Rabbit Ears

Rabbit Earsrabbit ears cover art by Maggie DeVries deals with mature heavy subject matter. The tales of child abuse, drug addiction, prostitution, and death are sad and will be disturbing to some readers.

I found the narration to be disjointed. Sometimes I would miss that the perspective had changed, which doesn’t make sense because the two characters who tell the tale are very different and should have more noticeably distinct voices. Things unfold in a way that is not logical or linear. Some novels make this work, revealing bits in flashbacks, but it doesn’t work well in this one. I only start really connecting with Kaya in the last quarter of the book, and feel like I would have gotten more out of the first half of the novel with the back-story we receive too late.

There were two parts of the narration that worked well. The dissociation Kaya experiences, referring to herself in an odd way, is appropriate for the trauma she has experienced. That Beth felt her father’s illness more through her treatment at school then his behaviour at home was also poignant.

Kaya’s revelations in therapy are important aspects of the story. Readers can see, through her responses to the therapist, how she never understood that her abuser was manipulative or unkind. She thought he was good, except for one flaw, and only in having her situation framed by another’s words does she see what really happened. I think understanding her thought process will instill empathy for abuse victims and maybe help some young people to be aware of unhealthy relationships.

I respect DeVries attempt to portray a survivor of a situation that a loved one did not survive. I think it is well-meaning, but not as well executed as it could have been. My colleagues loved it and didn’t agree with my criticism.



Finding Melissa

The novel Finding Melissa by Cora Taylor is about a family torn apart when a small child is kidnapped. There are three perspectives in the story. It focuses mainly on the sisters living completely separate lives but there are the occasional chapters about the kidnapper who changed their lives.

The plot is predictable. I anticipated the moves of the antagonist and the young women. There are connections between two police cases that seem stretched and unrealistic.

What made the book worthwhile was the relationships. Leesa’s connection with the kids she babysits and Aunt Rosie are the best parts of the novel. The plights of the sister who remained have been explored in many other stories but it still evoked sympathy. She has survival’s guilt and neglectful parents, as is often the case when a family is devastated by the loss of a child.

Life Cycle of a Lie

Life Cycle of a Lie is a novel that manages to be both entertaining and thought provoking. It deals with racism, prejudice about sexual orientation, domestic violence and environmentalism. It tackles all of these subjects in a thoughtful manner that isn’tcover art overly preachy but shows that the author has wrapped her head around the issues.

This novel does what When Everything Feels Like the Movies failed to do in my opinion. This book is more likely to be relate-able to gay teens and to inspire empathy in straight teens. It has the sexual awakening of a young man, who develops feelings for a male friend. It has mature content, describing the physical effect of the feelings- but this is done in a tasteful manner. Jona is a well rounded character who isn’t defined by his homosexuality. He’s also intelligent, well read, kind, and talented. He is faced with prejudice, and has a bit of an identity crisis.

Linc is a First Nations character who faces prejudice because of his race. He is not defined by this struggle any more than Jona is by his homosexuality. Linc is open minded, athletic, compassionate, protective, and a bit naive. He is a lovable character who’s major flaw is he has trouble reading body language, or understanding what his girlfriend is upset about.

Victoria is a character worried about being defined by her dysfunctional family but there’s more to her than her abusive father. She is an environmental activist and more. She makes big mistakes because of her insecurities, but I think readers will forgive her.

Romance, suspense, and character based drama make up this wonderful book.

Blue Gold

In her novel, Blue Gold, Elizabeth Stewart explores the horrible hidden costs of technology. There are three stories intertwined, exploring the lives of teenage girls in Africa, Asia, and North America. The characters are fictional but the conflicts are real and this is not a light fluffy read. There are heavy topics and a good dollop of guilt for those of us who benefit from the cell phone industry.

Sylvie’s life in the refugee camp and the horrors that brought her there are shocking and sad. Her dedication to holding her family together, and her bravery makes her an admirable young woman. She aspires to help others when she could have wallowed about her mistreatment. Her struggle to understand how the Canadians who she saw as saviours may have instigated the conflict that caused her woes is eye opening. Violence, rape, and child soldiers are all part of her story.

Laiping’s unreasonable working conditions in China will make Canadian teens grateful for their less than ideal part-time jobs. I think her story will be easier to relate to¬†than Sylvie’s because working long hours and not getting decent paid or given respect is something that Western kids may experience on a less drastic scale. Her lack of opportunities is disheartening.

Fiona takes for granted the products the other girls have suffered to produce. She is careless with privacy, and like many young girls, regrets sharing a half naked photo of herself when it is posted online for everyone to see.

Blue Gold would make for an interesting book club discussion. How can we as consumers ensure that we aren’t causing unnecessary harm in return for our luxuries? The author includes a few resources at the end for readers to educate themselves.

I went to see Mockingjay Part 1 this week and it made me sad to hear that so many teens seemed to think the movies are just about action and cute boys. The Hunger Games is about the same thing this book is: the exploitation of poor people for the cheap production of luxuries. In this case North America is the Capitol , and Congo and China are the exploited districts. I have always thought The Hunger Games was a fantastic way to broach this topic with youth but overhearing a lot of shallow comments during the film I feel like many are not reading between the lines. Hopefully Blue Gold is direct enough to reach them.

So Much It Hurts

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Domestic violence is a tough but important subject to breach. So Much It Hurts by Monique Polak does an excellent job of revealing how an older man can be charming and make a young girl feel special in order to get away with mistreating her. I was worried about how this novel would end, it was difficult to read because of the dark subject matter but I couldn’t stop. Iris has the combination of vulnerability and strength that makes a novel such as this compelling. Her pain and poor judgement will hopefully make young girls think about how they should be treated, and create empathy for those not strong enough to know how to avoid such situations.

My beating teenage heart

*I received my beating teenage heart by c.k. kelley martin as a submission for the YABA

I think this book was awesome but marketed all wrong. The cover and title give the impression of a love story, or maybe sappy vampire fiction. NOT what this novel is about. Even the quotes on the back are all about Ashlyn, whereas the greater part of the book is about Breckon. I think that guys could enjoy this novel but like so many YA books it’s packaged in a way that only appeals to girls.

This book is not for tweens, or the squeamish. It involves the death of a child, grief, self-mutilation, suicide, drinking, sex, the molestation of a child, and very mature themes. Despite the gritty reality of Breckon’s story it is framed by a fantasy POV- a ghost or angel depending on how you look at it, watching over him as he falls into a self-destructive spiral. This sometimes lightens the mood, and sometimes makes it more eerie. The spirit observing Breckon has her traumas come back to her in waves of repressed memory as she sees his pain.

It’s a very dark novel, but it offers some hope. There are bits of humour, and good friends that make the darkness tolerable. I think this is a book that will be challenged in schools and libraries for being too shocking but I stand by what I said before about the value of books that deal with these issues.

What Is Real?

*I received What Is Real as part of my CLA YABA jury duties

Reading this book made me feel like I was on drugs. I’ve never actually done drugs, mostly because I like to be in control and the out of control nature of being on them terrifies me. It also reminded me of being very sick, you know when you’re fever is so high you get delirious or you’re in so much pain you can’t really process anything else…those feelings I’m familiar with and so I had a hard time enjoying the book, it made me dizzy picturing things through Dex’s perspective.

“maybe we laughed so much, we used up our quota” (131)

The most notable thing about the plot is that the narrator is completely unreliable. He’s high most of the time, and even when you understand what he’s saying you can’t be sure what he’s seeing is real. He’s also a compulsive liar, lying to himself almost as much as to others. The way he loses himself in drugs and depression is expertly portrayed,

“I’m shedding pieces of me like someone with some kind of invisible leprosy”. (37)

I think it’s easy to sink into the sadness of his situation, to feel his dreams slipping away.

“Feral’s addiction erased me” (63)

Despite the fact that the book was too drug riddled for me to enjoy very much personally I respect Karen Rivers for fabulous writing. There are some haunted metaphors I don’t think I will forget.

“So she left Dad and became someone else, someone unrecognizable.She morphed as easily as a caterpillar. But we were the cocoon that had to be torn open so she could become some kind of creepy, unrecognizable butterfly, flying away.” (21)

The abandonment issues kids of divorced families feel are beautifully developed in this story.

“this shitty town felt like a sweater I’d outgrown years ago that I was trying to pull back on and it wasn’t working” (66)

It’s very difficult to move back to somewhere you were nostalgic about and discover it’s not quite the image in your mind.

“from the outside it looked like the school is vomiting kids in fits and starts, finally spitting out the last few stragglers and then leaning over, done” (85)

Dex’s unusual interpretations of school as he sits watching it from the outside are really interesting. There is a scene where he is too physically hurt and depressed to get out of his car, so he sits there the entire school day and is horrified by the fact that no one notices him there. Apathy is a prevailing theme, and the reader is left feeling sick at the idea of no one helping Dex, no one noticing when he stops talking because he’s too depressed to keep up appearances anymore, no one noticing Tanis’ scars. The lack of action about the abuse of foster kids and a teenage boy expected to care for his suicidal paralyzed father will be shocking to some but this is the idea, that we need to be shocked out of our apathy.

This novel is not for everyone. Not everyone will be able to handle the way it jumps around, the way Dex frames everything with his imaginary camera- distancing himself from his life by turning it into a movie. But it is masterfully done and I’m curious about other books River has written.