As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti

Book – In As You Wish, author Chelsea Sedoti crafts a novel about the power of wishing.  In the small, boring town of Madison, the residents have a secret.  It is a secret they work hard to keep hidden from the prying eyes of the rest of the world, lest they be made a freak attraction.

In Madison, everybody gets a wish—one wish that will come true.    On your eighteenth birthday, you are led to the cave of wishes where the deed is done.  If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.  The residents spend their youth conjuring up the perfect wish–to be the most beautiful, the best sportsman, to have the unconditional love and devotion of their chosen mate.  Many have made wishes that they will regret for the rest of their lives.  But there are no takebacksies.  No wish can be undone.

For 17 year old, Eldon, his upcoming wish is a source of stress and despair.  He fails to relate to the giddy excitement of his fellow classmates and friends as their wishing days also draw closer.  He is pressured constantly by his mother to do the right thing, to make a wish that will help his family and support those he loves.  What Eldon desires more than anything is to just ignore the whole tradition altogether and never make his wish.  Through the stories of other wishers and their mistakes, Eldon tries to understand how to make the best decision, a decision that could change his entire life for better or worse.  He’ll do anything he can to not make the same mistakes as those around him.

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

Book – Growing up is hard. Growing up in a poor werewolf family is even harder.

Mongrels written by Stephen Graham Jones is the coming of age story of a young nameless narrator. Steeped in werewolf lore this story bares its fangs and sinks it teeth into you. It’s an inventive take on the werewolf that gets under your skin—in a good way. It’s not a simple horror book but a cleverly disguised social commentary on the impoverished American south. The book follows our young protagonist, an orphan raised by his aunt Libby and uncle Darren. The boy grows up hearing wild and at times gruesome tales from his grandfather. Theirs is a family of werewolves; at least that’s what his grandfather has led him to believe. It’s why his family is always on the run, living at the edges of society, outcasts, transients, wandering the south in a beat up trailer with no destination in mind, scouring for loose change to buy hotdogs. Libby and Darren take up odd jobs always trying to stay two steps ahead of the law and those who hunt their kind. His family is as dysfunctional as anyone else’s, and he always feels like an outsider waiting for something to happen. He desperately longs to fit in, convincing himself it’s for all the right reasons, but he hasn’t turned and if he hasn’t turned by his late teens, he never will. He’s close to it, he can feel it, can scent the coppery stench of blood in the air, he just knows it.

While episodic books might not appeal to some, if you enjoy creature books, I urge you to give this book a try. Dark themes abound in each page and I found myself unable and unwilling to put this book down.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Book–In John Green’s first novel since standout hit The Fault in Our Stars six years ago, Turtles All the Way Down follows 16-year-old Aza Holmes. She and her fearless best friend Daisy hear that the criminal billionaire father of Davis, one of Aza’s childhood friends, has gone missing, with a $100,000 reward offered for finding him. Daisy ropes Aza into trying to find him for the reward money. The actual heart of the book, though, is Aza and her struggles with mental illness, anxiety and intrusive thoughts.

Despite the mystery around which the plot revolves, all of the tension and interest in the story derive from Aza’s thoughts and her interior life. If you like John Green’s signature blend of philosophy, eloquence and navel-gazing, this is a great thing: you will love this book. If, like me, you prefer your books to be a touch more plot-driven and full of dialogue, you might prefer John Green’s other books, or possibly another author entirely. What I can say is that Aza has a strong narrative voice and her difficulties with mental illness feel utterly real. If you enjoy this book or want to read more YA books with mental illness themes, I recommend Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan or Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Raw (2016)

Movie–Justine, lifelong vegetarian, comes from a family tradition of vegetarian veterinarians (try saying that 3 times fast). The movie follows her first days at her new school with her upperclassman older sister and her new roommate, the brutal hazing she and the other freshman endure, and the bloody consequences that ensue. The freshman class is drenched in animal blood à la Carrie and made to eat rabbit liver. Justine is pressured into eating it by her sister, despite their vegetarianism. This proves to be a terrible mistake. Justine finds herself with an sudden and insatiable craving for living tissue: hair, raw chicken cutlets, and even human flesh… The nightmarishly oppressive and clinical atmosphere of her school provides the ghastly backdrop for Justine’s struggle, and inevitable failure, to control her urges.

When this movie was screened at the Toronto film festival, some of the viewers fainted, and it’s not hard to see why. One scene in particular that takes place after a bikini waxing gone wrong is very hard to watch. Also, be aware that this movie is in French with English subtitles in case that’s not your thing. If you like Raw, you might also enjoy the cerebral cannibalism found in Hannibal seasons 1-3.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Book–Henry “Monty” Montague, bisexual teenager and soon-to-be British lord, is a drunk disappointment to his abusive father. His last hurrah before descending into the doldrums of running the estate at his father’s side is his grand tour, the trip around the European continent that many young male aristocrats take to shore up overseas alliances and soak up some culture. Monty is not interested in alliances or culture; he’s interested in (read: has a massive crush on) his traveling companion, his biracial best friend Percy, and in getting drunk and laid as much as possible. Monty’s tour gets hijacked by his father sending along his sharp-tongued little sister Felicity and, even worse, a chaperone to keep Monty on a strict itinerary. However, when Monty swipes a MacGuffin from one of his father’s allies and highwaymen ransack their carriage to get it back, their tour takes a sharp turn toward adventure, complete with alchemy, pirates, and even true love.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is so darn much fun. Monty, Percy, and Felicity are all such well-drawn characters with great dialog and relationships with each other. While each of the characters has some darkness and secrets in them, the overall tone is optimistic. If I had any complaint about this book, it’s that it felt too modern. Monty’s coolness with his bisexuality (and conception of it as such) among other things seems anachronistic and is not entirely explained away by the Author’s Note at the end. If you enjoy this one, you might also like the Doctrine of Labyrinths series by Sarah Monette for a darker, more complex take on an adventuring and queer romance story or Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda if you were into it for the character dynamics and romance, but not the adventure.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Book – I love author Sophie Kinsella, my favorite books by her being The Undomestic Goddess, Remember Me? and I’ve Got Your Number. They’re great romance reads with just the right amount of comedy and cute. But young adult novel Finding Audrey is definitely at the top of my list, still containing some of that romance, but centering on a young teen. Fourteen-year-old Audrey rarely leaves her house, and wears sunglasses everywhere she goes, even indoors. Since an incident occurred at her school, Audrey has become homeschooled and agoraphobic. She suffers from depression and anxiety that cause her to hide from everyone but her family. She avoids all eye contact and wears her dark sunglasses at all times. This is how Audrey lives, in fear of the next thing that will set off her nerves. That is until she meets her brother’s best friend, Linnus.

Linnus sees Audrey and he doesn’t follow the rules. He walks unknowingly into her sacred safe space that no one is allowed into. He takes Audrey by surprise but she finds herself curious to understand Linnus’ intentions. Slowly their comfortability grows, and the two become friends.  Linnus pushes Audrey to move out of her comfort zone. But finding her way in this new world of possibilities is overwhelming for Audrey. Her past has lead her to a life behind closed doors, fearful to venture into the outside world, scared of judgement and the unknown. Linnus doesn’t judge her; his friendship helps Audrey to come out of her shell and give the outside world a second chance.

This is one of my favorite young adult books. Also on my very specific booklist of agoraphobia/anxiety-related fiction is Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall.

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

Book – The Selection Series by Kiera Cass is my #1 guilty pleasure reading. It’s “The Bachelor” (Dating competition) meets The Hunger Games (Caste system). America Singer lives in a society divided by castes. Each member of the kingdom is assigned a number based on their relatives. A One can afford all the luxuries and never have to worry about lack of shelter, food, or money. Eights are the lowest, the handicapped, drug users, those who have nothing.  It’s rare for someone to rise about their status to a higher number. America is lucky to be a Five, meaning she and her family are artists who make money by performing for others, though they still struggle to support themselves.

Enter “The Selection.” Thirty-five girls are chosen to compete for the hand of the prince. All the young women of age are invited to apply. It’s a fairytale, the chance of finding true love with the prince. Participants also receive financial support for their families during their time in the competition. America has already found the (secret) love of her life, but reluctantly submits her application and is chosen. On arrival to the royal castle, America finds that Prince Maxon is not at all what she expected. As she forms friendships with the other applicants, America struggles to decide what she really wants. Will America stay true to her love back home? Will life in the royal castle change that stubborn, proud girl who first entered it’s gates? With the additional threat of rebels attacking the castle, will America be able to find what her heart desires?

I really love the character of America; she fights for what she believes in no matter the consequences and is fiercely loyal. We have the entire series in print at the library, as well as in Ebook on a pre-loaded Kindle available for 2-week Checkout. Visit Goodreads for a complete list of the series order.

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Book— At scholarship student Jordan Sun’s elite, arts-focused boarding high school, getting cast in the school musical isn’t just a fun diversion–it’s a make-or-break-your-career proposition. After she gets passed over for the musical the third year running, Jordan gets some hard advice. For an alto 2 like Jordan, the deepest register for female voices, there just are not many parts, leading or otherwise, in musical theater. Shortly after, Jordan hears that there is an open spot in the Sharpshooters, the most prestigious a capella octet on campus, and decides to audition. The only catch? The Sharpshooters is an all-male group. Can alto 2 Jordan be just the tenor the Sharpshooters need?

Redgate’s characters, especially the Sharpshooters, are a diverse, tight-knit bunch and it’s a pleasure to see Jordan become a member of their little family. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this story because I know next to nothing about music and even less about a capella, but I needn’t have worried. Noteworthy should appeal equally to music neophytes and music buffs. If you like realistic, well-drawn characters, high school stories with a dash of romance, and stories exploring gender, you’ll definitely want to read this book. If you enjoy this one, you might also enjoy the manga series Ouran High School Host Club, which has a fairly similar premise (girl cross-dresses and gets in with a popular club of boys at a prestigious school) but a sillier tone.

Girls (2012)

TV Series – It seems to me that the TV series Girls has become an obsession in the world of millennials, and just in general.  It’s one of the most realistic portrayals of mid-twenties life that I’ve seen in a television show.  Sure, certain aspects are clearly dramatized, as in any popular series, but it just feels real.

Lena Dunham stars as the main character, Hanna, but is also an executive producer, which is pretty impressive.  The series follows a group of budding adults: our starring character, Hanna, her best friend, Marnie, the bubbling Shoshana, and eccentric Jessa.  They each have such distinctive personalities; it’s fascinating to see how they change and grow as the seasons progress.  They’re in that phase of their lives where they’re cut off from their parents, struggling to pay rent, while also trying to maintain friendships, romantic relationships, and holding down jobs to support themselves.  The experiences can be crude, disturbing, and intensely sexual, but it’s also though-provoking and something good to reflect on.  It deals with difficult topics including: mental illness, drug use, sexuality and the daily struggles of life.

I turn to The Office when I need some comedic relief after watching Girls, which often makes me think too much about my own 20’s life.  It presents characters that feel like people I might know and provides a good example of how relationships change after college. I really enjoy this series as a whole.  As an added bonus, Adam Driver stars in the show, albeit as Adam, an often disturbed/disturbing love interest.  I adore Adam Driver as the angsty Kylo Ren, so it’s always a pleasure to see him on screen.

 

 

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Book–High school senior Desi Lee likes to have her life under control. With perfect SAT scores, high school popularity, and a great relationship with her goofy, Korean-drama-obsessed widower dad, Desi’s drive and methodical determination have gotten her almost everything she wants in life. The only thing she’s missing is a boyfriend. When she feels an instant connection with impossibly cool and handsome new student Luca Drakos, she decides to apply her scholarly single-mindedness to the project of snagging Luca. Using her father’s Korean drama formulaic romances as a template, she devises a step-by-step plan to win Luca over. Staged near-death experiences and contrived K-drama hijinks ensue.

I had mixed feelings about this book; Desi’s plans cause real harm to real (well, fictional-real) people and she is upfront about how bonkers her plans get. I found that this book was immensely fun if I didn’t take it too seriously, sort of like Korean dramas themselves, in fact. Desi is a charming, strong-willed protagonist with an out-of-whack moral compass who, without spoiling anything, gets off a bit too easy for some of the dangerous stunts she pulls. If you enjoy I Believe in a Thing Called Love, I recommend books by Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen.