Some Kind of Happiness

13260524by Claire Legrand
Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars

This was recommended to me last summer and this book impressed me with every page! The writing breaks your heart or makes you laugh with each chapter!

Finley Hart is facing the worst summer of her life. Her parents are sending her to her father’s estranged side of the family while they “work things out.” (Finley knows what that means.) Meeting her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all at once and then staying with them for three months is not her idea of fun. Her only escape is the Everwood–stories she’s been writing about a magical forest for years. But she didn’t expect the Everwood to be real, and right behind her grandparents’ house. And she didn’t expect her cousins to be knights or the neighbor boys to be pirates. Suddenly her summer of adventure might be fun! If the secret darkness inside her doesn’t destroy it all.

Finley’s struggle to hide her anxiety and depression is just heartbreaking. The girl who reads all the time, who does crossword puzzles with her father, still doesn’t have words to understand the heavy sadness inside her that can make getting out of bed feel impossible. She knows she’s lucky, she has family, a place to live, food to eat–she should feel happy! Everyone else does, what is wrong with her? So she writes and writes and writes trying to find out.

Understanding herself through her stories is such a cathartic experience and it doesn’t present everything as “fixed” in the end. There’s new truths, and hope, and ways to help herself get through her “blue days” but the blue days aren’t going away. For anyone facing these feelings, it’s a good reminder that you aren’t broken.

All of this is the underlying theme of the book, but the main story is about Finley finding her family, and uncovering dark secrets in the past that led to the rifts in the present. How bringing these things to light is the only way to heal, even if it’s painful. There are so many moments of warmth and just as many arguments that hit your vulnerable parts in the way only family members can.  An emotionally messy portrait of the only kind of family there is: an imperfect one.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Some Kind of Happiness is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – Emmaline is one of many sick children staying in the countryside during the war. But she is the only one who can see the winged horses in the manor’s mirrors. When the Horse Lord sends an injured white horse named Foxfire to her world for protection, Emmaline must brave her fears to keep it safe. See my review here.
  • Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm – This illustrated story features children dealing with serious adult situations and how they can learn to cope with them. Sunny’s determination to know the full truth leads her to uncover many family secrets as she spends the summer at her grandfather’s retirement community. See my review here.
  • Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes – After surviving several terrible accidents, Maguire is convinced that she is bad luck and a danger to others. But when her mother mentions a family trip to Ireland to see their family’s roots, Maguire knows it will require getting on a plane–and decides maybe it’s time to stop isolating herself. With the help of a new therapist and a new friend also trying to complete some “therapy challenges” Maguire might be able to let go of the past to save her future. See my review here.
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Orange: The Complete Collection

25667474by Ichigo Takano
Graphic Novel
4 of 5 stars
(This is a review for all 5 volumes of Orange)

My lovely friend and CP Meg rec’d these to me and they are so cute! Coming off the utter story hangover that is the film “Your Name” this was perfect!

This story arc is about a group of high school friends who befriend the new guy at school. But Naho receives a letter from herself ten years in the future, warning her that tragedy strikes, and she must do everything the letter recommends if she wants to save Kakeru’s life. Skeptical at first, Naho quickly realizes everything in the letter comes true, and if she doesn’t act quickly, Kakeru will be lost to them again.

26247042The friendships are fantastic and the slow-burn, awkward romance between Naho and Kakeru is so adorable! It’s a story about how the seemingly mundane moments in everyday life can matter so much, and that it’s important to be there for your friends and not entirely wrapped up in yourself. It hits the heavier moments with grace and provides plenty of humor too. I had so much fun speeding through these! The first three volumes are bound in one book, and the remaining two are in the second volume.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Orange is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm – This cute, nostalgic story features children dealing with serious situations regarding addiction and how they can learn to cope with them. See my review here.
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Simon isn’t exactly “out” and the only person he can truly be himself around is Blue – the boy he’s been emailing that he’s crushing on so hard. As he and Blue try to figure out each other’s true identities, Simon has to be brave, especially since another guy at school is threatening to expose his secret. See my review here.
  • The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord – Paige’s boyfriend drowned in a freak accident the previous summer, and now she’s facing junior year as The Girl Whose Boyfriend Drowned, with a side of anxiety. Her attempt to make a better year for herself doesn’t go as planned, but that’s kind of a good thing. The friendships in this story are wonderful! See my review here.
  • This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills – When Sloane falls in with a new group of friends she finds herself on a quest to save a painting by their deceased mother that has gone missing. Another story about how it’s the in-between moments that build a life. See my review here.

Girl Against the Universe

girl universeby Paula Stokes
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars

Obviously since I’m writing about a girl actually cursed with bad luck, I had to see how Maguire handles her “curse” in our world. No magic involved, but she does have a lot of terrible events in her past that she blames herself for. They can be viewed as coincidences or the result of a curse, and Maguire decided long ago that SHE is the unlucky influence on those around her. She’s spent years holed up in her room avoiding contact with people as much as possible to prevent accidents.

She begins cognitive behavioral therapy because her mother wants her to attend a family memorial service in Ireland and that requires getting on a plane. Maguire makes a list of therapy challenges to attempt to take back the things the Universe has stolen from her: her freedom, her friends, and tennis. The cute boy with the appointment slot after hers asks for her help with some of his challenges, and *happens* to be an assistant coach for the girls’ tennis team. (A female MC who is good at sports?! Yes, please!) Before you ask, yes, their relationship is cute and complicated.

Maguire is an endearing character. I wasn’t sure how she’d be presented since she has such heavy anxiety and this naturally makes it difficult for her to do much. She is constantly worried, doing 5-second checks for danger to others, performing good luck rituals at every turn. But her voice is so smart and sympathetic and she is determined to do whatever she can to reclaim her life. At first, it’s just for her mom and the Ireland trip, but then it becomes something she wants for herself, too.

Ultimately, she realizes that once you start caring about anything or anyone, you have more to lose–and this story is her struggle to become okay with that.

The side characters could have been a bit more developed, but overall this book is excellent! Maguire and Jordy are characters with a therapist for different reasons, and they have a method that works for them. But the story stresses that this is just one method–that each person may find something else that is better for them, and that’s okay too. The romantic relationship was slow and sweet and always caved to the demands of their therapy and tennis practices. It’s balanced and well-done, with a satisfying end. Enjoy!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Girl Against the Universe is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – Twin sisters Cath and Wren have always done everything together, including obsess over the Simon Snow series. But when they’re about to leave for college, Wren decides they aren’t rooming together. Cath’s anxiety makes everything about college a challenge, even the cute boy that hangs around with her roommate. This is another good look at a character trying to cope with anxiety, this time without a therapist.
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord – Vivi is staying in Verona Cove for the summer and Jonah is so cute he’ll be the perfect boyfriend.  Jonah’s family is barely getting by after his father’s death, and Vivi has her own reasons for staying distracted. An excellent story of finding love in spite of your circumstances. See my review here.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mim takes an impromptu road trip back to her mother when her stepfamily lets slip that she’s sick. Mim knows she isn’t quite right herself, but she wants to know why. See my review here.
  • The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter – Cassie’s relationship with her mother has been toxic for years, culminating in Cassie spending the last 2 years in a psych ward against her will. Now college is about to start and she is released, determined to put her past behind her. But then her mother turns up promising all the love and attention Cassie always wanted. See my review here.
  • The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord – Paige’s boyfriend drowned in a freak accident the previous summer, and now she’s facing junior year as The Girl Whose Boyfriend Drowned, with a side of anxiety. Her attempt to make a better year for herself doesn’t go as planned, but that’s kind of a good thing. The friendships in this story are wonderful! See my review here.

When We Collided

collidedby Emery Lord
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars

It’s been awhile since I had a 5-star read! I loved this book from page 1 (but I waited til chapter 3 to commit) and I couldn’t stop thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it. I’ve long admired the author from afar, on Twitter (I think that’s literally the only time this has happened to me) and I finally got around to reading this book that I bought weeks ago. So glad my best friend referred me to her a year ago! (I told you, reading more recs from friends was a goal this year–because yes, I have this kind of painfully slow track record).

The story itself? A teenage summer love story set in a tiny Californian beach town called Verona Cove. Vivi and her artist mother are there for the summer, and Vivi quickly meets Jonah (a townie) and decides he’s cute enough for a summer date. Ordinarily, this would bother me, BUT. I think this is realistic for some teens (and adults). Also both of them are clearly looking for a distraction and a summer fling will work just fine for that.

Vivi is hiding her bipolar disorder from everyone because she is determined to be better now. Jonah is surviving by a thread in the wake of his father’s death after months of taking care of his 3 younger siblings and his depressed mother. Naturally, their relationship is a mix of light fun and bitter arguments. And the best part is–they are both right, and they are both wrong. They are both broken in different ways, and their relationship isn’t going to fix that.

So much to love here: 2 distinct POV voices, present parents, sibling relationships, issues not related to the romantic relationship like money and the Future, mental health and illness, and a definite streak of feminism (which is why I love Emery Lord of course). Also you can’t help but love the symbolism behind the names–Vivi is vivacious and lively, Jonah is drowning in an ocean of pain and responsibility he doesn’t want (similar to the biblical prophet in the whale).

I love that this story includes the silly and the sucky moments of family life. Some days you’re laughing outside with the sprinkler on, sometimes you’re screaming because you can’t stand them another minute. I love that the parents have their own problems (whether it’s depression or the struggle of when to trust your kid-who-is-almost-18-but-they’ll-always-be-your-kid).

This story made me laugh and tear up and it’s just the right length. No, these characters aren’t always “likeable” (I saw that mentioned in a lot of reviews) and that is the point. They are just regular people trying their best. It would be better if we could see everyone with mental health problems that way.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, When We Collided is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes – Maguire is bad luck–terrible things happen to people when she’s around. Her new therapist suggests some challenges that will help her overcome her “curse” with cognitive behavioral therapy, but Maguire isn’t convinced it will work. Her biggest challenge becomes a fellow tennis player who has a crush on her. Will she be able to take back the life the Universe stole from her?
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – Cath and Wren are twin sisters who have done everything together-including obsess over the Simon Snow series and its fanfiction. But then Wren drops the bombshell that she’s not rooming with Cath for their first year of college, and she doesn’t care about Simon Snow anymore either. Cath isn’t sure how to cope, especially when her roommate’s cute friend keeps hanging around her dorm room trying to talk to her.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mim is not thrilled with her stepdad’s new family or their new home. When she learns her mother is ill, she takes a secret road trip hundreds of miles back to see her, and maybe learn about herself along the way. See my review here.
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – Lia and Cassie make a pact to be the thinnest girls in school. But when Cassie dies from bulimia, Lia feels haunted by her best friend’s spirit and the conviction that if she can just be thin enough, she and all her problems can disappear for good. See my review here.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – Charlie is starting high school with no friends and no clue how to survive. When two seniors adopt him into their group, he has a lot to learn about life and how to deal with the secrets of his past. See my review here.
  • The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter – Cassie leaves the psychiatric hospital her mother forced her into two years previously, determined to start college and put the past of their toxic relationship behind her. But then her mother shows up promising all the love and attention Cassie always wanted, and she wonders if they can start over. See my review here.
  • The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – This is a relatively short novel about Pat and his quest to become the perfect man so that God will restore his estranged wife Nikki to him. His neighbor Tiffany has her own issues, but it takes him awhile to realize they might be good friends. The writing is great, both book and movie are excellent.
  • Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – Although not the most accurate in terms of symptoms / diagnosis, this is such a good story I couldn’t resist including it. Alex suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is never sure what’s real and what isn’t. When a cute boy takes an interest in her, she begins to wonder whether he’s real, or if she made him up. See my review here.

The First Time She Drowned

24724627by Kerry Kletter
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 15, 2016

I fell in love with the cover for this book, then I fell in love with the jacket summary, then I finally got it from the library and I fell in love with the writing. I’d seen a few reviews commenting on how beautiful the prose is in this story and they were all accurate. From the memorable first line, “My mother wore the sun like a hat…” to the last page, the diction and imagery captured me. To me it read like an adult novel rather than YA because Cassie is in college, the tone is heavy, and the story is about the adult relationship between Cassie and her mother. There is a lot of crossover appeal here, either way.

Cassie is checking out of her mental health hospital AMA (against medical advice) to attend her first semester of college. She’s understandably more nervous than excited because she’s been sequestered from the world for two years since her mother left her there against her will. We follow Cassie as she adjusts to the real world and tries to move past the complicated relationship with her mother. But just as she decides she’s over it all and will focus on her future, her mother reappears, promising the love Cassie has craved her entire life.

We slowly see the two narratives at war in Cassie’s life: what she believes her childhood was like, and what her mother says it was like. What Cassie believes herself to be, and what her mother thinks of her. As Cassie meets more and more people who seem to react strangely to her relationship with her mom, Cassie finds it harder to decide what really happened. This novel is an incredibly moving picture detailing how insidious and toxic abusive relationships are with chilling scenes and dialogue.

I’ve had friends with relationships that reminded me of Cassie’s mom; these women would strike their daughters physically and lash out verbally in my presence; they commented on their daughter’s weight/appearance; they said no boy will ever want them unless they can change everything about themselves, and then called their own daughter a whore or a slut. And half an hour later we’d be called out for dinner as if nothing happened. It was embarrassing and heart-breaking for me, and I can’t imagine how my friends felt at the time. When you’re a freshman in high school (especially from a religious background) nobody tells you how to react or help or deal with these issues. I wish now I’d done more than just tell my parents—it came down to “it’s none of our business” and that response made me sick to my stomach. As if their life had to be in danger before anyone would intervene, but their mental and emotional stability were fair game.

This story is emotionally exhausting and important to read. So often the mental health issues behind abuse aren’t thoroughly explored (for both the abuser and the victim) and the author handles this in an expert manner. I can’t recommend this enough!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The First Time She Drowned is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – Lia and Cassie are best friends with a pact to be the skinniest girls in school. Cassie prefers to vomit whatever she eats, Lia chooses to eat nothing. But when Cassie dies, Lia feels doubly haunted by her friend’s spirit and her own eating disorder, a nasty voice in her head that whispers if she can just lose enough weight, she and her problems will disappear. See my review here.
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi is a self-described fat Mexican-American just trying to fit in and survive her senior year. Between her absent father’s infrequent appearances, the pressure not to be “White,” her friend’s pregnancy and her other friend attempting to come out to his family, Gabi has a lot on her plate. But writing becomes her sanctuary in this beautiful, coming-of-age story told through her diary entries. See my review here.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mary Iris Malone (Mim) is not okay with how her life is going. She’s not okay with knowing everyone thinks she is crazy. She’s not okay with her father’s remarriage. And she’s not okay with her father moving her replacement family hundreds of miles away from her mother. When letters from her mother stop, and Mim overhears a conversation that indicates her mother is ill, she wastes no time. She takes a bus to her mother. See my review here.

Sunny Side Up

24612600by Jennifer L. Holm (author) and Matthew Holm (illustrator)
Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars

This book. Is. Terrific. We found this on an end-cap during a bookstore event and made the best impulse buy of the year! This all-color children’s graphic novel set in 1976 addresses some surprisingly tough issues as 10-year-old Sunny spends a month with her grandpa in his retirement community. Sunny thought her family would take a beach vacation this summer, but it turns out she’s sent to her grandpa’s, alone, with nothing but old people and cats for company. But then she meets Buzz, who introduces her to comic books, and she begins to figure out why she’s with her grandpa, and that the reasons for her lack-luster summer aren’t her fault.

So much of this story is told not through dialogue, but through the art itself. It feels like an authentic preteen girl’s point-of-view, and there is humor and sadness in equal measure, much like Pixar’s film “Inside Out.” Sunny feels the invisibility of being a child, but her blunt questions come out at just the right times. The subtle commentary on feminism and comic book heroes is on point, and the characters come alive quickly. This is a semi-autobiographical story intended to help kids feel comfortable discussing their own feelings about serious family issues, and I think it achieves that. You can read it in an hour and it’s both funny and emotional. I loved this and could not recommend it more!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Sunny Side Up is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s store website, here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Smile by Raina Telgemeier – A harrowing story of 6th-grader Raina as she deals with an injury that requires multiple rounds of braces and finding out who her real friends are. This comes highly recommended, though I haven’t read it myself yet.
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – When Coraline’s family moves into a new house, she discovers a secret way to live the life she’s always dreamed of. But then the Other Parents want her to stay forever, and she has to find a way to save herself and her family.
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick – This got some attention from the film adaptation (excellent) a few years ago. Hugo fixes his father’s old automaton and meets a famous film-maker through his new friend Isabelle. An interesting weave of original material with historical events, and fully illustrated.
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell – A hilarious and touching account of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and his unconventional love of dragons. Hiccup recounts these adventures as an adult, complete with illustrations and commentary. The film varies greatly, but the original material is the entire basis of what you may already know and love.

Made You Up

17661416by Francesca Zappia
YA Contemporary
3 of 5 stars
Debut Novel – May 19, 2015

First of all, let me just say this book was really enjoyable and I read it in 24 hours. It’s interesting and quirky and cute and if you like YA at all, you’ll probably like it. But–and this is kind of a big but–I’m pretty sure zero medical research went into this book. Like….none. At all. Why is that a big deal? Because our main character and narrator, Alexandra, suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. I’m honestly torn on my rating because as great as it is to depict mental health issues in YA, there’s basically no point if you aren’t going to be accurate.

Alex is charming, stubborn, and constantly fighting the knowledge that anything she sees or hears at a given time might not be real. The prologue’s story about the lobsters is one of the cutest things I have ever read–seriously, ever. You’ll probably like spending time in her head, but it shouldn’t be taken as an actual schizophrenic person’s perspective. Little things like the incorrect use of the word “delusion” bothered me (especially since specific vocabulary is a theme of the book) but I could let it go for the sake of the story. Things like characters requiring no recovery time after a concussion bothered me. Alex’s parents REALLY bothered me! But I wanted to see what happened next, and I liked Alex, I wanted to stick with her. As it turns out, the last hundred pages become a convoluted mess of complex issues and “resolutions” that makes this seem much more like a typical YA story and less like a bold step into deeper waters. I get the feeling that not only was research non-existent, but the author might not even know someone with a therapist of any kind. Putting a big bow on everything at the end (and I don’t use that expression lightly) damaged what little credibility remained at the end.

Ultimately, these issues kept this book firmly in the “fun” camp and took it out of the “meaningful” “emotional” “informative” camps. I’m interested to see what this author does next–she has a strong voice and talent, but she needs a little more precision if she’s going to continue in this vein.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Made You Up is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website, here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – I’ve heard this is a more accurate portrayal of mental illness, and compared with Made You Up I would have to agree. This is a relatively short novel about Pat and his quest to become the perfect man so that God will restore his estranged wife Nikki to him. His neighbor Tiffany has her own issues, but it takes him awhile to realize they might be good friends. The writing is great, both book and movie are excellent.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mim is not okay–she has moved hundreds of miles away from her mother to live with her father and new stepfamily. But her mother isn’t well, and Mim decides to take a solo road trip to visit her. She is not putting off dealing with her own mental health issues. See my review here.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – This doesn’t deal with mental health issues but it does have an unreliable narrator and a similar sense of unreality. See my review here.
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – A dark and disturbing portrayal of Lia’s struggle with anorexia and related issues following her best friend’s death. See my review here.
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord – A funny and emotional story about Vivi and Jonah, who use each other in different ways to forget their troubles, until their problems become too big to ignore. See my review here.

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