Tag Archives: book review

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls“But still they ran, giddy and breathless, the pieces of June’s life dropping away bit by bit”—for about four years, June’s life was entwined with Delia’s, but that friendship was splintered by a boy. Now, Delia appears to have committed suicide by fire, which is unimaginable since she is terrified of any flame. And June can’t let it go; could she have stopped Delia if they had remained friends? Or if June had answered Delia’s phone call on New Year’s Eve? Or could Delia have been murdered? This first half of the novel alternates between June’s first person narration and third person flashbacks to their childhood. Then the ­Gone-Girl-like twist occurs and the narrative format changes. The “suicide” notes are interspersed throughout the novel, and Delia’s death is not the only one under suspicion, as the readers learn. While the twist is not improbable, the added characters who have all dropped out of society is. In the final chapters, June must decide if she, too, will allow her present life to drop away and join this band of misfits. Unfortunately, it is left up to the reader to decide what the final suicide note really means. A psychological thriller/mystery appropriate for high school and college-aged students due to drug and sexual situations.

This novel is third from a list of if-you-liked-Gone-Girl-then-read-these for young adults. It is possible that this book suffers from being the third of the books that I have read from this list and the third in a row over winter break. But I don’t think so; I think the creator of the list organized the books from most possible to least possible. Of the three, I enjoyed Vanished and will recommend to our media specialist that it be purchased for our library. While I will tell my students about both Damage Done and Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls, I don’t feel compelled to tell my colleagues that they need to read either book nor do I want to nominate either book for ISLMA’s Abraham Lincoln Award.

IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ SPOILERS, STOP HERE!

So here’s the twist–Delia is not dead, which is easy to except. She claims that her stepfather attempted to rape her, and she has been planting this as a possibility since she met June in 6th grade. The impossible is that Delia has found a group of three other young adults (late teens/early twenties) who have all faked their deaths, assumed new names, and live however they please. With a trash bag full of cash that is never explained. To add to the impossibility, these are not people who are helping the abused escape a domestic situation; these are four people, including Delia, who destroy others. Sebastian seems to have a conscious, but Evan, Ashling, and Delia take too much delight in their destruction. Now June has to decide if she wants to be like them, if Delia has trapped her into joining them, or if she can return to her junior year of high school. The final suicide note, June’s, could be the first legitimate suicide note if Delia died two chapters earlier. Or it could be a complete fake if June has decided to join. Or it could be a forgery by Ashling, who has already proven her prowess at forgery, to cover up June’s murder. And the reader will never know.

My complaints with this book are similar to those for Damage Done. The adults are non-existent or are hapless. The second-to-last chapter implies that Delia has been a sociopath for the entire novel, but could she really have contained her tendencies for the past five years simply because June was her friend? That seems unlikely. And while I found the ending of Damage Done to be unrealistic, I am willing to accept it because there is some resolution. Even Gone Girl, the book moreso than the movie, has a conclusion with promise that justice will prevail eventually, which is also why I much prefer Vanished. But Suicide Notes has no resolution. How-did-it-end is entirely left up to the reader, which seems like a cop-out by Weingarten. If she couldn’t decide what should happen to her characters, why should we?

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Vanished by E. E. Cooper

Vanished“Our group would become one of those urban legends that other kids talk about in hushed voices over summer campfires”—Mean Girls meets Gone Girl with one runaway, one suicide, and one losing her mind. E. E. Cooper’s Vanished has made the if-you-liked-Gone-Girl-then-you’ll-like-this-young-adult-novel lists, and those lists are spot on. Told from the perspective of Kalah, the younger transfer student who has been taken under the wing of the popular senior field hockey captains, the vanishing act occurs in chapter two. Beth, the girl from the middle class family unable to deal with the earlier loss of a perfect son, disappears on her eighteenth birthday. The disappearance triggers Kalah’s anxiety and OCD. In the meantime, Britney, the only child of wealthy but neglectful parents, discovers that her boyfriend may have been cheating with best friend Beth, which triggers her suicide. Once envied by everyone, Kalah becomes a pariah, detached from friends not sure what or who to believe, especially after she begins receiving emails from the missing Beth. Kalah’s realizations occur a little quickly for the lengthy build up, but readers will be left rooting for Kalah and wanting to know how she will exact her vengeance.

I make no secret of the fact that I typically do not enjoy reading young adult literature; I am not its intended audience, but more importantly, I find most of it formulaic. Nothing wrong with a formula and a happily-ever-after, but I want and expect more for my reading pleasure (I would probably consider my reading genre “literary fiction”). However, I chose Vanished and two other young adult novels because they appeared on a list of ya-books-to-read-if-you-liked-Gone-Girl. I liked Gone Girl, but the graphic violence and sexual references are too much for me to recommend it to students (it’s in our school library for any student who wants to check it out). I’m not sure why I chose to read Vanished first, but I’m glad that I did. As a debut novel, E. E. Cooper has a lot to live up to in her sophomore novel (that I will watch for and plan to read just based on the success of this novel).

The novel includes numerous allusion to Alice in Wonderland with the key to understanding the deception (which I won’t give away here) in “a line by the Queen of Hearts: ‘Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast'” (220). Kalah’s anxiety is well depicted in her battles to not tap six times, in her panic attack, and in lines such as, “I’d already chewed my thumbnail down, exposing the tender flesh underneath, and I was working to complete the gnaw-manicure on my other fingers. It’s a good thing I wasn’t planning to hold hands with anyone soon” (278). Not only is the nail symbolic of Kalah–“tender flesh underneath”–but “gnaw manicure” summarizes in two words the toll that anxiety has had on Kalah and on the reader. Of course, for the plot, one of the girls has to be a sociopath, but she is believable and a little scary in that everyone would describe her as “normal.” But it is a work of fiction; I can accept a teeanaged sociopath.

As I said in the review paragraph, Kalah’s aha! moment is rushed. And while she is the narrator, I would have liked to understand about the problems at her previous school earlier; that backstory is also rushed at the end, but would have been more impactful if both the readers and the authorities had known about it, which would have undermined some of Kalah’s credibility but added to the suspense. The story ends without a final resolution, much like Gone Girl. I’m okay with that; I expect that Kalah has learned much and will be very successful in her vengeance.

This novel is most definitely for high school readers; I would even suggest it to my college-aged students. And, to repeat myself, keep an eye out for E. E. Cooper’s next book; I expect her to become an author that I recommend to my students without having read a new book because her writing is that good.

The End of Fun by Sean McGinty

End of Fun

“FUN—the latest in augmented reality—is fun <yay!> but it’s also frustrating, glitch, and dangerously addictive <boo!>,” so everyone should put down his or her personal electronic devices and rejoin the “real” world. Sean McGinty’s The End of Fun, which will be published April 2016, opens with main character Aaron telling his readers that to terminate his contract with FUN he must earn 100 YAY!s first, so he recounts the past year of his life in 100 quick-to-read chapters. Comparisons to M. T. Anderson’s Feed are inevitable, but while Feed had a dark foreboding dystopian tone, The End of Fun is a light-hearted romp through desert of Nevada. Just as Aaron’s story starts to drag, a treasure hunt is added that livens up the romp. The brief description of what people look like while using FUN adds some humor that could have been expanded, especially if McGinty wants to convince teens that they look silly staring at any event through a 3-inch screen rather than watching it directly with their own two eyes. The possible environmental effect of FUN, which implies that we don’t know what problems we could be creating with our current technology, hits home, but, again, maybe not enough to convince teens to unplug. However, kudos to Hyperion/Disney Book Group for publishing a book that is for 14-18 year olds (due to drug/alcohol use and sexual content).

I received this book as an ARC at NCTE 2015. I was excited to see Disney (through Hyperion) publishing books for teens. At previous NCTE and ILA conventions that I’ve attended, Disney has promoted mostly middle level novels. I wanted to read this book over winter break because it had all the right words on the back blurb to interest me, and more importantly, to be a book that I can recommend to my students who prefer their gaming and electronics to my novels. And while I will add this to the short list of novels that cover those topics, this book is not at top of my recommend list.

It is very possible that The End of Fun pales in comparison to the novel that I just finished, Where Futures End. Both books imply that our electronic usage will have an unforeseen environmental effect in addition to the personal negative impact. However, Where Futures End is a much more sophisticated book. The fun style (word choice intended) of McGinty’s book would be more appealing to 8th/9th/10 graders, but the mature content is more appropriate for 10th/11th/12th graders. And McGinty’s structure beats you over the head with “electronics are not fun” on page one through page 405. His message is not a mystery.

I actually considered abandoning the book (which I always encourage my students to do when they would rather eat broken glass than read another word) around chapter 40 because I didn’t care what was happening to Aaron, and I was confident that after chapter 100 he would be able to terminate FUN. But, an old-fashioned treasure hunt to find Grandpa’s missing money was introduced to liven up the tale. Once again, by the end I didn’t care how Aaron’s life turned out; he terminated FUN, and we should all just have fun in real life. Got it.