Categotry Archives: Realistic

The Weight of Zero

The Weight of Zero Book Cover The Weight of Zero
Karen Fortunati
Juvenile Fiction
Delacorte Press
October 11, 2016

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Pulaski knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine's bipolar disorder, almost triumphed once; that was her first suicide attempt. Being bipolar is forever. It never goes away. The med du jour might work right now, but Zero will be back for her. It's only a matter of time. And so, in an old ballet-shoe box, Catherine stockpiles medications, preparing to take her own life before Zero can inflict its living death on her again. Before she goes, though, she starts a short bucket list. The bucket list, the support of her family, new friends, and a new course of treatment all begin to lessen Catherine's sense of isolation. The problem is, her plan is already in place, and has been for so long that she might not be able to see a future beyond it. This is a story of loss and grief and hope, and how some of the many shapes of love--maternal, romantic, and platonic--affect a young woman's struggle with mental illness and the stigma of treatment.



“The Weight of Zero” is an accurate portrayal of what life with mental illness is like for teenagers.

Catherine, the main character, has bipolar disorder.  Her struggle to accept it and find a way to live with it is the driving plot of the book.  There are no miracle cures and romance won’t “cure” her.  It is easily one of the most accurate portrayals of mental illness in YA literature that I have ever read.  It’s also a very easy read in spite of the grit.

I recommend “The Weight of Zero” for anyone looking for a realistic portrayal of mental illness.  It would be a good discussion starter between parents and their children, as well.

This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Suicidal Thoughts

Lucy and Linh

Lucy and Linh Book Cover Lucy and Linh
Alice Pung
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
September 6, 2016


Lucy is a bit of a pushover, but she’s ambitious and smart, and she has just received the opportunity of a lifetime: a scholarship to a prestigious school, and a ticket out of her broken-down suburb. Though she’s worried she will stick out like badly cut bangs among the razor-straight students, she is soon welcomed into the Cabinet, the supremely popular trio who wield influence over classmates and teachers alike.

Linh is blunt, strong-willed, and fearless—everything Lucy once loved about herself. She is also Lucy’s last solid link to her life before private school, but she is growing tired of being eclipsed by the glamour of the Cabinet.

As Lucy floats further away from the world she once knew, her connection to Linh—and to her old life—threatens to snap. Sharp and honest, Alice Pung’s novel examines what it means to grow into the person you want to be without leaving yourself behind.

Originally published in Australia by Black Inc. in 2014 under title: Laurinda.



I think that my intense dislike of “Lucy and Linh” may be a case of it being “it’s not you, it’s me.”  For that reason I bumped up the stars from two to three.

I really did want to like the book.  The story of a poor immigrant trying to assimilate in a private school full of spoiled rich girls seemed interesting.  Not to mention, a diverse book!  It seemed so full of promise.  In reality, I found myself with an almost immediate dislike of Lucy that only increased as I kept reading.  It didn’t help that the plot seemed to move at a crawl.

I’m going to stop there because I believe some readers may really enjoy “Lucy and Linh,” and I don’t want to discourage anyone who reads the description and wants to give it a try from picking it up.  In short:  Your Mileage May Vary.

This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.


Content Warning:

Language, Very Minor Sexual Talk, Bullying, Racial Slurs

The Lost and the Found

The Lost and the Found Book Cover The Lost and the Found
Cat Clarke
Crown Books For Young Readers
September 13, 2016

When six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, the only witness was her younger sister, Faith. Since then, Faith’s childhood has revolved around her sister’s disappearance—from her parents’ broken marriage and the constant media attention, to dealing with so-called friends who only ever want to talk about her missing sister.

Now, thirteen years later, a young woman is found in the front yard of the Logans’ old house, disoriented and clutching the teddy bear Laurel was last seen with. Can her sister finally be back? Faith always dreamed of her sister coming home; she just never believed it would happen. But soon a disturbing series of events leaves Faith increasingly isolated from her family and paranoid about her sister’s motives. Before long, Faith begins to wonder if it’s the abduction that’s changed her sister, or if it’s something else. . . .

Originally published in the United Kingdom by Quercus in 2015.



“The Lost and the Found” is a contemporary thriller about a kidnapped girl coming home that managed to hold my attention and keep me flipping the pages until it was finished.

The story of Faith and her sister Laurel, who was kidnapped at age 6, revolves around Faith’s feelings after her sister returns home.  I found it interesting to think about how a sibling would feel given the situation.  Faith was both likable and frustrating in the ways that any teenager can be, and it felt like her reactions would be common in the situation.  The book had a steady pace that built up to a conclusion that was both predictable and not predictable.  I only had one problem, and that was with a resolution to a subplot that seemed completely out-of-character and rushed, as though it were an afterthought.

“The Lost and the Found” will be of interest to older young adults and adults who enjoy a quick reading contemporary thriller that has some substance and bite.

This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.


Content Warning:

Language, Somewhat Graphic Sexual Situations, Violence, Sexual Abuse

The Cabin

The Cabin
Natasha Preston
Sourcebooks Fire
September 6, 2016

A New York Times Bestseller!

There may only be one killer, but no one is innocent in this new young adult thriller from Natasha Preston, author of The Cellar, a New York Times Bestseller, and Awake

They think they're invincible.
They think they can do and say whatever they want.
They think there are no consequences.
They've left me no choice.
It's time for them to pay for their sins.

A weekend partying at a remote cabin is just what Mackenzie needs. She can't wait to let loose with her friends. But a crazy night of fun leaves two of them dead-murdered.

With no signs of a forced entry or struggle, suspicion turns to the five survivors. Someone isn't telling the truth. And Mackenzie's first mistake? Assuming the killing is over...



“The Cabin” was a solid four-star thriller up until the very end.  That doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable in a B horror movie sort of way.

The characters are the stereotypical mix that you come to expect from horror movies and fun, fast reading thrillers.  There were some plot surprises and enough creepy things to give you some chills.  Just.  The ending.  I can’t quite forgive that one.

Overall, “The Cabin” is a fun read for the Halloween season or any other time you’re feeling like a fun and breezy thriller.

This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.


Content Warning:

Language, Sexual Situations, Violence

My Own Dear Brother

My Own Dear Brother
Holly Müller
Bloomsbury USA
October 11, 2016

It is 1944, and war has taken the men in Nazi-controlled Austria to the front line. For thirteen-year-old Ursula Hildesheim, life in the village of Felddorf remains almost as it was: bullied by her schoolmates, enlisted in endless chores by her mother and sister, thieving, and running wild with her adored older brother, Anton.

But then Russian prisoners escape from the local concentration camp, her mother starts an affair with a married man, her only friend goes missing, and her brother's allegiance to the Hitler Youth emerges in shocking ways--and Ursula finds herself alone, disturbed by dark memories, and surrounded by threat.

In this new world of conflict, Ursula discovers a bravery she has never known before and is forced to recognize that danger comes not only from the enemy at the door but from the enemy within.

My Own Dear Brother is a remarkable coming-of-age story and an unflinching study of both cruelty and courage. Rich in folklore, it introduces a daring young heroine and a powerful new literary voice.



I’m not even sure how to express my feelings toward “My Own Dear Brother.”  It is easily one of the best and most educational young adult books about World War II and the Holocaust that I have ever read – and I have read A LOT.

Perhaps what makes it so unforgettable is the focus on what is so often overlooked in fictional literature about the time period.  It focuses on the lives of those in countries controlled by Nazi Germany, in this case Austria, as well as what was done to those suffering various forms of disabilities. Every day life is explored, including the Nazi Youth, fears of local residents of “The Party,” and the divisions found even amongst close-knit families.

Ursula and her family and friends, as well as many of the townspeople, are so thoroughly developed that it felt as though I knew them.  Their struggles, pain, and laughter felt real.  The plot is steady, but takes the time to meander and really show how things were.  Nothing was black and white or simplified.  Beware though, this is not for the faint of heart.  As can be reasonably expected, there are racial slurs, brutality, and a total disrespect for human life.  There is also an animal death that is extremely crucial to the plot.

I cannot recommend “My Own Dear Brother” enough to those who enjoy reading about history and learning new points of view.  It’s best for high schoolers and adults and would be a valuable asset in classrooms.

This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.


Content Warning:

Language, Sexual Situations, Violence, Racial Slurs, Domestic Violence, Disturbing Themes, Animal Abuse

Girl in Pieces

Girl in Pieces Book Cover Girl in Pieces
Kathleen Glasgow
Delacorte Press
August 30, 2016

As she struggles to recover and survive, seventeen-year-old homeless Charlotte "Charlie" Davis cuts herself to dull the pain of abandonment and abuse.



I’m not even going to try to properly review “Girl in Pieces” aside from saying that it is a difficult read about such topics as mental illness, cutting, horrific abuse, and homelessness.  It’s all presented in a type of journal format and leaves the reader feeling unsettled – as it should.  This novel would make a good jumping point for conversations between parents and teenagers.

This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Cutting, Sexual Abuse, Child Abuse

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things Book Cover All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
Bryn Greenwood
Thomas Dunne Books
August 9, 2016

As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy, a strong-willed girl of ethereal beauty, knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It's safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, Wavy finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold. Surrounded by addicts and a culture of debauchery, their relationship doesn't set off any alarms until Wavy's parents are murdered and a well-meaning aunt steps in. Facing a charge of statutory rape, Kellen may not be completely innocent, but he's the one stable companion Wavy and Donal have. Instead of playing it safe, Wavy has to learn to fight for Kellen, for her brother, and for herself.



“All the Ugly and Wonderful Things” was not a book that I actually enjoyed, but I had to give it four stars for the beauty of the writing and the solid plot.

This book is gritty and difficult.  Nothing in it is sugar-coated.  The character development is well-done and does not waver in continuity as the characters age.  There is an extremely uncomfortable age difference in it that deserves a warning.  It was a tough read all the way around.

If you’re looking for a light read, “All of the Ugly and Wonderful Things” is not for you.  If you’re looking for a book with teeth and can handle the subject matter, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

Curious Minds

Curious Minds Book Cover Curious Minds
Knight and Moon, Book 1
Janet Evanovich, Phoef Sutton,
August 16, 2016

Janet Evanovich, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series, teams up with Emmy-winning writer Phoef Sutton for a brand-new series of thrillers featuring charmingly eccentric Emerson Knight and professional go-getter Riley Moon.



“Curious Minds” was a fun, quick read that featured all of the humor and wit for which Janet Evanovich is known.  She and Phoef Sutton make a great writing team.

The new characters of Emerson Knight and Riley Moon are quite a bit different from others we have seen in previous series.  The quirkiness of Emerson is especially intriguing, and I can’t wait to read more about him.  They play well off of one another.  The plot moved fast and it can easily be read in a sitting or two.  There were a few sputters in character development, with few detailed background characters, but all of those can easily be fixed and filled in with the next installment.

I can easily recommend “Curious Minds” for any Janet Evanovich fan or for someone looking for a new humorous mystery series to enjoy.

This honest review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.


Content Warning:

As this is an adult book, there are no content warnings.

My Name Is Leon

My Name is Leon Book Cover My Name is Leon
Kit De Waal
Simon & Schuster
June 2, 2016

For fans of The Language of Flowers, a sparkling, big-hearted, page-turning debut set in the 1970s about a young black boy’s quest to reunite with his beloved white half-brother after they are separated in foster care.

Leon loves chocolate bars, Saturday morning cartoons, and his beautiful, golden-haired baby brother. When Jake is born, Leon pokes his head in the crib and says, “I’m your brother. Big brother. My. Name. Is. Leon. I am eight and three quarters. I am a boy.” Jake will play with no one but Leon, and Leon is determined to save him from any pain and earn that sparkling baby laugh every chance he can.

But Leon isn’t in control of this world where adults say one thing and mean another, and try as he might he can’t protect his little family from everything. When their mother falls victim to her inner demons, strangers suddenly take Jake away; after all, a white baby is easy to adopt, while a half-black nine-year-old faces a less certain fate. Vowing to get Jake back by any means necessary, Leon’s own journey—on his brand-new BMX bike—will carry him through the lives of a doting but ailing foster mother, Maureen; Maureen’s cranky and hilarious sister, Sylvia; a social worker Leon knows only as “The Zebra”; and a colorful community of local gardeners and West Indian political activists.

Told through the perspective of nine-year-old Leon, too innocent to entirely understand what has happened to him and baby Jake, but determined to do what he can to make things right, he stubbornly, endearingly struggles his way through a system much larger than he can tackle on his own. My Name Is Leon is a vivid, gorgeous, and uplifting story about the power of love, the unbreakable bond between brothers, and the truth about what, in the end, ultimately makes a family.



“My Name is Leon” is a difficult book to rate.  There are so many important elements but something lacking in the actual telling.

The heart of the story is Leon and his love for his brother, Jake.  Taken away from a neglectful mother, Leon is left to navigate the foster care system on his own.  One chapter was so heartbreaking that it had me sobbing.  The third person limited point-of-view is an interesting choice, and in some ways it worked, but I feel like it actually kept the reader distant from Leon at many pivotal points.  Since the main point was to show how he understood and saw his world, it was disappointing to feel so far removed from him.

The social issues facing minorities in the United Kingdom during the late 1970s/ early 1980s also featured prominently in the story.  With Leon being mixed race, he was a good character to show the reactions of both “sides.”  Since this is still a problem most countries are struggling with, it was very poignant.  However, it really muddled the foster care aspect of the plot.  I feel like too much was trying to be done in one novel, and that dragged both plotlines down.

I can neither recommend nor not recommend “My Name is Leon.”  If it sounds interesting to you, give it a try.

This honest review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.


Content Warning:

Language, Vague Sexual References, Violence, Alcohol Abuse, Racial Slurs


Gemini Book Cover Gemini
Sonya Mukherjee
Juvenile Fiction
Simon and Schuster
July 26, 2016

In a small town, as high school graduation approaches, two conjoined sisters must weigh the importance of their dreams as individuals against the risk inherent in the surgery that has the potential to separate them forever.



Actual rating: 3 1/5 stars

“Gemini” is a groundbreaking ya novel about conjoined twins.  It was an interesting read that took me beyond my preconceived notions.

Clara and Hailey are conjoined but as different as two people can be.  One is an artist and one is an astronomy genius.  Told in alternating viewpoints, it highlights how differently they think and see their situation.  Topics such as relationships and bullying are tackled, as well as the more mundane tasks in life that are more difficult for them, such as the act of sitting down.  One of my favorite aspects of the characters was that they were unapologetically presented as capable of being assholes at times.  Too many people think disabled people can’t be like that.  The angel phenomenon was nice to see broken.

I will say that the story seemed more suited to upper middle graders than older teens.  There is very little objectionable material and some of the situations can be ridiculous.  The ending is a good example of that.  That being said, it is still a fun read.

I can recommend “Gemini” to those looking for books about uncommon disabilities, somewhat light reads, and older middle graders.

This honest review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.


Content Warning:

Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Brief Mention of Underage Drinking