Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue, by Cath Crowley, is written from two people’s points of view; Rachel and Henry. These Australian teen, best friends tell the ups and downs of their loves and losses, with books playing a big part in their lives.

Henry’s family owns a second-hand bookstore, with a unique ‘Letter Library’. This is what their bookstore, Howling Books, is best known for. Anyone can write or mark anything in any of the books in the Letter Library. A letter to a loved one, a dedication, underlining a few words they liked. They’re all so unique, which makes it interesting. The rest is for everyone else to see and imagine different things from these little notations. This was a touching and vital part of the story, as many love stories are explained through this library. Including Rachel and Henry’s. One thing I disliked was how Henry kept going back to his girlfriend, Amy, who he started dating after Rachel left her childhood home to live by the ocean with her family. Rachel and Henry are destined to be together, and Cath Crowley makes you wait for it. Her intense writing keeps you on the edge of the seat, as Rachel comes back to Henry’s town after three years. Only this time, she’s got a secret. Her brother, Cal, drowned in the ocean, and she isn’t taking it well at all. Her moods change, she’s skinnier, she bleached her hair, and she decides to not tell anyone about her loss. Rachel took a job at a coffee shop near her aunt’s house, where she stays because of the move. But the job miraculously falls through, and her aunt found her work at Howling Books, cataloging the Letter Library. Rachel and Henry see each other for the first time in three years, and it’s not pretty. Even though Rachel is supposedly ‘over’ Henry, she still wants nothing to do with him. She tries to avoid him the best he can, until one night, their friend is playing at a club, and Henry decides to drink a little more than he should have. Amy broke up with him earlier, and said that she was in love with someone else. That someone else was Greg Smith, a good looking guy with lots of money. Amy says it’s got nothing to do with Henry, but he’s convinced it’s because he doesn’t make much money, working at a second hand bookshop. Although she doesn’t want to admit it, they both know Henry is a little bit right. Rachel and Henry run into each other at the club after he falls down from drunkenly accusing Greg Smith when he sees him with Amy. After that, Rachel and Henry get closer, not knowing they both want each other until it’s too late. Meanwhile, Henry’s family is falling apart, because some people want to sell the bookstore and the others don’t. Seeing if the long lost friends can save the bookstore and their love is a crazy, intense story.

Words in Deep Blue is a quick read, though enough time passes to make you feel like you’re in the story yourself. Even with its many heart wrenching sad points, this is a book I could not put down. Constant shockers and amazing writing makes it a true must-read. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to be sucked into a story about love, books, and friendships. Anticipation crawls on your skin as you read about Henry and Rachel, hoping they find their true feelings for each other. Crowley’s beautiful and realistic writing makes everyone want to spread the Letter Library in their own bookstores. Cadie P.

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Interview by Flannery Fitch of Karen Fortunati Author of The Weight of Zero

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Pulaski knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine’s bipolar disease, has almost triumphed once, propelling Catherine to her first suicide attempt. With Zero only temporarily restrained by the latest med du jour, time is running out. In an old ballet shoebox, Catherine stockpiles medications, preparing to take her own life before Zero can inflict its own living death on her again.

But Zero’s return is delayed due to unexpected and meaningful relationships that lessen Catherine’s sense of isolation. These relationships along with the care of a gifted psychiatrist alter Catherine’s perception of her diagnosis as a death sentence. This is a story of loss and grief and hope and how some of the many shapes of love – maternal, romantic and platonic – impact a young woman’s struggle with mental illness.

Where did you get the idea for The Weight of Zero? Why did you choose to focus on bipolar disorder rather than clinical depression?

There was no one person or thing or event that inspired this story.  I didn’t consciously choose to write about a particular mental illness. Catherine, the main character, just appeared in my head one afternoon during a writing retreat. I knew immediately that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and that she feared life with this condition.

I’ve thought long and hard about why Catherine, why bipolar disorder and why suicide and I think she resulted from a blending of many of my life experiences. First, my husband is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and through him, I’ve learned about illnesses and treatments. Second, my life has been touched by suicide: the first by a work colleague and the second by an extended family member. Finally, I’ve witnessed the mental health journeys of family and friends, a few of which included bipolar disorder.

When I first started writing, I didn’t know that much about this condition, basically just the standard stereotypes so I threw myself into research. I’ve been asked if it was an emotionally difficult task to write this story. It was but not for the obvious reason of being inside a character with suicide ideation. I always knew how Catherine’s story would end. What got to me was the enormous responsibility I felt to make sure this story rang true; that it was authentic, accurate and respectful. I really worried a lot about that and without a doubt was the most difficult part of writing this story.

What do you hope Weight will do for readers?

The first is to reinforce for a reader struggling with any kind of issue is that they are not alone. I’d love for that reader to understand that help is really out there, even if it takes multiple attempts to find it. In The Weight of Zero, there’s a disconnect between Catherine and her first psychiatrist that becomes even more apparent when she forms a bond with her second psychiatrist. This was my vision from the very beginning and one that my editor embraced – this “failure” of care and the existence of quality treatment that might take some effort to find. I also wanted to underscore the tremendous potential when you form a true partnership with your clinician.

In addition, I’d like readers to gain an understanding of bipolar disorder by presenting an accurate portrayal of what many teenagers experience. It was critical to me that readers also appreciate how the stigma of mental illness – the stereotypes and jokes and even innocent phrases – so tremendously hampers treatment. The more aware we are, the more sensitive and respectful we become. These things have to happen if we are going to get mental health issues as mainstream as physical disorders.

What has been your favorite part of having The Weight of Zero published?

Meeting readers! As I write this, I’m less than a week out from the release date so my interaction is a little limited but I’ve done a number of appearances and have gotten to speak to readers who are awaiting the book’s release. It’s been incredibly moving to hear their reasons on why they want to read Catherine’s story and quite frankly, I’ve been blown away by their honesty. There have also been several reviews that have moved me to tears – the recognition of Catherine’s fears and struggles and equally as important, the sense of hope and optimism that the story has imparted.

I wanted this book to make conversations about mental illnesses a little easier and I’ve been floored at the response this story generates. Friends, work colleagues, neighbors, readers, potential readers, booksellers and librarians, basically anyone I spoke to about this story has had the same reaction. I give the synopsis, say the words “bipolar disorder,” “depression” and “anxiety” and the expression on their face immediately changes. The responses have been immediate: “Oh, my son/sister/ daughter has that” or “I struggle with anxiety/depression.”  That was how little it took, a thirty-second summary, to open the door to an open and honest discussion.

Why did you include a history project in this story and what was its impact on Catherine?

I was very much influenced by a paper that I wrote in school about Judy Chicago and her struggles as a female artist in the male-dominated art world of the 1960s and ‘70s. She turned to women in history for inspiration and strength but was also infuriated at how so many of their contributions had been omitted from mainstream history and culture. Her artwork, The Dinner Party, was her response.

When I set out to write The Weight of Zero, I wanted Catherine to draw inspiration and strength from a historical figure so I used a school project as a way to introduce this character. In my research, I focused initially on the D-Day Invasion and by complete luck found an article about the four women buried in the Normandy American Cemetery. Three of these women are from the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the first all female, all African-American unit to serve overseas. These soldiers suffered horrible prejudice especially in the 1940s because they were women, they were black and serving in a segregated military. And like so many accounts of women in general and during World War II, they remain basically unknown.

In The Weight of Zero, Catherine is inspired by the fictional character of Private Jane Talmadge, who is based on the recollections of members of the Six-Triple-Eight. Talmadge suffers tremendous prejudice – horrific racism and sexism – yet still forges on despite the stigma. Catherine draws on Talmadge’s example for strength to battle the mental health stigma she experiences.

Do you have any plans for future projects?

I’m finishing another serious yet hopeful contemporary young adult novel that looks at a young woman’s experience at the often-dangerous intersection of mental health and law enforcement. Bipolar disorder is at the heart of this story too but this time it’s seen through the eyes of a sibling and it examines the secret prejudices we may carry.

 

 

 

 

 

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Front Lines by Michael Grant

front lines

It’s always challenging to find young adult books without your stereotypical story. Each time I think I have found something new, up pops that same High School drama. Because I am so familiar with these types of books, when I do find something new (or even slightly new) , I become completely engrossed within the pages. I found this book to be a little more original, and became excited reading it.

Michael Grant writes about an alternate history where women could enlist during World War II. I immediately found this intriguing. The narrator follows the stories of three young women, whom are still young and somewhat naive, through the war. Let’s start with Rio.

Rio is seventeen and tall for her age. She lives in a small town called Gedwell Falls. She has strong shoulders from being the daughter of a farmer. She’s one of those girls who gets good grades, is shy, and doesn’t talk back. Her sister was killed by the “Japs”, which causes Rio to enlist. She wants revenge. This is a bold move for her because of her shy, quiet demeanor. Next up is Frangie.

Frangie is a black girl who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma . She’s a small for her 17 years. Her father had an accident and is unable to work. She enlists to save her family from absolute poverty. When she enlists she plans to become a medic. Now for Rainy.

Rainy enlists because she wants to serve her country. She wants to prove herself. Her family is Jewish, and because of this, one can guess her feeling towards the Germans. She plans to work in army intelligence.

But their enlistment processes/reasons aren’t the whole story. This book deals with the horrors of war and hard-to-answer questions, like: What is it like to see your friend die in front of your very eyes? What is it like to deal with the harsh sexism and racism of the 1940s?

Over all, this book had an dynamic plot and was conceptually intriguing. I found it especially wonderful that even though Michael Grant is a man, he did a very good job portraying his female characters. This is a must read book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

-Sierra B

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The Fall of Butterflies by Andrea Portes

fall of butterfliesIn her novel, The Fall of Butterflies, tells the story of Wilma, a young woman whose life hasn’t by any stretch of the imagination been easy.  She’s never quite fit in, her mother has been absent, and her father struggles to support them.  To make matters worse, her mother has decided that to be a proper adult, she has to abandon her hometown of What Cheer, Iowa for a pretentious private school on the East Coast.  Consequently, Wilma plans to commit suicide once she arrives there.

That is, until she meets Remy.

Remy is an enigma.  She fascinates Wilma and breathes joy back into her life with her wit and friendship.  For a while, they simply enjoy each other’s company.  Remy sometimes disappears for days on end, but she also moves in with Wilma and pushes her to try new things and meet new people.  However, Wilma soon learns that Remy has some very serious problems and some very dark secrets.

Portes tells Wilma’s story in a refreshingly frank tone by wasting no time beating around the bush and using very little figurative language.  This technique works well, and makes Wilma seem more genuine.  In addition to being painfully honest at times, The Fall of Butterflies is gripping to say the least, and Portes manages to make a story that addresses very real human concerns fun and light at times, while also solemn at others.  Portes also raises questions about social issues such as the wealth gap and subsequent prejudices as Wilma watches the lives of her wealthy friends through the eyes of a child whose father worked very hard just to keep them afloat.  The Fall of Butterflies also succeeds at character foils, both with Grease and Hamlet; although, it would have been better if Portes had not spent so much time explaining how the characters related and spent more time showing it.

This challenge is actually the key flaw in The Fall of Butterflies: Portes wastes too much time telling her reader when she should be showing them.  She does paint a very vivid picture, but she leaves very little to the imagination.  Most people are familiar enough with Hamlet to recognize that Remy shares many traits with Ophelia, and it would have been more elegant if she’d allowed the readers to make the connection for themselves.  This problem persists throughout the entire book and follows nearly every pop culture reference made, which makes it tedious to read at times.  Portes’s lack of a fourth wall also feels unnecessary and uncomfortable.  All of the points Wilma made by speaking directly to the reader could have been made more gracefully if Portes had shown them implicitly through Wilma’s thoughts or actions.  The final challenge The Fall of Butterflies faces is how to seem realistic.  It’s very difficult for adults to genuinely sound like teenagers in young adult fiction, and Portes never really manages to bring Wilma the authentistic voice of a high schooler.  She attempts to remedy this through use of pop culture references, such as “hashtags”,  and long tangents about unnecessary things, but they only feel out of place and often break the flow of the story, making them more annoying than relatable.  Even elements of the plot, such as Milo’s sudden interest in Wilma and the breakneck speed at which their relationship moves, are incredible.  Frankly, it would have been much more believable for Remy and Wilma to fall in love than for Wilma to fall hopelessly in love with Milo because she saw him across the way once.  Although the “love at first sight” trope has been successful in the past, many authors struggle to make it believable, and Portes never really achieves it.
In short, The Fall of Butterflies is witty and brutally honest, but was difficult to get through due to the aforementioned problems.  Regardless, it is an interesting read for people who would like to explore  themes such as acceptance of oneself and others, the class distinction and the issues that it causes, and what it means to live rather than to simply persist. – Paige P.

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The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

steep and thorny way 2The Steep and Thorny Way chronicles the life of sixteen year old Hanalee Denney, whose parents are an interracial couple in 1920’s Oregon.  Hanalee is still mourning the loss of her father nearly two years before, and the story begins with Hanalee confronting the boy who hit her father while driving under the influence.  He suggests that her father was killed by Hanalee’s new stepfather, Uncle Clyde, which leads her down a twisted path as she tries to learn what really happened to her father and uncovers many dark secrets along the way.  Using the framework of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Winters explores several issues of the the time including racial divides and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, homophobia and the eugenics movement, and the pressure to conform to society that fueled them.  Although Hamlet is by no means the main focus of this book, it plays a critical role in the way Winters portrays her characters and how they interact.  For example, the strained relationship between Hanalee and her Uncle Clyde is a clear reference to Hamlet’s feelings toward his own Uncle Claudius.

Winters has a talent for imagery and her novel is riddled with eloquent descriptions of the wooded town of Elston that paint a vivid image in the reader’s mind and bring the story to life.  She also has an eye for detail and includes several subtle references to brands that would have been commonly used at the time, such as the description of the “distinctive” sound of a Model T and the Canthrox soap that Hanalee uses, which helps transport the reader and make the story feel more realistic.

The challenge The Steep and Thorny Way faces is how to incorporate racial discrimination, internalized racism, homophobia, Prohibition, post-war economic troubles, and Hamlet into one novel.  In some aspects, it gracefully combines several issues, such as how the end of World War One forced many families, like the Markses, to turn to “bootlegging” to survive.  Winters also addresses the issue of internalized racism extraordinarily well and tactfully through the way Hanalee seems to idolize her mother’s and Fleur’s blonde hair and fair skin.  She even manages to offer acceptance for Hanalee at the end of the story, which was refreshing and overall well done.  Winters’s trouble begins when she tries to stay true to the plot of Hamlet.  Hamlet has a very unique plotline that, frankly, is barely believable in the Bard’s version.  With the KKK, Joe’s stories of eugenics in the prison system, and the murder of Hanalee’s father, the connections to Hamlet feel out of place and unnecessary.  The story would have flown much better and made more sense if Winters had just loosely based it on Hamlet and abandoned certain elements, such as the ghost, that make it seem far fetched.  She has so many elements to work with already that she even could have formulated a completely unique plot that still could have addressed the issues of 1920’s Oregon without the confusion that the Shakespeare element brings.

The Steep and Thorny Way was an interesting read that did touch on a lot of major issues that are still problems in today’s society while also keeping the reader interested with a quick-paced plot and many twists.  Despite its pitfalls, it is worth reading for those who have an interest in history and in exploring sides of the Roaring Twenties that are rarely discussed. – Paige P