What I’m Reading: When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost

I hate poetry for the most part. Hate seems like a strong word to use as a fellow writer myself, but I just don’t get it. I like writing to be clear, to tell me a story and paint a clear picture in my head. Reading poetry always just leaves me scratching my head and wondering what the heck the author was trying to say. While there are countless books that have affected me throughout my life, I can count the number of poems I actually like on one hand.

So I don’t know exactly why I picked up When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost up at the library. Thanks to hating the hundreds of poems I had to read throughout high school and college, I’d never even thought about picking up a novel-in-verse before. But I’ve been trying to branch out a little bit of my genre when it comes to reading lately. And this book has a pretty cover and an interesting description. So I borrowed the book from my library and tore through it because of how much I liked it.

This book is a beautiful story about two sisters, Claire and Abigail, during the summer they are ten and thirteen. Claire’s family has been spending summers at their lake house her whole life. Claire’s mother died from a lightning strike on the lake when Claire was a baby, but the summers there have always been a special time she gets to spend with her sister and father. But this year everything is different. Her dad is about to have a baby with his new wife, Pam, and Abigail starts caring more about boys than Claire. Claire finds comfort in kayaking on the lake as she tries to figure out where she fits into this changing family.

Three points of view and four poetic forms make up this beautiful story about family. Claire’s poems make up most of the book, with the majority being rhyming quatrains. When she is kayaking on the lake, her poems take the shape of the kayak moving through the water and the last words of the lines are set in bold, creating a sentence that shows what’s truly going on in Claire’s mind. Abigail’s poems are free-verse and lightening-shaped, reflecting the lightning that killed their mother and left Abigail with a scar. The last point of view and form, and also my favorites, are the acrostic poems in the voice of the lake itself. Frost uses lines from some of her favorite poems as the armatures—or the first letter of each line that spells something out when read down the left side of the page—to represent the current of the lake.

This was my first experience reading a novel-in-verse, and I really enjoyed the beautiful language that Frost employs throughout the book. I think she makes her poems very accessible and easy to understand, yet they still have that beautiful language that seems unique to poetry. I love the different forms and points of view she uses. As I said, the lake’s poems were my favorites. I loved getting the chance to see into each sister’s head, but then getting to read the lake’s narrations of what was going on was fascinating. Claire and Abigail are very connected to the lake with everything that has happened there throughout their lives, so it was important for the lake to have a voice in this novel.

What I love most about this book though was that, at its heart, it was about growing up. Coming-of-age stories are my favorite, which is why I pretty much only read in the young adult genre. This story is about the changing relationship between sisters, the changing family dynamics of a new stepmom and half-brother, and simply about turning eleven. Claire’s story has a beautiful innocence to it, and I loved getting to watch her grow.

When My Sister Started Kissing

Favorite Book Feature: Legend by Marie Lu

July’s Favorite Book Feature is the debut novel by Marie Lu, Legend. Lu has gone on to become a big author in the YA world, but I fell in love with her writing back with this first book. I picked it up because the cover looked awesome. The book description sounded so cool that I bought the book to read it, but I knew that it was going to be amazing before I even started it when I read Lu’s bio and saw that the story was inspired by Les Misérables, which as you know is my favorite story ever.

Legend takes place in what used to be the United State’s west coast, a nation called the Republic who is in an unending war with the neighboring Colonies. The book follows June, a military prodigy from a wealthy family, on her quest to hunt down her brother’s murderer. Day, the country’s most infamous and most wanted criminal is the prime suspect. Day comes from a poor, plague-ridden sector and is trying his hardest to protect his family as June tries to avenge her brother’s death. But then they learn the truth of what brought them together, and they discover what their country is willing to do to protect its secrets.

Legend

I love that Legend has its roots in the story of Les Misérables. In Lu’s author bio on the book’s dust jacket she writes that she was inspired to write Legend after watching Les Misérables and wondering how it would translate into a modern story. With June and Day she creates a prodigious detective and famous criminal, much like their counterparts of Inspector Javert and Jean Valjean, and brings them into a modern story that’s thrilling and action-packed. Because I’m in love with Les Misérables, I loved getting to watch how this story played out in a dystopian world. Day does nothing more than try to save his family, like Valjean, and June is somewhat blinded by her need for revenge and justice, like Javert. But then Lu takes this story further than its inspiration and draws these two characters together in a beautiful way.

Legend is one of only a couple thriller/action books on my favorites shelf. Action stories, at least to me, tend to focus more on the action rather than the characters, and so I have trouble following along due to my lack of interest in the characters. Lu is an exception because she excels at making you care about the characters. June could have come across as cold and calculating with her being a genius who focuses on the details. But June’s first chapter opens with her breaking her school’s rules and being a little rebellious. We instantly get this peek into who her character really is. And June’s relationship with her brother, even in the flashbacks we get after he is murdered, bring such a great emotional element to the book. Day, even though we know he is a criminal, comes across as caring and kind. His crimes are small rebellions and he tries not to hurt anyone. This book is full of action, but because Lu gets you to care about the characters so deeply, it was really easy for me to follow along.

The Legend series is a set of three thrilling books. Lu draws you in to this dystopian world and doesn’t let you go. Legend is definitely one of my favorite books, and one that is hard to forget.

Legend Series

Favorite Book Feature: Everlost by Neal Shusterman

June’s featured book is the first book I read by one of my favorite authors: Everlost by Neal Shusterman. I fell in love with Shusterman’s writing after reading this book, and the Skinjacker trilogy that Everlost is a part of and the Unwind Dystology are some of my favorite books ever. Reading Everlost again this month was an absolute pleasure, and I hope I have time soon to read the rest of the series as well.

In the book, Everlost is a place between life and death, an in-between world where children who don’t “get where they’re going” end up. It is a mysterious and dangerous world, full of lost souls and crossed-over objects, and if you stand in the same place to long you sink to the center of the earth. Everlost follows Nick and Allie, who don’t survive a car crash and end up in Everlost. They want to go home but forget more about their lives the longer they stay. They meet mother-like Mary Hightower, who guards hundreds of kids in the crossed-over Twin Towers in New York City, and Nick feels like he has found a comfortable home. But Allie isn’t satisfied and keeps looking for a way back home, eventually getting Nick caught up in her plans aboard the crossed-over ship captained by the McGill, a fearsome monster who crawled his way back to the earth’s surface after sinking to its center.

This book is probably the only paranormal story I like, and that’s because while the kids in Everlost are inbetween life and death, they’re not really ghosts. They’re Afterlights, so named because they have a glow about them. All of the details Shusterman includes—the sinking to the center of the earth, the fact that well-loved items cross over to Everlost when they’re destroyed, the mysterious and unidentifiable coins that everyone crosses over with, and the sometimes humorous fact that everyone crosses over in exactly what they died in (including a chocolate smear on Nick’s face, a wet Speedo, and several Halloween costumes)—make Everlost rich and exciting. And I’ve definitely never read anything quite like this before.

I think my favorite part of the book though is the omniscient point of view. This story could have been well done in Allie’s or Nick’s perspectives, or even both. But Shusterman made an excellent choice making this story omniscient. We get a peek into the heads of all the character’s this way, and this allows Shusterman to do my favorite quality of his writing: Shusterman uses the omniscient narrator to take you into the both the villains’ and side characters’ heads and beautifully characterize them in even as little as a paragraph. He puts the omniscient point of view to its best use by really getting deep into all of the characters (no matter how brief) to give the readers all of the different perspectives.

I’ve never tried writing in an omniscient point of view. It is a difficult POV to use because it usually puts a distance between the reader and the characters. However, Shusterman navigates around this and gives us an omniscient narrator who both makes you laugh and gives you great insight into each character.

Everlost

My Summer TBR List

I’m one of those people who feed off of sunshine, so spring and summer are my favorite seasons. I especially love to read in the summer. Back when I was in school summer was pretty much the only time I could read for fun, and now the longer days make me more productive so I have more time to read. So since yesterday was the first official day of summer I thought I’d share what’s on my Summer To Be Read (TBR) List.

  • The Shadow Children Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
    I read the first book of this series, Among the Hidden, in May for my Favorite Book Feature, so of course I now have to go read the whole series again. These books were some of my favorites back in middle school/early high school. Haddix was my favorite author at the time, and her books made me want to write too.

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  • The Skinjacker Trilogy by Neal Shusterman
    I also read the first book of this series, Everlost, for a Favorite Book Feature, and I now want to read the other two books as well. Shusterman is one of my current favorite authors because of his incredible writing style. His voice is so distinct, and he is one of the best storytellers I’ve ever read. Look for my post on Everlost next Friday for June’s Favorite Book Feature.
  • Legend by Marie Lu
    I was hooked on this series as soon as I read the book jacket and saw that it is a dystopia inspired by Les Misérables. I’ll be writing about this amazing book for July’s Favorite Book Feature.
  • Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis
    August’s Favorite Book Feature is going to be this eerie dystopia about a water shortage.

Summer TBR 2

  • The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee
    I’ve been meaning to get to this on for a while. Set in future Manhattan in a skyscraper that’s a thousand stories tall, this book sounds so glamorous and thrilling.
  • The Reader by Traci Chee
    This book is about a world without reading, which I find really interesting. It’s a fantasy, which I don’t tend to enjoy very often, so I’m not sure I’ll like it. But I think it will help inspire me and my current project.
  • Metaltown by Kristen Simmons
    I won the audiobook version of Metaltown a while back from a giveaway by the author, and I’m finally getting around to listening to it. This one is another dystopia inspired by Les Misérables, so I was hooked as soon as I heard Simmons describe it at a signing I went to.

Metaltown

  • The Selection Series by Kiera Cass
    I think this will be the forth time I’ve read the original trilogy, but I like these books more each time I read them. I want to go through them again to help me as I work on a similar book.

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  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
    While these are some of my favorite movies, I haven’t actually read the books except for the first one when it was a new book nine years ago. I also think this series will help me with my current project, so I finally want to read them.

Of course, all but two of these books I already own, so my library stack that’s already as tall as me isn’t getting any shorter any time soon. But I still can’t wait to get to read all of these stories this summer.

Favorite Book Feature: Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Last weekend I got to return to the town where I lived when I was in middle and high school for a family friend’s graduation party, and I was feeling nostalgic as my husband and I drove around the town where I grew up. So when I was looking through my favorite book shelf for May’s featured book, I picked Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I first read this novel when I was in eighth grade after Haddix came to speak at my school, and Haddix was my favorite author at the time.

Among the Hidden is about Luke, a twelve year old boy who has never left his family’s property, never gone to school, never met another person outside his family, and spends his days reading in his attic bedroom because he is an illegal third child in hiding from the Population Police. When the government buys the land behind his family’s farm and builds a new housing development, he’s no longer even allowed to go outside.

Then Luke sees a child’s face in the window of one of the new houses where he knows two other children already live, and he finally meets a fellow shadow child. But Jen has a dangerous plan to be able to come out of hiding, and wants Luke to join her. Among the Hidden is the first of the seven-book Shadow Children series.

Among the Hidden was the first dystopian book I’ve ever read, though I didn’t have the name for it at the time. It was still a while before young adult dystopian novels gained their popularity that they still have today. But even ten years ago I knew that I was holding something special when I read the Shadow Children books.

Haddix is so skilled at making her books suspenseful, quick reads that are appealing to all ages. I like her books now just as much as I did when I was in middle school. As I’ve talked about here, Haddix made me want to be a writer.

I love Among the Hidden because the book immediately grabs you with its premise. You’re instantly invested in Luke’s story when you learn he can no longer go outside because he’s an illegal third child. Haddix does an amazing job of showing his parents’ worry and, sometimes, overprotection. And then when Luke meets Jen, his world is shaken at its foundation, and you get to watch Luke’s journey as he goes from wondering what he should fill his day with to wondering whether he should risk his life to help shadow children like himself. This book is compelling and thrilling, and is an impressive start to the series.

Favorite Book Feature: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

This year I’ve been featuring one of my favorite books on the last Friday of every month, telling you why it’s one of my favorites. You can find the full list of my favorite books here. April’s featured book is Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

This is a hard book to read. It’s about a young girl, Hannah, who committed suicide. But before she died, she recorded thirteen cassette tapes, one for each of the reasons she killed herself. Each of these tapes features a person who affected her life and what they did to make her want to kill herself. Hannah blames these thirteen people for her suicide—for what they did, and didn’t, do to make her want to kill herself. And we get to hear these tapes through the perspective of Clay, a boy who really liked Hannah and thought he was always nice to her, but who is one of the thirteen reasons. We hear Clay’s commentary throughout the book as he listens through all thirteen tapes in one night.

As Hannah tells her story, she shows how the things that happened to her had a snowball effect, getting bigger and bigger, and that once the ball got rolling it was almost impossible to stop. She recounts multiple instances of rumors being spread about her and also tells about unwanted advances from boys that were results of those rumors. She talks about how every time she tried to get close to someone she ended up hurt. All of these smaller instances add up quickly until everything becomes unbearable for Hannah.

This is not a happy book. We know from the start that Hannah killed herself, which makes this story rather depressing. Though at the end we do get to see that Clay has changed for the better after listening to Hannah’s tapes.

This book is amazing for so may reasons. First of all, the structure of the book is just incredible. I love Asher’s idea of having Hannah tell her story with cassette tapes. It is so unique, and it’s really interesting getting to watch as Clay listens to the tapes—how her voice affects him and the fact that it’s audio rather than something written making it feel “live.” I love that we get to follow good-guy Clay, knowing that somehow he’s one of Hannah’s reasons but also knowing he’s a pretty good person because of what we learn through his narration. The way Asher sets this up leaves you on the edge of your seat wondering how Clay fits in to the story. The book is written like a suspense novel, which keeps you turning pages. And it takes place over one night, which keeps the book tight and fast-paced.

It’s also fantastic that Asher chose to tackle such a tough topic in Thirteen Reasons Why. Teen suicide is a really important and big issue, and this book does the perfect job of showing how seemingly small incidents can lead someone to want to kill themselves. Hannah shows how one thing leads to another, and how when they just keep adding up it becomes almost impossible to keep your head up and keep going. Starting a rumor about someone, taking away encouraging notes, not staying and talking to someone who needs you—all of these things add up quickly. Asher does a great job showing why Hannah wants to kill herself, allowing the reader to really understand why someone would want to commit suicide, and also showing the missteps Hannah took in trying to find help and stop herself.

I highly recommend this book because it opens up a dialog about a topic that people don’t want to talk about. In the interview printed at the end of my copy of the book, Asher says that he wrote the book as a suspense novel in order to get people thinking about the characters rather than the issues themselves to make it easier for people to read the book. Suicide is hard to talk about, and it’s especially hard for the people who are considering it to talk about. Books like Thirteen Reasons Why are wonderful and necessary because they provide a way for people to see outside there own situations and open up about difficult topics.

I chose to read Thirteen Reasons Why this month because I am working on a new book that is also about teen suicide. I read this book again to remind myself of the skill Asher used in writing about this topic, and to get ideas on how I can write about it myself. I hope that my book can also help open up a dialog about this difficult topic.

13RW

Favorite Book Feature: The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes

This year I’ve been featuring one of my favorite books on the last Friday of every month, telling you why it’s one of my favorites. You can find the full list of my favorite books here. March’s featured book is The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes.

I’m a huge fan of Kathryn Holmes. Her second novel, How It Feels to Fly, solidified her spot on my favorite author list alongside Kiera Cass, Neal Shusterman, and Laurie Halse Anderson. When I first read Holmes’s debut novel, The Distance Between Lost and Found, it blew me away with how good it was.

This book is about a a young girl named Hallelujah who has been silent ever since the night of some incident with the preacher’s son, Luke. We don’t know what exactly this incident was, just that Hallelujah couldn’t get herself to tell anyone what really happened and that Luke has been making fun of her ever since. Hallelujah has lost all of her friends and the respect of her parents.

Six months later, Hallelujah is on a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains. Luke is still making fun of her and everyone is still ignoring her, except for new girl Rachel. But Hallelujah can’t let anyone in, and ends up pushing her away too.

But then Hallelujah, Rachel, and Hallelujah’s former friend Jonah get separated form the group and quickly end up lost in the mountains. Faced with many difficult obstacles, the three try to find safety and get back home. While looking for rescue, they question God and each other, and try to find a way to open up about what they’ve gone through.

This book is fast-paced and exciting. It takes place over only a week, but you finish the book feeling like you’ve known Hallelujah, Jonah, and Rachel forever. I love all of the survival elements. Being lost in the mountains is scary and dangerous, and it is really interesting watching these characters find ways to survive.

I love how this book weaves in the themes of silence and violence against women and finding ways to open up. We don’t know exactly what Luke did to Hallelujah at first, but we see how it affects her and we’re right alongside her, cheering her on and hoping she finds a way to open up and tell others what’s happened to her.

My favorite part about this book is how it also weaves in themes of faith and God’s role in their survival. Holmes does exactly what I hope to do in my writing—let God have a role but not make it a Christian fiction novel. With it being a youth group retreat, God naturally has a role in this book, and each day lost on the mountains brings Hallelujah and her friends either closer or farther from God. I will say that I don’t like the end of the book as much as I was hoping. I don’t want to give it away, but I will say that I was expecting Hallelujah to turn out a little differently after their journey.

The Distance Between Lost and Found will always be one of my favorite books. I chose to feature it this month for two reasons. The first is that I’ll be going on vacation to the Smoky Mountains for the first time in about a month. I’m so excited for my first trip to the mountains, though I don’t plan on hiking off on my own like Hallelujah and her friends. The second reason is because when I read this book for the first time two years ago, it made me want to turn my favorite short story I’ve ever written into a novel. I tried back then, but it didn’t work for a lot of reasons. Now I know how to do it right and I’ve returned to that story. I read this book this month to help me prepare for this novel. And it’s going to be an amazing writing journey.

The Distance Between Lost and Found