfect with our current society.

I realized while reading this text, that most popular YA novels have a female main character, so it was quite a treat to have a male one. Noam is an incredibly intelligent, mature and responsible individual. It is also revealed that he is bi-sexual, which I loved. Since it is a YA book, there is a hint of romance, but it is not the center of the plot. Noam is a character that does wrong things for the right reason. He has difficulties trusting others and takes this very seriously. He is an extremely loyal individual, until he has a reason not to be.

I can honestly say I haven’t read any other books that are similar to Fever King. Between the heavy politics, bi-sexual romance, and complicated relationships, this book keeps readers on their toes. While reading the last few chapters, I found myself skipping lines to find out what happens next.

One aspect that caught my eye right away was style of writing. Usually YA books are written on a less complex writing level, making it user friendly for readers in middle school. Fever King‘s sophisticated writing is definitely geared towards an older audience, I would suggest sophomores and up. I can’t wait for the next book!!

Under the Scars Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Events that happen, people that walk in and out of life, and books that we read. This summer I’ve been soul searching and setting up a new business (more of that to come in the future). I somehow connected with an author through Instagram and made arrangements to review her book. Being 100% honest, I read this book in one night. I stayed up til 2 am reading because I was so emotionally invested in the story.

Under the Scars, by Isabella Morgan, is a true love story that grips readers from the very first page.

I have read Twilight (team Jacob) and 50 Shades of Grey. While both of those stories portray unrealistic love stories, Under the Scars is the complete opposite (in a good way). Violet and Nick have a summer romance that develops into true love. After a very difficult break up, the story really starts four years later when Violet’s mother is battling cancer. As luck would have it, Nick turns out to be Violet’s mom’s doctor.

The POV shifts back and forth between Nick and Violet, which I really enjoyed. There’s definitely more from Violet’s POV, but the placement of Nick’s thoughts/experiences allows readers to get a more well-rounded feeling of the plot. Violet is anything but a whiny, immature character. Her strength is mind blowing, especially once readers get more insight into her history, and her thoughts and actions are spot on.

Nick is first described as a typical ladies man, but readers quickly can see that his soft spot for Violet clearly suggests otherwise. Not only is he an attractive doctor, he also has the biggest heart I have come across in literature thus far in my reading life. He is the ideal man and I would marry him in a heart beat.

I was also a fan of the dialogue. I tend to gravitate towards realistic conversations between characters, and this novel delivers! There are curse words used (including the f bomb), and their placement is totally perfect. The conversations between characters are raw, honest, and filled with emotions.

In terms of plot, holy moly!! I loved the breadcrumb trail of clues Morgan leaves readers. Some were so tiny I wondered if I was overthinking, but there were definitely some twists I did not predict (which is rare). I thought the plot moved along seamlessly, and the build up to the climax was paced really well. Not once did I skip ahead because I was losing interest. Personally, I stopped a few times because the text was so mind blowing I needed a second to digest.

I tend to be an active reader, I’m always highlighting or making notes with lines I like. I have never highlighted so many amazing lines than in this book. I’m a sap for good quotes and there were just so many. The love between Nick and Violet is so pure and deep, and the language that Morgan incorporates is beyond beautiful.

The book ended with an Author’s Note that made me want to hug Morgan. I was also shocked and amazed that this is not only her first book, but it took five years to write. To say this is a book of love is an understatement.

However, the cherry on top for me was the playlist included at the end of the book. The author and I totally share the same taste in music (“Fighter” by Christina Aquilera) and I could totally see us being best friends in real life. The songs included fit the story PERFECTLY! She also introduced me to “When I Look at You” by Miley Cyrus, which I’m now obsessed with.

Due to language, some sexual and mature content, I would recommend this book for juniors and seniors in high school and older.