“Sleepaway Girls”—A Book Review

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Sleepaway Girls by Jen Calonita is an adorable and fun summer read!

Sam’s best friend has a boyfriend this summer, and Sam refuses to hang around all summer being the third wheel. So she decides to sign up to be a counselor-in-training at Whispering Pines summer camp in the New York Catskills.

Of course, what summer camp experience would be complete without the camp counselor “queen bee” who likes to give Sam hell, and a super hot crush she just can’t help but flirt with? Sam also makes friends with a group of counselor-in-training girls who label themselves “The Sleepaway Girls.” The girls have a blast all summer sneaking off and documenting their summer experiences to remember for a lifetime.

And then add to the summer experience, Cole: the playful guy who Sam becomes fast friends with.

This book was pretty much your typical mindless summer read, complete with a totally predictable plot, but it was still entertaining. I give it three out of five stars!

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“The Symptoms of My Insanity”—A Book Review

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The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf…to be perfectly honest, I’m not totally sure what I thought about it.

This book starts out in the fashion of the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison. Thus, I began this novel with the mindset that it was going to be hilarious and have me laughing the whole way through. For example, when the story begins, the main character, Izzy, is in a fitting room at a lingerie store getting fitted for new bras, having already outgrown the ones she got at the start of the school year:

“Mom’s always saying how I look just like dad’s mom, Grandma Rose, when she was sixteen. She dug up and showed me an old picture of her and, she’s right, I do. Which wouldn’t be so bad except that now Grandma Rose is a four-foot-ten-inch-tall, eighty-three-year-old woman with gargantuan breasts that take over her entire bra-less body. Really, I should just bolt out of Lola’s Lingerie right now. What’s the point of spending money on bras when I’m going to end up a short, eighty-three-year-old woman with dangle boobs?”

Funny, right? And you get the impression right away that Izzy’s mom is one of those Stepford Moms that won’t be caught dead without her lip gloss applied and her hair perfect, expecting every girl in school to be perfect models of “young ladies.” So of course, she’s horrified when a rumor goes around school about a girl giving head in one of the bathroom stalls. To which Izzy (as follows with the humor at the start of the book) replies:

“Yes Mom, it’s true. All the girls at school pleasure boys in the bathroom stalls. How else are we supposed to get them to like us?”

But the thing is, I guess I felt like I was mislead into reading this novel. The “funny” wears off quickly and the book takes a dramatic turn. You soon find out that Izzy’s mom has a rare stomach cancer and because of this (and her mom not actually talking to her about her illness), Izzy is a bit of a hypochondriac. Anytime she feels even a little “off,” she automatically jumps to the conclusion that something is horribly wrong with her and that she has one of the diseases that she’s read about on the internet. Izzy’s hypochondria is so bad that several times she mistakes a simple panic attack for some life threatening illness.

“Why am I so dizzy? Why can’t I get in a good breath? I shuffle through what I know. Hypoglycemia? Lyme? Or no—oh, no. Breast lumps metastasizing? If I feel this sick, it has to be in advanced stages. Okay no, just relax, breathe. You can breathe.

Like I said, it stopped being funny pretty early on. There is a lot of school drama and some good heartfelt coming-of-age stuff, but because I felt falsely lead in to reading a comedy that isn’t really a comedy, I found myself not really wanting to read it anymore. I kind of had to make myself finish it.

All in all, I give this book 3 stars. It was a pretty decent book, I was just looking for something that this book was not.

“Twenty Boy Summer”—A Book Review

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Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler is a heart wrenchingly good summertime read.

Anna is headed to Zanzibar Bay with her best friend Frankie for the summer. The wild and daring Frankie is determined for Anna to finally have a summer romance and devises a plan that they meet and hang out with one boy each day.

Anna agrees to go along with Frankie’s crazy plan. But what she doesn’t tell her is that she’s already had a sizzling romance…with Frankie’s older brother Matt, who died a year ago. Matt promised he would tell Frankie about them, but died tragically before he had the chance. So for the past year, Anna has had to keep the dear memories of her and Matt’s steamy romance secret.

“But when you’re in the middle of being in love with someone, you just don’t stop to ask, ‘Matt, listen, if you die before you tell your sister about us, should I tell her?’”

Emotionally raw and honest, this novel deals with grief, tragedy, secrets, betrayal, family, steamy romance, and most importantly, learning how to move on and live again. I give this summer time read five out of five stars!

“Endless Summer”—A Book Review

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Endless Summer by Jennifer Echols is a stupendous summer read! It’s a collection of two summer novels: The Boys Next Door and its sequel Endless Summer.

Lori spends the entire year just waiting for her summers at the lake, where she works at her neighbors’ marina with her older brother. The pluses for working there every summer: 1) Wakeboarding everyday 2) Extra cash 3) Working on her golden summer tan 4) The Vader brothers.

Ever since Lori was a little girl, she’s had a crush on Sean Vader. The downside=he’s two years older than her and sees her as “one of the guys.” Lori has tagged along with her older brother since childhood, just to hang with Sean and Adam Vader. But Lori is determined that this is the summer Sean will notice her. She has a plan!

The plan: First, start acting and dressing more like a girly-girl. Second, start hanging out with the younger of the Vader brothers, Adam, who is her age. The hopeful outcome is that seeing her with Adam all summer will make Sean jealous, thus causing him to sweep Lori off her feet in a fit of jealousy. The fatal flaw in this otherwise brilliant and foolproof plan: Adam has an agenda of his own.

Full of romance, summer sun, and laughs, this two-in-one novel is the perfect poolside read!

I give this fun book five stars!

“The Beautiful Between”—A Book Review

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The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel is a beautifully told story.

Connelly’s dad died when she was two. Her mom won’t tell her how, and because of the icy response got when she was in third grade, she hasn’t asked again since. And ever since that night, her mom has been distant; the nightly ice cream in bed while watching TV snuggles have stopped. These two women just kind of coexist in the same high-rise apartment in the heart of glamorous NYC, having very little actual interaction with each other.

“My mother and I never fight. I can’t remember any major fights or childhood tantrums. She never assigned me a curfew and I never came home late until the other night, after Brent’s party, and then she didn’t ask where I’d been. We get along fine this way.”

And so, having lived this way since she was a little girl, Connelly developed a way of living that helped her cope with life and with the answers she doesn’t have—answers that don’t seem likely she will ever receive. Connelly views her entire life as a fairytale. After that fateful night, as a curious eight-year-old (when she made the wrong decision to ask her mother how her dad died), she created an imaginary fairy godmother to keep her company and to keep her safe. She lied to the kids at school and told them her parents were divorced to make up for the embarrassing lack of information she had about her dad.

And so, Connelly lives in her fairytale world, seeing high school as fairytale kingdom, where Jeremy Cole is the prince, and she is Rapunzel, locked away in a tower. These imaginary scenarios are how Connelly has gotten along for so long that when Jeremy Cole breaks into her life, offering to tutor her in Physics in exchange for SAT vocab help, she almost doesn’t know how to handle life anymore.

It isn’t until she and Jeremy start to become close friends and she sees the way Jeremy interacts with his close, loving family that Connelly even really starts to question her mother. She begins to truly wonder why she has kept any information regarding her dead father away from her for so long—making Connelly afraid to even ask about him.

“Maybe the witch thought she was protecting Rapunzel, not punishing her. Maybe she thought that if Rapunzel was locked away, no one could ever hurt her. Maybe the witch kept Rapunzel because she loved her, because she was scared that if other people could get to Rapunzel, they would hurt her. And maybe Rapunzel didn’t understand the witch; maybe she was angry at her—but maybe she loved her too.”

Over the semester, Connelly finds an unexpected best friend in the most popular boy in school. At first, she continues her fairytale analogies, wondering why the beloved prince would pay attention to the lowly peasant. But the truth soon reveals itself: Jeremy seeks solace in Connelly’s company and perhaps she is the only one that can help him find comfort.

As the duo spend more and more time together, Connelly finds herself living less in her fantasy world and more in the real world:

 “I’ve always fantasized about something or other before I could fall asleep, played a fairy tale in my head to entertain myself. But I haven’t for a while now.”

Stunningly narrated, this book reminds you how important communication is. Things that go unsaid can eat a person up inside. While fantasies can be great, even though it can be harsh at times, the real world is always a better place for truly living.

I give this quick, but thoughtful, coming-of-age story five out of five stars!

“The Running Dream”—A Book Review

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The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen is an amazingly inspirational coming-of-age novel.

Jessica was in a tragic bus crash on her way home from a high school track meet. One teammate lost her life, and Jessica lost a foot.

The story begins with Jessica waking up in the hospital and trying to come to grips with the realization of her lost limb. Being that she is a runner, Jessica feels like her world is ending:

“I am a runner. That’s what I do. That’s who I am. Running is all I know, or want, or care about.”

As anybody would, at first, Jessica just feels sorry for herself. She is completely consumed with self-pity and can’t see how she can possibly go on. The only thing she has ever truly loved—running—has been cruelly yanked out of her grasp. Is life even worth living anymore? Maybe Lucy—her teammate who was killed in the crash—was the lucky one. At least she didn’t have to try to adjust to life with running as an unattainable dream.

Soon, however, Jessica has an epiphany about life:

 “I fell off, but the merry-go-round keeps moving. Lucy died, but the merry-go-round keeps moving. Still. As much as thinking this upsets me, I’m starting to see that I need the merry-go-round much more than it needs me, and in the end my choice is to hop back on or get left in the dust.”

With this new attitude, and her self-loathing behind her, Jessica finally decides to get back up, battle life head-on, and get back to her “normal” life as much as possible. But of course, this is easier said than done.

Returning to school, Jessica faces a whole slew of new challenges, not only with being one-legged and having to figure out how to get around in a wheelchair or on crutches until she gets her prosthetic limb, but she is also confronted with the internal battle of her self-image.

It’s bad enough being a “normal” teenager. This is the time in life when you are the most vulnerable, trying to figure out exactly who you are. Up until now, Jessica has only had one way of defining herself—she is a runner. Plain and simple. But now, having to go back into the sea of her peers in the battleground known as high school, Jessica feels less sure of herself than she ever has before:

“I know it’s not my fault. I know I haven’t done anything wrong. I know it’s irrational. But still, I’m mortified. Mortified to be me.”

“It’s disturbing how fast weeds take root in my garden of worthiness.
They’re so hard to pull.
And grow back so easily.” 

When Jessica is wheeled in to her Math class on her first day back, she gets put at the “special table” at the back of the room, with the other girl in a wheelchair who has cerebral palsy, named Rosa. Jessica realizes that she has never even thought to talk to Rosa before, simply because of her condition. It was way easier to ignore her and pretend like she wasn’t there. And when Rosa offers to tutor Jessica in Math to get her caught up, Jessica realizes what an amazing and funny person Rosa is, despite her handicap.

Working with, and befriending, Rosa humbles Jessica, and helps her to realize that life could be worse, and she should stop feeling sorry for herself. Your disability doesn’t define you—you define you.

“I suddenly really get that I am lucky. I’ll never do a fifty-five flat in the 400 again, but I will stand on my own again. This wheelchair won’t be with me every day of my life.”

With the support of her family, friends, and teammates, Jessica decides not to be a victim of circumstance, and starts to hope again. And that is a beautiful thing.

“I realize something. That wasn’t a finish line for me…This is my new starting line.”