The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe

The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe
Viking’s Children | Hardcover, 400 pages
February 6th, 2014
Young Adult | Contemporary
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Verse novels are my favourite things to read, but they’re difficult to review. I never know what to say, because I feel like I can never give the sparsely written, yet more often powerful novels, their due justice.

The Sound of Letting Go, though beautiful in its own right, had me conflicted. On the one hand, I think Ward was very successful in conveying what it’s like for a family to make a difficult choice of relieving themselves of caring for a violent autistic child. And on the other, she didn’t really convince me that Daisy’s anger towards her parents is in the right place. It’s in the way she rarely interacted with her brother. Never once did I feel that she was really that close to her brother in the first place, and therefore, I didn’t think her anger and her cause for the mild rebellion could be deemed justified.

This is the story of a prodigy whose family life is on the verge of an upheaval. Having lived most their life in the shadow of fear, they knew it would only take one episode for their carefully constructed life to fall apart. They have talked about it, expected it even. But when it finally happened, they were consumed by guilt that all they could only feel was relief.

I have an 18-year-old niece with autism. She’s beautiful and quiet who likes the chatter of the radio, but never violent. She mostly sits contemplatively with a serene smile on her face. Before, when we didn’t know what would appease her, she’d burst out and cry and all we could do was look on helplessly. We didn’t know what she want…until you turn up the radio. Then she goes quiet.

Daisy’s brother is different. He doesn’t like noise. He gets violent. He hurts himself. The everyday struggle within their home is exhausting to watch. And the heartbreaking (understandably) way each of them tries to escape persisted throughout the novel.

The mild rebellion that Daisy tried to do didn’t really do much. Because her parents were so focused on her brother, they didn’t seem to care. I think the better half of the synopsis is wildly exaggerated. If you think there will be a full on rebellion with the bad boy, you’ll be sorely disappointed. In fact, Dave is a sweetie. Also, if you’re not a fan of love triangles, don’t let that summary fool you. There is no love triangle. I don’t know why the author would scare me like that.

Over all, I was mildly satisfied with this novel. And if it’s romance you’re after, you’ll get that in spades here.

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Out of this Place by Emma Cameron

Out of this Place by Emma Cameron
Candlewick Press | Hardcover, 402 pages
YA Realistic Fiction, Verse
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I am a fan of verse novels. Sometimes, I prefer sparse words over wordy novels. It doesn’t take long for me to get into the meat of the story. In this case, three stories. Three friends on the cusp of adulthood, deciding how to live out their future. I mean, sure, it’s not the most original jump off for a coming of age novel but each of their plight is not that easy to plan out.

This book tackled a whole slew of issues characteristic of the usual YA realistic fiction.  Surprisingly enough, it didn’t hit me with the angst that I’d expected from such a novel. In fact, I think that some discerning readers would consider it as a negative point because it will not necessarily move them to tears. But, I digress. Who says a book must make you cry to be good, anyway? Out of This Place had just enough emotional pull to incite your sympathy and hope that in the end, the characters will get a lovely happy ending.

Luke, the straight A student has to decide whether or not to stick out the rest of his high school life or pursue a scholarship that would enable him to work and go to school at the same time. Money is tight, so he needed to find a job. His family life is as calm as a dove. In fact, he worries more about his two best friends than he does his parents: Bongo, the abused and Casey, a prisoner at her own house. He’s also in love with her but he could never have the courage to cross that line just in case his already skittish friend pushes him away permanently.

There’s also Bongo’s story which is on the surface is the direst of the three. Abused, uncared for with no decent prospects to speak of. He’s on a downward spiral to nowhere: drugs, alcohol and had to contend with a heavy-handed stepfather. All he ever wanted was a chance to get his brother back from the ‘system’. From one foster family to another, Bongo’s dream is getting farther and farther away. He too, is in love with Casey but he refuse to do something about it because he could never hurt Luke, his best friend.

Casey’s life was a never-ending days of suffocating parenting that led her scheming for ways to check out. She can’t breathe; she can’t move a muscle without the approval of her father. She schemed and lied to get a job for money she would use to leave the tyranny of her father. When she found her wings, she met people that treated her with love – love that her own family seem reluctant to dole out. Out there in the world and on her own she also found love of a different meaning – or what she thought was love.

Three kids too young to face the realities of life. But if there’s one thing they all have in common, is that their trio of friendship and love is all they would need. There’s no love triangle here, folks. So no need to worry if you’re not into that sort of thing. The romance between them wasn’t really explored. It’s mostly friendship, camaraderie and love akin to that of siblings. They looked out for each other as much as they could.

If there’s one thing this book has in common among its Aussie compatriots, is its ability to tell a gut-wrenching story that ends exactly how you’d hope it would end. My only problem though is exactly that, the book has ended even though I’m left wanting to read how their lives turned out. Over all, Cameron can go toe-to-toe with the best of them. She perfectly captured what it is that made Aussie contemps worth spending considerable cash for. I, for one, am adding her on my list of Aussie authors to watch out for.

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Book Inspired Poetry [2]: Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

Smoke [Burned, #2] by Ellen Hopkins
Publication Date: September 10th, 2013
Margaret K. McElderry
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
___________________________________

Pattyn Von Stratten’s father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run. After far too many years of abuse at the hands of her father, and after the tragic loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn is desperate for peace. Only her sister Jackie knows what happened that night, but she is stuck at home with their mother, who clings to normalcy by allowing the truth to be covered up by their domineering community leaders. Her father might be finally gone, but without Pattyn, Jackie is desperately isolated. Alone and in disguise, Pattyn starts a new life, but is it even possible to rebuild a life when everything you’ve known has burned to ash and lies seem far safer than the truth?
________________________________________________________________

Choking on emotions
on my way to work,

gutted and raw over a
book. 

Two girls –
victims of violence
and circumstance.
Courageous and fearful
of what lies ahead.


Some say truth shall set you free
they’d beg to differ,

vehemently disagree.
The truth they know
will become their prisons
cages of public scrutiny and damnation.

The religion they know
harbours liars –
instilling false hope
in exchange for silence.

But how long

can they hide behind
their veils?
Scorn from a society
with which they were failed.

In the end it’s one or the other
facing consequences
of a lie to protect one another.

NOTE:

I read this book a while back and couldn’t help but write a poem about it. That’s just the kind of influence Hopkins have. You’re either rendered speechless or you’ll find yourself writing poems about her book. And while mine is not in the same class as her writing, I’m pretty proud and glad of what Ms. Hopkins was able to incite. Truth be told, I was on a writing slump before I read Burned and I think that’s why I’m doubly appreciative of her writing.

Five stars said everything I felt about this book. Trust me, my poem and words were paltry compared to the swirl of feelings inside me. She left me feeling raw, like I just have been through an emotional upheaval.

These two books were the only ones of Ms. Hopkins’ works that I’ve read so far and I’m a little awestruck by how real and honest they were. If this series is to continue on, I’d be grateful. But if Hopkins decides this is it, then I’ll be happy too. Truth is, I’m satisfied with how their lives turn out; I’m not going to question all the seemingly impossible scenarios and convenience of how it ended. Regardless, I’m content and happy and there’s not a thing in the world that could make the story better.

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Burned [Burned, #1] by Ellen Hopkins

Raw and unflinchingly honest
__________________________________

Burned
by Ellen Hopkins
Margaret K. McElderry Books | Paperback, 531 pages
Written in verse form, Burned is the story of a Mormon girl who started to question a religion that validates domestic abuse as a way for a man to keep his “woman in line”. As if blood, bruises and broken bones will stop her from committing the gravest of sins (like existing or breathing). It’s a window to a rigid religion that – true or not, whether unfounded or justified – is truly harsh and frighteningly real. Sadly, this is an occurence that happens everyday and not just in the seemingly pristine communes of Mormonism but everywhere else in the world.

In a way, and through books, I’ve seen Mormons on either side of the spectrum. Taken by Storm by Angela Morrison, for example, made me open the door when they come knocking to spread the word (seriously). Here, LDS practitioners are portrayed as the most kind-hearted, generous, honest, proclaimers of God’s love. But Hopkins’ book shows what happens when the doors are closed. What we see are humans battling demons in their heads, indescribable violence against loved ones, and the painstaking methods they’d go through to live the lies.

But what spearheaded the story was a teen’s sexual awakening that she thinks is a sin. A dream of being touched, of being kissed by the most popular boy in school. It all seems harmless enough but not if you’re a Mormon. Pre-marital sex is frowned upon in Catholicism as it is in LDS. When one of the popular boys in school starts paying Pattyn attention, she was in awe and more than a bit willing to make that dream into a reality. He plied her with alcohol and drugs, taking advantage of Pattyn’s hunger for attention from the opposite sex. Soon enough, the dream becomes a nightmare when her father caught them in the act together.

Pattyn’s story didn’t really start until she was shipped off to Aunt J’s ranch. A few weeks in, hope, peace and happiness begins to bloom in her chest. Aunt J is a kindred spirit who left the religion by circumstances similar to Pattyn’s; she meets Ethan, a boy who looks at her without the prejudice of her past. But if you’re familiar with Ellen Hopkins’ works, you know it’s rare for her characters to be basking in the glow of happiness. Sooner or later, she’ll let you know that there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Nor would her characters have a happy ending. She’ll only give you enough glimmer of hope until you’re sucked in the vortex of angst that she’s created.

This book was my introduction to Ellen’s works. It was raw, honest and harsh. Her words, though sparse, said so much – showed too much. Flesh hitting flesh, cracking bones with each blows and crimson blood so red you’ll be seeing it when you close your eyes. Emotions so real you’ll feel every crushing pressure in your chest. Anger, fear and love. And most of all, that frustrating question that will tumble over and over in your head.

Why?

That’s the power of Hopkins’ words.

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Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams [G!veaway Alert]

Publication Date: May 1st, 2012
Simon & Schuster
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
After her brother’s death, a teen struggles to rediscover love and find redemption in this gripping novel.

Growing up in Africa and Latin America as the children of missionaries, London and Zach were as close as could be. And then Zach dies, and the family is gutted. London’s father is distant. Her mother won’t speak. The days are filled with what-ifs and whispers: Did Zach take his own life? Was it London’s fault?

Alone and adrift, London finds herself torn between her brother’s best friend and the handsome new boy in town as she struggles to find herself—and ultimately redemption—in this authentic and affecting novel from award-winning novelist Carol Lynch Williams.

Written in free-form verse, Waiting told the story of a family’s crippling, destructive grief that for a time or two, didn’t seem like there was an end. Ms. Williams’ words and the method in which she told the story made it infinitely more painful. The palpable grief and loneliness that the characters felt seeped through the pages, contaminating the reader and consequently taking them to an emotional journey wracked with agonizing pain.

London was one of those characters who felt too much; too much grief, too much sorrow, too much love and at the same time anaesthecized to feel anything otherwise. As a result, her ache becomes your ache. You’ve got to be a stone-hearted statue not to feel for her. For once, I didn’t feel like I wanted to choke a character for making bad decisions in her life. For once, I supported her when she thought she could hide the two boys in her life without the other knowing. I wanted her to feel like she wasn’t immune to other feelings other than grief. The oblivion those boys could offer, though innocent, is deserved. The girl needed a bit of happy in her otherwise bleak, miserable, depressing, hopeless existence.

I don’t know how a person so seemingly strong could be defeated by something as a break-up that he thought the answer was suicide.

I don’t know how parents can turn off their parental instincts.

I don’t know how to emphatize with people so distraught that their world comes to a screeching halt altogether.

I don’t know how to get over the death of someone who was your entire universe that you forget there are other people orbiting around you – propelling you to go on.

This book, however, will make you feel like you’re London – carrying the guilt and the suffocating weight of her loss but fighting to dig herself out of the hole. I, however, couldn’t find it in me to feel for her mother who blamed London for Zach’s death. Listen, I get it. Suicide, depression – they’re messy, heart breaking, and no matter how much you want to say you understand, you can’t. You DON’T. Unless you’ve been there. But I know something about parenting. You don’t stop being a parent just because one of your children is gone. You don’t stop talking to her just because you’re so overcome with guilt yourself but can’t, won’t own up to it. Her father would rather work himself raw than face the reality of what was happening in his own home. That’s just cowardly. I also know something about suicide. But I will not sit here and pretend to understand a person’s state of mind at the time when he perceived life had become unliveable.

VERDICT: Waiting wasn’t a cake-walk read. No. It was difficult and messy. It’s like watching a loved one self-destruct right before your eyes and helping them pick up the pieces of the aftermath. I cried – sloppy tears in the middle of the night. It took me a little less than two hours to finish this book…and about two days to stop thinking about it.

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Review: Beating Heart: A Ghost Story by A.M. Jenkins

Publication Date: January 3rd, 2006
HarperTeen
Format: Paperback, 256 pages
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
This house
is mine
and
I am
its beating heart.
She is a ghost: a figure glimpsed from the corner of your eye, a momentary chill, and a memory of secret kisses and hidden passion. He is 17 years old: Evan Calhoun, warm and alive, and ever since moving to this big abandoned house, he has dreamt of her. Ghost and boy fascinate each other-until her memories and his desire collide in a moment that changes them both.
Combining verse fragments with chiseled prose, A. M. Jenkins captures the compelling voice of a long-dead ghost and the perspective of a modern teen, twining mystery and romance in this evocative, sensual, and unrelentingly engrossing novel.

A haunting tale of a restless ghost, this story captured my attention with its beautiful writing and what was seemingly an unlikely romance. My first impression of this slight book was that it would explore a love story between the living and the dead. But I was wrong. It was a love story, all right. But one that did not have a fairy tale ending.

Evan Calhoun and his family moved to a historic house after his parents just got through a divorce. What they didn’t know was that the house was alive. Its walls, its stairs, every room was a living, breathing being possessed by a girl who died in the arms of who she thought was the boy she loved. The ghost was harmless for the most part, until she saw Evan. And suddenly, the life she lived before she died came back hauntingly and with it the memories of what her fate had been. Evan is a typical teenager going through the angst of having separated parents. He’s mostly angry, mopey, and confused about his relationship with his current girlfriend. To top it all off, he started having some pretty disturbing, erotic dreams of a girl from a time past. The present and the past collide one day when the events of the past projected into the present.

This was a short read but the writing, as I mentioned was cryptically beautiful. The verse, was especially elusive; half the time, I wasn’t sure if the girl was talking about the house or if she was talking about her person. The author has a talent for giving life to inanimate objects. I also find it to be dangerously close to being an R-Rated book…but that’s debatable. Depending on how you perceive what constitutes an R-Rated or General Audiences rating, I say you’re the judge and the jury. All I can say is that those dreams, written in verse, was perhaps one of the steamiest I’ve ever read. And don’t get me wrong, the author wasn’t even very descriptive. It’s in the way she wrote it.

I’m a bit disappointed that this book didn’t really have an eventual resolution. Actually, I found it didn’t even have a point. The ghost would remain haunting the house in her harmless, creepy way and Evan would have to face the fact that he’d have to grow up and accept some of the responsibilities that his father had vacated. Other than Evan solving the puzzle of how the girl really died, I missed the whole point of the story. But you know what? It was a story that needed to be told.

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Review: Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay

Publication Date: December 27th, 2011
HarperCollins
Format: Hardback, 448 Pages
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
My wish
is to fall
cranium over Converse
in dizzy, daydream-worthy
love.
When her parents split, Marcie is dragged from Idaho to a family summerhouse in New Hampshire. She leaves behind her friends, a group of freaks and geeks called the Leftovers, including her emo-rocker boyfriend, and her father.
By the time Labor Day rolls around, Marcie suspects this “vacation” has become permanent. She starts at a new school where a cute boy brings her breakfast and a new romance heats up. But understanding love, especially when you’ve watched your parents’ affections end, is elusive. What does it feel like, really? Can you even know it until you’ve lost it?
Love and Leftovers is a beautifully written story of one girl’s journey navigating family, friends, and love, and a compelling and sexy read that teens will gobble up whole.

Summer vacation turned almost semi-permanent, it was supposed to be just a break. But Marcie’s mom couldn’t seem to get over a mild case of the funk so the summer vacation turned into seven months. All of a sudden, Marcie is having to be the adult – the one to do everything while her mother buries herself in depression brought on by a recently failed marriage. Meanwhile, back in Idaho, the Leftovers seems to be moving on without her. Loneliness surrounds Marcie in New Hampshire that she turned to a boy with an easy smile and coffee and doughnuts. If only she didn’t have boyfriend waiting in Idaho, or if she could have another best friend in New Hampshire, or if only her father would realize his mistake and take them back. But life is not about granted wishes. Marcie will learn the hard way that love isn’t as easy as what everyone painted it to be.

This was probably the most descriptive verse novel I’ve read so far. There were more conversations and more detailed account of Marcie’s feelings which padded the readability and unputdownable factor of this book. I love how the author took me to different strata of sentiments while reading this novel. I was frustrated, annoyed, angry and eventually I fell in love with the concept of the imperfections of the relationships. Love is never easy; the realization of having this feeling toward another person is a journey. You don’t just see a person and instantly realized you’re soul mates. And really, isn’t that the best thing about love? The roller-coaster ride that pulls you into peaks and valleys until that sudden stop when everything becomes clear and your heart beats a mile a minute for what seems like hours?

At first, I had a hard time with the idea of Marcie/Linus or Marcie/JD. It felt like she belong to neither boys. There was a point in the novel where I wished she was alone. Because it was hard to see her self-destruct. It was easy to root for JD because who doesn’t want a boy who looks like David Beckham with a Prince Harry smile? And Linus, is just…well I liked his intensity and who doesn’t want a rocker boy with a heart of gold? I loved the eventual ending of this book. I loved watching Marcie grow up and realize that life is a two-way road – a give and take. If she wanted all the relationships in her life to work, she has to actually work for it.

Love and Leftovers is a book that anyone can relate to, not so much verbatim but when have we not found ourselves  wishing there was a giant eraser that we could use for all the mistakes we’ve made in life? Marcie’s second chance isn’t something serendipitous, she stood up and faced her errors and gave herself that chance. I wish I have her guts.

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Review: Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe

Publication Date: October 13th, 2011
Viking Juvenile
Format: Hardcover, 458 pages
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
SUMMARY
When high school junior Sara wins a coveted scholarship to study ballet, she must sacrifice everything for her new life as a professional dancer-in-training. Living in a strange city with a host family, she’s deeply lonely-until she falls into the arms of Remington, a choreographer in his early twenties. 

At first, she loves being Rem’s muse, but as she discovers a surprising passion for writing, she begins to question whether she’s chosen the right path. Is Rem using her, or is it the other way around? And is dancing still her dream, or does she need something more? This debut novel in verse is as intense and romantic as it is eloquent.

Dare I tell that since I came here to dance
I have been giving pieces of my body away
To ridiculous diets,
To repeated injuries,
To Remington?
And that maybe
I think
With each bit of my body
I lose a little piece of my soul.

This isn’t a book about a girl’s ultimate dream to be a prima ballerina at a prestigious dance company. This is a book about her realizing that dance is so far off her horizon, it’s basically out in space. It was really hard to figure out how dance came to be Sara’s life. Was it due to her parents’ constant pushing? Or was it because dance came to her naturally? And it wasn’t because Sara wants to leave the slow, New England life she’d known. Ballet is just ballet. She accepted the dance scholarship with great trepidation because, really, what else was she to do?

This is written in verse form, a style that I’m a huge fan of. I know it’s not for everyone but I really love the neat, straightforward writing of these novels. I’ve yet to read one that I did not like. The words are like disjointed lyrics, stilted prose and yet, succinct and purposely vivid. Ms. Kehoe’s style encapsulate all that. She captured the glamour and elegance of the dancers’ costumes in not so many words, the ghastly pain Sara endured and the life of a ballerina who’s always starving – for food and for attention. She also managed to portray the beauty and grace of ballet with every plié, jeté, and tendu.

But.

But.

I was unable to develop an affinity to the characters, most especially to Sara and Remington. Sara has a very timid personality. She feels so much but has the greatest inability to voice them out. She frustrated me most of the time. She wasn’t blind – she knew what was going on and yet she kept making the same mistakes consciously. And I understand, truly, I do. She’s young, utterly fascinated by the attention of an older man and a tiny part of her is thrilled that she’s able to inspire Rem. But the word, “NO”, is not in her vocabulary.  Remington is probably one of the most selfish, egocentric character I’ve the displeasure of reading. I’ve been staring at my blinking cursor trying to find a redeeming quality to Rem and regrettably finding none. Sorry. This man is completely one-dimensional. My detachment to the characters was also one of the factors why this book didn’t make me feel anything. Somehow, these two had a numbing effect on me.

This verse novel is a bit on the narrative side and perhaps it’s also one of the things that hindered me from enjoying this book more. And yes, I am aware that most verse books are actually narrative but the dialogues in this one was more sparse than most.

I think that this book would be quite enjoyable to some but just not for me. I am interested to read more of Ms. Kehoe’s future books, however.

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