I still have a small backlog of reviews of books I read in 2014, so I thought I’d catch up for the new year with some mini reviews. I listened to all three of these teen/YA novels on audio: The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor, Uncaged: The Singular Menace, Book One by John Sanford and Michelle Cook, and The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi. I enjoyed the first two very much and recommend them, though I struggled with the third one.
Since I loved Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor, I was very much looking forward to listening to her latest teen/YA novel, The Things You Kiss Goodbye. It shared that same emotional depth and realism of her earlier novel and kept me captivated from beginning to end.
Bettina Vasilis has a tough time as a teenage girl in a very traditional Greek family. Her father, affectionately known as Bampas, is over-protective and strict and expects her to grow up to be a wife and mother. Bettina is lonely after her best friend moves away, until she attracts the attention of star basketball player Brady Cullen. Typically a loner, Bettina suddenly finds herself among the popular crowd, included (though not accepted) as Brady’s girlfriend, but her relationship with Brady takes some unexpected turns.
Meanwhile, Bettina meets Cowboy, an older car mechanic who is gentle, caring, and a bit mysterious. Bettina’s friendship with Cowboy grows as she comes to care about him. When unexpected tragedy hits her life, Bettina must face her true feelings, be honest with her family, and decide who she really is. I was pulled into this emotional and realistic coming-of-age story about image versus reality, love, and being true to yourself.
Uncaged: The Singular Menace, Book One by John Sanford and Michelle Cook
My husband and I enjoyed listening to this fast-paced YA thriller by renowned adult thriller writer John Sanford during our summer car trips.
Shay and her brother Odin have been brought up in foster homes, but when Odin goes missing after getting involved with some animal rights activists, Shay takes off to find him. Odin’s group’s efforts to save some research animals and bring attention to their plight turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg, and their rescue effort sets some very powerful people against them, from the sinister corporation Singular.
In searching for her brother, Shay meets up with a ragtag group of misfits in Los Angeles, struggling to live on their own and turn their lives around. Singular has some scary people working for them, determined to find Odin and his friends and keep their research secret, but Shay’s new friends have skills of their own. What follows is a fast-paced, exciting chase across California and Oregon, with Shay not only wanting to save her brother but also hoping to bring Singular down once she realizes what they are up to. Like Sanford’s adult novels, Uncaged is a classic thriller, filled with suspense and a convoluted plot, and it is the beginning of a new series.
I started listening to The Doubt Factory with high hopes because our family had listened to Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker on a family road trip a few summers ago and loved it. I wanted to also love The Doubt Factory, but I was quite disappointed and barely able to make myself finish it.
The first half of the novel, Part 1, was interesting and engaging, with a unique and suspenseful plot. Teenaged Alix is sitting in her AP Chem class at her private school when her normally predictable life suddenly begins to change. There are several incidents at school that disrupt the normal routine, and then Alix seems to get her own stalker. She has no idea what is going on, the attractive and mysterious young man tells her that everything about her life is a lie and that her father is behind some terrible things.
I don’t want to give away the suspense here, but suffice is to say that the underlying plot of this novel is all about evil corporations doing horrific things. There is a special emphasis on the evil PR firms that represent them and intentionally spin their horrific things into PR gold. For me, the second half of the novel really slowed down – to a crawl – and became far too preachy. The story lost its suspense and momentum and got bogged down in what is clearly an important issue to the author. However, he hits his readers over the head with the lessons and conspiracy theories. There are long passages within the book – repeated several times – that are just lists of evil (real-life) corporations and their evil CEO’s. I used to work for one of those corporations, and I just don’t believe there are that many people in the world with such truly evil intentions and a huge conspiracy to cover them up. The premise and the preaching became too much for me, and I barely cared what happened to Alix by the end – I just wanted to be done with it. It felt like the author sacrificed the story for the lesson.