March books

29. My Life with the Liars – Caela Carter
Story – Zylynn lives in the Light, where the only mother is Mother God and the only father is Father Prophet. Outside the Light is Darkness, and in darkness there is evil and danger and lies. But then Zylynn is taken away into the Darkness with a man who calls himself her father…
Thoughts – I just finished this book, and wow did it pack an emotional punch. Zylynn was utterly heartbreaking, and her confusion and fear came through so clearly in the book that I was with her all the way. My only criticism was that what she saw at the prophet’s house was kind of a cliché, but I was more than willing to let that go because of the bittersweet beauty of the rest of the book. Definitely a recommend.

28. Am I Normal Yet? – Holly Bourne
Story – Evie is starting at a new college, meeting new people, making new friends, and having romantic adventures. It should be great, but Evie also has a secret in her past that she doesn’t want to share – the OCD that saw her hospitalised. But things are starting to slip, and Evie isn’t sure how she’s going to pull it all back together.
Thoughts – I really liked this, far more than I thought I would. I read it because I am always interested to see the portrayal of mental illness in fiction, but then it turned out to be even better than I thought it would be. Evie was a bit of a mess, but I loved her character and how she thought about things. There were some funny lines and some good supporting characters too. It really felt like a grown up version of the Girls books by Jacqueline Wilson, (Girls Out Late, Girls in Tears, Girls in Love, Girls Under Pressure) and I’ve always loved them. I liked the idea of the Spinster Club in this one, and thought it was a good intro to some feminist thought for a teen reader.

27. My Second Life – Faye Bird
Story – Ana has always known that she used to be Emma. That this life, with her mother Rachel, is her second life and that it doesn’t feel as though it really fits. She misses her family, and she’s never quite felt as though she is Ana. Then one day she meets someone she is sure she knew when she was Emma, and disturbing memories begin to surface.
Thoughts – I was really intrigued by the premise of this book. The idea of past lives, and remembering them is always an interesting one, and I was looking forward to seeing how the author dealt with the way Emma’s memories impacted Ana. But in the end, this book just didn’t quite fulfil the promise. I didn’t really connect to any of the characters in particular, and I felt really sorry for Ana’s mum, since Ana just seemed to look at her as temporary caretaker, with her ‘real mother’ being Emma’s mum.

26. New Horizons – Dan Carr
Story – Val Campbell is a seventeen year old high school dropout with issues when she is sent away to New Horizons, a camp for troubled teens.
Thoughts – I always love a good summer camp story, and thought this would be a similar thing but with more emotional punch. But for me, it just wasn’t. Val was a total brat, and I honestly didn’t get her motivation for half of her behaviour. I also found the camp itself to be completely unbelievable – who on earth would authorise their children being literally kidnapped (bag over their head and tape on their wrists and all) and sent to a camp where there are no showers or deodorant and the kids don’t change their clothes? I mean how knows, perhaps I’m just sheltered and there are a million such camps, but the book didn’t really convince me of it. Needless to say this whole set-up proves a disaster for the truly mentally fragile kids. Interesting premise and it definitely had its moments, but not really great.

25. The Killing House – Chris Mooney
Story – Malcolm Fletcher is a former FBI profiler, and now one of their most wanted. Working with an old friend, he goes to Colorado to help in a four year old case of kidnapping, only to find himself falling deeper into a mire of depravity and horror.
Thoughts – I liked this one. Good mystery, evil villains, nice pacing – probably nothing super special, but a good read and I’d continue on with the series if I come across the next book.

24. Behind Closed Doors – B.A. Paris
Story – From the outside, Jack and Grace look like the perfect couple. But no one can know what really goes on behind closed doors.
Thoughts – This book frustrated the hell out of me! Basically the husband was a psychopath, keeping his wife prisoner by threatening her sister (who was away at a school for the mentally disabled). The wife tried to escape by running up to people screaming that her husband was keeping her prisoner, which he then refuted by blaming her mental state so that everyone would think SHE was the crazy one. Yeah, okay, unlikely but possible. But why then would she not just WALK AWAY? When they were visiting her sister at school, all she would have had to do was say to her sister’s carer that she didn’t want to go home with Jack. He could hardly have physically dragged her away in that case! I don’t know, it just irritated me the whole book the way she was plotting and planning, and yet not doing the obvious thing.
It did have a good ending though, I thought that was quite clever.

23. Sugar and Spice – Ruth Hamilton
Story – Two intertwined stories. Anna as a child during the war, living out in the country with her twin sisters, and Anna as an adult, overwhelmed with postnatal depression after the birth of her own twins.
Thoughts – This book wasn’t bad. I suppose I expected better? But I’m writing this review a week or so later and quite frankly I don’t remember much of it, so I guess that says something.

22. I Am Rebecca – Fleur Beale
Story – Rebecca and her twin sister Rachel have grown up in a strict religious cult. As they approach their fourteenth birthday, both are anxious to find out who they will be married to once they turn sixteen. Rachel has given her heart to one young man, and Rebecca hopes to have someone kind, but both of them know that the choice will not be theirs. As their birthday passes they begin moving towards adulthood, but the path is not a smooth one and Rebecca begins to wonder how she can live the life laid out for her.
Thoughts – This was a sequel to a book I hadn’t read, but it didn’t matter. This story, and sweetheart Rebecca, stands alone very well. I loved reading about the cult, and about the shy and timid interactions Rebecca and Rachel began to have with the outside world as they came to be considered more adult in their world. It raises some deep questions about family and love and doing what’s right, and I’d definitely recommend it as YA.

21. A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the aftermath of tragedy – Sue Klebold
Story – This is a memoir of the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine killers, where she talks about raising her son and about her journey to come to terms with what he did at the end of his life.
Thoughts – This book…it was the saddest and most terrifying thing I’ve ever read. Sue’s voice came through so clearly, and her utter grief and horror over the child she bore and raised is heartbreaking. She has to live every day with the knowledge that her baby grew up to not only take his own life, but take the lives of thirteen innocent people with him.
In the book Sue goes over Dylan’s life, looking at everything through the lens of knowing what he did in his final hours and searching for answers as to how he became a killer. The frightening thing about this book is that there are no easy answers. Sue and her husband Tom were good, involved parents and Dylan had grown up in a close, loving family. Any signs Dylan displayed that could be signs of a mental illness (after his death, his journals and videotapes that he and Eric Harris had made together indicated very strongly that Dylan was suffering from undiagnosed depression) could be equally attributed to basic adolescent behaviour. Even with all the evidence laid out and the benefit of hindsight, there is nothing that should have/could have caused Sue and Tom to suspect the massacre that Dylan and Eric Harris were planning. And that is what terrifies me – that a child can appear one way to the outside while when their inner world is so dark and horrific.
And the book was just sad. So many people left dead, injured and traumatised after Columbine, and yet there was never any answers, or actions towards a brighter future. Sue lost her son, and considering what he did she also felt as though she lost the right and the ability to mourn the child she had known.
Over the years since Columbine, Sue Klebold has channelled her energy into suicide and violence prevention. She makes no excuses for Dylan and believes that he chose his actions, and never shirks away from the truth that thirteen people are dead because of what he did. But Sue also believes that a greater understanding of and treatment for mental illness (she uses the term brain health) and particularly depression in young people can do some good in terms of reducing the suicide and murder/suicide rate.
This book really did affect me. It was fascinating and frightening and tragic all in one, and I’m very glad I read it.