October 31, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Parallel

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and features books that we just can't wait to get our hands on!

This week's WoW pick is:

Parallel by Lauren Miller

Goodreads' description:

"Your path changes. Your destiny doesn’t.

Abby Barnes had a plan. The Plan. She’d go to Northwestern, major in journalism, and land a job at a national newspaper, all before she turned 22. But one tiny choice - deciding to take a drama class her senior year of high school - changed all that.

Now, a year later, on the eve of her 18th birthday, Abby is stuck on a Hollywood movie set, wishing she could rewind her life. The next morning, she’s in a dorm room at Yale, with no memory of how she got there. Overnight, it’s as if her past has been rewritten.

With the help of Caitlin, her science savvy BFF, Abby discovers that this new reality - an Ivy League address, a spot on the crew team, a birthday blind date with a cute lacrosse player - is the result of a cosmic collision of parallel universes that has Abby living an alternate version of her life. And not only that: Abby’s life changes every time her parallel self makes a new choice. As she struggles to navigate her ever-shifting existence, forced to live out the consequences of a path she didn’t choose, Abby must let go of The Plan and learn to focus on the present, without losing sight of who she is, the boy who might just be her soulmate, and the destiny that’s finally in reach."

Hey, look, it's a book that satisfies not one but two of my gaps in YA! Parallel realities: check. Set at a college (yes, it's a New Adult read!): check. And I think parallel universes might actually be starting to trend or something in YA, because I've seen a few of these sorts of premises popping up lately. What do you think?

And what books are you waiting for?

October 27, 2012

Pushing the Limits: A Close-Up Review

"No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal.But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.

Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.
" (from Goodreads)

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry


Echo: she's obviously gone through a lot of trauma. It's been suppressed, but under the surface it's tearing her up inside. Since she doesn't know what happened, she's been blaming some people — and there are a couple of people to blame. Namely, her mom and dad, neither of whom really handled the situation well.

Noah: I wasn't crazy about Noah (for reasons which will be mentioned below). However, he has a lot of good qualities — despite his "stereotypical tough guy" facade, he actually really cares about his brothers and his friends. It's sad what he had to go through, but it's great to see how much family means to him. It's also rewarding to watch him opening up to Echo and letting himself love her, since he usually suppresses his emotions and/or covers them up with sex. I liked that he was willing to reach out to Echo and get to know her. He doesn't care very much about what other people think (for instance, what his friends think about him dating Echo), which is also admirable.

His voice occasionally lapses into the overly poetic, but for the most part he sounds fairly authentic for a teen guy (complete with swearing and a general ineloquence about expressing himself).

Echo & Noah: The romance worked on some levels for me, but not entirely. It's a slow-burn romance at first, and the sexual tension is done really well. In some ways their relationship is a lot like Alex's and Brittany's from Perfect Chemistry. However, the romance itself lost some of its appeal for me once they started dating, mainly because of Noah's Neanderthal-like "manly instincts." He's got a bit of a possessive streak, always thinking of Echo as "his girl" or "his siren," etc. Also, this is a personal preference, but I really didn't like the way he called her "baby." (I'm sorry, some people may find it sweet or affectionate or whatever, but it just makes me cringe and think feminist thoughts.)

In a way Noah and Echo balance each other out pretty well. For Echo, Noah is someone who can protect her, and also someone she feels she can count on. He's a bit rough around the edges, and he challenges her and sparks something inside her that guys like Luke never did. And she can stick up for herself with him. However, I think sometimes he pushes her a bit too hard, and doesn't realize how much his words can hurt her.

The friends: Grace bugged me — she cared way too much about status and reputation and wasn't really a friend at all to Echo. Both Grace and Natalie could have used some more dimension, but Lila I liked. She sticks with Echo through thick and thin, and I have to admire her for that. She's really focused on Echo's wellbeing, and she doesn't ever try to make it all about herself. Furthermore, she understands how much support Echo needs and how fragile Echo is. In essence, she's a great best friend.

I thought Noah's friends Isaiah and Beth were more distinctive characters than Natalie and Grace. Isaiah's a really good friend to have in a pinch, and even though Beth comes across as thorny and prickly at first, she's got a soft side (even if she doesn't want to admit it).

Echo's parents:

I didn't like her dad very much. Well, I really didn't like him at the beginning, and by the end I was feeling slightly more charitable towards him. He made some major mistakes, but he seemed to care about Echo and her wellbeing. He's not the greatest dad, but not the worst one either. (His wife Ashley, on the other hand, I didn't like from the start and it stayed that way.)

As for Echo's mom, I think she really has a lot to answer for. I feel like even though the mom has some excuse for her behaviour, what she did later when she met with Echo was not at all what a loving mother should have done. She should have taken more responsibility for her actions, especially considering that she had made what appears to be a selfish choice and it had serious repercussions for Echo. I ended up feeling quite mad at the mom; I don't know how someone could do that to their child. (Major spoilers, highlight to read: I know she was in a deep depression when this happened and she didn't really have control of her actions at that point but A) she shouldn't have gone off the meds and B) when she met up with Echo in the cemetery, she should have said something different. Instead she kept all her emotions at distance, didn't want to talk about what happened, and it wasn't what Echo needed at all for closure. You'd think the mom would have been devastated by what she'd done to her daughter, but instead she just wanted to blame it all on her mental illness and shrug it off. Perhaps her decision to go off the meds was influenced by her bipolar disorder, but you'd think if she'd been on them for a significant period of time, her symptoms would have been mostly under control. I think the only reason she stopped taking her medication is because she wanted her creativity back, and it sounds like this was not the first time she'd gone off them, so I suspect she knew full well what she was getting herself into.)


Pushing the Limits provides an excellent portrayal of the difficulty of living with a bipolar parent. Echo feels so torn about her mother. In one way, she loves her and she has good memories of her mom (some of her best memories are of when her mom was in her manic phase), but then she's also scared of her mom, and confused about why her mom would try to hurt her. And that, too, she attributes to her mom's bipolar disorder. Plus, because she looks a lot like her mom and they share an artistic streak, she's worried that's going to translate into her being bipolar too.

I wish Echo could have been told more about her mom's bipolar, and we could have gotten a better glimpse into what her mom was going through, and why she acted the way she did. We don't really get Echo's mom's side of it — namely, because the mom isn't willing to tell it, which is one thing that really frustrated me about her character. Still, I think someone should have sat down with Echo and talked to her more about bipolar disorder. 

And then of course there's the matter of Echo's scars, and everyone judging her. I thought there might actually be more specifically about the scars than there was — she never actually describes them or stares at them herself, although perhaps she's gotten used to them.

The therapist, Mrs. Collins, is very non-thereotically-oriented. She asks a lot of questions, but doesn't really come off as any specific type of approach (like client-centered or CBT, etc.). Mostly she just wants to know how things are going with Echo and Noah. We also see a bit of hypnotism in here too, which is interesting. I'm kind of conflicted about them attempting to pull Echo's memories out. While I understand that Echo wants to know what happened, hypnotic retrieval of memories is really something you should approach with caution. Admittedly, the therapist does this for the most part; she tries to perform the hypnosis in a safe space and she's there with Echo while she's being confronted with all these memories. I have to wonder if maybe it would be better if Echo didn't remember anything at all, but obviously this suppression of memories (causing what feels like a "black hole" in her mind) isn't working for her. She's clearly got some post-traumatic stress disorder — not surprisingly, after what she endured.  


This book is compelling in a surprising way. The romance is an essential element, but there are also a lot of "issues" that are handled well for the most part. The mystery of what happened to Echo that night she can't remember gives the story some direction, and keeps you wanting to read.

That said, there is a part in the book where the general plot lags, and there's not much going on besides the romance. There's also quite a bit of repetition in the kinds of conversations that Echo and Noah have — usually it's either "I need to find out what happened" or "I love my brothers" or "Let's make out." Since the book is fairly long, I think some of these conversations could have been condensed or eclipsed into each other.

I felt good about how things were resolved in the Noah-and-his-brothers storyline. He makes an important decision that allows him to do what he wants in the future. (Spoilers: I'm glad that he realized his brothers were better off with the foster parents. While I admired his tenacity in wanting to keep his promise of having his brothers live with him, ultimately he made the mature decision. His life is his own, he can go on to college, and he won't feel tied down to his brothers. I think he could have grown to resent them if he'd tried to get his brothers back, because they'd be preventing him from doing what he really wanted to with his life.)
Both Echo and Noah end up in a pretty good place, and I was pleased about that because they have both been through a lot and deserve some breaks for once. However, I thought it was just a little too much of a happy ending — almost everything gets resolved nicely, and it's rather drawn out. Spoilers: Echo's relationship with Ashley starts to get repaired, she's on much better terms with her dad, she and Noah both get scholarships to the same college, he can see his brothers whenever he wants, and they're going on a trip to Colorado. Basically, there are several conversations with some kinda cheesy emotional bonding going on. Also, it's a shame that we don't get a bit of closure with Mrs. Collinsit's like she drops out at the end.

Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars. I thought it was overly stretched out, without enough substance (there was a heavy focus on the romance) and too much repetition in the conversations. But, on the whole I enjoyed reading it and found the psychology quite interesting.

Note: There is some mature language/content in this book.

Disclaimer: I received this as an e-book through Netgalley.

This book counts towards my goals for the Debut Author reading challenge and the Just Contemporary reading challenge.


October 24, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Belle Epoque and Born of Illusion

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine and features books that we just can't wait to get our hands on!

This week's WoW picks are:

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

"When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.

Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil.

But Isabelle has no idea her new "friend" is the hired help, and Maude's very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose."

Sometimes historical books can be a little stuffy, but this one just sounds like a lot of fun! Love the idea of the "beauty foils" (were there actually such agencies back then?).

Born of Illusion by Teri Brown

"Anna Van Housen is thirteen the first time she breaks her mother out of jail. By sixteen she’s street smart and savvy, assisting her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, and easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums and mentalists in 1920’s New York City. Handcuffs and sleight of hand illusions have never been much of a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her true gifts secret from her opportunistic mother, who will stop at nothing to gain her ambition of becoming the most famous medium who ever lived. But when a strange, serious young man moves into the flat downstairs, introducing her to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, he threatens to reveal the secrets Anna has fought so hard to keep, forcing her to face the truth about her past. Could the stories her mother has told her really be true? Could she really be the illegitimate daughter of the greatest magician of all?

Born of Illusion is the first book in a new series. Each book in the series will introduce a new historical figure, whose legend is shrouded in magic, along with the young woman whose fate is irrevocably tied to his. The through line in each of the books will be The Ghost Club, the real life secret society that was founded in 1862 by the likes of Charles Dickens, Sir Conan Doyle, and W. B. Yeats to advance mankind’s knowledge of the paranormal. The first three books in the series will deal with Houdini, Aleister Crowley and Rasputin."

I'm sticking with the historical theme here. The premise of this one reminds me very much of Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, but the scope of the series as a whole seems much broader (and rather ambitious!). I'm interested to see how the author ties everything together. (Is it just me, though, or is the girl's eye on the cover kinda creepy?)

The End of Psychtember 2012 and Giveaway Winners!


All good things must come to an end, and so it must be as well with Psychtember. The event is now officially over — I hope you enjoyed the reviews, guest posts, and interviews, and learned something new about psychology along the way! Please keep on adding to this Goodreads list as you discover recent YA books relating to mental health and clinical psychology. I'd love to see it become a comprehensive resource for people looking for YA books about these types of issues!

The winner of the Something Like Normal giveaway is...

...Erin D.!

The winners of the Jennifer Brown giveaway are...

...Lydia and Lissette!

The winner of the Streamline e-book giveaway is...


Congrats to all of you, and a huge thanks to all of my guest bloggers, the authors who participated, and everyone who visited and commented during Psychtember! 

October 21, 2012

Wicked Sweet: A Panoramic Review

"Chantal is a planner, and her summer-before-senior-year plan requires best friend Jillian, resumé updating, and studying for AP classes. Jillian wants something different and is afraid to leave introverted Chantal in the dust. All that changes, though, when popular classmates Parker and Will suspiciously start hanging out with the girls.

Chantal only sees one thing: Jillian ditching her for Parker—a guy who can’t even be trusted! Chantal hatches a new plan, one that will expose Parker and Will for what they truly are, and along the way, get her best friend back with the littlest lie and a lot of mouthwatering cake. After all, what are best friends for?"
(from Goodreads)

Wicked Sweet by Mar'ce Merrell
My reaction: 

I wasn't that impressed with this one; in fact, I even skimmed towards the end. The main reason I kept reading was to see if Chantal and Will would end up together and if Will was a good guy underneath his misogynistic, chauvinistic pig attitude (spoiler, highlight if you want to know the answer: no, he isn't! He's just a jerkish sleazebag.) I also wanted to know what was going to happen with all the cakes and the final reveal, which was unfortunately a let-down.

I wasn't a big fan of any of the characters (it's told from 4 perspectives). Parker is a boring, clueless dope who is very self-absorbed in some ways. Things just tend to go right over his head. And yet, somehow he's the kind of guy that everyone loves — and he knows it. Jillian's a typical YA teenage girl, who's trying out something new by entering the world of dating and fashion. The story involving her mom and brothers was more interesting, but not exactly feel-good, and it meant that Jillian was stressed all the time because of what she had to deal with at home. Plus, she and Parker didn't have much chemistry, which meant a bland romance for the pair of them.

Chantal comes across as a little strange (intentionally, I'm sure), as she's not so adept socially and she's quite geeky. She's a pretty relatable character and I had to sympathize with her being the butt of all these jokes and getting bullied. Chantal feels scared and unsure a lot of the time, and has panic attacks, so there's definitely an element of anxiety that she struggles with.
When she starts baking cakes, she starts losing weight and gains significant measure of self-esteem. It was neat to see that coordinated with a hobby like baking. But the only character I found really interesting was Will, and not in a good way! He was slimy-jerk kind of interesting — although he undeniably had personality.

The actual storyline was super implausible in terms of the whole cake-as-revenge scheme (who would really care if some guy was receiving cakes from a secret admirer?). It really wasn't logical and the whole celebrity aspect was just preposterous. Basically, the plot ended up being a bunch of build-up for something that wasn't particularly spectacular.

Best aspect: its portrayal of different kinds of families. Jillian's family is unusual — she has lots of brothers, a terrible mother, and "dads" who wander in and out of her life. Chantal has parents who pressure her to do well in school, presenting the image of a "perfect home" but not really being there for her emotionally. The only thing that makes Will sympathetic at all is that he has a really mean dad who is verbally abusive to him and his mom. Will's mom is a bit of a pushover and gives into his dad but really loves Will. Parker has rich, elitist parents who care a lot about status and want the same kind of lifestyle for their son.

Also, I liked the friendship that develops between Chantal and Anneliese. Anneliese appears at the start to be a stereotypical popular girl, but she ends up taking Chantal under her wing a little and helping her out. It was sweet to see that friendship grow between two such completely different personality types. 
If I could change something... Good grief, where do I start?


a) come up with a better way for Chantal to get back at Will. Seriously, she can discover her love for baking on her own time.

b) bring Mitch into the picture as a potential love interest much earlier in the book, so we actually have a chance to get to know him and aren't left going, "Mitch? That guy who appeared in, like, one scene earlier? Huh?" Either that or make Will's character far more appealing, and axe Mitch entirely. 

c) Give some of the characters much-needed depth — for instance, Chantal's parents. Right now they're more like cardboard cut-outs.

d) Breathe some life into the Parker-Jillian romance! 

e) Wrap it up with an exciting finale. The ending here is all about how Chantal stands up for herself, demonstrating that she's gained confidence. I see the point, but it was just kind of cheesily cliche. More importantly, Will deserved greater humiliation! 

If you haven't read it: don't bother, unless this is the only book you've got at hand and you've run out of other options for filling your time.

If you have read it: agree with my assessment? Disagree?


Visions of Will laughing at me make me cough, as if I'm allergic to mere thoughts of him. I cough harder. I have to turn the mixer off because my coughing fit is becoming a panic attack.

I can't catch my breath. Past my kitchen windows is the darkest night and I'm under the lights. The shark is out there. I fly through the house pulling down blinds, shutting curtains, turning off lights, until it's only me again, in the kitchen, leaning against the counter. How could I have been so exposed?

I'm so desperate I consider calling my mother to ask for her advice. She'll say, with friends like that you don't need enemies. Next year, I'll be homeschooled.

Final verdict: 2.5 shooting stars. This book wasn't terrible, it was just a pretty boring, flat kind of read. I was quite into it at one point, but then it got so far-fetched and the characters weren't developing the way I wanted them to. In the end, it just didn't go in the direction I was hoping for.

Disclaimer: I received this as an ARC for review from the publisher.
This book counts towards my goals for the Just Contemporary reading challenge and the Debut Author reading challenge.

October 20, 2012

The Book Lode (8)

There are quite a few memes to choose from now for showing the books we've gotten recently, so I thought to be fair I'd link my posts up to a different meme each month. I'm grouping the posts under the name "The Book Lode," and this month I'm linking up to In My Mailbox. Credit for this meme goes to Kristi from The Story Siren and Alea from Pop Culture Junkie.

For review:

Scorch by Gina Damico
The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle
The Suburban Strange by Nathan Kotecki
The Book of Styling: An Insider's Guide to Creating Your Own Look by Somer Flaherty
Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst

Thanks very much to Thomas Allen & Son and Sarah Beth Durst!


Safe House and Missing You by Meg Cabot
Abandon by Meg Cabot
The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
Social Suicide by Gemma Halliday
The Creek by Jennifer L. Holm
Virals by Kathy Reichs
Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Psychtember Character Interview with Jason (Freaks Like Us)

I'm excited to have Jason, from Susan Vaught's Freaks Like Us, join us today for a chat!

"When Jason Milwaukee's best friend Sunshine vanishes, Jason knows that something is terribly wrong, but solving her disappearance will require pushing through all the voices in his head and then getting the world to listen to him. His schizophrenia is stopping him from remembering the events leading up to her disappearance, and often he discounts his own memories, and his own impressions. But his deep knowledge that he would never hurt his friend, plus the faith of his parents and a few others in the town bring him to the point of solving the mystery. In the end, it's Sunshine's own love for Jason (Freak) that persuades him of his own strength and goodness. By turns brilliantly witty and searingly honest, Susan Vaught's newest novel is a laugh-out-loud, tear-jerking, coming-of-age story." (from Goodreads)

1.) Thanks for dropping by the blog, Jason! If you could describe yourself in five words, what would they be?

Freak, freak, freak, freak, freak . . .

I know my parents hate that, and Sunshine sort of hates it, but that's what I am. Might as well face it. A long time ago, I figured out that people would call me names, so I beat them to it, and the names don't bother me. My dad thinks I have "poor self esteem" (whatever that means), and my mom thinks I'm being sarcastic or mean to myself. Sunshine thinks I'm not respecting all the good things inside me. I think I'm protecting myself, you know, like using armour, only my armour is made out of a word: FREAK.

2.) Friendship obviously means a lot to you. What do you think is the most important quality to have in a friend?

Loyalty. You have to be there for each other, because everybody else flakes when it's convenient or it gets to be too much for them--and it always gets to be too much for them. Most  people don't have the guts to live lives with problems like we have, or even help us live ours. You should look out for each other, keep each other's secrets, and never ever ever break your promises.

3.) You've had your share of experience with bullies. What's your number one piece of advice about how to deal with them?

Stay away from them and protect yourself. If there are older people in your life who won't flake, tell them and get help. You have to be smart about it, because there's always a time when no one's there to protect you. Bullies are seriously bad news, and each one is just the same as the last one, but also different. I try to figure out what they want, what makes them tick, and most importantly, where they'll be and when, and I make sure I'm somewhere else. People like that are a virus. I don't want them to make me sick.

4.) What is your greatest fear?

Losing Sunshine forever, that's my greatest fear. My second greatest fear is getting lost in my voices and the crazy stuff I see, and not being able to come back. I guess the first fear would happen if the second one did, and vice-versa. They're tied together for me, because Sunshine is just that important.

5.) Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

I hope I'm finished with college and either going on to a higher degree, or working. I'd do okay with a job, if I didn't have to talk to a lot of people. Maybe I'll work on computers, or plumbing. Computer wires and pipes don't have much to say.

6.) If you could have one day where you could go anywhere and do anything in the world, where would you go and what would you do?

I'd take Sunshine to a tropical island where nobody else lived, and there were no bugs and no sharks--but a lot of good food, maybe left by a bunch of rich people on a yacht. We'd eat and swim and talk and rest in the sand, and we wouldn't worry about anything. Everything would be safe and warm and bright, and everything would be okay.

Jason, thanks so much for stopping by and answering all my questions! (And Susan, thanks to you too! :D)

Susan Vaught is the author of numerous YA novels, including My Big Fat Manifesto, Trigger, Exposed, and Going Underground. You can find her online at her website here.

October 19, 2012

Psychtember Interview with Jackie Morse Kessler

I'm pleased to have Jackie Morse Kessler on the blog for a Psychtember interview! Jackie is the author of the Riders of the Apocalypse series, which includes Hunger, Rage, and Loss as well as the upcoming Breath.

First, a bit about Jackie and the latest in the series, Loss:

"Jackie Morse Kessler grew up in Brooklyn, NY, with a cranky cat and overflowing shelves filled with dolls and books. Now she’s in Upstate NY with another cranky cat, a loving husband, two sons, and overflowing shelves filled with dragons and books (except when her sons steal her dragons). She has a bachelor’s degree in English and American Literature, and yet she’s never read any Jane Austen (with or without zombies). She also has a master’s degree in media ecology. (The living study of technology and culture. Which is cool, but she still can’t figure out how to use Tweetdeck.)  Jackie spends a lot of time writing, reading, and getting distracted by bright and shiny new ideas. (She just came up with a new idea right now.) She has a weakness for chocolate and a tendency to let her cat take over her office chair." (from her website)

"Fifteen-year-old Billy Ballard is the kid that everyone picks on, from the school bullies to the teachers. But things change drastically when Death tells Billy he must stand in as Pestilence, the White Rider of the Apocalypse. Now armed with a Bow that allows him to strike with disease from a distance, Billy lashes out at his tormentors...and accidentally causes an outbreak of meningitis. Horrified by his actions, Billy begs Death to take back the Bow. For that to happen, says Death, Billy must track down the real White Rider—who is lost in his memories.

In his search, Billy travels through White Rider’s life: from ancient Phrygia, where the man called King Mita agrees to wear the White Rider’s Crown, to Sherwood Forest, where Pestilence figures out how to cheat Death; from the docks of Alexandria, where cartons of infested grain are being packed onto a ship that will carry the plague, to the Children’s Crusade in France—all the way to what may be the end of the world. When Billy finally finds the White Rider, the teen convinces the man to return to the real world.

But now the insane White Rider plans to unleash something awful on humanity—something that could make the Black Death look like a summer cold. Billy has a choice: he can live his life and pretend he doesn’t know what’s coming, or he can challenge the White Rider for his Crown. Does one bullied teenager have the strength to stand his ground—and the courage to save the world?
" (from Goodreads)

And now for the questions...

1.) The protagonists in both Rage and Loss deal with bullying. In what ways would you say Missy's and Billy's experiences are similar, and in what ways do they differ? How did this affect how you approached writing scenes involving the bullying they face?

JK: Both Billy and Missy are victims of horrible bullying. Billy is physically assaulted, again and again, in big ways and in small ways, by people he fears and by people he loves. Missy and Billy are both verbally assaulted and called terrible names, in public in front of their peers. Missy's humiliation is large scale and goes viral; Billy's is more localized and, at times, private. But even though there are differences in how they are bullied, they both suffer greatly.

While I approached LOSS as a story about a very bullied boy -- physically, verbally, emotionally -- I didn't see RAGE as a book about a very bullied girl, even though she is. She copes with her bulling, and all the pressure she's under, by cutting herself; Billy doesn't know how to cope with his bullying. She has reached her breaking point (which is why Death offers her a job); Billy hasn't yet.

In terms of the writing, the bullying in RAGE came across in an organic way - Missy walking in the hallways at school and insulted; Missy at the party; Missy interacting with her soccer teammates; Missy back in school after the party and dealing with more insults and direct attacks, to say nothing of the cyberbullying. With LOSS, the initial scene was planned -- the book begins with Billy getting the snot pounded out of him, again. And from there, events unfold as we see his home life and his terror of going to school, and what happens in school at the gym and in the classroom and in the cafeteria. The bullying is more at the forefront in LOSS because that's everything to Billy; Missy doesn't see herself as bullied -- it's just how things are. It's a very bleak outlook.

2.) It's pointed out a couple times in Loss that sometimes asking a teacher for help with bullying doesn't do any good. What advice can you give to a teen getting bullied who suspects telling their teacher won't improve the situation?

JK: Keep talking - if not to that teacher, to someone else. Your guidance councilor. Your parents. Other teachers. Your friends. Talk. You matter, and your words deserve to be heard. If you still can't find someone willing to listen, call a crisis group or help group like To Write Love On Her Arms, which can help put you in touch with people who can help.

3.) The concept of memory is threaded throughout Loss, and is especially relevant to the characters of Billy's grandfather and King Mita. If King Mita and Billy's grandfather could switch lives for a day, what do you think each of them would learn?

JK: I can't answer that. Billy's grandfather is suffering from Alzheimer's and Mita by the time Billy meets him is insane. If they were both in their right minds, they would see and identify with how much each man loves his family. But neither of them is fully capable of doing that when LOSS takes place.

4.) In Rage, Missy does not have a strong support system at home. How important a buffer do you feel support from family and friends is in preventing emotional distress from developing into something clinical? Do you think if Missy's home situation had been more positive, this might have affected whether or not she began cutting?

JK: It's crucial that people have a support system -- friends, or family, or teachers, or others. We all need someone to talk to. The act of talking can be its own sort of balm. I can't speak to whether a support system would prevent distress from developing into something clinical, but I know from personal experience that Interaction -- knowing that we're being heard and not dismissed -- can help us heal. It's certainly helped me. (I'm a former bulimic and I also used to be on antidepressants.)

5.) Which of your YA books has challenged you the most as a writer?

JK: They each got harder and harder to write. In many ways, HUNGER was the easiest because it had been brewing for 10 years before I wrote it, and I had personal experience with an eating disorder. I think that BREATH (which comes out in April 2013) was the most challenging to write, not only because of the subject matter (writing about depression and suicidal thinking when you're feeling horribly melancholy and possibly depressed is **not** fun) but because of the structure of the book.

6.) Death is one of the most interesting characters in this series, and undoubtedly many readers' favourite  (he's my favourite, anyway!). Can you give us a teaser from the final book, Breath, in which Death finally gets to be the center of attention?

JK: Thanks - he's my favorite too. :) For BREATH, well, how's this? "In the fourth and final volume of the Riders of Apocalypse series, high school senior Xander Atwood has a secret. Death, the Pale Rider, has lost his way. What happens when the two meet will change the fate of the world."

And here's the full back cover copy:

Contrary to popular belief, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse aren't just harbingers of doom -- they actually keep life in balance. But what happens when their leader and creator, Death, becomes suicidal? Before the first living thing drew its first gasping breath, he was there. He has watched humanity for millennia. And he has finally decided that humanity is not worth the price he has paid time and again. When Death himself gives up on life, a teenager named Xander Atwood is the world's only hope. But Xander bears a secret, one that may bring about the end of everything. This heart-pounding final installment of the Riders of the Apocalypse series looks at the value of life, the strength of love, and how a small voice can change everything . . . forever.

Thanks very much, Jackie, for stopping by and answering all my questions!

October 15, 2012

Cover Reveal: The Crimson Hunt

I'm happy to be helping out with Victoria Smith's cover reveal for her upcoming New Adult book, The Crimson Hunt! Here's the book synopsis, to start with:

The Crimson Hunt (Eldaen Light Chronicles, #1) by: Victoria H. Smith
Release Date: November 12, 2012
Genre: New Adult Science Fiction Romance

"College junior Ariel Richmond is working on year three of Project Normalcy.

Her house reeks of keggers past and her bestie is just a slight bit vulgar. But the thing is—they both aid in making life refreshingly uneventful.

So much for hard-earned mediocrity when Luca Grinaldi appears on the scene.

Luca’s sudden presence on campus is hard to ignore. Those bright eyes act like a beacon to unsuspecting females, and with features like his, he’s got to be moonlighting for GQ. Luca hopelessly captivates Ariel with his confidence and charisma, but the mysteries surrounding him make him nearly untouchable. And just when Ariel grows close enough to unlock his secrets, a tragic event sends her life in a downward spiral.

That steady life is no longer an option and allies quickly become scarce. The mysterious Luca seems to be the only one willing to help her—but with that trust comes the burden of his secrets. He has a dark mission of otherworldly proportions, and is willing to sacrifice as many lives as it takes to see it completed.

Gone are the days of simply maintaining normalcy, and if Ariel isn’t cautious with her trust, so soon may be her future."

And now for the cover...
Cover Image Designed by: Michelle Johnson

 Such pretty shades of purple! What do you guys think of the cover?

And here's a little more about Victoria herself:

About the Author:

Victoria H. Smith has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. She puts it to good use writing romance all day. She resides in the Midwest with her Macbook on her lap and a cornfield to her right. She often draws inspiration for her stories from her own life experiences, and the twenty-something characters she writes give her an earful about it.

In her free time, she enjoys extreme couponing, blogging, reading, and sending off a few tweets on Twitter when she can. She writes new adult fiction romance in the sub-genres of science fiction, urban fantasy, and contemporary, but really, anywhere her pen takes her she goes.

Victoria H. Smith Links:
Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Victoria's also created a playlist for The Crimson Hunt:

And she's got Chapter One up on her blog, which you can check out here!


October 13, 2012

Crazy: A Psychtember Review

Patient: Crazy by Amy Reed

Presentation (from Goodreads):   "He’s falling in love—and she’s falling over the edge of sanity. From the author of Beautiful and Clean, a heartwrenching exploration of a romance marred by mental illness.Connor knows that Izzy will never fall in love with him the way he’s fallen for her. But somehow he’s been let into her crazy, exhilarating world and become her closest confidante. But the closer they get, the more Connor realizes that Izzy’s highs are too high and her lows are too low. And the frenetic energy that makes her shine is starting to push her into a much darker place.

     As Izzy’s behavior gets increasingly erratic and self-destructive, Connor gets increasingly desperate to stop her from plummeting. He knows he can’t save her from her pain...but what if no one else can?"


Axis 1. Characters

I didn't particularly like either Connor or Isabel, especially for the first half. Isabel was very annoying in some ways — she's quite self-centered and melodramatic. I suspect that these are aspects of her personality regardless, but that her bipolar disorder intensifies them. She's also creative, and there appears to be some connection between creativity and manic episodes. I thought the difference between "normal" creativity and manic-inspired creativity was actually illustrated quite well here in comparing Connor and Isabel. Connor can be poetic and a bit dramatic when he wants to be, but he doesn't succumb to it the way Isabel does. She throws herself into these fantasies and her imagination just goes wild with it. Still, it's tough to know how much of Isabel's character is just pure Isabel and how much is an effect of the bipolar, especially as she is struggling with the disorder for so much of the book.

Ultimately, Isabel is both self-destructive and destructive of her relationships with others. This is probably mostly due to her disorder, but she actually says at one point that she can blame it on the bipolar, but it's partly herself as well. Indeed, there's at least one cognitive hurdle Isabel needs to get over — that of feeling not good enough for everyone's love and attention, and thinking that she needs to be punished. We don't really see how this attitude has developed, although we're given some indicators in her home life. Her family has ignored her and focused instead on her drug-using brother, and so Isabel has looked for attention in the wrong places (like with Trevor).

I was surprised Connor puts up with Isabel's behaviour for so long, that he keeps trying to help her and be her friend. I didn't really see what he sees in Isabel; maybe back in camp when they first met she acted differently because the bipolar disorder hadn't been triggered yet? Obviously he's not perfect, though, and he does get mad at her quite a bit — not that I blame him, because she says some really out-of-line stuff. It's like she feels she has the right to take things out on anybody.

Also, I didn't find Connor that authentic as a teen guy. He's unusually thoughtful and sensitive (which is pointed out a few times), and while I got used to his voice I never ended up liking him much.

Axis 2. Premise/plot

I wasn't that into it for the first half, but then later as Isabel's bipolar started to worsen, things got more emotionally intense and I became more interested. Crazy is a fantastic portrayal of someone's downward spiral into serious bipolar disorder. Isabel begins oscillating, first just a little, and then more and more as her highs and lows start getting really high and really low.

After the climactic scene there's a fair bit of denouement where not that much actually happens, but it was neat that the author offers a glimpse of the beginning of recovery for her, and we see her start to gain a perspective of "normality".

Axis 3. Writing Style

The writing was quite good, especially once things got going. Isabel's sections come off as overly dramatic, yes, but that's because Isabel is overly dramatic, so the writing is merely reflecting her personality/mood. In fact, this quality of the writing is particularly well-illustrated in one of her e-mails, which is just one long run-on sentence, like there are all these words bubbling over that she has to get out. This "stream-of-consciousness" kind of style works well to portray what's going through her head, and also functions as a written version of the pressure of speech symptom some individuals with bipolar experience.

Axis 4. Psychological Accuracy
"Fast Facts" about bipolar disorder: Did You Know?
  • For a long time, nobody knew why lithium worked as a medication for bipolar disorder. We still don't know for sure, but recent research is suggesting that it could be due to a link with circadian rhythms.

Crazy does an exceptional job of showing what a person with bipolar disorder is going through mentally and emotionally. In fact, I don't think I've read a better portrayal of the perspective of someone who has bipolar disorder.

Mania is often associated (by the general public) with being really happy, but with Isabel, this isn't often the case. She's happy for very brief moments at the beginning of a manic episode, but this quickly turns to anger/bitterness — but still with all the energy a manic episode brings. Then this progresses downhill into depression. It's good to see the portrayal in Crazy doesn't fall prey to stereotype, as I suspect what happens with Isabel is a much more likely scenario for many individuals with bipolar, rather than a black-and-white, "happy" or "unhappy" sort of divide. It's better to think of bipolar as alternating between energy levels. Also, it's possible that Isabel sometimes experiences a mixed state — either mania with some depressive symptoms, or depression with some manic symptoms.

While I wish we'd seen a little more of Isabel's manic episodes, bipolar disorder cannot be neatly separated 50-50 into depression and mania; the frequency of each type of episode depends on the individual. During her manic episodes, though, she definitely "acts out" in ways one might expect (spoilers, highlight to read: for example, having sex with a random guy, burning stuff, and shredding her mom's records). She's also obsessed with sex at some points, and hypersexuality can occur with manic episodes. And we see elements of psychosis in Isabel at times — she hears voices and holds what could be interpreted as a delusion about her "evil twin". Psychosis certainly can be present in some individuals with bipolar, particularly in a manic episode. Overall, I'd diagnose Isabel with Bipolar I disorder, rapid cycling (since the book doesn't take place over a very long period of time, and by the end she's already shown a few episodes of both mania and depression).

I thought it was very realistic that Isabel resists treatment for such a long, long time. She really digs her heels in, turning against everyone who tries to help her, thinking they're the enemy. Indeed, she almost starts acting a little paranoid schizophrenic (perhaps part of this is her psychotic symptoms?). We're not told exactly why she doesn't want to get help, though — whether it's the stigma of having a mental disorder, that she's in denial, that she's naturally stubborn, that it's an effect of the bipolar disorder itself, that she's worried she'll lose part of herself, or a combination of these factors.

As for Connor, he didn't strike me as being really codependent — a term brought up briefly in Crazy — but he certainly lets her take center stage in the relationship. It's all about her, and he doesn't put his foot down very much in terms of making her pay attention to him. It's a one-way relationship — he's trying to save her and she's not giving him anything in return, which she acknowledges at one point.

Validity Score: How psychologically accurate was Crazy?

Patient shares symptoms with: A Note of Madness by Tabitha Suzuma, The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee

Patient's statement:

I am a parasite on this world. I suck the life out of the things I love. I multiply and spread until I've consumed you. And even when you're gone, even after I've licked up every last crumb of you, I'm still hungry. I'm starving, Connor. I'm empty and lonely and lost and I'm starving, and there isn't enough in the whole wide world that could make me feel whole.

Diagnosis: 4 shooting stars.


For more information about bipolar disorder, see here.

Note: this book contains some coarse language and mature content.

This book counts toward my goal for the Just Contemporary reading challenge.

October 10, 2012

Psychtember Interview with R.J. Anderson!

I'm happy to welcome R.J. Anderson to the blog for a Psychtember interview! Rebecca is the author of several YA novels, including Ultraviolet and the upcoming companion novel, Quicksilver, due out in spring 2013 (from Carolrhoda Lab).

First, a bit about Rebecca and Ultraviolet:

"R.J. Anderson (known to her friends as Rebecca) was born in Uganda, raised in Ontario, went to school in New Jersey, and has spent much of her life dreaming of other worlds entirely.

As a child she immersed herself in fairy tales, mythology, and the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and E. Nesbit; later she found inspiration in books by Ursula LeGuin, Patricia A. McKillip and Robin McKinley, and learned to take as much pleasure from their language as the stories they told.

Now married and a mother of three, Rebecca reads to her sons the classic works of fantasy and science fiction that enlivened her own childhood, and tries to bring a similar excitement and timeless wonder to the novels she writes for children and teens. She currently lives in the beautiful theatre town of Stratford, Ontario." (from her website)

"Once upon a time there was a girl who was special.

This is not her story.

Unless you count the part where I killed her.

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison’s condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can’t explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori—the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that’s impossible. Right?" (from Goodreads)

And now for the questions...

1.) a) Frequently in YA we see a character displaying symptoms of a mental disorder, but the story doesn't actually show us the treatment of it. Why do you think that is?

Sometimes YA novels include mental illness as part of a character's background or present struggles, but the main plot of the story isn't about MI so we don't get a lot of details about the disorder or how it's being treated. I don't think there's anything wrong with that per se, because I think it's possible to respectfully acknowledge the existence of mental illness and the challenge it can present without going into a lot of details.

But if the main plot is about the character dealing with a mental illness, either their own or someone else's, I think treatment ought to come into it eventually. Maybe some authors don't want to tackle the treatment angle because it demands too much research, or maybe they're afraid it would bog down the story and bore the reader. I don't know. But I feel that if you're going to write about MI at all, you need to be prepared to do a lot of research; and I think anything can be written in an interesting way if the author cares enough to do it.

b) A significant part of your book takes place at a psychiatric facility. In what ways do you hope Ultraviolet addresses this gap in the literature?

Part of what made me want to write about life as an inpatient at a psychiatric hospital was my frustration with the stereotypical, sensationalized and downright misleading portrayals of MI I'd seen elsewhere, TV and movies especially. On one hand I saw portrayals of people with mental illness as loveable eccentrics or unorthodox saints, and on the other hand they were portrayed like wild animals or dangerous criminals, and there wasn't a lot in between. Similarly, psychiatric hospitals in these stories tended to be either sunny halls of hope and healing, or dismal prisons full of people in straitjackets locked up in isolation. I wanted Alison's experiences of psychiatric care, and her interactions with her fellow patients, to be more nuanced. Within any health care system there are all sorts of different personalities and approaches to the giving and receiving of treatment, and sometimes the combination of caregiver and patient is a positive and healing one and sometimes it's disappointing or painful, but it's not that easy to sort everybody into heroes and villains. With Ultraviolet, I've tried to reflect that.

2.) For authors attempting for the first time to write a character dealing with mental health issues, what are some "must-haves" for their writing and what pitfalls would you recommend they avoid?

I'd say the first thing to do, if you don't have firsthand knowledge or experience of dealing with mental illness, is to throw out all your preconceptions about what mental illness is like and how it is treated today. Read memoirs by people with MI and by their family members, look up blogs written by nurses and aides and psychiatrists, watch educational videos about schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and depression. Try to build up a detailed picture from all angles, instead of relying on just one source or point of view -- which is where I think a lot of stories about mental illness go wrong.

3.) How would you suggest a teen reader gets the most out of a book focusing on psychological issues? For example, are there any strategies a reader might use to detect when an author is portraying a mental disorder or treatment clumsily or inaccurately?

I don't think there's any way to know that unless you have firsthand experience with mental illness or have been doing your own research into the subject, because as I mentioned before the portrayals in TV and movies are so misleading. Because of that influence, I think it's easy for a lot of readers not to notice when an author does a poor job of portraying mental illness, because the mistakes and wrong assumptions the author's making are probably similar to their own.

The best an author can do, I think, is try to be responsible, respectful, and thorough about their research in all areas, even those that don't involve mental illness. Because if the reader finds that they are reliable in one aspect of the story that they do know about, they're more likely to trust the author to be reliable in other areas as well. But if the author botches up other facts, it's hard for the reader to trust them after that. And rightly so, because that's often a warning sign that the author hasn't really done their research.

4.) There's a paranormal element to Ultraviolet. How challenging was it to blend this with the fact-based psychological aspects of the book? Were you concerned about tackling two genres in this way?

Fantasy and Science Fiction are my first love, and my original concept for this story was very strongly rooted in the SF element. I was actually more worried about pulling off the contemporary aspect than anything else, because it was less familiar territory. And I always knew that there were going to be some readers who didn't want to come all the way on Alison's particular journey -- in fact I worried at first that no editor would buy it simply because of that cross-genre aspect. But at the same time, I knew I couldn't tell this particular story any other way. If I took out the paranormal and science fiction elements, I'd have to write a totally different plot, or else turn it into a "But she was really crazy all the time!" story or a "Then she woke up and it was all a dream!" story, and neither of those options were interesting to me. So I was very relieved and grateful to find two editors -- Andrew Karre at Carolrhoda Lab US and Sarah Lilly at Orchard Books UK -- who loved the manuscript and got what I was trying to do.

My editors also did me a great favour by encouraging me to drop more hints about the SF aspect of the story earlier in the book, so that when the twist came at least some readers would feel that it made sense. I wanted Ultraviolet to be a book that would reward re-reading -- where people could go back and say "Aha, I see what you did there!" even if they hadn't caught it the first time around. So even in the early sections of the book there are plenty of SF in-jokes and allusions from Star Trek and Star Wars, The X-Files and Doctor Who, Blade Runner and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- plus blatant references to SF classics like War of the Worlds and The Day The Earth Stood Still. I don't know if any of my readers picked up on all of those little easter eggs, but I had a lot of fun putting them in.

5.) Stigmatization is still a big part of mental illness in North American culture. What tips would you give for incorporating stigma into a story to realistically reflect our society, without coming across as demeaning to individuals with the mental illness?

It's a difficult issue, because no matter how you handle it there's so much potential for offence. Some readers are going to be upset if an otherwise likeable character behaves badly, or says something insensitive or ignorant. They may even mistake that character's point of view for the author's, unless that character gets an immediate smackdown that makes plain the author doesn't endorse such behaviour. But real life doesn't work that way -- people say insensitive things without getting called out or punished all the time -- and if the author tries to fix everything their characters do wrong, you end up with a preachy, unrealistic story.

I think the best way to handle it is not to eliminate or ignore the insensitivity, or have some Voice of Authority step in to immediately correct the misbehaviour, but to realistically portray how that kind of stigma affects the people who are subjected to it. To put the reader into that person's position, even if only for a moment, and make them understand how inaccurate and unjust the stigma really is.

6.) If you could ensure that readers take away one fact or message about mental health/psychology from Ultraviolet, what would it be and why?

I think it would be the same lesson that Alison gradually learns over the course of the story -- that people with mental illness are struggling and suffering in some very obvious ways, but that doesn't mean they're some strange alien race, or otherwise essentially different from the rest of us. We're all human beings with our own hurts and fears and temptations to overcome, and we need to be compassionate to one another, because none of us can make it alone.

7.) Can you recommend some other YA books dealing with synaesthesia (or one of the other psychological issues involved in Ultraviolet)?

I didn't discover this book until well after I'd started writing mine, but Wendy Mass's A Mango-Shaped Space is a contemporary novel about a girl with synesthesia, and also deals with issues of grief and depression. It's beautifully written and I'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in learning more.

Thanks very much, Rebecca, for these thoughtful responses to my questions!

Readers, I'm curious — have you read many YA novels that highlighted the treatment of a mental illness, not just its symptoms/diagnosis? What have been your impressions of the portrayals of psychiatric facilities in YA?

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