Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King
Available in Print, eBook and eAudio.
Once again, A.S. King gives us a realistic story with twist of fantasy thrown in. Or does it even happen? Maybe it doesn’t even matter because it works.
Sarah likes art, but one day she just can’t do it anymore. She can’t draw the pear her teacher tells the class to draw. She can’t draw her own hands for another assignment. She can no longer do any of her art projects. Sarah also decides she can’t go to school anymore, so she stops going. Her parents (who have always supported her artistic talent) are not happy, but no matter what they do Sarah will not go.
What does Sarah do instead? She wanders around the city, follows a homeless artist and eventually runs into a younger version of herself. And then an older version of herself. The younger Sarah wants to talk about the family trip to Mexico and Sarah’s brother who went away. But current Sarah doesn’t want to talk about her brother and how he never calls. At home, it’s like her brother doesn’t exist.
Older Sarah tries to reassure current Sarah, but it’s not the past or future that is the problem. Sarah doesn’t want to deal with all the stuff in her life happening now. Over the course of this unconventional story, we learn the truth about her missing brother, her angry father and the reason she walked out of school.
The story is off beat enough that I had second thoughts for the first few chapters. It is odd even for A.S. King (whose books I generally love). But I am glad I continued because it is a remarkable story.
Bang by Barry Lyga
Available in Print, eBook and eAudiobook.
When Sebastian was four years old, he accidentally killed his infant sister with a gun. Ten years later, Sebastian is waiting for the right time to use a gun on himself. The voice in his head will tell him when.
Sebastian lives with his mother in the same house where the accident happened. She won’t talk about his sister Lola and what happened that horrible day even though Sebastian needs her to. By trying to avoid it, neither can ever escape it for long. His dad left long ago.
Sebastian is the guy who shot his sister. Everyone knows it even if they don’t talk about it anymore, so Sebastian is pleased when he meets Aneesa, a new girl in town. He is immediately taken with her face and how it is framed by the scarf wrapped around her head. Aneesa is different and doesn’t know anything about Sebastian’s past. They begin hanging out and quickly bond.
Aneesa suggests that she and Sebastian start an online video series of Sebastian making pizza (after impressing her with his cooking skills). They hope they will eventually be able to make money if the videos become popular enough. Is his friendship (and maybe more?) with Aneesa enough to stop the voice in his head?
The horrible death of his sister has eaten away at Sebastian, and it has come to define who he is. Heart wrenching but with hope – just what you expect from Barry Lyga.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
Available in Print, eBook and eAudio.
Marin is alone. She stayed in her college dorm (with special permission) over the holidays while everyone else went home. Marin feels like she has nowhere to go. Her mother died a long time ago while surfing and her grandpa (who she lived with) is gone now, too.
Marin lived in California until she fled to her college in New York two weeks before the semester started. She left abruptly and came with few possessions. She has tried to escape what happened back home. It is with mixed feelings that she awaits a visit from her best friend Mabel who she has not had any contact with since she left.
Something happened back in California that only Marin can explain and she has not been ready to do that. What will she say to Mabel? They were so close for so long and now they seem almost like strangers. In the middle of a snow storm, the two friends only have each other.
This is not a story of action; it is a sorrowful story of a lost young woman. Marin’s story is peeled back in small bits. Her secrets are revealed slowly through flashbacks and conversation with Mabel. It is a remarkable story that is worth the read to find out why Marin left everything behind. To tell more would be unfair to you.
Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
Available in Print & eBook.
Two voices in one town separated by decades, but connected by one tragic event, the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.
Rowan is home when workmen find a skeleton on her family’s property. Whoever the person was, they have been buried a long time. Rowan enlists her best friend to help find answers when the authorities do not see the case as a priority.
William is the son of a white father and a Native American mother living in racially charged Tulsa in 1921. His confrontation with an African American man who was speaking to a white woman sparks more anger in a city already on edge.
Rowan’s and William’s stories are told in alternating chapters. William struggles with the open racism he sees in others (including his father) and his contact with two young African Americans he grows to like. He also feels the sting of being called half breed and threatened by the obnoxious shop keeper who works across the street from his father’s Victrola business.
Rowan, the child of a white father and African American mother, feels and sees racism in current society. Her parents are financially successful so when she starts working in a medical clinic in a low income area, her eyes are opened to the struggles of others.
This incredible story interweaves the past and present skillfully to show how much we have progressed as a society and how far we still have to go. Skin color is only that and has nothing to do with who people really are inside. Basing anything on people’s skin tone is just wrong and has lead to too much pain and anguish. Rowan and William, seemingly unrelated, show that we are never that far removed from out past. I highly recommend this book. It is, sadly, very relevant to today’s world.
Speed of Life by J. M. Kelly
Available in Print.
Amber and Crystal are twin sisters and high school seniors in Oregon. Even though they’re teenagers, they have adult responsibilities. When one of the twins got pregnant during her junior year, Amber and Crystal agreed to raise the baby, Natalie, together. Amber and Crystal don’t have easy lives, but they’ve learned to take care of themselves. They’re broke and busy. Amber washes dishes at her aunt’s tavern, the Glass Slipper, while Crystal works on cars and sells lottery tickets at Jimmy’s Gas and Auto Repair. Amber and Crystal’s gambling mom and beer-swilling stepdad, Gil, aren’t much help, but their friend Han is always willing and able to lend a helping hand.
Despite their difficulties, Amber and Crystal are committed to supporting each other and reaching their goals in life. They have made plans together for life after high school graduation. Amber is going to take over the Glass Slipper and Crystal is going to work full-time at Jimmy’s. The twins are going to move out of their mom’s home and get their own apartment. Above all, they want Natalie to have a better life than they have had.
Life gets in the way of their mutual plans when Crystal gets inspired to study auto restoration at a college far away in Kansas. Crystal — scared of blowing up the sisters’ plans — keeps her college dream a secret from Amber, even while taking practical steps to turn that dream into reality.
Will Crystal abandon her dream of going to college or will Crystal pursue her dream, thus betraying the twins’ plans? Can the sisters get the better future that they want for Natalie and themselves?
Recommended for readers who like: realistic fiction, stories about families, and thinking about their future.