Synopsis Selected as one of The New York Times Book Review’s Best Books of the Year and honored worldwide, Lisa, Bright and Dark was an immediate sensation when it was first published.
Detailing how mental illness affects friends and family of the ill, Lisa, Bright and Dark has been in print for more than forty years.
Its value has not diminished over time, and readers throughout the world contact the author regularly to discuss their reactions to it. A straight-through read, it is full of romance, excitement, suspense, and finally triumph.
My Review I first read this novel in middle school as a young teen and found it riveting. Now as a parent with my own teens, I was interested in rereading some of my childhood favorites. The story still holds up, but some of the dialogue left me wondering if my parents’ generation really talked like that. I don’t recall it standing out to me as a teen, but that was also a long time ago. I’m not sure today’s teens will find the dialogue youthful, and many of the cultural references will be very dated. In fact, I had to Google Joanne Woodward’s famous smile, because I didn’t get that reference at all. However, the overall themes of mental illness, adults not being able to clearly see what it so obvious to peers, and the desire and willingness to do whatever it takes to help a friend will resonate strongly with today’s generation.
Narrated by Betsy, the book is about Lisa, a mutual friend, who is crying out for help, fearing she’s losing her mind, and how no one is willing to help her. Times were likely a lot different back then, with teachers unwilling to step in and advocate on behalf of their students, but I think most of the rest of is still relevant today. Lisa goes out of her way to get someone, anyone to listen. Though Betsy is more of a peripheral friend, Lisa seems to trust her and Betsy and her other friends, Mary Nell and Elizabeth, do everything they can to get Lisa the help she needs.
Plot The plot centers around Lisa as seen through Betsy’s eyes. The girls struggle to get Lisa the care she needs despite dismissals and outright denials from the adults in the situation. There’s not much subplotting going on, but considering the subject matter, I’m not sure that’s necessary. The plot itself moves fairly well with short chapters and emotional punches.
Characters Lisa, though not the narrator, comes off as the most well-developed character in the story, followed by Betsy, the narrator, then Mary Nell and Elizabeth. But Elizabeth, I suspect, was deliberately an enigma, at least until the end. While I mentioned above that as an adult now, I didn’t find their dialogue to be particularly youthful, their thought processes definitely were. This made their actions and motivations exceedingly believable. And while the teens were well-rounded, the adults came off looking like idiots, at least in the eyes of the narrator.
What I Enjoyed About LISA, BRIGHT AND DARK 1. Commitment. The way Lisa’s friends are devoted to getting her the help she needs was heartwarming.
2. Lisa. She was a complex character who knew something was wrong with her and terrified.
3. Betsy. She came off as annoying at times, but she always had her heart in the right place.
4. M.N. Mary Nell was an interesting character that was both trying and dedicated, which made her fascinating.
5. Honesty. The book was an honest tale of mental illness and how it can rob someone of everything.
Bottom Line A gripping YA tale of friendship and mental illness.
Synopsis Van Sato’s got labels. Tourettes, ADHD, SPD – words that have defined his existence since the time he was old enough to know what they meant. Now, Van wants to prove he’s more than an acronym, a syndrome, a problem kid. He takes a summer job as a day camp counselor to prove he’s capable of independence and moving on to the next phase in his life. Maybe, he might even make a friend while there. Someone who’s got just as many or even more labels than him. Someone who understands what it’s like.
Tabby Dubanowksi wants to forget about everything, the hospitalization, the judgment, the whispers behind her back. As a camp counselor, she will be admired, looked up to, and able to help people who don’t know anything about her old life. Tabby wants a fresh start and a chance to re-ignite her passion for film-making, if only for one summer.
After running away from their pasts, Van and Tabby collide in a storm cloud of attraction laced with self-doubt, insecurity, shame, and blame. Now, with Van feeling like he might have to quit his job, and Tabby struggling to quell the urge to cut, they will struggle to find themselves in a world designed to keep them apart.
My Review Two misfits, who see the humanity in each, find a bond that goes beyond mere attraction. What I loved best about this tale is that it wasn’t like they wound up together because no one else would have them, no one else understood their struggles, or any of the typical tropes with characters who have serious medical or psychological issues. Instead, they two were genuinely attracted to each other despite their issues. Their own challenges kept them from reacting to each other in a way most people would, which only fueled that attraction into something more. The meet cute was anything but cute when Van, who suffers from Tourettes, called Tabby by her hated high school nickname, “Lard Ass” when they run into each other at the same summer camp where they’re both working as counselors. But even after Van apologizes and Tabby decides it’s not enough, he never uses his Tourettes as an excuse for why he blurted it out unbidden. Their friendship develops without that understanding, making it more authentic and deep. Tabby has her own issues stemming from an eating disorder and cutting herself in an attempt to cope. But somehow, Van and Tabby overcome every obstacle to find solace in friendship and maybe just a little bit more.
Plot The main plot centers on the relationship between Van and Tabby, but because they both have huge obstacles to overcome, there are strong subplots involving these as well. Van hopes for a life of independence even though on top of Tourette’s he has ADHD and SPD. Tabby has a tenuous relationship with food and deep-seated insecurities that drive nearly everything she does. She’s just trying to learn how to live life outside of Hope Springs where she spent time dealing with her anorexia. Romance isn’t on either kid’s radar, but some things just can’t be denied.
Characters Oh the characters!! They are my favorite thing about the story. Van and his irreverent humor when it comes to his condition. Tabby and her confident insecurities (yes, that is actually a thing). The loving families who just want what’s best for Van and Tabby but still manage to do so much wrong. And best friends, Matt and Maritza are people I’d want to hang out with. The author totally does right by her characters, giving them depth, humanity, and creating such amazingly authentic-feeling three-dimensional beings that I was rooting for them from the opening chapters. Sometimes characters need to grow on me, but not this bunch!
What I Loved About YOU, ME, & LETTING GO! 1. Van. The boy with the tics so severe he hits himself and others with uncontrollable arms has a heart of gold. The way he deals with the kids in his care will melt anyone’s heart.
2. Tabby. It can be difficult to identify with and not get annoyed with insecure characters, but Tabby is so much more than that and I loved her from her first chapter.
3. Summer Camp. The kids are hysterical, from a boy who eats everything to a girl who likes to dissect whatever is found, including her food, bring humor and adorableness to the pages.
4. Honesty. The author’s honest portrayal of anorexia, cutting, Tourette, ADHD, and SPD show that people are so much more than the labels we attach to them.
5. Friendship. The bonds of friendship throughout the tale were heartwarming and the threads that tied everything together.
Bottom Line A wonderful young adult tale about overcoming odds and taking control of your own life with some of the best characters in the genre.
Disclaimer I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Book – Read for Free with Kindle Unlimited Title:YOU, ME, & LETTING GO Author:Katie Kaleski Release Date: May 14, 2019 Pages: 197 Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU
Author Katie Kaleski
About the Author Katie Kaleski has started down many career paths and held many jobs—indie craft store clerk, pizza maker, photo developer, shoe salesperson and cashier, dental assistant in the army, daycare teacher, student teacher—but her favorite one by far is being a writer.
She’s originally from Chicago, so she says things like pop, gym shoes, and front room. Her favorite food group is sugar, and she loves writing young adult novels. .
Synopsis I haven’t left my house in over a year. My doctor says it’s social anxiety, but I know the only things that are safe are made of paper. My room is paper. My world is paper. Everything outside is fire. All it would take is one spark for me to burst into flames. So I stay inside. Where nothing can touch me.
Then my mom hires a tutor. Jackson. This boy I had a crush on before the world became too terrifying to live in. Jackson’s life is the complete opposite of mine, and I can tell he’s got secrets of his own. But he makes me feel things. Makes me want to try again. Makes me want to be brave. I can almost taste the outside world. But so many things could go wrong, and all it takes is one spark for everything I love to disappear…
My Review I have a very good friend who suffers from agoraphobia and a daughter with social anxiety. I’ll admit I never really understood these feelings. I’m the opposite, a consummate extrovert who loves the hub of urban life and exploring everything the world has to offer. But PAPER GIRL takes me inside the life of Zoe, an agoraphobic who hasn’t left her home in over a year. Zoe was always more shy and reserved than her outgoing older sister, Mae, but before a series of events pushed her into seclusion, she lived a fairly normal life, attending Mae’s games and flirting with Mae’s friend, Jackson. After retreating into her home, she creates a haven of paper art that soothes her as well as occupies her time. Zoe is determined to return to some sort of a normal life, starting with attending her sister’s high school graduation. With the help of her therapist, she sets small goals for herself, including allowing herself to be tutored by Jackson, who has troubles of his own. Small victories and big steps backward combine to make Zoe’s journey one that is both realistic and relatable.
Plot Told from dual points of view, there is one main plot, the romance between Zoe and Jackson, and two major subplots involving Zoe’s goal to re-enter life outside her home and Jackson’s relationship with his estranged father. The author throws enough roadblocks into both of their paths to keep things from ever getting too easy. The only thing I really wanted more of was uncertainty in their romance. There wasn’t any angst or doubt, nothing to really keep me turning the pages to make sure these two would end up together.
The Characters I absolutely loved Zoe. She’s complex, smart, creative, funny, and just neurotic enough to be the perfect character to root for. I could feel her shame and horror when life infringed on her safe space. Watching her stretch the boundaries of that safety zone had me cheering for her every step of the way. Jackson was a little more pulled together, even though he’s homeless. His circumstances are as outside his control as Zoe’s are, but they’re environmental rather than emotional and mental. These two both overcome their own circumstances and situations to grow in believable ways.
Top Five Things I Enjoyed About PAPER GIRL 1. Paper art. Colorful origami in three-dimensional space creates a solar system and galaxy that fills Zoe’s room and life. I would love to see it, because I’m not sure my imagination does it justice.
2. Mae. She is sympathetic as the older sister who loves Zoe and struggles with supporting her sister and longing for the life they used to have together outside their home.
3. Zoe’s mom. The Instagram and YouTube star who documents all the craftiness that is her life is both a supportive and understanding parent with some of the best lines in the book.
4. Jackson. He’s sweet, patient, and brilliant. He creates the perfect balance between supporting Zoe without being a crutch.
5. Zoe. She is fascinating, at times sarcastic, terrified, artistic, smart, and more all rolled into a tiny ball of determination.
Bottom Line A wonderful young adult contemporary romance that examines how social anxiety can transform someone from the inside out.
I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author Cindy lives at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and loves using Colorado towns and cities as inspiration for settings in her stories. She’s the mother of three girls, who provide plenty of fodder for her YA novels. Cindy writes speculative fiction and YA fiction, filled with a healthy dose of romance. You’ll often find her hiking or listening to any number of playlists while she comes up with her next story idea.
Right now I’m living at Brookside, a place for people like me. I’ve met a kitty girl, a brooding beautiful boy, one who can’t be touched, and others. My new friends. Strange people. People like me.
I’ve always been different, but lately, more so. My hands sometimes don’t seem to be attached to the rest of me. I cut up all of my clothes. I’m hot, so hot, all of the time. If I sleep, a wizard haunts every dream. I don’t sleep. Sometimes I want to run, but where do you run to when you’re trying to escape your own mind? I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same. I’m smart. I’m nice, sometimes. I just want to be normal(ish). But, right now, my friends are all strange… Like me.
Dark, funny, snarky, seventeen-year-old Becca struggles to cope with mental illness in My Friends Are All Strange, the gripping contemporary young adult companion novel to Normalish.
My Review This book is quite different from most young adult novels I’ve read recently. While there is a bit of a romance that plays out, it’s not the primary plot nor even a major subplot. Instead, My Friends Are All Strange is about a teen girl dealing with mental illness. When seventeen-year-old Becca has a mental break in the school cafeteria, she’s whisked off to Brookside, a juvenile mental health facility. As she struggles to deal with her own sanity, she meets other kids like her, dealing with their own personal hells. At first, Becca resists interacting with the other residents, but before long, she’s drawn into their worlds, making friends, and realizing that mental illness isn’t a one-size-fits-all disease. She’s forced to not only face her own demons, but realize that she can’t fix anyone except herself.
The plot centers around Becca’s struggle with her sanity. M.C. Lesh did an outstanding job of showing us the inner workings of mental illness. We feel Becca’s fear, anxiety, frustration, and even her tenuous grasp on reality at times. The subject matter is handled with both gentle, loving care and a huge dose of reality. Nothing is glossed over or treated in a light-hearted manner.
Becca is exceptionally well developed as is her Brookside friend, Kat. Roman, Becca’s boyfriend, is well rounded, too, but the rest of the cast is a bit sketchy. I never got a complete sense of Bobby or any members of Becca’s family.
This is where the book really shines. The author has created the world of Brookside with nurturing staff and realistic inhabitants that deal with their issues in believable ways.
Ending The ending is a satisfying conclusion, but fell a little flat. This isn’t a book that’s going to stick with me for months or even weeks after I finish it.
What Didn’t Work for Me 1. Lack of a traditional climax. There’s a big build-up to something between Bobby and Becca’s sister that doesn’t materialize in the manner promised, and there’s no real rising conflict or dark moment.
Top Things I Enjoyed About My Friends Are All Strange
1. Roman. One of the best book boyfriends ever. I love how his devotion to Becca never wavered. He’s always there for her.
2. Dante. Becca’s dreadlocked therapist is the perfect foil, forcing her to view her demons in a different light.
3. Mental illness. The author handles this touchy subject with heart and just the right amount of humor.
A wonderful story of teenage mental illness and one girl’s struggles with her own mind.
Disclaimer I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Book
Title: My Friends Are All Strange Author: M.C. Lesh Publisher: StoryRhyme.com Publishing Release Date: October 18, 2016 Pages: 230 Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars Links: Goodreads | Amazon
Author M.C. Lesh
About the Author California native Margaret Lesh lives in a narrow canyon populated by herds of wild burro and packs of coyote. The canyon is also populated with her creative, handsome husband, her feisty mother-in-law, her not-brave-at-all Border Collie, Echo, and sometimes her son (who is away at college. And she is not quite sure how that all happened so fast).
She writes books to entertain young and not-so-young readers as well as herself. She believes tacos are magic.
Pushing the Limits (Pushing the Limits #1) by Katie McGarry
Synopsis “I won’t tell anyone, Echo. I promise.” Noah tucked a curl behind my ear. It had been so long since someone touched me like he did. Why did it have to be Noah Hutchins? His dark brown eyes shifted to my covered arms. “You didn’t do that-did you? It was done to you?” No one ever asked that question. They stared. They whispered. They laughed. But they never asked.
So wrong for each other…and yet so right.
No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with “freaky” scars on her arms. Even Echo can’t remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal. But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo’s world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she’ll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.
My Review Pushing the Limits is intense. It covers dark elements, including mental illness, loss of family, the foster care system, and the high school microcosm. Echo is scarred with no memories of how she got that way. Her mother is bi-polar and is no longer allowed to see Echo. Echo’s beloved older brother died serving the country and her one goal (besides getting her memory back) is to get his classic muscle car running again. Living with her father and pregnant step-mother, Echo’s former babysitter, piles insult on to injury. Noah’s no better off. After losing both his parents in a car accident, he and his two younger brothers were put into the foster care system. After one particularly bad home, they were separated and Noah has only supervised visitation with his brothers. All he wants is to get his brothers back. There’s no way these two messed up kids should be together, and yet that’s exactly what happens with more angst and drama than any young adult book I’ve read in quite a while.
Plot There are really three plots, though the romance is the main plot, with the other two as strong subplots.The main plot is the romance between Noah and Echo. There’s a lot standing between these two finding happiness together, not the least of which is Noah’s brothers (subplot #1) and Echo’s memories (subplot #2). All three are expertly woven together.
Characters We get dual first-person point of view, and Echo and Noah are both well developed and well differentiated. Each has true growth that is in line with the characters the author has created. They’re both likeable and sympathetic, while still being far from perfect.
What Didn’t Work for Me
1. The pacing. The pacing was off in a few places, particularly the ending. I felt like once we had the climax, it took too many chapters to wrap up the loose ends. And there were places throughout the book where things slowed down too much for me. I found myself setting the book down and walking away from it, sometimes for days.
What I Enjoyed About Pushing the Limits 1. Echo. Everything from her name to her artistic nature makes her a heroine I can root for. 2. Noah. He’s everything a book boyfriend should be, from the way he cares about Echo to the way he’d sacrifice everything for his younger brothers. 3. The angst. Yeah, it’s my favorite kind of romance. 4. The ending. I love the way the story wrapped up. It’s not a perfect happily ever after, but it’s real and satisfying in all the best ways. 5. Family. Echo’s and Noah’s family situations couldn’t be more different and yet both were beautifully complex in their own ways, showing us that family comes in all shapes and sizes.
Bottom Line Pushing the Limits is a dark young adult romance with complex characters you can’t help rooting for.
About the Author Katie McGarry was a teenager during the age of grunge and boy bands and remembers those years as the best and worst of her life. She is a lover of music, happy endings, reality television, and is a secret University of Kentucky basketball fan.
Katie is the author of full length YA novels, PUSHING THE LIMITS, DARE YOU TO, CRASH INTO YOU, TAKE ME ON, BREAKING THE RULES, and NOWHERE BUT HERE and the e-novellas, CROSSING THE LINE and RED AT NIGHT. Her debut YA novel, PUSHING THE LIMITS was a 2012 Goodreads Choice Finalist for YA Fiction, a RT Magazine’s 2012 Reviewer’s Choice Awards Nominee for Young Adult Contemporary Novel, a double Rita Finalist, and a 2013 YALSA Top Ten Teen Pick. DARE YOU TO was also a Goodreads Choice Finalist for YA Fiction and won RT Magazine’s Reviewer’s Choice Best Book Award for Young Adult Contemporary fiction in 2013.
Synopsis An enchanting first novel about love, madness, and Kenny G.
The Silver Linings Playbook is the riotous and poignant story of how one man regains his memory and comes to terms with the magnitude of his wife’s betrayal.
During the years he spends in a neural health facility, Pat Peoples formulates a theory about silver linings: he believes his life is a movie produced by God, his mission is to become physically fit and emotionally supportive, and his happy ending will be the return of his estranged wife, Nikki.
When Pat goes to live with his parents, everything seems changed: no one will talk to him about Nikki; his old friends are saddled with families; the Philadelphia Eagles keep losing, making his father moody; and his new therapist seems to be recommending adultery as a form of therapy.
When Pat meets the tragically widowed and clinically depressed Tiffany, she offers to act as a liaison between him and his wife, if only he will give up watching football, agree to perform in this year’s Dance Away Depression competition, and promise not to tell anyone about their “contract.” All the while, Pat keeps searching for his silver lining.
In this brilliantly written debut novel, Matthew Quick takes us inside Pat’s mind, deftly showing us the world from his distorted yet endearing perspective. The result is a touching and funny story that helps us look at both depression and love in a wonderfully refreshing way.
My Review After the movie got such rave reviews, I knew I needed to read, or in this case listen to, the book before seeing the movie. I’ll admit, I had a tough time picture Bradley Cooper in the role of Pat Peoples, but I’m anxious to see him portray the troubled character. I had no trouble at all picturing Jennifer Lawrence as the dark and foul-mouthed Tiffany though. I didn’t want to have an expectations going into this story, so I never read the synopsis. I had no idea what the story was about. From the opening lines, I was sucked into Pat’s story. I had no idea what happened to him, why he was in “the bad place”, or even who Nikki was at first.
I never doubted that narrator, Ray Porter, was Pat. He so thoroughly became the character, realistically portraying emotions, doing amazing accents and voicing other characters, I became lost in the story and forgot I was listening to someone read a book rather than watching a movie. Matthew Quick’s debut novel is impressive, filled with well-developed characters, rich descriptions, and intense emotions that kept me riveted.
This is primarily a story about a man struggling with mental health. His overarching goal is to end “apart time” with his wife, Nikki, and show her how he’s become a better man. He knows she likes strong men, so he works out to the extreme, running, weight lifting, and doing sit-ups until he’s massively bulked-up and fit. It’s clear from the beginning that in addition to emotional issues, he’s got some mental problems. After being released from “the bad place”, he moves in with his parents and slowly pieces his life back together. He resumes relationships with his brother, his best childhood friend, and his mother, although his father is aloof. Through his friend, Ronny, he meets Tiffany, Ronny’s sister-in-law, and the two strike up an odd relationship that transforms both of them in unexpected ways. All of this unfolds against the backdrop of the Philadelphia Eagles football season, with the events ebbing and flowing with the wins and losses of the Eagles.
Characters The characters are simply amazing. Every single character, no matter how unimportant their role, comes across as three-dimensional, nuanced, and deep. Pat is exceptionally well done as is Tiffany. Pat’s parents, his therapist, even his friends. This is primarily a character-driven story, which is great, because the characters are living, breathing entities.
What Didn’t Work for Me 1. The pacing. At times, the pacing was too slow. Many events seemed to happen over and over and didn’t feel as if they were moving the story forward, but I was engaged enough, I was easily able to overlook them.
2. The ending. It felt rushed and almost incomplete. Although it wrapped up all the loose ends, I wanted just a little more.
What I Enjoyed About The Silver Linings Playbook
1. The characters. They are so thoroughly well developed, they easily carried the story through some of the slower sections.
2. Tiffany. I instantly loved her. Maybe it’s because she and I share the same vocabulary, but something about her just really struck a chord with me, and I was rooting for her right along with Pat.
3. Football. As an 18-year season ticket holder with the San Diego Chargers, I could really relate so much to the excitement of the games, rooting for your team, having a favorite player, and how a good or bad game can make or break your mood for days.
4. The narration. Narrator, Ray Porter, was phenomenal, bringing the characters to life. I’d listen to anything he narrates.
5. The themes. I love the idea of finding your own silver lining in any situation. Recently diagnosed with breast cancer, I’m constantly looking for silver linings every day. And finding them.
Bottom Line The Silver Linings Playbook is the story of mental illness, but also about hope and finding your own silver linings.
About the Audiobook
Title: The Silver Linings Playbook Author: Matthew Quick Release Date: October 9th 2008 Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc. Narrators: Ray Porter Length: 7 Hours 22 Minutes Genre: Contemporary Romance/Mental Health Story Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars Audio Production Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars Links: Goodreads | Audible | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Author Matthew Quick
About the Author Matthew Quick is the New York Times bestselling author of THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, which was made into an Oscar-winning film; THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW; LOVE MAY FAIL; and three young adult novels: SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR; BOY21; and FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages, received a PEN/Hemingway Award Honorable Mention, was an LA Times Book Prize finalist, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, a #1 bestseller in Brazil, and selected by Nancy Pearl as one of Summer’s Best Books for NPR. EVERY EXQUISITE THING will be published in 2016. All of his books have been optioned for film.
Matthew spent the first few years of his life in Philadelphia before being raised just across the Delaware River in Oaklyn, New Jersey. He graduated from Collingswood High School (class of 1992) and La Salle University (class of 1996), where he double-majored in English and secondary education. He taught high school literature and film in southern New Jersey for several years, during which he coached soccer and basketball, chaperoned trips to Peru and Ecuador, initiated a pen-pal exchange with students in Namibia, and counseled troubled teens.
In 2004 Matthew made the difficult decision to leave teaching and write full time. He received his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Goddard College in 2007 and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from La Salle University in 2013. He lives with his wife, novelist/pianist Alicia Bessette, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.