Sadie

Rating: 
Author: Courtney Summers
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub date: Sep. 4th, 2018 (read July 2018)

I have a copy of one of Courtney Summers other books, All the Rage, that’s been sitting on my shelf waiting for me for awhile, but I’ve been hearing a lot of hype about this book and St. Martin’s Press was so kind as to send me an advance electronic copy in exchange for an honest review, so I decided to read this one first.

As usual, I barely read the synopsis for this one and picked it up mostly based on the hype, so I went into this blind. Sadie is the story of 19 year old Sadie Hunter and her younger sister Mattie. The book starts with Sadie’s disappearance after Mattie is found murdered. The girls mother was a drug abuser and did little parenting of her two daughters. They grew up with their surrogate grandmother, May Beth, but Sadie ultimately took on the responsibility of raising Mattie. She loved her sister with every fibre of her being, even though Mattie sometimes drove her crazy, so her death tears Sadie apart.

Sadie believes she knows who murdered Mattie and runs away from their home in Cold Creek to find him. The story is told from two different perspectives and played a big role in why I liked this book. Half of the story is told from Sadie’s perspective, but the other half is the transcript of an 8-part podcast called the girls, narrated by journalist and radio personality, West McCray. I thought the podcast transcript was brilliant and totally set the scene for this book. I literally never listen to podcasts, but my partner does and this read just like Serial, which I’ve heard him listening to on occasion, and reminded me of the old town crime mystery documentaries that I used to watch on TLC growing up.

So we get two very different perspectives from this novel. Sadie’s perspective is deeply personal and emotional. She is very much a girl who’s entire world has been torn apart and she starts to damn the consequences in her desperation to find her sister’s killer. Then there’s the other perspective from West McCray, who is more clinical about Sadie’s disappearance and is always two steps behind Sadie as he tries to track her down (side note: I know West is a man, but for some reason I pictured him as a woman throughout almost my entire reading. Anyone else get that vibe?). I thought that both narratives were incredibly strong and together made this a strong novel. Most of the double narrative books I read are split timeline historical fiction novels and I almost always find the modern day timeline boring compared to the historical one, but with this book, I found both narratives extremely compelling. Sadie’s story had depth and McCray’s was intriguing. I just felt so transported during every “podcast episode” that I couldn’t help but love it. Plus it was different from anything else I’ve read.

That said, parts of this book are tough to read. “Girls disappear all the time”. It’s a sad statement, but a true one. There is child abuse in this novel and Summers tackles some disturbing topics. I appreciated though that while Summers didn’t hold back the punches, she’s not graphic. “I’ve decided the gruesome details of what was uncovered.. will not be a part of this show,.. it’s violence and brutality do not exist for your entertainment.” Many books and shows are needlessly gratuitous when it comes to describing violence, so I’m glad she left it out. What she’s not afraid to tackle though are Sadie’s brutal thoughts. She shocked me several times, but she was determined that no one else suffer what she and her sister suffered, even if she had to destroy herself in the process.

The ending killed me. I won’t give any spoilers. It’s brutal, but it’s also exactly how it should be. I flew through this book in a single long weekend camping trip and I would definitely recommend it. I’m feeling a bit more of an itch now to finally pick up my copy of All the Rage.

Sadie’s publish date is Sept. 4th, 2018 if you want to pick up a copy!

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The Great Alone

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: Feb. 2018 (read Jun. 2018)

The Great Alone has been haunting my shelf since it first came out and I finally found time to read it as part of my June Challenge to read 3 historical novels. I read The Nightingale in 2015 and while I did like it a lot, I’ve read a lot of WWII historical fiction and had a bit of fatigue reading that genre. The Great Alone has the most gorgeous cover though (don’t pretend it doesn’t matter) and I was intrigued by a story about Alaska and a POW.

I’m so glad I finally read this because it was seriously a pleasure to read from start to finish, even though it broke my heart and tossed me into the pits of despair. The Great Alone has some of the most gorgeous writing and Kristin Hannah breathed so much life into her setting and her characters. Setting is key for this story and the author did a magnificent job a creating a sense of place. Sometimes too much descriptive imagery can bog a story down, but Hannah’s writing made me fall totally in love with a place I’ve never even been.

Alaska in the 1970’s is the last frontier of America. A place where no one really cares who you are or where you came from. A place where everyone is running to something or from something. A place where 5 of every 1,000 people goes missing and is never found. Where you’re only allowed to make one mistake, because the second one will kill you.

Ernt Albright returns from the Vietnam War a broken man. His plane crashed and he was captured early into his tour and spent years being tortured in a POW camp. When he finally returns to his family, he is broken and disillusioned with America. He was in love with his country when he signed up to go to Vietnam, but now all he can see is an America that no longer represents him – corrupt politicians and blind citizens. Between the Watergate scandal and the young girls going missing in Washington, Ernt Albright feels the whole world is just going to shit.

In his frustration, Ernt becomes an angry and volatile man, moving his family all over America before inheriting a cabin in Alaska from his late friend from Vietnam. In a last bid to find peace, he packs up his life and moves his wife, Cora, and their 13 year old daughter, Leni, to Kaneq Town in Alaska.

They arrive in Alaska in the Spring and are enchanted by the landscape. The days are long and Ernt finally has a purpose – repairing the decrepit old cottage and learning how to survive. Leni has never really had a place that she could call home, but something about Alaska calls to her. This is the great alone, where you can be whoever you want to be. There’s a real sense of community – trade is a currency and in a place where survival is all that matters, the neighbours band together to look after each other.

I’ve been living in BC for the last 5 years, and while I know it’s a lot a different than Alaska, I have become totally enamoured with the landscape here, the mountains and lakes. I spend most of my free time in the summer hiking and camping in the mountains. I also grew up in Newfoundland, which again, has little in common with Alaska, but is more remote and you spend a lot of your year suffering through a dark winter. I know the Alaskans wouldn’t be impressed with my measly camping skills when living off the land is their life, but I did feel like I could totally relate with their love of place, even though 8 months of the year that place is trying to kill you.

The author does a fantastic job with the imagery and making you fall in love with Alaska when the Allbright’s first arrive. The days are long and the flowers are in bloom, what’s not to love about Alaska. For the first time in her life, Leni sees a place where they might actually be able to be a happy family. The sun drives away Ernt’s nightmares and being responsible for your own subsistence gives them all a purpose. Plus, Leni makes her first real friend. There’s only 6 students in the tiny school in Kaneq, but Matthew Walker is 13 too and for the first time, they both have a real friend to spend time with. Matthew is the third generation of the Walker family to grow up in Alaska and he shares his love of the land with Leni and they become very close.

However, at the same time that Hannah’s writing has you falling in love with Alaska, there’s this feeling of darker things lurking on the horizon. The townspeople seem to be obsessed with winter. After school lets out, the entire summer is devoted to preparing for a long a dark winter and Leni and her family work from dawn til dusk every day doing their best to prepare. They must til the land, grow a garden, smoke and can salmon, and most important, bag a moose to see them through the long winter. And as the days start to get shorter, the long nights bring the return of Ernt’s nightmares. His temper gets shorter and Leni begins to realize that what can kill her outside the house may be second to what lurks inside their own home.

I think I could talk forever about this book. I thought it was a little slow moving at the beginning, but it didn’t hurt my enjoyment. I learned a lot about Alaska and survival, which I found just as enthralling as the character development and conflict that came later. There’s a lot going on in this book and Kristin Hannah created some truly wonderful characters. It’s hard to read about Ernt and Cora and their volatile love, as well as the heartbreak that befalls the Walker family early in the novel. But I loved watching the relationships grow. The relationships between Leni and her mother and Leni and Matthew are beautiful, as well as the relationships that develop between Leni and her mother with secondary characters like Large Marge and Tom Walker (I love both of these characters!)

This is a coming of age story for Leni and it is wrought with secrets and heartbreak. Leni loves both her parents, but she also knows they are bad for one another and she struggles to understand their love or to follow her mother’s policy of silence. Tom Walker has money and wants to invest it in the community, to promote tourism in their little piece of the world. But Ernt is opposed to change in any form and the two men find themselves at odds with one another and Ernt’s opinions threaten to tear the community apart. Leni’s friendship with Matthew and her fear of her father cause her to get caught in the middle. What matters more, her family or her future.

Like I said, this book tore my heart right out of my chest and stomped all other it. It is deeply sad, but it also makes you feel so much. It’s about the strength of women and the power of community. How some loves are good and important, but others are toxic and dangerous. There doesn’t have to be shame in our deepest, darkest secrets and that sometimes sharing them with someone else can be incredibly powerful. We don’t always have to carry our burdens alone.

This book also shines a light on some of the inequities of the past and how they still exist today. The law is not very accommodating of battered women. This hasn’t really changed. Leaving bad relationships can be the hardest thing and can sometimes even be more dangerous than staying in a bad relationship. Without help for women, sometimes there is no escape. This book will break your heart, but it will also give you that righteous anger about the way women are treated and tricked within the legal system. How in the 70’s women couldn’t even get their own credit card without a male signatory, so how are they supposed to make it on their own? But the Great Alone has some powerful characters and I loved watching Leni grow and find herself. She was forced into some tough decisions, but Alaska taught her to survive against things tougher than just nature.

I can see how this book might not be for everyone, but I absolutely loved it and now I’m dying to go visit Alaska. Recommend to everyone!

Brown Girl Dreaming

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Genres: Poetry, Young Adult, Childrens
Pub Date: Jan. 2014 (Read April 2018)

Thanks for sticking around everyone! I’ve been travelling around Vietnam for the past 3 weeks, so my book reading has been a little slow, but I have several books to update you on now!

I did accomplish my April Reading Challenge, which was to read 3 award winning books. Brown Girl Dreaming was the last book I read right before I went on holiday, but I didn’t get a chance to write a review before I left, so please forgive me for already starting to forget a bit about this book, but I’ll do my best to review!

I really enjoyed reading this book. I thought this was a fictional book about growing up in the south (written in prose), but I was excited to discover its actually a non-fictional account of the authors childhood! I’m sure some is partially fabricated and written through other people’s memories (the author is very young for some of the experiences). But it is indeed written in prose and it was a joy to read.

Jacqueline Woodson was born in Ohio, spent several years living with her mom and grandparents in South Carolina, before her mother moved her and her siblings to New York. Brown Girl Dreaming tells of her childhood and her relationships with her mother, grandparents, and siblings. Her older sister was a voracious reader who did very well in school, while Jacqueline struggled in school but discovered a deep love of writing and storytelling. As a child she is frustrated by the injustices she sees around her and develops a hunger to see and create change.

It’s not really the story I was expecting, but I really liked the way it was told. I’ve been reading more prose and poetry lately and I thought this was a fantastic medium through which to tell her story. It’s a quick read, but wonderful!

The Authentics

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Abdi Nazemian
Narrator: Kyla Garcia
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Aug. 2017 (Read Mar. 2018 as an Audiobook)

I am tearing it up with audiobooks this month! Granted this one was half the length of the audiobooks I usually listen to, but still.

I admit, after listening to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, I totally did a search on the narrator Kyla Garcia and found that she’d narrated another book on my TBR, which is the main reason why I decided to read The Authentics. Garcia did a fantastic job narrating this book as well, but sadly this was not on the same level as I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.

This is young adult literature that definitely reads like young adult. I usually don’t have any trouble reading YA because there are some really great YA authors out there who tells stories that have a lot of depth and themes that are applicable to everyone, not just teenagers. This book definitely still had themes that anyone could enjoy, but the story felt pretty juvenille. It actually has a pretty surprising twist early in the novel that I would have been completely pissed about if I was Daria, but in my opinion this book was missing the emotion. It lacked tension and grit and I feel like the author was afraid to go there and instead wrote more of a “feel-good” family novel. There’s nothing wrong with “feel-good”, but I thought this story had a lot of potential and it just lacked impact and execution.

Daria is a 15 year old Iranian-American teenager. She was born in America and has never been to Iran, but she is very proud of her culture and her and her friends, who come from very diverse backgrounds, do their best to always “be authentic”. This all changes when their English teacher challenges them to do a presentation about their heritage and Daria learns something shocking about her family’s past. Daria begins to question everything she thought she knew about herself and her parents and finds it increasingly difficult to be authentic.

I don’t want to give anything more away about the story. There’s several different plots throughout the novel between Daria’s feud with her former best friend, her conflict with her family, and a new love interest, but I thought they were all mediocre and pretty surface level. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I like to give teenagers a bit more credit than I think the author does in this book. Everything about Daria’s fight with Heidi felt childish and the romantic relationship made me cringe. Teenagers have more depth than this and the whole thing just felt lacking.

That said, I really did enjoy the opportunity to read about Iranian culture and I do believe that diverse stories like this need to be told and are incredibly important. I just really wanted more from this. It may be unfair to keep comparing it to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, but it’s hard not to when they deal with a lot of similar themes (the daughter that can’t live up to their immigrant mother’s expectations) and the latter was so much better written and had so much more depth.

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Kim Fu
Genres: Fiction
Read: Mar. 2018

Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This was a really interesting read. The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore just came out in February and it already has a bit of a lowish rating on goodreads, which is usually a deterrent for me, but I’m obsessed with camping and I was really intrigued by the premise, so I decided to go ahead with it anyways.

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore tells the story of 5 girls around ages 10-12 who attend a sleep-away camp in Washington State. The girls are from all over the region, including British Columbia. The highlight of the camp is supposed to be an overnight kayaking trip to a remote island, but this kayak trip goes horribly awry and leaves the girls stranded on an island. The book tells the story of what happened to the girls, while simultaneously flashing forward in each of the girls lives to see how they later fared.

The structure of this story was really interesting. Throughout the main story of what happened at Camp Forevermore, we get a short story for each of the girls future lives. These stories don’t really reference what happened at camp and in my opinion could each be viewed as separate short stories, but generally examine how they might have been affected by what happened on that fateful kayaking trip.

Because of this, the novel read more like a collection of short stories to me, but I didn’t mind it because each sub-story felt fully formed and realized and the writing was really beautiful. It didn’t deliver on what I was expecting from this book, but it was still a really nice piece of writing, so I didn’t mind. I think Kim Fu got the atmosphere of the story just right and I think the cover perfectly reflects that atmosphere too.

My complaint would be that it was a bit short. I was really into the main story at Forevermore and I would have liked to see this part of the novel developed a little more. It had a bit of a Lord of the Flies vibe and explored how children act and develop when left alone in stressful situations without adult support and I would have liked to see these themes explored in a little more depth and a bit better tied in with the futures of each girl. I also thought it was a weird choice to tell Kayla’s story instead of Andee’s. Andee is one of the 5 girls on the island, why tell her sister’s story instead of hers? I didn’t really get why the author choose to do this and was one of the reasons I thought the flash forwards could also work as short stories, since some of them seemed to have very little to do with what actually happened at camp.

Overall though, I did really like this, which goes to show you can’t always trust the goodreads ratings. I thought the writing was strong and the story was beautifully told. It’s a bit of a slow-burn novel, but it worked in this context. Plus I love supporting Canadian authors!