☕ Book Break ☕ |~Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven~

~Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven~

“We’re all weird and damaged in our own way. You’re not the only one.” 

Libby Strout was once named “America’s Fattest Teen” but now she has gotten healthy enough to go to public school. Jack Masselin has no shortage of friends. But he has a secret, he’s face blind.

Prosopagnosia produces a great deal of stress and anxiety, and Jack keeps his problem hidden. It makes him look like a jerk much of the time. Libby had to be cut out of her house once, so she has her own issues she’d rather not bring into the spotlight. The two end up falling for each other.

I loved Libby’s outlook on life. She is determined to make the best of life. It took me a while to warm up to Jack. By the end, I felt for him.

The story idea is fantastic, and the portrayal of prosopagnosia was interesting. Libby’s plight broke my heart. Plenty of teenage introspection. Well written. It did seem to be heavy on the profanity, which I found distracting. Still, never once did I feel like abandoning the story, and the end was satisfying.

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas~

~The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas~

“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.” “What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Sixteen year old Starr is a witness to a police shooting. It is the second time she has watched a friend die from being shot. Starr must choose between silence or speaking out, putting herself, her family, and her community in danger.

This is a must read book. Emotionally charged, this book draws a clear picture of the experiences and point of view of too many of our citizens. I think it can help readers understand what is going on in our society today. Deeply thought-provoking, this novel is one I highly recommend. .
The first time I picked this book up I only read a couple of pages before putting it back down without ever reading the book description. This was before it became popular. I’m glad I revisited it. This one makes me think I should probably not be so quick in my book selections.

Finely crafted, important work. Recommended.

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☕ Book Break ☕ | Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

~Turtles All The Way Down by John Green~

Fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett is nowhere to be found. Sixteen year old Aza and her best friend Daisy  would not pursue the mystery but for the hundred-thousand-dollar reward.

Beautiful and authentic. It’s all there, the teen struggles, the deep thinking, and the authenticity. John Green knows how to write YA.

I liked the mystery of a missing billionaire and the reward for anyone who found him. A slow romance unfolds between Aza and Davis, the missing billionaire’s son. The friendship between Daisy and Aza show what it’s like to be friends with a girl like Aza, who suffers from sometimes crippling anxiety.

The mental health aspect of the character is treated with understanding. The portrayal felt real to me, to the point I would caution those with anxiety or OCD. The descriptions could be triggering.

It felt like a quick read. In comparing it to TFIOS, they are different books so I can’t say I like one better than the other.

I put this one in the worth rereading pile.

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Book Review|Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

“Everything’s a risk. Not doing anything is a risk. It’s up to you”

“Just because you can’t experience everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience anything.”

“One thing I’m certain of: wanting just leads to more wanting. There’s no end to desire.”

Maddy is allergic to the world and has spent her entire life isolated. Vigilantly protected by her physician mother and her private nurse, Maddy has no interaction with the outside world. Enter the cute, funny, new next-door neighbor boy.

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon is a young adult novel written in first person present tense and moves along at a fast pace. I liked Yoon’s writing style and the story hook.

I was surprised at how short this book felt. It was a quick, easy read, except for moments of unbelievability that broke the flow of the story. I kept tripping over inconsistencies and had to  re-read passages. Olly, Maddy’s love interest, is a character I enjoyed reading about. He is cute, funny, and has his own baggage. The interplay between the two characters unfolds beautifully and the romance hits just the right note.

I liked the message of the need to take risks and to live your own life. While I could not connect with the main character, I think many young teen girls relate to Maddy and the idea of being confined or isolated, kept apart from the things they desire. What teenager doesn’t feel as if they are somehow outside of the norm?

 

I had to wonder what happened to all of Maddy’s friends. There was a mention of her online friends, and then we never hear from them. In Maddy’s situation, I would assume she would be in online support groups. It seemed a stretch that Maddy bought into her mother’s delusion without question. With a minimum of research, Maddy would have been able to figure out the inconsistencies and become suspicious that she was not really sick. I felt the nurse should have caught on as well, so this part of the story didn’t work for me.

The idea that someone who is ill lives a life completely separated as bubble people from the world and will never find love is annoying. In the story, Maddy is doomed until we find out that she is not really disabled. All along the illness has been a figment of her mother’s imagination. Maddy is “normal” and therefore now she can have a “normal” relationship with the boy she loves. I didn’t care for the message here.  I would make sure to point this out to my teen if they read this book, and affirm that people who have medical conditions or disabilities often find love. I would have rather seen them find a way to overcome, instead of the solution being that illness did not exist.

The teen romance is well written, and the conflict between parent and child echoes typical relationship issues. I read the book in one evening. The storyline was interesting and my attention never flagged. You might like this book if you enjoy short, contemporary teen romances.

 

Issues of concern

Profanity, sex, deception, illness, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, Munchhausen syndrome, mental illness.

 

 

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To The Bone Netflix Movie Review

The Netflix film To The Bone is a drama that brings attention to the problem of eating disorders.

Nearly every book or movie about an eating disorder can be triggering for those who struggle with these issues. Use common sense and caution if this is a problem for you or your family member.

In To The Bone, the main character, Ellen, is given one last chance to get herself together. Her stepmother has enrolled her in an unconventional away from home treatment program.

Ellen has a love interest, a quirky male ballet dancer, Luke, who is also at the treatment center for anorexia. To fill out the group at the center, there are a few other anorexic girls and one binge eater. Ellen’s family life is complicated. She lives with her father, stepmother, Susan, and half-sister, Liana. The only good relationship that Ellen seems to have among her family members is with her half-sister. The father is never seen onscreen, leaving his wife to handle Ellen and her problems. Ellen’s mother, Judy,  lives in another city with her partner, Olive.

I felt the setup for the movie  was a bit stereotypical. The main character is a white female with obvious family issues and plenty of money to spend on treatment centers. Eating disorders affect people from all walks of life and this film did not represent those people. Even so, this movie is useful to educate in an entertaining way. The characters caught my attention and kept it to the end. I was left wanting to know more of their stories.

I liked the dark humor and the drama keep me watching. In the scene where her half sister asked Ellen to play a game, guessing the total calorie count on the plate without looking it up I had a bit of a flashback. During my junior high days and beyond, counting calories was a given for most girls as it is today. If think about it, I can still easily tally calories. I felt a certain affinity with her when she kept feeling her arm to see if her fingers would reach around for forearm. Did you do that in junior high?

Today, recognizing an eating disorder as an addiction may be a common reaction, but that was not the case when I was a teen and young adult. To The Bone draws attention to this problem and  attempts to broaden our understanding.

To The Bone takes us through a small part of one person’s journey. In the end, Ellen gathers her courage, surrenders, and takes charge of her own healing, and recognizes that she is never really alone. We are  left rooting for Ellen  to be successful in her quest for healing and health. There is a romantic element left unresolved as well, although the film ends on a note of hope. If To The Bone was made into a series I would want to check it out.

As a young girl and teen I had my own struggles with image and weight, alternately denying myself food and binging. I couldn’t starve out the pain, or cover it with fat. By the grace of God I found people who helped me find acceptance and emotional healing before it could develop into something worse. According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders approximately eight million people suffer with eating disorders. I’m not sure what the answer is, but pretending it doesn’t exist will certainly not help anyone.

Maybe, for your family, Netflix’s To The Bone can be a starting point to begin an important conversation.

This film is rated MA for mature audiences. If your teen is watching this film, I recommend you watch it with them and talk about the topic.

Contains profanity, irreverent humor, smoking, eating disorders, alcohol, family issues.

It was disturbing to think that Lily Collins, who plays Ellen and has an eating disorder herself, had lost weight for this role.  She talks about the weight loss for her role in this interview.

 

If you or someone you love has an eating disorder you can get help at or help at the National Eating Disorders website here or call the National Eating Disorders Helpline at (800) 931-2237.

Watch the trailer for Netflix’s To The Bone.

Did you watch? What did you think? Do you have any other films or books on eating disorders you recommend?

 

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Book Review| Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Book Review | Imaginary Girls

by Nova Ren Suma

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma is a bit of a departure for me.

Ruby is the town darling and everyone wants to be her friend. Chloe is her younger sister. One night the teenagers of the town are partying and at Ruby’s urging, Chloe attempts to swim across the reservoir. In the darkness Chloe comes across a boat and discovers the body of her classmate, London. Chloe leaves town to go stay with her father. After two years, Ruby wants her sister to come home. Chloe returns to find London alive and well. Somehow, Ruby, who always gets her way, is involved.

I chose this book based on a recommendation by my library without really knowing what it was. Imaginary Girls is a novel about two sisters caught up in a paranormal mystery. The story is a haunting one. At first, I was a bit leery of it because suspense is not usually my thing, but two pages in I was hooked.

In this novel, it’s difficult to tell what is real and what is not. The prose is magnificent. This twisted tale of tragedy unfolds in a series of surreal events. Imaginary Girls leaves you slightly unbalanced, guessing right up to the end.

I recently re-read I Am The Cheese and perhaps it primed me for this type of story. Perhaps it’s been a while since I heard a good ghost story. This novel reminded me of how much I loved to spin, and hear, a good campfire tale. In any case, this story caught  my interest and held it to the last page. 

The story is told from the younger sister’s point of view. The characterization of the sisters and their relationship is a fascinating exploration of obsession. This novel combines a complicated sisterly bond with the strange other-worldliness of a dark, fantastical world and lyrical prose.

Imaginary Girls is rich in its characters and prose. It is not a fast-paced book, but is absorbing and intense. I do believe at one point in the book I actually shivered picturing the water of the reservoir. There is an eerie twilight zone vibe to this story.

Be forewarned, the characters in this novel do not behave well. There is much language. Imaginary Girls is for mature teens. If your teen is reading this book, I suggest you read it as well and discuss the issues and themes in the book.

Sex, drugs, alcohol abuse, death, language.

 

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Book Review|Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

Set in 2030, Free to Fall by Lauren Miller is a young adult dystopian novel in which “The Doubt”, a small inner voice, is labeled as mental illness and medicated away in those who cannot ignore it. In this world, nearly everyone has an app on their phone called Lux. Lux keeps track of all data and helps the user with every decision, major to minor. This setting is ripe for the unfolding tale of high tech social engineering.

Sixteen year old Aurora “Rory” Vaughn is accepted to Theden Academy, an exclusive college prep boarding school. Rory and her friends are addicted to social media, selfies, and coffee. 

The characters struggle with the typical teen issues ranging from dieting to dating, as well as the school work load you would expect at a private prep school. Secret societies, teen angst, conspiracies, mysteries, betrayal, and romance keep the action flowing while the characters grapple with moral questions brought up in Free to Fall. I liked the allusions and themes from The Bible and Paradise Lost woven throughout.

The first time I read Free to Fall, I was stuck by the eerie parallel of current social behaviors and the technological advances we have made that make this imagined world a little too plausible for comfort.

Highly recommended for teens and up. This is an excellent book for discussion.

Some language, kissing, intimacy and heavy petting (not graphic), secret society, simulated death and violence, mind control, drinking, death of parents

Click here for a discussion guide for Free to Fall with Bible verse references from Embracing the Detour.

Visit Lauren Miller’s author website here. 

Watch the trailer for Free to Fall.

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Netflix Series Review| Anne With an E

I wanted to love the new Netflix series, Anne with an E, and it is a good show, but since I am a big Anne of Green Gables fan, my expectations were high. At our house, Anne of Green Gables was our go to movie for slumber parties. This Netflix version is definitely not that happy little girl movie of my daughter’s childhood.

I liked this series, but it left me feeling as if a huge part of the story was missing.

I discovered the CBC 1985 adaptation of Anne of Green Gables on PBS during the wee morning hours of caring for a newborn. All of my children have been raised on the series. Eager to see what new writers might do, I attempted to put aside my feelings for my old favorite.

The first two episodes had me crying over Anne’s plight and ready to watch more. By the fourth episode, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good show, but I’m not sure this is one worth revisiting year after year as in the case of the earlier 1985 Anne Of Green Gables adaptation or the books by L.M. Montgomery.

The cinematography is wonderful, with gorgeous sweeping views and evocative shots. Amybeth McNulty plays Anne Shirley with depth and passion. I would watch the series simply for her performance.

In this new series, we get a peek into the past of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. Geraldine James as Mirilla and RH Thomson as Matthew do a marvelous job playing the parts they were given. The brother and sister get their own story lines and character development. I felt a certain kinship with Marilla as she struggled with her emotions, but missed the familiar pithy remarks and personality.

Matthew is cast in a more heroic role, shown riding a horse along the coastline. There are other situations where he is allowed to be an obvious protector, showing his devotion to Anne. While I enjoyed the idea of Matthew as a knight in shining armor riding along a shore and overcoming great obstacles to rescue his Anne, I had to wonder, what was wrong with the quiet, steady love that Matthew Cuthbert had in his previous depiction?

The setting feels realistic, less scrubbed up; a genuineness which I liked.

Against the backdrop of Anne’s dire past we come to understand why a simple farmhouse takes on such an attractive hue in Anne’s eyes.

A series of flashbacks is provided to explain away her quirkiness and tendency to indulge in flights of fancy. Her need to escape is driven by angst rather than imagination. The contrast between the practical world and Anne’s “tragical” notions have been stripped away. Everything is dramatic. In this version, there are few moments of humor, the very thing that helped define Anne and bring her to life.

This is a darker, grittier version. I assume this is in an attempt to be more realistic. I don’t know if this actually works, because real life is rarely a constant unfolding of dramatic, emotional events. Real life is fraught with common practicality. I love emotional fiction, and consider a story good if it provokes a tear or two, but I kept waiting for the humor that never showed up. There is a “delight factor” I enjoyed in the books and the 1985 series missing from this series. Anne with an E has a different worldview than the Anne of Green Gables series or the books by L. M. Montgomery.

I think that some  of the scenes in this new television series added depth to the characters, and would work quite well with the established story. My struggle came where it veered off too far from the original writings. Yes, I am one of those people. Always read the book first!

The show had its moments. If a second series is produced, I may or may not watch. I am more likely to re-read the books than watch another season of Anne With an E.

While not my first recommendation as an adaptation of Anne’s story, it does have worth as entertainment. In my opinion, when compared to Anne of Green Gables too much of the positive is overshadowed by the shortcomings in this particular adaptation. Some of the messages that have been inserted into this version of Anne’s story seem a bit heavy-handed to me. Even though it is entertaining, Anne with an E doesn’t have the same take away value as its hard-to-follow, beloved predecessor.

Watch the trailer for the Netflix series Anne With an E.

You can download a free copy of the original book, Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery, at Project Gutenberg here.

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Book Review| Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall

 

Sugar

by Deirdre Riordan Hall

“I lean against the doorframe, heavy with the truth. I am always in the way. I’ve known this for as long as I can remember.”

“I’ve always been too much and yet not enough.”

“I know how to swim, but I feel like I’m drowning.”

I loved this young adult novel. I admit I had a hard time getting into this book at the beginning, but it wasn’t long before I was drawn into the plot. Sugar’s story resonated with me, and I am glad a friend recommended this novel. 

Sugar is a 17-year-old girl with an eating disorder. Home life is fraught with abuse both mental and physical. Sugar is a good girl. She tries with all her might to please her family, but they are never satisfied. She eats to fill the painful void left by rejection.

Other readers have mentioned that the middle of the novel dragged, but I didn’t notice this. I felt the story moved along at a sufficient pace and it kept my interest throughout. It actually kept me awake when I should have gone to bed!

Sugar was a quick read.  Deirdre Riordan Hall’s storytelling style is somewhat straightforward, but the story line and characters were engaging. I found myself rooting for Sugar.

The novel has a satisfactory ending, although tragedy (more tragedy!) does visit Sugar’s world. All the ends tie up nicely without it being too gooey-happy in the end. This is an empowering read for girls going through difficult times. Upon finishing the book, my overall feeling was one of hope. This is a story about rejection, how teens value themselves, and about overcoming.

Sugar’s battles tugged at my heart. This is one I categorize as must read for teens and adults simply because the character spoke volumes to me. It is a deceptively simple tale that delves deep. I found it an emotional read that stuck with me after I turned the last page.

With a caution for younger readers about topics covered, I would highly recommend this book for pre-teens, teens, and adults.

Topics:

Obesity, abuse, abandonment, bullying, assault, attempted rape, contains language, death, mentions of Catholic religion, prayers, rituals.

Deirdre Riordan Hall talks ‘Sugar’ and speaking up against bullies

Author’s Website

 

 

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How to Talk With Teens About 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why is the Netflix special everyone is talking about. The series is rated MA for mature audiences and explores suicide, bullying, sexual assault, and many other serious topics teens and young adults face. The series contains graphic depictions in some episodes. I have not read the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher yet, but it is my understanding that the book is significantly different. This post is about the Netflix series.

I searched for a discussion guide to go with the Netflix series but I am disturbed to find some had the tendency to minimize the issues. I found an excellent list of talking points to start meaningful discussion from the JED Foundation and provided that link below.

If you have any suggestions to add to my list, please put them in the comment section.

It seems a common thread among some of the people who discuss the series often include an element of denial. Instead of closing our eyes, perhaps a better way to address the issues brought up by 13 Reasons Why is to ask questions, listen, and guide our young people. If your teen or young adult has not watched, I still suggest parents look for ways to bring up the subject matter.

Thirteen Reasons Why is rated MA.

If your teen/young adult has already watched, I strongly suggest you watch each episode, stop, and discuss. Take time to process. This series deals with heavy topics and is emotionally draining.

Advice for Parents

Talking with kids can be hard. Decide what the most important topics are to bring up to your young person and ask questions, letting them do most of the talking. This is a time to offer guidance rather than lecture. Bring the topics up more than once.

I would be very honest with your young people. Perhaps not every person they go to for help will respond appropriately, but most adults are here to help. Sometimes asking once isn’t enough.

Relate a personal story to them if you have one and offer solutions.

Do not minimize your young person’s concerns and experiences.

Ask direct questions.

Talk to them. Not only once, but continually.

Know what they are watching.

I am not a mental health professional. The questions listed below are simply the type that can be used to start a dialog. Each of these suggested questions should lead to many more.

What did you take away from this story?

What do you think this series is about? Is it about more than one thing?(Some young people may miss that this story is driven by Hannah’s revenge against those she feels responsible for her suicide.)

Which of the characters seems the most balanced or healthy emotionally? Why do you think that is?

Are any of the depictions in this series believable? Which ones? Which actions are not?

What behaviors do each of the characters engage in that are questionable or plainly wrong? What should they have done? In this situation, what would you do?

What do you think you would do if you found yourself in some of the situations Hannah does?

How can you decide what secrets should be kept and which should be told? Who should you tell? Why or why not?

What are the signs of suicide? Other emotional issues?

How can you help someone who is suicidal?

How do our actions impact others? How do their actions impact us? How can we deal with that?

Who is the victim in this story? Is there more than one victim?

How does the school depicted compare to your school?

After each episode ask you young person for their takeaway, and what they thought. Examine the ideas put forth. Ask “what did you think” and “why or why not”.

If you seek help and are ignored or denied, what should you do then?

Does this story have a ‘call to action”? What is it?

Extension

What do you think of some of the reactions people have had to 13 Reasons? Can you give examples of appropriate/inappropriate reactions? Explain.

For further reading

Click here for a link to resources on 13 Reasons Why the Netflix Series from the National Association of School Psychologists

Click here for Talking Points from the JED Foundation.

 

Keep talking and discussing books, movies, and issues with your children and young adults.

 

Please add to the discussion by commenting below.

 

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