Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (2015)

The lazy hot days of late July, with the kids gone at sleep-away camp, seemed liked the perfect time to re-read some of my favorites. Carry On definitely counts as such.

Originally posted May 5, 2016

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“And it was a happy ending — even if isn’t the ending I ever would have dreamt for myself.”

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WOW! I absolutely loved this book! I gobbled it up, I inhaled it, I devoured it! In fact, if there were not two wonderful people in my life dying to get their hands on my copy of the book, I would have finished the last page and immediately restarted it. Rowell has truly accomplished something magical (no pun intended) with this book…she has made a fantasy story that is quality parts Young Adult romance and whimsical fairy tale. If Fangirl and Harry Potter had a love child, it would be Carry On — it is that good. While Rowell’s Fangirl is not a prequel to this book , the world of Watford was born within the pages of Fangirl and it really is a worthy place to start this journey. You can read my review of Fangirl here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-kf

I hardly know where to start in reviewing this novel. It is a fantasy story set in a magical school in England for teenage magicians learning to use their magic. There are posh uniforms, spells to learn, enemies to thwart, and evil plots to unveil. Even if it sounds like it poor version of Harry Potter, it totally works. The world Rowell creates is just different enough that while you are reading about Watford School, you feel like you are reading about Hogwarts hipper counterpart, not its replica. In a way the story is freer than HP, because the characters do not feel compelled to be so proper, nor their relationships so chaste, and the result is a funny, sexy, and thrilling book…one that gives us spells and epic magical battles but with a much more teen twist (meaning cell phones, drinking, and sex.)

Carry On is presumably book eight in a non-existent series. However, Rowell writes the story in such a way that you learn the entire backstory, the author filling in the blanks along the way so that you feel as if the other six books do exist. The effect is miraculous: readers do not feel cheated, instead reading Carry On gives you the sensation that you have read seven wonderful books, not just one. (More bang for your buck!) As you read, you are pulled into this story and you are given glimpse of all the stories that came before it.

Carry On, at its heart, is a love story. Rowell is doing something profound with this book. In the process of telling us a really good fantasy tale she is also telling us a love story about two young men and defiantly refusing to call it a “gay love story.” It simply is a love story — no qualifiers needed. And what a fantastic love story it is: filled with all the angst and drama and power of any young adult love story but infused with a real sense of tension. As we all know, while most heterosexual relationships are given cultural permission to exist, it is often the case the those for gay men and women are deemed completely taboo. Thankfully that is starting to change, and books like Rowell’s are a reflection of those (slow) changes. She is writing a love story about two men and in no way giving readers the impression that it is off-limits or unallowable. All the characters in the book accept that being gay is just part of their lives or their loved ones. Rowell makes sure that we all know she believes who you love should never matter — only how you treat them.

Summer Reading for Kids!

Many parents I know, hope to encourage their children to use the summer months to read more, either to keep up with learning outside of school or to help them build the life-long habit of being regular readers.

Research suggests that for kids to develop the habit of reading they need:

  • Access to books, magazines, audio-books, and graphic novels. Try not to limit the content, topic, or format. Reading is reading, illustrated books and audio-books included.
  • Quiet time in their day (or week) set aside for reading, or at least without screens. Boredom can be a great motivator to read.
  • Encouragement from adults that reading is fun and valuable. The most crucial way parents can raise readers is for their children to see them reading regularly!
  • Rewards for readers — and this is critical — that re-enforce reading habits. That means reward reading with reading…more books, more trips to the library, or perhaps a purchase of a new book. Avoid rewarding them with screen time, snacks, or toys.
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A favorite way that we motivate our younger kids to read: book scavenger hunts or book bingo pages! More fun than a standard book log!

My children are all very devoted readers and read all year, with the summer being a time when their reading shifts into overdrive. We do not need to encourage them to read more, per se, but we are careful to make sure that we visit the library several times a week, that we allow for quiet time for reading every day, and (this one is really important), we keep a stash a books in every car, every backpack, every pool or beach bag — so every trip, long or short, can be filled up with reading. (Side note: we stock up at the used book store in summer to prevent damage to library books.)

IF YOU WANT A GOOD BOOK TO READ WITH YOUR KIDS, TRY…

The Harry Potter series, enough said. If you have not read these to your kids, this summer you finally should (or alternately listen to the incomparable Jim Dale read the audiobooks to your whole family.)

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall is a delightful book (and series) that follows a family of sisters who are always busy stirring up trouble on their summer vacations. The three delightful sequels that follow are also worth the read, readers get to see the sisters through their girlhood and into college.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George is a timeless tale of a boy who feels too crowded by life in the city, so he sets out to live by his wits in the wilderness. Totally fascinating stories of survival that will enchant your whole family.

The Diary of A Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. I know, parents love to hate these books but kids LOVE them and they really are very funny. A great one to read curled up together, laughing at Kinney’s hysterical drawings.

The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is a adorable story about the world’s most awesome treehouse — thirteen stories of pools, game rooms, junk food-filled kitchens, and more! It also has four great sequels.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Chris Grabenstein) This wonderfully inventive story tells of a group of children who must work together using clues from their favorite books to find a way to escape from the new town library, built by a wacky gamemaker named Mr. Lemoncello. The sequel, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olpymics is just as good — maybe better — than the original.

My boys also loved classic The Phantom Tollbooth by Jules Feiffer, the story of a bored young boy named Milo who unexpectedly receives a magic tollbooth one afternoon and, having nothing better to do, drives through it in his toy car, transporting him to the Kingdom of Wisdom, once prosperous but now troubled. Also a classic to read this summer is Half Magic by Edward McMaken Eager, which will have you and your kids scrambling to do the math on just how to make the perfect wish!

Absolutely everything by Rick Riordan (by kids love the narrator of his audiobooks too!) and all of the kids books by James Patterson are sure to thrill young readers too!

How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell, so funny and filled with ridiculous translations and tips for dragon-care.

IF YOUR KIDS ARE FANS OF GRAPHIC NOVELS, TRY…

The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi

Anything by Raina Telgemeier, particularly her novels Sisters and Smile.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Try the gorgeously illustrated novels that re-tell the Star Wars stories, The Star Wars Illustrated Series (3 book but various authors) http://www.goodreads.com/series/150336-star-wars-illustrated-novels

IF YOU HAVE A FAN OF YOUNG ADULT NOVELS, TRY…

Anything by Rainbow Rowell! I have reviewed all of her books (YA and Adult) on this blog and I keep begging my friends, sister, husband, son, and everyone else to read her books. For Harry Potter fans try Carry On (http://wp.me/p6N6mT-m6) and for those who love a heart-wrenching teen romance pick up Eleanor & Park (http://wp.me/p6N6mT-nD)

Another great YA read is the His Dark Materials — The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass —  series by Philip Pullman. You will be entranced by these fantasy novels about parallel worlds whose residents are locked in an epic battle with the dark side.

Lois Lowry’ slim sci-fi dystopia, The Giver, is also a wonderful book (and a wonderful series) that you can finish in one lazy afternoon. If you are a fan of The Hunger Games series, you will love this one as well. Other notable YA sci-fi: The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins are all worth read, as are Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series, and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

Summer-reading-bingo

You can print these out full-screen to post on the fridge to help your kids keep track of reading!

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth (2017)

Carve the Mark is the newest science fiction YA novel (and first book in a new trilogy, I suspect) for Veronica Roth, the author of the wildly popular Divergent series. In this new book, Roth has taken a huge leap to outer-space, where she has created an elaborate a series of worlds, each with its own language, culture, religion, climate and political system. These far flung and diverse worlds maintain a fragile co-existence thanks to The Assembly, the universal law makers who travel around in a planet-sized ship policing and legislating. To aide the Assembly, each planet has three Oracles who predict the future and whose powers are harnessed to plan for disaster and avoid emerging conflicts.

The power-hungry Assembly has grown impatient with the current system in which they must rely on the vague and secretive visions of the Oracles. They begin to legislate the ways the Oracles divine the future and control how the predictions are “broadcast” to the universe. In short, they want the power to hear the predictions first and to be able to “interpret” them in ways that favor The Assembly’s power.

Adding another complex dimension to the story; each resident of the universe has a magical power, called their “currentgift,” which manifests itself at puberty. These gifts can vary from special culinary talents to the ability to kill with just a touch. What a person’s currentgift is can determine their place among their people: a poor child with an extraordinary gift may find he is elevated to the ruling caste; the child of an important family may be devalued if her gift fails to be useful.

The story’s action centers largely on the planet Thuvhe which is home to two peoples: the Thuvhet of the frozen northern latitudes and the Shotet of the southern hemisphere. Despite efforts by The Assembly, these two nations remain at war, each one convinced they are the rightful rulers of the planet. The Shotet are led by a cruel and violent ruling family, The Noavek’s, who have convinced themselves and their people that the Oracles have lied about their lack of legitimacy as rulers and set out to change the future by capturing the youngest sons of Thuvhe’s Oracle to see if they can force an alternative future from their minds.

As the book unfolds, two primary characters emerge from the — very, very large — cast. Cyra, the daughter of the Shotet ruling family, whose currentgift is the ability to cause immense pain or death to anyone she touches. Her violent, unstable brother, Ryz, leads their people in a bloody campaign to defeat their northern neighbors, the Thutve. His only use for Cyra is to torture and kill his enemies and he is blind to her growing unease with his tactics and the war he is waging.

Akos is a young man who, along with his older brother, was kidnapped from his Thuvhe family and raised as a captive of the Shotet. Tortured for years, the brothers are held as hostages because Ryz is convinced that one of them is fated to be the next Oracle of the planet. If that is true, Ryz hopes his years of abuse and brain-washing will allow him to control the future.

Roth seems to be drawing inspiration from Star Wars, X-men, Game of Thrones, and maybe a dash of Harry Potter. The combination is an ambitious, far-reaching, and deeply imaginative novel that transports readers into another universe, literally. The major drawbacks seem to be that the book is very humorless and relentlessly dismal, making it feel tiring at times to continue reading. Additionally, the book seems a but more complicated than necessary, but perhaps those details that seem superfluous now will illuminate the later books in the series. Overall an interesting, if complex, book.

 

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry (2016)

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For those readers who might be tempted to skip this book because of its subject, setting, or designation as Young Adult…I implore you, do not. This book tackles an immensely complicated and dark subject with beauty, heart, and a clarity of voice that make it accessible — but never easy — for readers to love. Set in the mid-to-late 1200’s in the waning years of the Inquisition in the southwestern corner of France, The Passion of Dolssa tells a tale of a region and a people terrorized by the cruel and deadly Catholic church; a church concerned more for its totalitarian power than its parishioners religious faith.

“We must flee the treacherous heresy that entwined itself around our way of life — the false beliefs that slithered through the grasses of our fair Provensa, with false teachers leading people away from the true faith and toward unholy rituals and vows. Lucifer’s enticements were no less beguiling today that those he planted in the Garden.” 28

The Church’s campaign to root out and destroy any dissenting religious opinions, be they Christian or otherwise, has left young Dolssa de Stigata’s homeland — Tolosa — a landscape of ruins, and its people living in constant fear of being judged as worshiping outside the strict boundaries of the Catholic Church. Local clergy are constantly searching for men and women who they believe are living or worshiping outside the Church’s strict confines; those who deviate are labeled heretics. They and their families face cruel punishments, often death by torture, if they are found lacking in faithful rigor. Anything at all can arouse suspicion — and more often than not nothing at all other vengeful priest or terrified neighbor — and the line between acts of Christianity charity and heresy are nearly impossible to identify. Once accused, there is almost nothing stopping the Inquisitors from finding fault and issuing punishment in the name of God.

Enter Dolssa, a young noblewoman who believes that Jesus talks directly to her, whispering sermons about kindness, charity, and love to her; sermons that she feels to compelled to share with her family and neighbors. The words the Dolssa hears “her beloved” Jesus tell her contain messages that Jesus is there for everyone, he loves all without limits, and he can be prayed to by anyone in need and be heard. As word of her gospel spread, the local Bishop and his Inquisitors become enraged. Not only is she a woman who is claiming to talk to Jesus, but she is spreading the message that all Christians can talk directly to him, with no need to go through the Church’s established hierarchy.

Predictably, Dolssa is brought before her local Inquisitor and — when she refuses to stop her preaching or to stop worshiping Jesus without the Church as an intermediary — she is sentenced to death. This is not the end of Dolssa’s story however, but the beginning. It seems that a life filled with miracles awaits her, despite the intentions of the Church.

When she escapes from her funeral pyre to safety, she goes on the run from the Inquisitors, the Knights of the Church, and a powerful — and enraged — bishop who vows to make her an example by finding and publicly executing her.

Enter our second heroine, Botille, a poor peasant woman living in the seaside village of Bajas. Here in her small village, the reach of the Inquisition seems to be fading, largely because all there are too poor to pillage. This distance from the power of the Church, and the fact that the village is overseen by a kindly (if sinful) priest, some of the old ways still exist. Fortune-tellers, healers, and wise elders are still counseled in times of illness or disaster, although everyone is aware that it is risky to do these things as they are clearly at odds with the rules of the Catholic Church.

“Where we see neighbors being neighborly, the inquisitors see heresy spreading. We see a lad bow to an uncle; they see a sympathy forming that will damn the lad to hell when he’s grown. ‘Little foxes’ they call the heretics, ‘spoiling the vineyard of the Lord.’ What they don’t understand, they destroy. And they believe they please our blessed Savior by doing so.” 147

When Botille comes across Dolssa, weak and hunted by the Church’s enforcers, she must decide whether coming to her aid — an act she sees as a simple Christian charity — could be seen as an act of heresy. The fates have already set a course for Dolssa and Botille, it seems, and soon a series of miracles — miracles which the Church would call the work of the Devil — link the two women irrevocably together and bring very great danger to the village of Bajas.

Spell-binding and filled with historical details that were completely unknown to me, the combination of the two make the book as fascinating as it is haunting.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2000)

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The Goblet of Fire at HP World.

As I have mentioned before, several times, on this blog: I am a Harry Potter fanatic. I love the books, — they remain my seven favorite books of all time — I love the movies, I love The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And I am not alone in my HP fandom: my husband, all our sons, and many members of my extended family are fans as well…this is why we have had not one but TWO family reunions at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Recently, my husband, our two oldest sons, and three of our neighbors formed a team — GO TEAM EXPELLIARUMS! — to compete in a series of Harry Potter Trivia contests. Last Sunday, our team placed fifth overall in the competition and we have advanced to the finals in March. The competition is not for the causal Harry Potter fan but rather the super, Super-Fans and the questions are obscure and complex. In preparation for this next round of trivia questions, our entire team is doing a deep dive into the Harry Potter books and films. My first assignment was to re-read and take detailed notes on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Year Four at Hogwarts). Over the past few days I have done just that and, being reminded once again of my love for this book, decided to blog about it.

For those of you who might not have read the Harry Potter books yet I must ask: what in the world are you waiting for? Go out right now and read the first book and have the second book ready…once you finish Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone you will want to immediately begin the second book. However, if you have not read the books yet, read no further as this post contains many spoilers from the book!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the book in the seven-book series in which the wizarding world that Harry has become a part of expands exponentially — in size, in scope, in complexity, and in danger. The events that unfold in the fourth book force Harry to look beyond the small corner of the wizarding world that he has inhabited for the past three years and begin to seen just how vast it really is. Over the course of the year, Harry comes to understand that Hogwarts and the UK represent only a fraction of the global wizard and witch community, along with a menagerie of magical creatures that exist as well. There is an entire universe of magic — with its differing customs, laws, and practices — that Harry discovers exists and his world-view bursts wide open.

This expansion of knowledge begins in the opening chapters with Harry’s trip to the Quidditch World Cup Finals; an international sporting event that witches and wizards from across the globe come to England to attend. His experience at the match — both traveling there, attending the game, and the experience of being around 100,000 wizards — reveals the complex underpinnings of the wizarding bureaucracy which, until that point, Harry had only a vague sense. He realizes that the Ministry of Magic has a huge job keeping the wizarding world a secret from muggles under ordinary circumstances, and it faces an almost impossible challenge of keeping their world a secret under extraordinary ones. Harry is amazed the learn of the magic needed to make the Quidditch World Cup happen — to build the stadium, to repel muggles from the area, coordinate visitors from around the world — and is thrilled by the new kinds of magic he sees while at the World Cup.

The events that take place during and after the Quidditch World Cup match also expose Harry to the complexities within the Ministry of Magic. Various departments exist with unique and difficult jobs — from regulating magical creatures to enforcing laws to protecting muggles — that are all critical to keep the world Harry loves so much running smoothly and safely. The Ministry is revealed both through its successes and its failures during the novel and Harry learns that while it is a necessary institution, he cannot rely on its officials to always act in his best interest — he must do that for himself.

Also of note in this installment is the expanding world of magical creatures that co-exist with the wizards. Not only does Harry meet more magical creatures than ever, he also learns about the complicated relationships many of them — house-elfs, goblins, giants, and others — have with humans. Exploitation, racism, ignorance are all very real threats for these non-human creatures and Harry must face the fact that wizards often chose to oppress their counterparts, rather than embrace them.

When the action moves back to Hogwarts castle the spirit of international competition continues when it is announced that the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a seven-hundred year old tradition, will be held at the school. Immediately, Harry and his classmates embark on a year that is unlike the previous three. Not only will castle host students and teachers from two other European schools for the duration of the year; but the three tasks of the Tri-Wizard Cup competition will be a central focus for students. These disruptions seem thrilling at first, but when Harry is chosen — in violation of all the rules — to be a fourth champion in the Cup, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of an international scandal. Soon Harry is caught up in whirlwind of espionage, cheating, deception, and danger.

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Tri-Wizard Cup at HP World, Universal FL.

Harry’s world, although never ordinary or boring, suddenly becomes much more sinister and the distant threat of death at the hands of his enemy, Lord Voldemort, grows into a much more real possibility as the year passes. Book four marks the first time that Harry must face his battles — real and imagined — on his own. As a Tri-Wizard cup competitor he is barred from receiving help from anyone and he must compete alone. It is brought home for Harry that he must shoulder the very real, very adult responsibility of taking care of those around him. He must be careful not to reveal his godfather’s whereabouts to the Ministry; he must reach out to the other competitors to warn them of danger; he must represent his school and his country in the competition; and he must protect the relationship he has built with his best friend Ron when it is threatened by rumors and jealousies. All of that pales in comparison, however, to the responsibility Harry must face in the book’s concluding chapters: he must face Lord Voldemort and his supporters and fight for his life. When he is successful, he must shoulder the burden of telling the world of the Dark Lord’s return…even when no one wants to believe it can be true.

I would be remiss in not adding one more concluding sentiment: Hermione Granger once again establishes herself as one of the most influential characters in the series. Her role as an advisor, an advocate, a caretaker, a researcher, and a brilliant teacher is critical to Harry’s success in the tournament and, it has to be argued, his ability to escape Voldemort with his life. Although Harry, as the titular character, is alone when he battles hand-to-hand with Voldemort and his supporters, it is the knowledge he learns from Hermione that allows him to survive. She is, in my opinion, the single most important factor in Harry’s many successes.

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Hermione’s dress to Yule Ball, at HP World, Universal.

All the photos are from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, in Orlando, Florida.

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee (2016)

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In The Thousandth Floor, Katharine McGee has written a young adult science fiction novel that is sophisticated, edgy, and sexy. Driven by five excellently crafted narrators, with the story’s events unfolding in a spectacular setting, the book is both a fast-paced thriller and an emotionally-raw portrayal of the timeless need humans have to be find someone they trust to love them.

In the year 2118, the world has been dramatically reshaped by (invisible to the reader) environmental events, and the cities of the twenty-first century no longer exist. Constructed over the last century, The Tower was built to house the residents of New York City: a thousand floor building into which all of “Old New York” has been transported. Massive in size, the structure has been constructed to mimic the outside world, which is now too hostile for day-to-day living. Inside the Tower are hologram-generated views, manufactured weather, fake sunlight, genetically modified plants, a building-wide transportation system that mimics public transportation. In order to preserve the comforts and privileges of the rich, the Tower has been segregated by floor. The lower floors, dirty and crowded, are home to the poor; the middle floors are the dreaded suburban section of the Tower; and the upper floors — lush, glamorous, filled with every possible luxury –are reserved for the most wealthy families. For its residents, the Tower is where they spend every moment of their lives, with trips to the outside dangerous and expensive.

McGee’s 2118 is technologically and medically advanced; with hi-tech  methods of communication and travel, as well as a long list of new temptations: enhanced social media outlets, VR gaming, designer drugs, alcohol, and easy to find sex. Perhaps it is the fact that these indulgences are more readily available; perhaps it is the fact that the social stigma surrounding them has dulled; or it might be a result of the quasi-safety of the cloistered life in the Tower, but the teens in the story indulge in a myriad of risky behaviors in a manner that is socially acceptable. The freedom to behave like adults makes their lives seem far more sophisticated than their age would suggest and makes their stories far from childish.

Enter our five teenage narrators — Avery, Leda, Eris, Watt, and Rylin — who are all living  in the Tower. Living on the 1000th floor of the Tower is Avery Fuller, part of one the wealthiest families in world. Avery is a stunningly beautiful girl who was genetically modified by her wealthy parents to be flawless. Adored by all and worshiped for her beauty and money, Avery fears showing anyone her emotional flaws, and as a result she keeps a desperate secret from the world. She wants to find a boy who can see beyond her manufactured perfection and love her for who she really is.

Leda Cole’s family is newly wealthy and she navigates her new life in the glitzy world of the Upper Tower with less ease than her peers. After an illicit affair which she must keep secret, she develops a drug and alcohol addiction to deal with her heartache and insecurities. Hopeful that a romance with a boy she has loved for years will pull her out of her downward spiral, Leda becomes more and more desperate to win his love.

Eris Dodd-Radon is Avery’s rich and beautiful side-kick, whose happiness stems from her father’s endless supply of money and the sexual attention she garners from the most desirable boys and girls in the Tower. When her parents secrets are reveals and their family’s fortunes shift and she finds herself without the armor of money and power, she becomes more vulnerable and insecure than she ever imagined possible.

Watt Bakradi is a super-genius living on the lower floors, who puts his computer skills to use helping his family pay their bills and saving for college. He is in business of stealing — and profiting from — other people’s secrets, and he must walk a fine line between legality and profitability if he has any hope to move up in the world. When he falls in love with an Upper Floor girl, he must decide how many of her secrets he can exploit to win her attention without losing her.

Finally, we meet Rylin Myers, an orphaned teenage girl living at the very bottom of the Tower, supporting her younger sister with a series of terrible jobs and — at times — illegal activities. She wants more than anything to provide her sister a good life but she cannot help frequently unwinding with drugs, sex, and drinking. Her financial desperation leads her to lie and steal, even though it might not only threaten her chances at love, but her sister’s future.

As the story unfolds, the lives of these five characters draw closer and closer together, and the lies they tell one another grow larger and more complex. McGee writes a thrilling page-turner (I finished it in just a few hours!) that is filled with teenage characters who are — despite their futuristic setting and high-tech advancements — achingly real, with a yearning for love and acceptance that is universal.

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb (2015)

I was surprised upon checking this book out of the library to find that it is a Young Adult title. I am not opposed to reading Young Adult; some YA books I have sought out to read all on my own (Hunger Games), some I have read at the urging of the teenagers in my life (Twilight, Divergent) and some I have read because my own teenage son has recommended them to me (The Giver, Lord of the Rings, and many Christopher Pike thrillers we share at Halloween.) Generally I stick to adult fiction, but today was a lazy Spring Break morning I lay in the hammock while the kids played and completed this novel, finding it a sweet and thoughtful story.

Our heroine is highschooler Eva, a girl who mourns her dead father and is saddened by her lack of relationship with her cold mother. She is also a romance novel enthusiast and, although she is a savvy New Yorker who should “know better,” she clings to her beloved novels because of the happy endings they provide her. “I loved romance novels because when you opened the first page you knew it would end well. Your heart wouldn’t be broken. Bad things were temporary in those books. In the end the hero and heroine would be ecstatically in love and enormously happy.”

Eva falls in love with a fellow student who shares her grief and uncertainty about life, but shortly into their romance he moves to California. Eva must decide whether to get over it and bury her feelings (as her mother suggests, “move on, don’t be so thin-skinned”); grieve but not too dramatically (as her best friend suggests, “it could be worse”); to run from boys as her aunt suggests (“Men are all beasts. Love is a fantasy;”) or to do as her romance novel heroines would and go after the boy. She, of course, chooses to go after the boy.

What follows is a sweet, funny, roadtrip-meets-coming of age story about a girl who must navigate love with with only two wildly opposite sets of advice: the heady and wild romance novels that believe in love above all else or the serious, adult advice of the women in her life who have been hurt and believe that romance and love are overrated. “[My mother insisted that the idea] that happiness only comes from romantic love is the biggest myth of our society. ‘Your books are selling you a fantasy version of love, It’s dishonest. Misleading. Untrue. Real love of is a mess’.” Eva knows that her mother and her aunt — who are still deeply scarred from their own unhappy experiences with love — have both had forgotten what it was like to believe in real love and feel that your deserve to experience it for yourself.

The author does a great job showing us that enjoying romance novels is about not the content of novels themselves but about how they give us permission to believe in happy endings and that they make it acceptable (at least in private) to have an optimistic view of the future. Two of the very things that some teenagers desperately want to believe in but feel are so far out of their reach. “I loved the fantasy and escape [of my romances] because I needed to believe that love didn’t always end in heartache, that the world isn’t only filled with tragedies and accidents and newspapers filled with horrible news. The were bright against the darkness and I needed them.”

Parts of the book serve as a reminder of all of the ways adults fail teenagers: by not taking them seriously; by demanding that they change who they are or what they like; by trying to dictate to them how they should feel about life; by trying to police and control them rather than cooperate with them; and by demanding that they never make mistakes. How much simpler things would be if we just accepted that from a very early age children are their own people who must make their own way and we — their parents and loved ones — are largely spectators in their lives? Our job is to be the most loving, most cheerful and most helpful spectators as possible; but we cannot live their lives for them and they would never want us to.

Here’s to sometimes risking it all in the name of love, because even though sometimes it goes horribly wrong…other times it works out perfectly.