young adult

So Easily Conjured

The promise of a novel filled with the essence of both Practical Magic and Hocus Pocus is fulfilled by reading Shea Ernshaw's debut, The Wicked Deep. Within these pages is a story filled with regret, revenge, lies, and most of all, love. And every bit of this summertime story is just as wicked and deep as the title assures. 

From the beginning, the haunting lyricism with which Ernshaw conjures her story is enough to draw readers in, and what's more, drown them entirely in beautiful language. The style blends a contemporary narrative with historical elements given through the titled chapters spread throughout the entirety of the novel. Though the narration of these titled chapters does not follow the linear action of the novel, they are just as captivating as the world seen through Penny Talbot's eyes. Penny believes deep in her bones that the three Swan sisters who were drowned in the harbor of Sparrow, Oregon 200 years ago, do indeed return each summer to drown as many teenage boys as they can. It becomes most clear that "magic was not always so linear. It was born from odium. From love. From revenge." And what begins as a story of revenge soon becomes one filled with love. 

Throughout the story, tensions remain high, stakes fraught with the impending deaths of innocent boys. There is a ticking clock to keep readers swept up in the urgency of the story; the Swan season wanes toward the summer solstice, which marks the day the sisters were drowned after being accused of witchcraft so many centuries ago. Like the descendants of Salem, Marguerite, Aurora, and Hazel Swan were not witches. Yet, they're resurrected every summer, taking over the bodies of young girls in town before slipping from the skins back to the ocean below. It's a rather dire set of circumstances in a town that knows entirely too much of their tragic fates, best explained within the narrative:

"Murder. That's precisely what it is. Calling it a curse does not unmake the truth of what happens here each year...It's as predictable as the tide and the moon. It ebbs and flows. Death comes and goes." 

Held within those few lines is the essence of the story, that constant sway between life and death, killer and victim. And the villains of the story, those Swan sisters with the ability to lure boys to their deaths, are proven to be just as flawed and complicated as any good antagonist should be. What was most unexpected, however, was how their villainy washed away as their tragic fates were shared, making it hard not to accept their revenge.  Best explained by Penny, "Guilt slithers through me, a thousand regrets, and I wish for things I can't have: a way to undo all the deaths, to save the people who've been lost." 

The other characters within this novel are no less authentic. Everyone from Penny's grief-stricken mother to Bo, the new boy in town who hides something just as dark as the town; they all seem to hope for something better. As readers, we learn that "the truth slips between the edges of the lies." These people, like Penny, are broken. She misses her father. Her mother has been driven into darkness most maddening by the disappearance of her husband three years before, and Bo found his way to Sparrow filled with his own heartbreaks. At their core, they are all searching the shores for something. Like Bo explains:

"They're always reasons to stay. You just need to find one reason to leave." 

Shea Ernshaw's strengths within this debut do not merely lie at the bottom of an ocean filled with exquisite language, intricate history, and poignant characters, but rather imbue power into the story with elements of magical realism. The notions of curses and revenge, of momentary resurrection and ghosts might be hard to comprehend amidst the contemporary small town setting. But this is the farthest thing from a summer beach read because of the elements of magical realism woven throughout the narrative in a manner that seems so easily conjured. These details act as a juxtaposition to the haunting reality of death. From the forgetful cakes Penny's best friend's mother bakes, "intended to make you forget the worst thing that's ever happened to you--to wipe away bad memories," to the way Penny and her mother are able to divine the future by reading tea leaves; there is a hint of magic in everything. This acts as a way for the reader to better comprehend the strange events of Sparrow, Oregon, and thus, too, the characters to accept that something wicked most certainly comes from the sea.

Sparrow is a mysterious place, while Penny's home at Lumiere island acts as a protection against everything happening around her. The lighthouse is able to shine light onto the murky truths beneath the waves, and as such, the island becomes its own kind of character within the novel. Just as Penny and Bo gravitate toward the orchards and cottages, the reader, too, will feel bound to the island and the veil of safety it offers against the brutality of the risen sisters.

Reading the line, "Some places are bound in by magic. Ensnared by it," this feels like truth carefully crafted to encompass the marks we leave, even after we're gone. So too, does this truth: "Ghosts remain. But sometimes, the past is the only thing keeping a place alive...But it persists, because it must. Penance is a long, unforgiving thing. It endures, for without it, the past is forgotten." Throughout this book, there were many more lines and paragraphs, which took my breath as I drowned within them, ensnared by Ernshaw's skill to take the reader deep into her characters' lives. Lines resonate long after being read. None so much as:

"Perhaps we all have some oddity, some strangeness we keep hidden along our edges, things we see that we can't explain, things we wish for, things we run from." 

In the end, Shea Ernshaw's debut, The Wicked Deep, will leave readers under its eerie spell. Though this book is a standalone with a satisfying conclusion, it is clear that "endings are never so simple." And navigating this haunting tale to the last page will leave readers looking forward to whatever Ernshaw conjures next! 

All best,Kayla King.png

The Careful Undressing of Curses

Corey Ann Haydu's newest novel, The Careful Undressing of Love, offers an interesting premise: the girls of Devonairre Street are cursed. Any boy they love is destined to die. We are introduced to Lorna, one of the Devonairre Street girls for whom this curse is part of every day life. And to make matters in this book even more complicated and intriguing, these girls live in an alternate version of the Brooklyn we know. 

Haydu gives us a world in which Times Square was bombed in 2001, the Twin Towers still stand, and the world crumbles and rebuilds in much the same way our world has in the aftermath of 9/11. This works as a significant underlying disturbance to the other moving pieces within this novel, and is handled with the understanding that one event has the power to incite change. As someone who was young when the Twin Towers fell, I've had to live through such changes; our world is also one which exists in the after.

Instead of studying the who and the why of such events in a history book, Haydu's characters must study the history of those "Affected." This small change to the realities of our world depicts a poignant look at history, and a way to further alienate the main protagonist, Lorna, as she deals with the death of her father from the tragic bombings. She must live with the notion that she is now one of the Affected, whom people study and memorize and remember. Such is a difficult idea to live with in a world where devastation is commonplace, where lemons are used to handle grief, and where tea is to be consumed with more honey than anything else. But even those things can't keep bad things from entering the lives of those who live on Devonaire Street. After all:

 "we can't stop the world from happening."

Haydu's literary realm is an odd world that is not quite magical realism, but which exists with a touch of those elements. While the premise is enough to intrigue any reader, the world building is rich, and real enough to feel like home. Haydu's characters are flawed and flirt wth the idea of love despite the fact that any boy a Devonairre Street girl falls in love with is then fated to die. It happened to Lorna's father, and her best friend's dad, and her other friends as well. Death has taken husbands and boyfriends, etc. But the curse doesn't feel real to the girls growing up in a world of after until a local love and friend to all on Devonairre Street is killed.

The reality of the curse seems justified. 

And still Lorna doesn't believe. Lorna doesn't want to believe. She has her garden and her mother and her friends and her boyfriend who she-doesn't-love-but-maybe-sort-of-could-love. It is all complicated in the best way. And through all of the many complications within the outside forces, i.e. the curse and the bombings, there are still the complications of the human heart. Most profoundly, Haydu writes:

"Maybe you never know if you're in love or not...Maybe no one knows, and we all wander around talking about it like it's something tangible and knowable, but actually we're all full of it. Maybe even the people who say they're in love are wondering is this what they meant?"

 

While Haydu writes with this same kind of philosophical musings in her characater, Lorna, this style never feels out of place. The Careful Undressing of Love is a literary YA novel with a lyrical language, which puts many adult works of fiction to shame. There is an essence of wondering about life and the world and love that we have all felt within our youths, which, perhaps, carry into the people we become as adults. Because there is such a lush and luxurious writing style within this novel, this will appeal to both young adult audiences and those older. After all, the best books in the world have been written about death and love and this book combines both aspects of life with a devastating sense of wisdom that only comes from losing those we most love. 

And then there are the girls (and boy, they are LornaCruzCharlotteDelilahIsla), and they offer the best that an ensemble cast of characters can: variety, authenticity, and more truth than can be handled in one sitting.

While I easily could have finished this book in one night, it was the kind of novel that I wanted to savor for fear that another of its kind won't reappear any time soon.

Then there are the mothers of these girls and the mother to them all, Angelika, who keeps the rules of Devonairre Street so they may never forget the men and the love and the curse that tears both things from them in time.

There are the rules: honey cake and shared birthdays and long hair and honey in lavender tea, gardens and benches and lemon trees. Lemons for grieving and wool to keep out heartbreak and love and loss. Skeleton key necklaces provide them with literal keys when they can't seem to find the key to the curse. They can't seem to break the cyclical nature of love and death and dying and loss and mourning the love. Though they try to fill those spaces with donuts for anniversaries and red and white braided bracelets,  whiskey and wine, music and memories and pictures; all the items they must keep for fear they might forget. It is enough to make one's head spin, but which Haydu writes into perfect clarity. Of course wool must be worn to funerals, and of course lemons must be offered to those suffering a doomed and damaged heart.

Then there are lines that break hearts beyond the page:

 "There is a quietness that is quieter than other silences. There is a line between what feels crazy and what feels acceptable, and when it's blurry, the world is a scarier place. There is a time of night when you haven't slept and anything seems possible. There is a kind of sadness that feels so heavy and tight that you would do absolutely anything to not carry it anymore."

 

Much of the book is composed of soul-searing prose that is so beautiful it has the power to break the reader. And there is more to learn about Lorna and the Devonairre Street girls between the pages of Corey Ann Haydu's newest novel, The Careful Undressing of Love

Writing this review, I'm listening to Lana Del Rey's song This Is What Makes Us Girls because it puts me back into Haydu's world of curses and love and loss.

At times heartbreaking and inspiring, this brilliant novel is sure to keep readers thinking about the cursed girls of Devonairre Street long after the story is finished. 

The Edge of Something Real

Tina Sears' debut novel, The River's Edge, is the kind of story that will bring readers to the edge of something real. Following the protagonist, Chris Morgan, during the summer of 1976, this novel is at times bright with the beauty of first love, friendship, and family, while maintaining a sense of secretive danger, which is compelling. 

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While the beginning of the novel introduces young adult readers to a time they may not know, Sears has painted such a realistic picture of summer in the 70s that may juxtapose the experiences of readers. But through these differences of time and place there is still the beautiful, but untouchable mean girl (Julie), the sweet boy next door (Reds), and a cast of other characters who offer a sense of escape for Chris as the summer carries on. Stakes are set high, because Chris must hide a dangerous secret from both family and friends. 

Tina Sears brings readers to the edge of childhood innocence and takes them across the line into the brutality of sexual assault. Such is handled with tact and care. In the vein of Ellen Hopkins, this debut author tackles topics which (still) too often appear as taboo within the YA literary world. Sears is unafraid to show the monsters in real life, but does so with careful consideration for her main character, Chris. This is not the kind of book that is gratuitous by any means, yet it shows just enough of the disturbing side of family secrets and sexual assault to convince the reader that Chris's fear is justified throughout the story. 

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Life continues on even as tragedy happens, just as it does in the real world beyond these pages. Chris's parents are struggling with the idea of divorce back home, her mother on the verge of her own darkness and depression. And then there is Reds, who is such a welcomed breath of innocence in a story that loses such to the act of violence. 

Throughout this summer of dance marathons and underage drinking, falling in love, and drowning in darkness, there is the river. The unpredictable way it flows forward, waters raging, serves as a sort of metaphor within the story. Chris's life becomes unpredictable, her own self raging at the fact that something has been stolen by someone she trusts. And we learn what has been taken can't be given back.

Despite the realization of what sexual assault takes from a person, especially one so young, there is also the revelation that there is bravery in overcoming such scars:

"We all have our scars to carry with us. Scars are a sign of bravery."

Throughout the course of this stark and authentic narration told from Chris's first person point of view, the reader grows closer to the urgency and terror that she feels, which only pushes the story forward at a fast-paced speed. While the content may disturb, readers will need to know that Chris is going to be okay. 

This is the kind of novel that offers an extra element of poignancy because of the times in which it is told. Without cell phones and other such technology there is the added element of isolation that takes Chris on the path to awakening. Such seems to be understood by the author and used as a tool to bring a story of this caliber to light. 

Perfect for fans of Ellen Hopkins, this novel is one filled with sweetness and sensibility, terror, truth, and above all else, bravery, and love. Chris is the kind of character who can help victims of similar situations to feel connected, while also bringing empathy to readers who may not understand such horrors.

The River's Edge is a haunting novel, which resonates long after the last page. Tina Sears is an author to watch in the future for further works that will contribute the same catharsis to our ever-darkening world. 

All best,Kayla King.png

Fangirling Over Fangirl

I just finished Rainbow Rowell's young adult novel, Fangirl, and I'm so sad it's over. Reading this book was like finding a piece of sea glass on the beach when you're not looking, like wishing on a fuzzy dandelion and having your wish come true. It was completely unexpected, but so rewarding in the end. Picking up this book, I knew it would be good; I'd already madly in love with Eleanor and Park when I read it back in January.

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There was something about Cath, Wren, Reagan, and Levi, which made them seem so real despite the fact that they are just characters in a book. They are flawed, imperfect, and speak their minds honestly. And for the short time I spent with them in this fictional world, they were like my best friends. I connected with Cath as a writer and lover of a fandom, which many people often snub. But luckily, like Cath, I've found friends who support my love of all things nerdy. I have family to supports me, too, and a love for the stories I've read, and the stories in my head. 

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I can't wait to go back and read this lovely piece of YA lit. again, but I'm also saddened because I'll never have the unknowingness the next time around. There is something so perfect and magical about reading a really good book for the first time. But there's also something wonderful about reading your favorite book again and again because you never read it the same way, even if the book doesn't change. You're the one who's changed. And because you've changed, there are certain lines you pay more attention to, which make you smile a little brighter, phrases to break your heart, and scenes that still make you cry. 

I think that's the beauty of all books. Having the ability to go back and spend time with some of your favorite people in worlds you enjoy is important to stay positive, to have faith in this world when bad things happen. And for me, it's even more important because it shows words and stories are still important, making me believe my words and my stories are important. too. And I can't wait to share them with the world. But until then, I think I'm going to fall into fictional place I love!

Book Love

Today, I wanted to give some much deserved book love to Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

I absolutely loved this book! It was refreshing to see Cinderella be more than someone scrubbing floors and wearing pretty dresses; Cinder is a bad ass female! The way Meyer twists the traditional fairytale, breathes new life into Cinderella, while all at once delivering nostalgic gems hidden within the text.

There is a beautiful moment in the story: 

 "If there was one thing she knew from years as a mechanic, it was that some stains never come out." 

Though simple, this seems to encapsulate everything, which later happens within this delightful retelling. It's exciting to see that other people are just as enthralled with fairytales as I am. I can't wait to read Scarlet and Cress, the next books in the wonderfully eerie Lunar Chronicles.