Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

My Rating: 4-Stars

 As a Reader:

For me, this novel was smart, clever, and poignant.

Smart: Reading this book was like hanging out with that quick-witted friend you go out of your way to socialize with because doing so makes you feel more intelligent     by association. And if I’m being totally honest, maybe even a little bit jealous of said person as well.

Clever: All right, can I just say that Finch is, hands down, one of my most favorite book characters EVER. His thoughts and speech are both quirky and oh so clever. I  found myself giggling and re-reading and even quoting him out loud to my poor, indulgent daughters. Yes, he is a tragic character, but I think we can all learn from the part of him that was able to accept himself for who he really was no matter the social consequences. He was authentic and raw. He was someone we’ve all known and possibly avoided.

 Disclaimer: Spoilers lie (or is it lay?) ahead.

Poignant: Many parts of this story were so heartrending that I felt a physical prick in my chest as I read. Violet’s survivor’s guilt and subsequent fear of cars, and living in general, was painful to read. Even still, I appreciated the way the author paralleled her slow ascent from despair to Finch’s decent into darkness, and how each was able to help the other transition to where they each needed to go. Of course, I wished for Finch to find a way out of the darkness, but in the end he made his choice; and I try not to judge book characters too harshly.

As a Writer:

Even though a novel is a work of fiction, the content shouldn’t suspend the reader’s imagination. In other words, everything that happens within the pages of a novel should be believable to the reader in the real world. There were many places in this book where as an adult I thought: That’s a stretch. For example: Finch decides to paint his red bedroom walls blue so he buys thirteen cans of paint. THIRTEEN! A couple of weeks ago I bought a gallon of touch-up paint. It cost me forty-one dollars. $41×13=$533. What seventeen year-old has that kind of cash lying around to blow on paint?

Disclaimer: The following is strictly my opinion.

Removing a key character too soon may cause readers to lose interest. The final chapters of this book reminded me of The Fault in Our Stars and I found myself equally frustrated, and thus skimming to the end. Sure, sometimes a main character dies or leaves, forcing the remaining character to pick up the broken pieces of that absence and rebuild a new normal. And I get that this process is all a part of the remaining character’s journey to growth and/or healing. But when two main characters have been closely tied to one other throughout the story—as in not loosely connected while traveling individual paths with alternate plots of their own—removing one too early leaves a big ‘ol hole in what remains of the novel.

I think I would have stayed more engrossed in Violet’s healing process had the author either summed up her grieving more quickly. Or, if the author had shown Violet following Finch’s final days through the clues he dropped in more of a one-step-behind manner, this would have allowed her to slowly heal while keeping him in the story until nearer the end. Thus eliminating the void his disappearance opened.

Final thoughts: All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who is either a young adult or an adult who enjoys the occasional YA read. Up until the final chapters, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent reading.

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Vicky Cruz shouldn’t be alive.

That’s what she thinks, anyway—and why she tried to kill herself. But then she arrives at Lakeview Hospital, where she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had.

Yet Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up—sending her back to the life that drove her to suicide—Vicky must find her own courage and strength. She may not have any. She doesn’t know.

Inspired in part by the author’s own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one—about living when life doesn’t seem worth it, and how we go on anyway.

My Rating: 5-Stars

A Reader’s Take:

As an adult closely associated with a teen who is struggling to find confidence and direction, I deeply appreciated the insight this story offered. Watching while Vicky went from feeling as though literally nothing in life—including her—mattered, to finding even the tiniest of reasons to stay on earth a little longer, was both heartbreaking and eye opening. And not to sound overly dramatic, but this story was a mite life altering as well. Gaining insight into how a family can make or break a person’s recovery and the importance of making sure each family member feels valued, loved, accepted, seen and heard, is something I think every parent can benefit from. The lesson that one’s best efforts can often be misguided is a difficult pill to swallow. It was hard to watch Vicky and the others battle their inner demons, and in the end I was left saddened but somehow hopeful too.

All in all, this novel was gritty without being brash or dismal. Raw, but not offensive or off-putting. A must read for anyone living with teens and/or young adults who are trying to navigate a modern culture where self-destruction is not only glamorized, but at times feels like the only choice.

A Writer’s Take:

Authors should read novels written by other authors with similar writing styles. Because I want my writing to possess a touch of literary value, I mostly read books with beautifully crafted narratives that incorporate colorful metaphors and creative imageries. This book, however, did not. It was, for lack of a better description, simply crafted with a straight to the point, no-fuss-no-muss, style of writing. Generally, I find this “simplistic” writing style flat and uninteresting. For me, the words the author chooses are almost as important as the story those words are telling. Nevertheless, there was a gentle elegance in the simplicity of this writing. Also, because I wasn’t wading through superfluous verbiage, I found I was better able to connect to the theme of the story.

Poignant plot, plus great writing, equals five-stars.

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Katie Brenner has the perfect life: a flat in London, a glamorous job, and a super-cool Instagram feed.

Ok, so the real truth is that she rents a tiny room with no space for a wardrobe, has a hideous commute to a lowly admin job, and the life she shares on Instagram isn’t really hers.

But one day her dreams are bound to come true, aren’t they?

Until her not-so perfect life comes crashing down when her mega-successful boss Demeter gives her the sack. All Katie’s hopes are shattered. She has to move home to Somerset, where she helps her dad with his new glamping business.

Then Demeter and her family book in for a holiday, and Katie sees her chance. But should she get revenge on the woman who ruined her dreams? Or try to get her job back? Does Demeter – the woman with everything – have such an idyllic life herself? Maybe they have more in common than it seems.

And what’s wrong with not-so-perfect, anyway?

My Rating: 4-Stars

A Reader’s Take:

I’ve been a longtime fan of Sophie Kinsella. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve read every one of her novels. And though I enjoyed this book, as with much of her latest work, I felt like this one could have had a little more of what I call the “giggle factor.” In other words, the same level of amusement I came to expect from her earlier work. Even after all these years, I can still pick up one of her first novels—say, “The Undomestic Goddess”—and laugh out loud while reading. Even so, I really liked this story. It was light, but well thought out and with a much-needed message regarding social media that hummed along to the tune of “A-person’s-life-doesn’t-have-to-be-perfect-to-be-good.” A must-read for all those who often find themselves scanning through Facebook or Instagram and thinking: “Compared to others, my life sucks!

A Writer’s Take:

Characterization: A book character’s motivations and personality traits should always line up with her or his actions. People don’t do things “just because”.

Katie-Cat was a fun and evolving character, one I rooted for wholeheartedly throughout the story. Her actions lined up perfectly with her age and insecurities as a country-girl-come-to-the-big-city. But she also kept me guessing. I wasn’t sure up until the very end whether she would choose to go back to the city or stay in the country.

Alex too was an interesting character, a successful man who had been raised with privilege and what appeared to be every advantage, yet his upbringing turned out to be more of a hindrance than a leg-up. He was smart and sexy, with a touch of vulnerability that made him entirely endearing.

Instead of simply describing the physical attraction between these two characters, Kinsella did a great job of slowly developing their romance and showing the reader how and why their differing pasts actually gave them a lot in common and allowed them to fall in love.

Then there was Demeter. With her perfect career, family, hair and clothes, she was essentially everything Katie had always dreamed of becoming. I loved her and how her scattered creativity caused her futile efforts at being in charge to backfire on her. (Full disclosure: I think she’s my spirit animal.) I also liked the way Kinsella made us hate her at first before turning the table by making her our ally.

And we can’t forget about Mick and Biddy. They were quirky and lovable, the glue that held this story together and made it work.

Pacing: As writers, we often have so many great ideas for our stories that we have a hard time deciding what to keep and what to cut. And who could blame us? Once we’ve worked hard on a scene and it’s brilliant, it’s much too disheartening to let it go. Nevertheless, we should be careful to include only the material that is vital to the plot. Otherwise, the story will drag as readers ask themselves: “Is this scene necessary to the story?”, which may well lead them to start skimming.

Parts of this story dragged for me. Because some of the scenes seemed to be conveying similar information, it felt to me as though they could have been combined and/or deleted. Especially toward the end, where the author took a few too many chapters to sum up the story and let the reader know what would become of Katie and Alex.

Punctuation: Exclamation points are a great way to show excitement or anger, but they should be used sparingly. I’ve even heard editors caution to use only one exclamation point per chapter, certainly only one per page. Otherwise, it appears as though the characters are at a constant state of heightened emotion, which either becomes exhausting to the reader and/or causes the exclamation point to lose its oomph.

In this novel, Kinsella went a little crazy with the exclamation points, sometimes using up to five on a single page.

Descriptives: Authors should take care not to repeat descriptive words or phrases over and over again. The longer the book, the harder it gets to come up with ways of showing similar expressions and physical displays of emotion. But paying attention to how often we recycle the same descriptions is essential to crafting a creative and well-written novel.

Here, the author reused many words, like wry and twinkle, throughout the entire book and sometimes within pages of each other.

Overall, this novel may not have been as funny as some of Kinsella’s others, but it was an extremely entertaining read.

Enjoy!

Review Edited by Donna Kenney

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