The Voice Inside My Head

cover artS.J. Laidlaw’s The Voice Inside My Head is a mystery that’s packed full of  emotions. The novel has adventure, comedy, and a deep sadness.

Luke’s quest to find his missing sister results in him getting to know her better than ever. He sees what she would have been like if she wasn’t burdened with all the responsibilities of caring for him and his parents. His love for her, and unwillingness to give up on finding what happened to her drives the reader to NEED to know too. You can’t put the book down without knowing.

Pat is the absent character, who we get to know without truly meeting. Everyone and everything in the novel is framed by their relation to her. She is adored by some, and despised by others, but everyone feels passionately about her disappearance

For a book  primarily about the loss of a loved one, with a heavy focus on alcoholism, The Voice Inside My Head is a light, enjoyable read. The characters speak in diction that allows you to hear them as individuals. There are quirky, funny people making their way through this serious story.

Luke has internal dialogue with Pat that could cause some debate for readers. Is it his subconscious feeling guilty about the way things were between them? Is it her spirit speaking to him? There’s no definite answer but we learn a lot about their relationship either way.

Family dynamics are contrasted on numerous occasions. Luke’s dysfunctional family makes Jamie’s look wonderful, but then Luke is grateful that he has more than Zach.

I look forward to discussing the characters and the issues they face in my book club this summer. This book has been selected as an honour book for the CLA Young Adult Book Award.

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Capricious

Capricious is the sequel to Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast. Every page is populated by beautiful verse. The poetry of it delights me. The imagery and stream of consciousness flow in a way that convincingly portrays the angst of teen life.

I felt it begun too abruptly, jumping right into her loss of virginity. The rest of the book I loved the gritty bits of desire and drugs but they were always framed successfully by her quirky observations of the world. The first page and chapter only work well if you’ve read the first book – which is unfortunate.

I can forgive this false step because of the mastery in the rest of the writing. From comparing a bikini wax to the chopping down of rain forests to the musings about loss of faith, Prendergast makes words into art with fantastic diction and tempo.

Often flawed characters are the most endearing. Ella’s questionable morals and decisions such as juggling two men don’t make the reader hate her because of the way Prendergast writes her internal struggle. She is finding pieces of what she needs in each of the young men- but neither of them is capable of making her feel whole. I think the struggle to understand relationships and love is well played out. The narrator is not a shining role model for teens, but feels like a real person shaped by her traumas, hopes and fears.

One of my favourite passages was where she describes the bus kneeling in supplication for Marika. The girl who’s disabilities don’t detract from her beauty and queenly personality. At one point she describes school as a “dystopian death match” with students writing essays in the blood of their classmates. The competitive nature of high school is reflected on repeatedly- comparing students to coyotes who are fighting for territory and dominance. This is a novel that tackles the tough topics of peer pressure, addiction, religion, relationships, illness, and depression. It doesn’t choose one above others and feel forced or didactic. Instead it succeeds in demonstrating how all the issues can pile up, drowning the people who are surrounded by varied struggles.

Straight Punch

cover artStraight Punch by Monique Polak is a novel about a girl who gets expelled and has to attend an alternative school for troubled teens. The moral of the story is that appearances and first impressions can be deceiving. Everyone has a history that explains how they’ve ended up where they are. All of the youth at her new school seem intimidating and below her at first, but Tessa comes to see good in all of them.

Tessa is squeamish about all violence in the beginning and has anxiety about boxing being the primary physical education at her new school. The students learn different things in boxing class, depending on what’s going on in their life. Some learn discipline, some learn to channel their aggression, some learn how to stand up for themselves. Art, especially street art is another main component of the story. Expressing themselves through art is important to many teens.

Alcoholism, gambling addiction, bullying, and teen pregnancy are all topics that arise in the novel.

*spoiler alert*

Trigger warning for women who have suffered a miscarriage. There is a descriptive scene that could bring back bad memories.

Switch

Switch by Douglas Davey is a bildungsroman. It explores the struggle of a bisexual young man coming to terms with his feelings and with prejudice from bullies. Being bisexual is confusing for him and his friends, with everyone questioning how he really felt about his girlfriend.

The narration is great, and makes it feel like Sheldon is a real person. The footnotes are funny and informative, but I’m not sure teens will enjoy them as much as I do.

This is a book that could be helpful to a teen who is questioning their sexuality. It explores different opinions and misconceptions about bisexuality that they may face. You don’t have to be gay to enjoy the novel, but sexual orientation is the main focus so it will probably appeal the most to those who can relate or have friends they are trying to understand.

There are no explicit sex scenes in this novel, it’s more about the identity struggle than the actual sexuality.