Posts Tagged ‘Teens’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Radhika R’s Picks

December 30, 2014

Albert Einstein said  that “Imagination is more important  than intelligence!”  Books fire that imagination for me! Books make me think, laugh, empathize and take me through a gamut of emotions. I travel around the world from the the comfort of my couch!  Here are a few of them which I enjoyed reading.

MadoMadonnas of Leningradnnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
A story of love, suffering and helplessness. Marina is rendered helpless when she is affected by Alzheimer’s. While she has difficulty remembering her children or grandchildren, she remembers clearly the 40 day siege of Leningrad, and how she overcame it. As a museum docent, she helped to hide countless priceless works of art from the invading Nazis, all the time creating a “memory palace” in her mind in which to cherish their beauty. These memories and those of the works of art she saved are juxtaposed with the present, where she regularly forgets her own granddaughter. A very sad, poignant story of an Alzheimer’s patient and how the caretakers the family members stand by helplessly while their loved one’s mind is slowly shutting down on the immediate present. A very touching read.  Read another review.

Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent
This book explores the grey areas in life. Not every situation can be put into boxes of right or wrong. It makes us think and ponder and feel gut wrenching emotions for all the characters. It is a true, but fictionalized story of the last beheading in Iceland. In 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is sentenced to death by beheading for the brutal murder of two men. Because there are no local prisons, Agnes is sent to the remotest village to await her execution while living with a farming family. The family is wary of Agnes and takes time to adjust to her presence. The farmer’s wife, slowly thawing towards Agnes, comes to hear her story and is devastated when she realizes there is nothing that anyone can do to save Agnes. The story is told compellingly in different voices and makes you feel the pain and the helplessness of the circumstances.

Defending JacobDefending Jacob by William Landay
Andy Barber, happily married to Laurie and a district attorney in a small New England town, is at a crossroads of his life. He is investigating the murder of a young teen boy, Ben, despite the fact that there might be a conflict of interest – Ben was his son Jacob’s friend, and attended the same school. From here starts the real roller coaster journey! When Jacob is accused of the murder, Andy and Laurie’s world reels. This book explores questions many will never ask. How much do we know about our children? Where does love end, and practicality begin? How do we even begin to imagine what the truth is, whether our child is capable of taking a life… a parent’s worst nightmare come to the fore! What will it take a parent even to accept that it is a possibility? Why is it that when tragedy strikes, all relationships start to unravel? An intriguing piece of fiction where legal implications mesh with family emotions.  Read another review.

The Garlic BalladsThe Garlic Ballads by Yan Mo
This novel is the Nobel Prize winner in Literature for the year 2012, and it is rightly so. The angst, worry, fear hope and helplessness of poverty is so well portrayed that we can actually envision ourselves in the pages of the book and live with the characters, wondering how they survive in those circumstances! The farmers of Paradise County have been leading hard, miserable lives for centuries when the government asks them to plant garlic. The farmers do so, but find it hard to sell. At the mercy of corrupt government officials, the farmers are forced to pay money they don’t have in order to sell their wares, but find that after paying the various taxes and tolls, their crops remain unsold. This is the breaking point for many of the farmers, leading to riots and arrests, followed by inhumane conditions in jail, torture and beatings. An old bard sings the song of tyranny throughout this book, and is killed for it. This book is not just about human suffering and despair, but also filled with tales of family love, loyalty and hope! In the midst of desolation, each character finds a reason to live. This is truly an amazing read, where depths of despair and the upliftment of spirit reside side by side

I am MalalaI am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christian Lamb
Most of us have read about Malala and may feel we know her story. This book made me think differently. Malala was born to parents who were strong supporters of women’s rights and had a school of their own for girls. Raised with this mindset, Malala was determined to do her part, and her parents supported her decision. All of them knew that Malala’s bravery would ultimately mean facing the wrath of the Taliban when it took over their Swat Valley. Her parents, who knew the danger their child faced every day, made the difficult choice to support her, and Malala chose to stay the course despite unimaginable pressure. You know the story – Malala was shot – but thankfully, she survived to become a spokesperson for the rights of girls to an education. This review is a salute to all the young girls and women who have fought against the Taliban atrocities for the right to a just life and education, and paved the way for Malala to bring their cause to the attention of the world. Kudos to Malala, a brave young girl who took such a bold, courageous step to improve lives of other girls and fight for their right to education! It is rightly said that the strength of human spirit always humbles you!

Best ‘New to Us” Books in 2014: Farida B’s Picks

December 24, 2014

I love a variety of books in adult and children’s collection. I love reading Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Humor, Romance and gentle clean reads. Here are “New to Me” books that inspired me most this year. I hope you can include some of these books in your 2015 reading list.

Death of a Travelling ManDeath of a Travelling Man by M. C. Beaton
This is Beaton‘s eighth mystery featuring Scottish police constable Hamish MacBeth. Hamish has been promoted against his will and as Sergeant, he makes more money, but must suffer more work as well, as well as the enthusiasm of his new helper, Police Constable Willie Lamont. Willie Lamont has less talent for police work and more talent for cleaning, polishing, and scrubbing. His insistence on keeping the police station spotless and super clean is driving MacBeth crazy. It all starts when a suspicious drifter Sean and his girlfriend Cheryl park their van behind the minister’s manse. This “devastatingly handsome” drifter Sean charms four women out of their money and harasses Hamish’s ladylove, Priscilla. If you like to read light mysteries filled with humor and action then this is definitely going to be your choice!  See my full review.

Murphy's LawMurphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen
Murphy’s Law is the first book in the Molly Murphy mystery series. Molly Murphy, the main character in this story, is a spunky, 19th-century Irish heroine. Molly always ends up in trouble no matter where she goes. She is outspoken, strong independent lady. She commits a murder in self-defense, so she has to leave her cherished Ireland and her identity for the unknown shores of America. In London she meets Kathleen O’Connor. Kathleen has two small children and tickets for a ship to America, where she plans to join her husband. But she has tuberculosis, so she knows that she will not be allowed on the ship to America, so she persuades the desperate Molly to take her children to America instead of herself and use her identity on the ship. Molly agrees to this plan since she wants to be in a new place and start a new life. After the landing at Ellis Island, O’Malley is found stabbed to death. Police detective Daniel Sullivan questions Molly about it since lots of people had seen Molly slap O’Malley on the ship. Molly becomes the prime suspect along with a young man whom she had befriended. See my full review.

Running Out of TimeRunning out of Time by Margaret P. Haddix
Jessie lives in the frontier village of Clifton, Indiana in 1840. When diphtheria strikes the village and the children of Clifton start dying, Jessie discovers that Clifton is actually a 1996 tourist site under secret observation by heartless scientists. Jessie’s mother sends her on a dangerous mission to bring back help. But outside the walls of Clifton, Jessie discovers a world even more alien and scary, and soon she finds her own life in danger. Can she get help before the children of Clifton and Jessie herself run out of time? This is a young adult book which is appealing to adults as well. It is one of my favorite books, written by a good author.  It has won multiple awards, including the YALSA Best Book for Young Adults.

Miss Julia Speaks Her MindMiss Julia Speaks her Mind by Ann Ross
This book is the first in the series. Miss Julia is a strong willed, independent, proper church-going lady. Recently widowed, she is trying to settle down with her new life, including the substantial estate left by her late husband, Wesley Lloyd Springer. Everything is peaceful until Hazel Marie Puckett arrives at her doorstep with her 9 year old son Little Lloyd. Guess what? Little Lloyd is Wesley’s son. Miss Julia receives a shock of her life! After 44 years of marriage to pillar of the church and community Wesley Lloyd Springer, she discovers that he was having an affair with Hazel Marie Puckett. She had assumed he was working late at the family bank, but instead he was engaged in more carnal pursuits. The worst thing was that the whole town knew about this affair. Read my full review.

UnwindUnwind By Neal Shusterman
In America after the Second Civil War the “Bill of Life” permits the parents to get rid of a child between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, through a process called “unwinding.” Unwinding ensures that the child’s life doesn’t really end by transplanting all the organs from the child’s body to different important recipients who quote the highest bid. This is a story about three teens – Connor, Risa and Lev – who become runaway Unwinds. Their escape and survival stories interweave as they struggle to avoid harvest camps. All the characters live and breathe in the story. Neal Shusterman’s Unwind has won many awards and honors, including being included on ALA’s Top Ten Picks for Reluctant Readers and Best Books for Young Adults lists. It is a book written for young adults, but I really enjoyed it and I am sure lots of adults will like reading it too! It has breathtaking suspense and is a sure page turner to find out if the three teens avoid their untimely ends.

Best ‘New to Us” Books in 2014: Ruth F’s Picks

December 19, 2014

I am a children’s librarian in Holly Springs. Next year, I will celebrate my 40th birthday and will most likely be fitted for my first pair of bifocals. Here are five books, some written by my contemporaries and others about middle age, that I recommend for those of you still able to read small print in dim lighting.

Life After DeathLife After Death by Damien Echols
Author Damien Echols was born just a few months before me and he would have graduated high school the same year I did — had he been born into the same world of middle class privilege that I was. Instead, he spent the first 18 years of his life in and economically depressed Arkansas hamlet. As teenagers, when I was fretting over my SAT scores, he was fretting over the verdict of his capital murder trial.  When I went off to college, he went off to Death Row. Then, after spending his first 18 years of adulthood in prison, Echols and two others incarcerated in connection with the same crime were released when DNA evidence was tested and deemed exculpatory. Shortly after, he landed a deal to publish a memoir based on the journals he kept in prison. I challenge any member of Generation X to read Echols’ story without noticing similar parallels between his life and ours.

Good in a CrisisGood in a Crisis by Margaret Overton
Sometimes, the best books are the ones you most love to hate. When life handed baby boomer Margaret Overton lemons in mid-life, she tried to make lemonade by writing a memoir. But it came out a little tart. I cringed at every supposedly funny story in this memoir about the author’s Internet dating escapades. And yet, I compulsively turned page after page because it is so easy to identify with Overton. For every good choice I have made that she did not, I feel relief that her train wreck of a life can’t possibly be what’s in store for me. And for every stroke of bad luck she endured, I feel a humbling sense that it probably is.

Lean InLean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Women like me, on the precipice of converting their households from DINK (double income, no kids) to what New York Times Columnist Pamela Druckerman famously called DITT (double income, toddler twins), will find this book fascinating. The rest of you might not be too interested in how author Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, wishes she had done more to secure reserved parking for expectant mothers at her company’s Silicon Valley headquarters. But you should read this book anyway. If you can overlook the usual gripes about late meetings and early carpools, there is a universal message about setting the terms of personal success and a refreshing new definition of what it means to be a feminist.

SisterlandSisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
This is a fiction story of twin sisters on the brink of 40. They share a psychic connection, but occupy separate sides of the Mommy divide. I’m not sure anybody will see themselves in either sister, but author Curtis Sittenfeld nailed the subtext and sanctimony between the childfree and the parents. The stay-at-home mother in the story, Kate, is affluent and secure. Mothering has given her lots of responsibility and purpose, but very little satisfaction. She is the very definition of a desperate housewife. Her childless sister, Violet, lives on the edge. By that I mean she is reckless, frivolous and completely unmoored. As the sisters decide whether to embrace the DNA that makes them the same or the choices that set them apart, their psychic prediction comes true in a way neither could have expected. Read another review.

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Who among us has not aspired to write the Great American Novel or regretted reaching middle age without having done so? Mark Zusak, that’s who. His 40th birthday is six months from now and his literary masterpiece is 10 years old. The Book Thief has earned a slew of awards, dominated best-seller lists, been canonized on high school required reading lists and been adapted for a movie. But a technicality prevents it from being called my generation’s Great American Novel: the author is Australian and the setting is Nazi Germany. It seems counter intuitive for a book about genocide in World War II Europe to also be about a post-racial American ideal. But Zusak makes it work. In this war story, humanity trumps race or creed. Young or old, Jew or Gentile, German or not, everybody faces a common enemy in the villainous narrator: Death.  Read another review.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

October 15, 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava LavenderAva spins a tale of how she, who was “just a girl,” happened to be born with a huge set of wings. To truly tell the story, she has to go back three generations to her great-grandmother, Maman, who moved from France to “Manhatine” to follow her husband’s dream, and then to the story of her grandmother, Emilienne, and her mother, Vivianne. All of these women were cursed in romance. It seemed that they fell in love quite often, but rarely with the right man, and even then, once they had a child, their lover would either die or run away. So the women depended on one another and raised their children alone—at least on this plane of existence.

Ava and her foremothers eke out a living, running a bakery and living together in a lonely house with a bizarre history. Ava stays indoors almost all the time, just so that she can avoid other people’s sometimes startling reaction to her wings. While she is afraid that some people may hurt her because of her difference, others may be obsessed with her for more sinister reasons. All she wants to be is a regular girl.

Walton writes a story filled with magical realism. One of Emilienne’s sisters was utterly besotted with a musician who barely knew that she existed. Her love transformed her into a canary, hopeful that her beloved would be enraptured by her music, but now he noticed her even less. Relatives who have died tend to return in strange forms, and the living often have powers that most people would call superstition. The lines between living and dead, reality and illusion, are gossamer-thin. The writing is exquisitely beautiful, but some of the situations are too mature for most teenagers. However, adults and older teens who love Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or Isabelle Allende’s House of the Spirits will be enthralled with Ava Lavender. Highly recommended.

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The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

October 2, 2014

The Book of Unknown AmericansThis is a passionate novel about what it means to become “American,” from a new immigrant perspective.

Meet the Riveras, Arturo, Alma and Maribel. The opening scene of the novel has the Riveras confused after being dropped off at a Newark, Delaware, convenience store fresh from 3 day cross-border journey from their small town in Mexico. Thinking that the convenience store/gas station is where Americans shop, the Riveras are baffled by the microwave hot dogs, slushy drinks and high prices of food in plastic. Into this confusing landscape Arturo and Alma have brought their 15-year old daughter Maribel from Mexico; she suffers from a traumatic brain injury that dramatically altered her personality and ability to reason, but with the right education, she has a chance at regaining function. In search of a better life for his daughter, Arturo forgoes his own construction company in Mexico, and gets a job toiling in the dark in a mushroom factory in the hopes that the US education system they have dreamed about can help Maribel.

The entire novel is focused on and set in a concrete block, low-income apartment building whose residents are new immigrants from all over Central and South America. The residents’ stories are told in alternating chapters. Equally compelling is the story of the Toros, a Panamanian family whose son Mayor falls for the gorgeous Maribel. Rather than seeing Maribel as damaged and needing fixing as the rest of the world (and her parents) see her, Mayor accepts her for what she is, although their ill-fated puppy love will have disastrous consequences for all.

The novel mirrors life, insanely and hysterically funny (the passage where the Toros finally buy a car and attempt to drive) to tragic. The overriding story of puppy love, cross cultural assimilation and the struggle to survive within The American Dream is masterfully told, while the inherent politics concerning immigration are gracefully but somewhat unrealistically sidestepped (Arturo got a work visa to be pack mushrooms?) Henriquez is a master storyteller, and her characters offer insight into the immigrant experience that is a good reminder of who we are as a culture. In the words of one reviewer, in case we’ve forgotten, it all started this way. One of the characters, in a particularly insightful passage, says, “We’re the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they’ve been told they’re supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we’re not all that bad, maybe even that we’re a lot like them. And who would they hate then?”

Recommended novel, a great book club discussion choice. I’m a pretty hard-nosed, jaded reader, and this book touched me.

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People You Gotta Meet Before You Grow Up by Joe Rhatigan

June 12, 2014

People You Gotta Meet Before You Grow UpThis colorful volume teaches kids—in fun, bite-sized lessons—how to look the CEO in the eye, shake her hand, and carry on a meaningful conversation. The subtitle is: Get to Know the Movers and Shakers, Heroes and Hotshots in Your Home Town. It could be: Get Away from the Video Games and Meet Some Real People, for Heaven’s Sake.

The short introduction gives basic information about the best way to conduct an interview, from the social rules above to methods of creating videos and effective ways to ask questions. After mastering these techniques, kids and teens can move on to choose from the many professions and walks of life listed in the table of contents. These are not just the usual suspects! Here is just a small sampling:

  • Farmer
  • Judge
  • Chef
  • Librarian
  • Actor
  • Historical Reenactor
  • Journalist
  • Architect
  • Cartoonist
  • Firefighter

For each of these types of people, there are three or four pages giving the reader a bit of an explanation of the vocation, a short strategy for the interview, sample appropriate questions for this person, a few famous people in this category, websites (there have to be screens) for more information, and a summary or extra fun facts.

The target audience for this friendly guide is upper elementary to early high school.  If kids were to conduct even a few of these interviews, they would be sure to gain poise and confidence in their interactions with adults. Think of the advantage they would have in college and career interviews in the future. Furthermore, their eyes would be opened to the many interesting and vibrant people all around them in their communities. Who knows? Your son may discover that what he really wants to be is a cartoonist, after all!

[This review was previously published at]

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Defending Jacob by William Landay

April 30, 2014

Defending Jacob by William LandyThere are not too many novels that I read and tell others that if they can guess the ending, I will give out $10. I have said this about William Landay‘s Defending Jacob to many, many people. And I haven’t had to pay out any monies yet.

Defending Jacob is quite possibly the best contemporary suspense/thriller I have read. I have to be careful what I say in this blog post, so that I don’t give away too much. I often find that to be the hallmark of a great book; the reviewer has to be prudent to make sure not too much is revealed in the summation.

Andy Barber is an Assistant District Attorney in Middlesex County, MA. He lives a quiet, middle class life with his wife Laurie and 14 year-old son Jacob. One of Jacob’s eighth grade classmates is stabbed to death in a local park. Andy is assigned the case, despite Jacob being a friend of the victim. Andy is taken off the case when Jake becomes a suspect, and the former DA turns defense attorney for his son. In preparation for trial, facts are revealed slowly – Jake owns a knife – Jake’s bloody fingerprint was found on the victim’s sweatshirt. Jake was a toddler who was violent. He was known as a bit of a bully. But did he commit murder? Is he a normal adolescent who happened upon his murdered classmate’s body and was too scared to call for help?

To complicate matters, Andy’s father and grandfather were both violent felons. Andy never shared that little tidbit with his wife, who is shocked that such a secret could have been kept from her. He question then arises: could Jacob be the carrier of the so-called “murder gene?” Will the prosecution use that as a motive?

I cannot say any more about the plot for fear of giving it all way. I will say that three quarters of the way through the story you are pretty sure you know how it will end. Ha! And then, there is the best plot twist I have encountered in years. I loved this novel because it confronts the question: if your child possibly did something heinous, how far would you go to help him? How far does parental love extend? Is propensity for violence an inherited trait, like eye color? What if your child is innocent but you have doubts.

Read it and let me know if I owe you $10.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

April 15, 2014

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen ChboskyThe Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those terrific, but unfortunate (for adults, anyway), books that is labeled as “teen.” Most adults probably would pass this slender tome by, and that would be a sad mistake.

Chboksy’s debut novel is a cult classic as well as being critically acclaimed; no easy feat. Anyone who navigated adolescence (uh, all of us) can relate to some aspect of Charlie, an awkward wallflower and high school freshmen that no one seems to notice. The novel is written in a series of letters to a “friend,” and captures what it is like to experience everything for the first time.  It doesn’t shirk from the topics of: deep friendship, homosexuality, sex, drugs, alcoholism, theft, mental illness, sexual abuse – you name it, it’s in there, and written about in a candid, open way.

Charlie retires his wallflower status when he is befriended by high school seniors/brother and sister Patrick and Samantha. As he is brought into their inner circle of friends, Charlie learns that the people he used to admire from afar, and think had perfect lives – are just as damaged as he is. Most of the novel rings very true, and Charlie as written by Chbosky (who has said he has a lot of Charlie in him) is a delight to read. I normally don’t enjoy epistolary novels, but this one had me riveted so much that I watched the film after reading the book (hint: the book was better, but note that Chbosky also wrote the screenplay AND directed the movie). Well-drawn characters, realistic dialogue, and a plot twist at the end all make for a classic.

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The Round House by Louise Erdrich

November 22, 2013

roundThis is the first novel by Louise Erdrich that I’ve read and I am sorry I waited so long. I will definitely be going back to pick up her earlier works. In this book, Joe Coutts is 13 years old when his mother, Geraldine, is found bleeding and traumatized by a brutal attack. As a result of the attack, his mother now rarely leaves her bedroom. Joe’s father, a tribal court Judge, seems more interested in helping the tribal police investigate than in helping his son cope. Joe is desperate to do something to bring his family back together. He decides that he will catch the man who did this to his mother.
Joe usually spends his time hanging around the reservation with his three best friends, Cappy, Zack and Angus. Now he convinces his friends to look for clues near the Round House, a sacred site on the reservation. They find evidence missed by the police and Joe shares this information with his father. Unfortunately, his mother cannot remember, and the police cannot determine, exactly where the attack took place. This means they cannot decide who has jurisdiction, the tribal court, the state police, or the FBI. If the crime took place on the reservation, the tribal authorities can only prosecute if it was a member of the tribe. Any white man is beyond their jurisdiction and would have to be prosecuted by the state police. If it was on nearby federal land, the FBI is in charge of the investigation.
As Joe and his friends learn more and more about the limitations of the legal system, they are forced to grow up rapidly. They are thrown into the confusing adult world suddenly and what happens changes their lives forever. This is a moving coming of age novel, combined with a mystery, which gives us a powerful picture of modern life on the reservation.

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The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

August 14, 2013

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick contains perhaps the most surprising sentence in the history of American literature. At one point the reader is told this, “So ignorant are most landsmen of some of the plainest and most palpable wonders of the world, that without some hints touching the plain facts, historical and otherwise, of the fishery, they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory.”
Here the reading may come to a screeching halt. What? Moby Dick is not an allegory? What is it then? A tale of adventure? Well, yes, it is that. But surely it’s also an allegory. Right?

Some readers may prefer to read another great American novel, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, as an allegory, for to read it as a piece of realistic fiction is incredibly heart-wrenching.

The Lisbons are a Catholic family living in suburban Detroit. Mr. Lisbon is a meek math teacher, and the domineering Mrs. Lisbon is a housewife. The couple has five daughters who all die by their own hand, and what lingers after them is “the most trivial list of mundane facts.” As can be the case in the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson, and Stephen King, the mundane circumstances of the world depicted by Eugenides can be suffocating, and over time the Lisbon home increasingly turns into a house of quiet horror and oppression.

The novel is a collective investigation of the Lisbon girls’ short lives, the cloistered existence of most of them in a haunting and deteriorating home, their deaths, and the aftermath of the suicides. It is a search for explanations and answers, and many of the characters in the book understand the reasons for the suicides and the suicides themselves in different ways. In order to comprehend the tragedy, the people who discuss the matter come up with explanations that may confirm their own worldviews, but that may have little or nothing to do with the demise of the girls.

Perhaps the suicides are impossible to explain. Perhaps the suicides were inevitable. Perhaps the investigators – once boys who went to school with the girls, but now weary adults – simply know too little to be able to explain the extraordinary events that took place in their ordinary suburb. Or perhaps all the reader needs to know is right there in the text. Perhaps the reader can make sense of it all. Again and again, the author shares events and words that are filled with monumental meaning – or so it seems, anyway.

During their one and only date, one of the girls, Lux, spends the car ride to the homecoming dance dialing the radio for her favorite song. “‘It makes me crazy,’ she said. ‘You know they’re playing it somewhere, but you have to find it.'”

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