Harmonic Feedback

by Tara Kelly

Drea and her mother are moving.  Again.  This time to the small town of Bellingham and into Grandma Horvath’s house.  Drea isn’t looking forward to yet another new school, especially because she’s always had trouble making friends.  Drea has been diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s and she just doesn’t understand some of the social rules that everyone else seem to instinctively know.  Much to Drea’s surprise, Grandma’s neighbor is a friendly, purple-haired girl named Naomi who seems to actually like Drea.  Drea and Naomi connect over a mutual love of music and Naomi isn’t scared off by Drea’s straight-forward manner, but Naomi has some problems of her own, things Drea isn’t quite sure how to handle.

Drea also meets Justin, another new student who shares her passion for music.  She and Justin get off to a shaky start as she tries to figure out exactly who he is and what he wants from her.  Plus, Justin has a few secrets of his own.

Drea, Naomi, and Justin form a band together and a fast friendship but those bonds might not be enough to hold the group together as one of the trio quickly spins dangerously out of control.

Harmonic Feedback is a powerful, realistic, and poignant novel that manages to cover so much ground but do it in such gentle way.  Whether teens have Asperger’s or not they will be able to connect with Drea and share in many of her feelings of uncertainty regarding high school and relationships even if they do not experience these things in the same way she does.  The romance is done beautifully.  My heart just did a little hiccup as I thought about it while typing.  Naomi’s experiences are tough but real and well-done.  Despite all her flaws and all of her mistakes in judgment, readers will be rooting for her until the very end.  For me, this book was such an unexpected, amazing, delightful surprise and has made it to my list of favorites for the year.

Revolution

by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi is a Brooklyn teenager with more on her plate than she can handle.  She witnessed her younger brother Truman’s fatal accident and blames herself for his death.  Andi’s artist mother has emotionally collapsed and spends most of her days painting endless portraits of Truman.  Andi’s geneticist father is even more absent than he was before Truman’s death, in fact he now lives in a different city altogether.  Andi is struggling to keep it together but she is quickly losing control over the grief and anger that well up inside her daily.  The only thing keeping her grounded is her music.

When Andi’s father unexpectedly shows up in town, he decides that Andi’s mother needs professional help, admits her to a facility and forces Andi to accompany him to Paris over Christmas break.  Andi doesn’t want to leave her mother or her music lessons but has little choice.  In Paris, Andi makes a discovery.  Hidden in an old guitar case is the journal of a teenage girl named Alexandrine who lived during the French Revolution.  Andi is inexplicably swept away by Alexandrine’s story of hardship, love, and loss beyond anything modern Andi can imagine but to which she can fully relate.

Alexandrine’s story touches Andi in a way nothing has since Truman’s death.  Can Andi learn to live again from a girl who lived so long ago?

Revolution is engrossing.  It is quite a long book, 472 pages, but when I sat down to read it time and pages would fly.  The writing is quite exquisite.  Jennifer Donnelly is truly a master.  I’m not often moved by specific passages in books but I marked several quotes that spoke to me in Revolution.  While I couldn’t specifically relate to Andi, I could definitely empathize.  Her emotions and reactions rang true to me.  My only gripe would be that I felt the transitions between Andi’s story and Alexandrine’s, being read by Andi, felt untrue and were jarring, often bringing me out of the story.  If you can get readers past the size, Revolution has appeal for a broad range of teen readers.

Review: Lockdown

by Walter Dean Myers

Reese is in a juvie jail called the Progress Center.  Busted after money woes caused him to steal prescription sheets from a local doctor’s office, he’s almost to the end of his 2.5 year sentence.  Reese is overall a good kid, he’s even scored a spot in a new work release program where he gets out of jail for 10 days a month to work with elderly patients at a place called Evergreen, but Reese has a problem keeping his hands to himself.  If another inmate challenges him, Reese can’t help but defend himself with his fists, and if someone picks on one of his friends, Reese can’t stand by and watch his friends get hurt.  Reese’s heart may be in the right place but that won’t help him if his hands and his tempter keep getting him in trouble.  Will Reese be able to get his act together so he can be released from juvie and get his life on track once he’s back outside?

Reaction: I have only read one other Walter Dean Myers book — I know, for shame! — and it was Monster.  I loved Monster.  I loved the format.  I loved the flawed main character who was a product of both his environment and his own choices.  I loved that I felt for the main character despite not being entirely certain of his innocence.  I loved not really knowing whether he was guilty or innocent, and I love the fact of his guilt or innocence did not really matter to the message of the book.  Monster is obviously a classic.  Though very similar in many respects, Lockdown did not have the same sparkle as Monster.  Lockdown seems to have to try harder and tell more to accomplish a similar goal.  That being said, I read Lockdown pretty much all in one sitting and was invested in Reese and his outcome.

I found Reese to be a very accessible character.  He’s a good kid who loves his sisters, has crappy parents, and has made some bad choices.  He continues to make bad choices while in juvie, especially when it comes to fighting, but, I have to say, I couldn’t help but hope he stepped up and fought in some of the situations.  I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have to decide whether to join a fight when you know you could face severe consequences or not join a fight and watch a friend, someone who is younger, weaker, and more helpless than the person wailing on him, get beat to a pulp.  Because of his actions, because he is in jail, these are the kinds of choices that Reese has to make to survive, to get out, to get on with his life.  I enjoyed Reese’s time at Evergreen and his interactions with Mr. Hooft, a cantankerous old gentleman who lived through a work camp run by the Japanese during World War II only to be left to die pretty much alone, without visitors, in a retirement community.  I also really enjoyed Reese’s sister Isis, called Icy.  She has big dreams — to become President or to be a movie star and win an Oscar.  She is positive and hopeful, dreaming of college when she is only 9 years old.  She gives Reese hope and a reason to stay clean.  He wants to make sure Icy gets everything she wants and needs, and it able to reach her lofty goals.

While I do wish WDM had taken some more risks with the formatting, I can’t deny that Lockdown is compelling and will draw in readers who loved Monster and love Walter Dean Myers.

Review: Give Up the Ghost

by Megan Crewe

Cass has spent much more time in the last few years in the company of ghosts than she has in the company of living beings.  After a horrible encounter with her supposed best friend that left her ostracized by the entire school and then the untimely death of her older sister, Cass has had a lot to deal with.  When her sister shows up as a ghost, Cass is the only one who sees her and now Cass still has her big sister around for help and advice, even if she isn’t technically alive.  Cass has also made good friends with a few ghosts that hang around her high school.  For Cass, ghosts are the ideal friends because they can’t hurt her the way people have, and that makes them extremely appealing.  Cass’ world is about to change again when Tim, student council VP and card carrying member of the popular crowd, asks for her help.  Tim lost his mother just months before and wants Cass to help him contact his mom’s ghost.  Cass is skeptical and reluctant to trust a living person, but when she realizes that Tim needs her for much more than just talking to his mom, how can she refuse?

Reaction: This one surprised me, in a good way.  I really thought it was just going to be a cutesy ghost story with a fluffy romance and some “issues” thrown in but not developed, and I was ok with that because I do enjoy that kind of book, but Give Up the Ghost was much more than that.  Cass has some serious issues with trust.  Not only did her friends completely betray her but ever since her sister died, her mother has thrown herself into her career as a travel writer and is barely if ever home and when she is home she seems to criticize Cass to no end.  I didn’t always like Cass necessarily, though I understood where she was coming from.  I didn’t agree with the choices she was making when it came to learning other students’ secrets and then using the secrets against them.  I know in her head she was doing a service, trying to stop the high school evils from happening, but her actions often didn’t make her any better than those she was trying to school.

Then there is Tim, who is a complete wreck.  Just when I thought Cass was the one who really needed help, along comes Tim.  Tim, who seemingly has it all, at least to Cass, is hurting and no one has noticed.  The death of his mother and the betrayal of his father when Tim needed him the most has left Tim a shell of his former self.  His friends don’t know how to talk to him so they don’t and he has practically no support system except for an aunt who lives in another town.  Tim is left to wallow in his grief with no clear way out.  I was proud of Cass for trying with Tim.  She didn’t make it easy on him and she certainly didn’t make all the write choices but she could have continued to shut him out but she was able to see beyond her own problems and issues to help Tim in the best way she knew how.

Give Up the Ghost is a great book for people who are dealing with grief, for people who have dealt with bullying, and for anyone who’s felt like they are on the outside.  Both Cass and Tim show that no matter how bad things get they aren’t always going to be that way.  I think Cass especially really matured and grew to learn that shutting people out is no way live.