Book Review: The Quiet You Carry by Nikki Barthelmess @nikkigrey_ @fluxbooks

The Quiet You Carry
Nikki Barthelmess
Flux, March 2019
ISBN 978-1-63583-028-6
Trade Paperback

Teens face many troubles. From typical to uniquely terrible, talked-to-death to barely touched; there is a tie that binds: this part of life is a different kind of tough.

The Quiet You Carry ponders points that may not be particularly prevalent in publishing yet, but actually affect many children today. Certainly domestic-abuse situations are beginning to be addressed and recently, I’ve read about characters in foster-care and adoption. Still, I’m admittedly overwhelmed with what I’ve learned here and a bit ashamed of my ignorance. Taboo topics turn to thoughtful talking points when Ms. Barthelmess brilliantly blurs lines.

Contrary to popular belief, first impressions are not always accurate. The very person that seems aloof and uncaring may have the biggest heart. Only, it has been so badly broken, on multiple occasions, that it has hardened in self-preservation. After all, enthusiasm and an earnest need to make a difference can definitely be dampened by a laborious, under-staffed system. Add in the horror humans inflict on one another, and that intuitive good nature is bound to become buried beneath metaphorical armor in a vain effort to hold onto the very last bit of a kind, caring and conscientious soul.

Abuse does not need to be physical to invoke very real pain and suffering. Victoria’s story is not just about how her father changed after her mother’s death. Equally important examples of manipulation in her parents’ marriage paint a bigger picture. Accompanying this sweet, sheltered teen through her trials and tribulations evokes every kind of tear, from heartache to hope. Being that teens tend to be resilient creatures; bending, never breaking, there is also some humor.

I cannot imagine a better way to enlighten and empower our adolescents.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2019.

Book Review: The Red Labyrinth by Meredith Tate

The Red Labyrinth
Meredith Tate
Flux, June 2019
ISBN 978-1-63583-034-7
Trade Paperback

In Trinnea, the citizens are Skilled or Blank. Enviable abilities set the Skilled apart and allow them to create their own hierarchy. Almost. Pathetic people possessing only the capabilities of mere human beings are Blanks; good for only hard labor and deplorable jobs.

Wonderfully walled to keep out criminals, the banished and Blanks…along with anyone who has insulted The Leader, the population of Trinnea is a proud one. And eerily of one mind. Except Zadie. Having been stripped of pride at a tender young age, she is one of the few Un-Skilled inside the city, and she certainly stands out.

As if her blatant lacking wasn’t enough to elicit sneers and jibes, Landon, the golden-boy of Skills and Trinneans alike, is inexplicably her best friend. Bitter jealously and undeserved anger permeate the air around her. While this leaves much to be desired, Zadie is soon to see how simple and safe this life is.

It is one thing to be among determinedly ignorant individuals that have banded together to support someone that seems to be a self-absorbed blow-hard; but when said crowd syncs into submission under rebels, simple survival is no longer enough for Zadie. She has others to save and, for once in her life, Landon is nowhere to be found.

Communications down, Zadie’s only option is to actually approach The Leader. She will need to outwit dark riddles and terrible tricks while traversing the terror-inducing twists and turns of the Labyrinth that separates The Leader from Trinnea. Worrisome, but the inevitable encounter with Dex, the psychopath who has made the maze his home, is what truly scares her.

Shoving her fear deep down, Zadie enters the Labyrinth. Challenges and lessons learned along the way show her that, even if she makes it out alive, every single part of her life will be drastically different.

I was immersed in Zadie’s quest, admiring her strength, selflessness, intelligence and inherent need to do the right thing. Quite frankly, if there isn’t a follow-up, Ms. Tate has firmly established herself as one of those ornery authors whom I adore, as I gnash my teeth, just a tiny bit.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2019.

Book Reviews: Tinfoil Crowns by Erin Jones and Taking Chances by Kelsey Abrams

Tinfoil Crowns
Erin Jones
Flux, May 2019
ISBN 978-1-63583-032-3
Trade Paperback

Fit is tearing me in two. Wounds from warring emotions: fury, disbelief and a deeply-buried desire to forgive, are palpable and painful. Part of me needs to give her a hug.

Vehement denial that horrific symptoms may manifest from a mental illness is easy to understand. Unless you’ve been through it or witnessed it, first-hand. With knowledge gleaned, I also easily imagine shaking this young lady by her shoulders.

All moms make mistakes. And, at first, it seems as if Fit and Frankie’s mother messed up big-time. Even if she was suffering from postpartum problems, solo.

Frankie’s willingness to forgive should surprise no one. Fit’s younger brother is clearly a sweet kid, and the talented artist has never been one to hold a grudge.

Dubs, the dad that witnessed his daughter’s downfall, then took in her two tiny children, well, he’s somewhere in the middle. He may not want to wholly wrap his mind around the intricacies of psychosis, but he may have to, if he wants to hold onto his belief that his beloved off-spring was honestly unable to control her actions, or even ask for assistance.

When the day arrives for mom to move into the already crowded apartment, Frankie and Dubs are annoyingly overjoyed. Grim determination keeps Fit from feeling anything, aside from a simmering anger and overall sense of betrayal. Besides, she’s got no time for this, she is about to be big.

An agent in New York City saw his niece sporting jewelry she’d crafted from tinfoil, entranced by one of Fit’s You-Tube videos. He decided then and there that Fitted Sheet would be his next client. And it is here that our Fit manages to take self-absorption to a whole new level.

Even for a seventeen-year-old with sparkly stars in her eyes, who has happily left logic at the door. And, ok, it is not her role to be skeptical of the money man from the City, particularly since she’s seen him catapult a few of her favorite You-Tubers to fame; but, right now, this chick isn’t hearing anyone. And we don’t always know what is best at such a tender, impressionable, stubborn stage in life.

On the one hand, it may seem as if there’s nothing funny about psychiatric disorders. But, if we need to laugh at ourselves, then it would stand to reason that mental illness and humor are not mutually exclusive. Not an easy thought to convey. Ms. Jones broaches this brilliantly, in a Broad-City style that I found awesomely authentic. So happy that I’ll be able to share this with ‘my’ students before graduation!

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2019.

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Taking Chances: A Grace Story
Second Chance Ranch
Kelsey Abrams
Jolly Fish Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-149-8
Trade Paperback

This review demands to be written a bit differently. Perhaps by listing the things I love, from the very beginning. No. Before that, even. Let’s talk about the cover and title of the third book I’ve read from the Second Chance Ranch series. An atypical Juvenile Fiction front shows a disheveled and obviously distressed young girl clinging to a cat. The police car parked behind, perfectly pulls it together to pique my interest.

The title means two things, absolutely delightful! Chances, in this case, is an award-winning, purebred Persian. Grace Ramirez is the risk-taker. Sibling support from her twin and their two older sisters, sees that she stays somewhat unscathed. But, when Grace agrees to take over Miz Ida’s chores for two weeks…well, even the Ramirez girls may not be a match for all of that gardening, plus guarding the fancy feline.

Taking Chances: A Grace Story moves as quickly as the main character without feeling rushed or jumbled. It’s impossible not to love the impulsive little girl with the world’s biggest heart and it is quite a treat to watch her work so hard to be a better person.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

Book Review: Brave Enough by Kati Gardner

Brave Enough
Kati Gardner
Flux, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-020-0
Trade Paperback

Cason Martin is not a typical high-school student. She attends—half-days and classes only. Isolating, yet unavoidable. As prima ballerina in the Atlanta Ballet Conservatory properly preparing to audition for the American Ballet Theatre, she only has time to dance. This plan has been in place for as long as Cason can remember. No distractions allowed—certainly not this nagging pain in her knee.

Everything changes in an instant when Cason learns that she won’t be pampering a pulled muscle. The injury, in fact, is a much bigger deal.

Natalie Martin probably wouldn’t be a warm-and-fuzzy maternal figure even if she wasn’t Cason’s artistic director first, single-parent second. Nonetheless, her assessment of her daughter’s diagnosis as an inconvenient time-burglar is almost stunning. Cason isn’t necessarily surprised by her mom’s reaction, but she can’t help being disappointed and frustrated.

Maybe she can’t count on her mother, but no one should suffer sickness alone. It is often other adolescents that have dealt with disease who come together to create the strongest support system.

Davis Channing conquered cancer, but now he has a different fight on his hands—with the demon of addiction. Recovering while repaying his debt to society has Davis volunteering in the very hospital that treated him. He may not be just what Cason needs, but the dude knows everyone and is effortlessly the epitome of a kind soul. His sincere desire to be beneficial is evident. The fact that he could use a friend right now, is not.

I read a lot as a teen, but I can only recall one instance when a serious illness affected anyone my age. Now, we have non-fiction and realistic-fiction options for high-school and middle-grade readers that talk about kids being seriously sick. Ms. Gardner joins awe-inspiring authors such as Josh Sundquist, Sophia Bennett, Jordan Sonnenblick, and John Green to fill this void.

Compassionately composed, Brave Enough is an honest journey from heart-ache to hope that deftly demonstrates the strength, resilience and adaptability of our youth.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2018.

Book Review: Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi

Outrun the Wind
Elizabeth Tammi
Flux, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-026-2
Trade Paperback

Never, ever forget to honor Artemis. This Greek goddess relishes revenge. With a fine-tuned, blood-curdling cruelty. One retaliation resulted in the creation of The Calydonian Boar. In an either epic display of ignorance, or a sick desire to taunt the deity, the very King that caused her anger, proceeds to order his son to select a hunting party to slay her beast.

Despite vehement opposition, Prince Meleager includes Atalanta. He knows she’s an asset as “…the fastest runner he’d ever heard of and the most precise archer he’d ever dreamed of,” but his comrades simply see a beautiful, but (by definition, useless) female.

Until the moment the boar is felled. And the men see Artemis, in her righteous rage and flanked by her huntresses, glaring at them over the corpse of her creation.

Then, the hunters happily give Atalanta full and complete credit for the kill. She has only one real option. Atalanta runs.

Fighting to make her own way (quite literally), Atalanta is followed by one of Artemis’ patronesses as her father frantically searches for her. Kahina, a natural huntress with hidden knowledge, makes it to Atalanta’s home first, and awaits her arrival.  It is when Atalanta and Kahina come together that the sparks really fly.

I’ve always been a fan of retold fairy-tales, so I was certainly psyched to check out mythology re-imagined. Ms. Tammi manages to stay true to themes; the lives of mere human beings are secondary to the quarrels among the gods and goddess, while keeping current with quick-witted, cutting dialogue. This is simply too good to keep to myself, so I’ll be sending my copy to my favorite classroom library. And I’ll be looking forward to more from Ms. Tammi.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2018.

Book Review: My Whole Truth by Mischa Thrace

My Whole Truth
Mischa Thrace
Flux, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-024-8
Trade Paperback

I’ve struggled with this review for a few weeks, because I was stunned. Speechless. Now, I accept the fact that I will never find and assemble accurate words to aptly address my deep desire for everyone to read this book. But, I can’t keep not telling you about My Whole Truth by Mischa Thrace. So…

Starting this story is a bit like having a bucket of ice-cold water dumped over your head. From out of nowhere. That steal-your-breath, shocking feeling, fused with white-hot anger, stayed with me. Quite frankly, still simmers. Perhaps, because this Realistic Fiction plot is so current, it is almost creepy.

The scenario certainly sets me off, but there’s a brilliant balance with the sincere and effortless strength and support that Seelie receives from her friends. And because they are adolescents, situations can only stay serious for so long. Even from her hospital bed, merely moments after being attacked, Seelie stays true to teens everywhere by easily ignoring simple ‘stay still and quiet’ instructions. And she calls her friends, not a parent. Although, she is not wrong there.

If everyone had a best bud like Lyssa, there would be no more bullying. The ultimate antihero, I couldn’t help but cheer a little bit whenever she stepped out of line. From the minute she arrived in the emergency room, all the way to the end of the tortuous trial, Lyssa stuck by Seelie’s side.

Whereas, Seelie’s mother stayed busy with her restaurant, as usual. Since she wasn’t in the hayloft at the time, Mom couldn’t be expected to actually know what happened anyway. She does recall that Seelie has always been rude to Shane, while seemingly everyone else in the entire town adores the judge’s son. And maternal ambivalence is only the tip of the iceberg.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2018.

Book Review: Things I’d Rather Do Than Die by Christine Hurley Deriso

Things I’d Rather Do Than Die
Christine Hurley Deriso
Flux, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-022-4
Trade Paperback

The senior year of high school often starts with an almost-desperate desire to get through, get out and get on with life. Students have been sorted into pseudo-boxes; cliques are closed and relationships seem cemented. Passing classes, prom dates and plans for after high-school are the parts everyone knows about, but there are some adolescents who long for such simple problems to solve.

Perhaps the parental situation is such that a teen is pulled from practices to pick up his intoxicated dad. Or maybe evenings are spent sobering up a mom that is mostly numb. A fantastic father may fall ill, leaving his daughter to worry that she and her step-mother will be even less related, in his absence. Serious and secret situations can be a very real part of growing up and that is perfectly portrayed in Ms. Deriso’s Things I’d Rather Do Than Die.

Jade isn’t easily defined. She “…is “other” on every checklist,” and exists around the edges, with only her best bud by her side. Intelligent, with an obvious need for knowledge and openly agnostic, students see her as icy and unapproachable.

Everyone adores Ethan, though. The star quarterback that’s “…always organizing Jesus-y things at school” with his gorgeous girlfriend by his side seems to have a smile for everyone.

Immune to the A-lister’s charms, Jade seethes when Ethan dashes into the gym at closing time. Now, she has to work late so that he can work-out. But that will be the least of her worries.

Although an event may be life-changing, the differences are not instantaneous. One very long night of honest, albeit awkward, conversation nags Jade consistently, causing her to question her stringent beliefs and reexamine decisions. Even Ethan begins to question his faith—or at least the reasons it is so important to him.

I love tough topics being addressed with spot-on, diabolical dialogue that is simultaneously biting, humorous and thought-provoking. Although I have read about teens tangled in religion, it was always a battle between two different beliefs. I really enjoyed the unique, introspective spiritual consideration and the personal growth in this heart-wrenching, yet hopeful novel.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2018.