Unspeakable

cover artCaroline Pignat brings to life a historical tragedy and fictional love in Unspeakable. Similar to the story in the film Titanic, but undeniably original, this novel captures the fear, pain, and survivor’s guilt from the shipwreck of The Empress of Ireland.

“No, the waters didn’t take me that night, but I was drowning, still, in survivor’s guilt” (pg 176)

The friendships and romances are memorable. Learning about Jim’s perspective gradually as Ellie reads his journal is heartbreaking as we see the lost opportunities that so many people suffered.

The class divide on the ships makes you think about society and priorities. In shipwrecks, and in life, it is more dangerous to be in the lower class. Having a protagonist who grew up wealthy but is disowned and needs to work as a stewardess (in a time that was like serfdom) allows readers a view of the larger picture. She sees the contrast all the more starkly, making the transition.

“We write our lives by the choices we make. Like it or not, that becomes our story”

Ellie is a strong character who keeps her integrity through hardships. She experiences more hardships than many could bare but keeps her wits about her, stays true to herself, and fights for what is important to her. She is ostracized for her teen pregnancy, hounded by reporters for being one of the few survivors of disaster, and judged for following her heart. She makes mistakes, but the way she deals with them make her a good role model for readers.

A fantastic read for fans of adventure, survival stories and romance.

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Swimmers

Cover artAmy Bright’s novel Swimmers is surprisingly light considering the heavy subject matter. Suicide, drug addiction, and bullying all play pivotal roles in the plot.

What makes the book shine is the friendship between Hunter and Poppy. Misfits who have been pulled out of their troubled lives, the teen and young girl have a companionship that is complex despite how little they actually speak to one another. He has a grudging respect for the girl, not wanting to admit at first that he needs a kid’s friendship.

Where the novel is struggles is the”voice. It didn’t sound like a teenage boy’s perspective, especially not a drug using, rough, trouble maker. He also didn’t feel depressed, certainly not enough to commit suicide. His point of view was too jovial for that, his observations too comical, his awareness of himself too strong.  The parts when he was recovered were more believable than when he was on drugs or depressed.  Usually first person narration allows the reader to experience the story, but Bright may have been better off writing in third person since she failed to capture the inner turmoil.

Part of the story takes place close to my home. At first I was excited to hear the names of familiar places, however the description of Kelowna did not match where I know the Greyhound station to be.

A sound plot, and interesting characters, but dark subject matter needs to delve deeper into the gritty feelings to have full impact.

Read-alikes

what is real thirteen reasons whyMy beating teenage heart

The Color of Silence

The Color of Silence

This novel has a unique perspective. It opens up the world of a severely disabled young woman to teen readers who may not have considered such a life. Giving words to a character who is trapped in a life without the ability to communicate raises important issues about how people with disabilities are treated, what makes a life worth living, and how small acts of kindness can transform someone’s existence. Liane Shaw succeeds in writing a compelling, heart wrenching story that could teach empathy, help people deal with grief, and maybe encourage youth to help others. She was wise to use two perspectives, because teens can relate to Alex and her friend Cali, whereas Joanie’s fascinating perspective would be too alien to them if it was the only one presented.

I was literally moved to tears. My mother worked in a group home for people like Joanie and I wonder what they would think of her story. The technology highlighted in this novel may give us the ability to truly learn their perspective and maybe this novel will help families struggling to communicate learn that there is a possibility for them to give the opportunity for their loved ones to express themselves.

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.