Book Review: Flash Burnout by L. K. Madigan

February 25, 2010

Blake has a pretty good life for a high school sophomore. He’s got a girlfriend who loves him and makes him happy, he’s got good friends, and for the most part he likes his classes in school. And he lives in a loving home with two parents and his older brother Garrett. He doesn’t give his situation much thought until he’s showing a photo assignment to his friend Marissa in class one day. When he uncovers a photo of a homeless woman passed out on the sidewalk, Marissa gasps and says, “That’s my mom.” Suddenly he’s compelled into Marissa’s life in unexpected ways and finding out that not everyone leads mundane, uneventful lives away from school.

As he’s drawn to help Marissa more and more, Blake’s relationship with his girlfriend, Shannon, becomes strained. Can he be the friend Marissa needs and the boyfriend Shannon expects at the same time?

Flash Burnout by L. K. Madigan juxtaposes suburban middle-class life against the lives of the homeless and addicted. It shows the toll addiction and neglect can take not only on family members, but also on friends and others in the community around them. The book covers issues of sexual abstinence, safe sex, underage drinking, using alcohol to escape, honesty in relationships and more. It also introduces complex supporting characters that add interest to the story: Blake’s mother is a hospital chaplain, and his father is a coroner. Garrett interns at the morgue with his dad. (Their work discussions make Blake queasy and may do the same for some readers.) Marissa’s brother Gus is a thrill-seeking bike messenger who takes responsibility for his family.

Madigan lives in Portland, and I really enjoyed picking up on some of the local references in Flash Burnout. I would have liked to know more about Blake’s conflicted thoughts between his feelings for his girlfriend and his friend, particularly after a particular event near the end, and I would have preferred less description of Blake’s ordinary life. Even so, I really liked following his story, and I liked that Flash Burnout doesn’t tidy up all the answers into a nice package at the end; instead it asks the reader to consider what will happen next. I believe the issues and the characters should provide great discussions for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 14 and up. Flash Burnout is Madigan’s debut novel, and I eagerly anticipate her next book.


Book Review and Huge Giveaway: Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop

February 15, 2010

Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop is being released tomorrow. As part of a special promotion by the publisher, Ballantine Books, I’m offering to give away 20 advance reading copies of this new book for young adults. Read my review below, and if you’d like to win your own copy, just be one of the first 20 readers to leave a comment. Please not that the giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada, and do not leave your address with your comment. I will contact you by email for a shipping address. (Please note: all copies of Letter to My Daughter have been given away. Thanks to everyone for commenting.) Here’s my review:

When her daughter Liz runs away from home on the eve of her 15th birthday, Laura decides to pass the excruciating hours waiting and hoping for her to come back by writing Liz a letter about her own troubled teen years.

Through her words, Laura reveals herself to her daughter completely: the difficult relationship she had with her own parents, how she resented her mother most of all, her relationship with a boy named Tim, and the consequences to her life because of that relationship. She talks honestly about her own sexual choices and why she rebelled against authority. And Laura is candid about her mistakes with Liz, and she makes a plea for understanding, saying parents don’t always know what they are doing when raising their children. They often get by doing the best they know how to do.

Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop is a great book for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in high school to read. Daughters often tend to think their mothers can’t possibly understand what they’re going through, but this book encourages girls to see their moms in a new light. Pre-book club discussion may be even more valuable, as moms and daughters may talk candidly about the mom’s formative years and how it affects her parenting now. It could also prompt conversation about the daughter’s world, and pressure she may feel from her friends or boyfriend.

When I started to read Letter to My Daughter, I was skeptical that a man could write well about a mother-daughter relationship. But that concern quickly went away as Laura’s strong voice brought me into her story. It’s a story that doesn’t include details about the years between her teen life and this letter, but that focus on a specific time period helps define the era she lived in as well as the circumstances she faced. I found it totally engrossing, and I highly recommend it as a mother-daughter book club pick.


Book Review and Giveaway: In a Heartbeat by Loretta Ellsworth

February 11, 2010

Today and tomorrow I am offering to give away a copy of a new book just being released from author Loretta Ellsworth. Loretta’s previous books for young adults are The Shrouding Woman and In Search of Mockingbird. Read my review of her new book, In a Heartbeat, then comment here for a chance to win your own copy. The contest is open until midnight (PST), Friday, February 12, and it is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. Tomorrow, I’ll feature an interview with Loretta, so check back again then for more about this author and her books. (Congratulation to Lissa, the reader who commented and won a copy of In a Heartbeat given away by the author.)

Eagan is a figure skater. She’s athletic and talented and headstrong. Amelia’s world is limited by her failing heart. No longer even able to walk up and down the stairs of her home, she is homeschooled and spends a lot of time in her room drawing horses. In a Heartbeat by Loretta Ellsworth opens with Eagan’s story. We know immediately she dies after hitting her head on a board while making a jump in competition. Amelia is the girl who receives her heart.

The storyline goes back and forth between Eagan, who is caught between life and death, and Amelia who is learning to live and experience new sensations every day because of the strong heart beating in her chest. We learn about Eagan’s life through her memories of the times before her death. Amelia starts to suspect that some of her post-operation dreams and her new interests may be those of the donor.

In addition to the stories of the two girls, In a Hearbeat is also about Eagan’s and Amelia’s relationships with their mothers. Eagan feels her mother is too controlling and too invested in how she performs on the ice. She wants time to skate, but she also wants to pursue interests off the rink. Amelia is totally dependent on her mother, who has gone to great lengths to care for her while she waited for a new heart. Now she wonders how she can start to assert her own independence.

Even if you have not known someone who has donated or received an organ, you will be moved by this story of life for one that is not possible without loss for the other. The book never falls into a preachy tone advocating for organ donation, but instead takes a look at what it means from the human and emotional point of view. And it does a good job of showing the different perspectives that teens and parents may have about life and death.

While the focus is mostly on the girls, since it’s told from their perspective, Ellsworth does a great job of showing the ripples of impact on both families and friends. There are many things for mother-daughter book clubs with girls 13 and up to talk about after reading In a Heartbeat. It should certainly open a dialogue between moms and daughters about organ donation and all it entails for both sides—feelings of hope, grief, guilt, and the possibility of a connection between donor and recipient.  I highly recommend it.


Book Club Giveaway—Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

January 12, 2010

While I haven’t read and reviewed Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, a lot of sites I respect for their book recommendations are raving about this book. It’s already a New York Times bestseller though it’s just been released. It also comes recommended by the Indie Next List Teen Pick and it’s on gift guides and “best of lists” at Amazon, Borders and Barnes and Noble.

I also think the summary is intriguing. Here’s the description from the fansite:

“Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps, and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.”

I have to admit my interest is piqued. That’s why I’m passing along information about a book club contest being run at Castergirls.com, the official fan site for Beautiful Creatures. Caster Girls is giving away 12 copies and a chance to meet with the authors by Skype. Check out the site for details on how to enter. The deadline is February 5.


Book Review: Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee

January 6, 2010

Rosemary Goode lives in Spring Hill, Tennessee, where her mother owns the busiest beauty shop in town. Her life is pretty routine: she goes to high school, works in her mother’s shop, and spends time on her own, but she doesn’t have friends to hang out with. Rosie is also a binge eater, sometimes eating huge amounts of food. Her crisis comes over Christmas break when she gains quite a bit of weight and can no longer fit in her largest clothes.

Rosie decides something has to be done, and she begins a liquid diet of weight-loss drinks to help her shed some pounds. But real change doesn’t come for Rosie until she starts to see herself as something more than a fat girl, the one the popular girls tease and call artichoke.

For the first time Rosie has a friend, Kay-Kay who is pretty and slim and athletic, and she hopes to have a boyfriend, cute Kyle Cox who is a super athlete. Slowly she begins to change her relationship with food, and all the other relationships in her life begin to change as well.

Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee is about more than a high school girl trying to lose weight. The beauty shop scenes are reminiscent of Steel Magnolias, where everyone’s problems can be solved while they get their hair and nails done. There’s also an interesting mother-daughter dynamic. Rosie’s mother got pregnant in high school, and she raised her daughter on her own. Rose Warren (Rosie’s mother) has always had to be so strong, that she often forgot to let her daughter see any weakness. When she’s diagnosed with lymphoma and starts to undergo treatment, she finds she must let her daughter into her inner life more than before.

I recommend Artichoke’s Heart for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in high school. Issues to talk about include eating disorders, self-esteem and feelings of self-worth, family dynamics, and dating. The book provides no easy answers, which is why it should be able to generate great discussions.


Book Review: According to Kit by Eugenie Doyle

December 15, 2009

Kit can’t believe her mother would force her to stay home and be homeschooled just because a classmate at her high school pulled a knife on another student. She doesn’t want to stay home and spend even more time helping take care of the dairy farm she lives on with her mother, father and grandfather. And when homeschooling turns out to be not much schooling, since no one actually has time to spare to work with Kit on lessons, she ends up on her own a lot of the time.

But at least Kit can lose herself in her ballet lessons she takes at the local college…that is until her beloved teacher Ursula becomes sick and can no longer teach. Graduate students pick up the slack, but it’s not nearly as fulfilling for Kit as Ursula’s classes were. When Luis arrives with his wife and baby to take over the class, Kit is enthralled by his attention to her. Luis sees her potential and encourages her to audition for a prestigious art school in Montreal, Canada, a long drive and a world away from her Vermont farm.

Predictably, Kit’s mother says no, but Kit is full of newfound confidence and a desire to dance. Plus, she wants to live up to Luis’s expectations, and she can’t let no be the answer.

According to Kit by Eugenie Doyle highlights the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship. How much does a mother open up to reveal herself to her daughter? What dreams for her future does a daughter share with her mother? When the two have different visions for the daughter’s life, how can they reconcile their conflicting desires for what’s best?

According to Kit also juxtaposes two very different pursuits—farming and ballet—and manages to show the rewards and challenges of both. It shows Kit’s longing for a mother who will talk to her and share her emotions, not hold everything inside as she carries with her a long-ago personal tragedy. There’s lots to discuss here for mother and daughters. Despite one scene near the end of the book where Luis aggressively comes onto Kit sexually, a scene that seems out of place and under-addressed for its impact, I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls 14 and up.


Guest Post with Tammar Stein, Author of Light Years

November 5, 2009

Today I’m guest posting at Tammar Stein’s blog. My essay is about how reading with your daughter helps you stay closer to her as she grows.

Tammar is the author of Light Years. Here’s the publisher’s description of Light Years:

He went to school to learn how to kill me. The Israeli girl who ruined his life. Seven people were killed instead. A single mother of two. A computer programmer. Two college students. A grandmother and her four-year-old grandson sharing an ice cream. And Dov, my boyfriend, my heart, the man I wanted to marry, who was there waiting for me.

Maya leaves Israel to study astronomy at the University of Virginia, running from the violence, guilt, and memories of her past. As the narrative switches between Virginia and Israel, we learn about Maya’s life as a soldier, her ambiguous devotion to Israel, and her love for her boyfriend, Dov, who is tragically killed in a suicide bombing. Now, in Virginia, amid the day-to-day pressures of classes, roommates, and fraternity parties, Maya attempts to reconcile her Israeli past with her American future.”

Madeleine and I read Light Years in our mother-daughter book club and it prompted great discussions on Israeli culture, dealing with personal tragedy and learning to live in the aftermath. Look for a complete book review and an interview with Tammar later this month.