Character, Instagram, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review, Young Adult

THE GIRL WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE and A Few Other Books You Should Read

It’s time for another roundup of my Instagram mini-reviews! I have a feeling my reviews are going to be trending this way more over the next year and a half as I approach publication, but I will still do some full reviews as I have time. If you’d like to follow me on Instagram, you can find me at www.instagram.com/michelleimason. Here we go!

I picked up THE GIRL WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE by April Henry at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale in December and finally got to it last week (I am sooo behind on my TBR pile I may not go to the sale this year). This book was a super-quick read, and it kept me guessing throughout, which is the perfect sort of suspense. The premise is that a girl wakes up in a cabin to hear one man tell another to finish her off. She has no memory of how she got there or who she is. The journey to figure all of that out is full of twists and turns that had me finishing the book in a day.


I kept seeing people post about AURORA RISING by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, and while I’ve never read THE ILLUMINAE FILES (don’t worry, it’s on my TBR now), I was intrigued. I’m so glad I picked this book up! It reminded me of Star Wars (thus the costumes in the background), with its ragtag crew blasting through space. Basically, the night before he gets to choose his crew after graduation, star pupil Tyler goes out on his own and ends up rescuing Aurora, who’s been in a cryo chamber for 200 years. As a result, he ends up with the crew nobody wanted, and a crazy mission ensues involving Aurora and the mystery surrounding her.

I loved the adventure. I loved the romantic tension with multiple couples. I loved the snappy banter. I loved the unexpected twists. So, yes, I’ll be going back to read the other series by this author duo, and I can’t wait for the next book in this series.


Halfway through PIE IN THE SKY by Remy Lai I was ready to pull out my baking supplies and start mixing cakes. Specifically, I wanted to bake both the Nutella cream cake and triple cookie cake the brothers make in the book. Also, check out the amazing illustrations!

But another thing I love about this book is the discussion I had with my son after *he* finished it—because he totally ran off and read it before me. There are many great themes in PIE IN THE SKY. It’s about a family that immigrates to Australia, and the older brother, Jingwen, really struggles learning English. He compares his experience to living on Mars, and baking the cakes helps him cope, even though it requires lying to their mom, who has forbidden them to bake while home alone. My son and I discussed the brothers’ decision to keep the cake-baking from their mom, as well as how Jingwen classifies different types of lies in the book. It’s a poignant story about dealing with grief but also includes humor and well-developed family dynamics.


Why, you might wonder, have I placed the book ROMANOV by Nadine Brandes among a tower of Dr. Pepper cans? Because Dr. Pepper is my comfort drink, and the truth is, this book is amazing, but I needed some comfort while I was reading. I love Anastasia retellings, but this book is nothing like the cartoon or even the Broadway musical, where the execution of the Romanov family takes place in the past. The first half of the book is dedicated to Nastya and her family’s captivity, leading up to the execution, and it’s hard to read, especially because it’s not just a fantasy. While ROMANOV is a work of fiction, it’s based on history, and if you read the accounts of what happened to the Romanov family (as I did to prepare myself), it’s truly horrific. Thus the Dr. Pepper.

That being said, ROMANOV is beautifully written, and I loved how Nadine Brandes wove magic, faith, and forgiveness into the story. As with any time I read historical fiction, it made me examine a time in history more closely. It made me think and discuss and grieve. Definitely worth the read!


I’m always up for a great contemporary YA, and JUST FOR CLICKS by Kara McDowell lived up to my hopes for a quick, fun read with some unexpected twists thrown in. The premise is that twins Claire and Poppy are social media stars thanks to their mom’s viral blog. Now they have to decide whether they want to continue in the spotlight. Throw in a new guy who’s lived off the grid and doesn’t know about the blog, a manufactured relationship, hidden family secrets, and all sorts of hijinks ensue. Family drama plus an adorable romance made this a great read for me.


Have you read any of these? What else have you been reading lately that I should check out?

Character, Drafting, Writing

When a Plotter Attempts to Pants

It’s been a while since I posted a writing update here on the blog. That’s partially due to it being summer and my schedule changing drastically with my kids being off school and driving them to various camps, partially due to more freelance work, and partially due to drafting a new project. That’s where today’s post comes in.

A couple of months ago, I was looking through my idea list to see what I might want to write next. I keep a whole file of ideas, and usually when I’m ready to write something new, there’s one that jumps out at me. That’s certainly what happened this time as well, and I expected that I’d proceed along my normal system, plotting out the story in Scrivener so that when it came time to draft, I could set myself a deadline and whip out a draft I could then revise into shape. This drafting system  has worked for me for the past several manuscripts, and it serves me well as I HATE drafting.

Unfortunately, this manuscript just hasn’t cooperated. I’m not usually a write-by-hand sort of person, but for some reason, I pulled out a notebook and started writing down miscellaneous notes about the manuscript. I ended up with six pages of random notes that did not make up an overall plot but were a lot of interesting ideas. And I had no idea who I wanted the character to be. I brainstormed with my husband and kids, and they gave me some fun ideas. Then I signed up for One Stop for Writers and went through the character building tool to further figure out my main character’s motivations, fears, and obstacles. But when I sat down to try and plot the actual manuscript the way I always had, I just couldn’t see it. I was coming up blank.

I talked with my agent about what I was considering writing, and I wasn’t able to articulate the story well with her either. She said that it sounded intriguing, and her recommendation was to just start writing it and see how it went. As a plotter, I found this idea intimidating. Quite honestly, I’ve more often gone into drafting knowing my complete plot and learning my characters along the way instead of the other way around, but I decided to give it a shot.

I started drafting three weeks ago, and it’s been interesting drafting without all my scenes laid out. Even though I hadn’t plotted everything, there were certain points I knew internally my character was working toward, and so my scenes have been leading in those directions. But I’ve also surprised myself with a few subplots I didn’t originally have in my six pages of notes, and I think they’ll add depth to the story.

However, yesterday I tipped over 27,000 words, which is about one-third of the way toward my goal for the first draft, and I reached a point where I felt like I could no longer keep drafting without knowing where I was heading more specifically. So, while this experiment with pantsing has been interesting, I’m now going to regroup and see if I can develop a true plan for the rest of the manuscript based on what I’ve written so far.

Overall, I think it was good to just write for a while, but now I need to return to my outlining ways :).

Have you ever thrown out your drafting system and tried something new when starting a new project? How did it work out for you?

 

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: FINALE by Stephanie Garber

I have a bit of a book hangover as I’m writing this because I stayed up until after midnight to finish reading FINALE, the final book in Stephanie Garber’s best-selling Caraval series. I’m not surprised, though. Each of the books in this series have been impossible to put down, so when I learned Stephanie was coming to town, I made a point of getting to her event, even though I had a commitment for one of my kids right before. As a result, I was the very last person in line to get my books signed, but it was worth it, and I now have a complete signed set of Caraval books. If you haven’t read this series, then you’re in luck because it’s now finished and you won’t have to wait for any of them like I did :). Start with CARAVAL, next comes LEGENDARY, and then FINALE.

Finale by Stephanie GarberA love worth fighting for. A dream worth dying for. An ending worth waiting for.

It’s been two months since the Fates were freed from a deck of cards, two months since Legend claimed the throne for his own, and two months since Tella discovered the boy she fell in love with doesn’t really exist.

With lives, empires, and hearts hanging in the balance, Tella must decide if she’s going to trust Legend or a former enemy. After uncovering a secret that upends her life, Scarlett will need to do the impossible. And Legend has a choice to make that will forever change and define him.

Caraval is over, but perhaps the greatest game of all has begun. There are no spectators this time: only those who will win, and those who will lose everything.

Welcome, welcome to Finale. All games must come to an end…

If you haven’t read the first two books, you might want to stop here because this review could be spoilery.

Still here? Okay …

Here are the five things I loved most about FINALE.

1. The twists – I saw some of the twists coming in this book, but I think that’s because I’d already read the first two books in the series and was anticipating them. Stephanie Garber still managed to surprise me with quite a few twists, though, and it’s what makes these books so hard to put down.

2. The love triangle – Honestly, I’m not always a huge fan of love triangles. I usually have a really clear idea of who the character should end up with and just want them to decide already. However, there was enough frustration with all points of this triangle for me to be okay with the ongoing indecision and the final resolution worked for me.

3. The Fates – If you’ve read LEGENDARY, you probably, like me, expect the Fates to be all evil in this book. A lot of them definitely are, but I enjoyed how nuanced they were as characters overall. That’s really all I want to say to avoid spoiling anything about that.

4. The quest – While there wasn’t a Caraval in this book, there was still a quest to complete, and just like in Caraval, the rules kept changing and the stakes kept ratcheting up.

5. The ending – You know how when you pick up certain books you have a pretty good idea how they’re going to end? With this book, I really wasn’t sure. I was only about sixty percent on how the love triangle would turn out and wasn’t placing any sort of bets on where things were going with Valendia. I loved that Stephanie Garber was able to keep me guessing and leave me satisfied with the ending.

Have you read FINALE yet? What did you think?

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Research, Review

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS by Gail Shepherd

Last week I promised I would feature additional middle grade books by writer friends, and I’m so pleased to host Gail Shepherd here on my blog for MMGM. Gail and I met nine years ago through a critique partner match-up on a blog and swapped chapters on middle grade novels we were working on at the time. I can’t believe it was so long ago! As soon as I read THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS, I reached out to Gail to ask her for an interview, and she graciously answered my questions and has also offered up a signed ARC and some swag for one lucky winner. Details are at the bottom.

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins by Gail ShepherdLyndie B. Hawkins loves history, research, and getting to the truth no matter what. But when it comes to her family, her knowledge is full of holes. Like, what happened to her father in the Vietnam War? Where does he disappear to for days? And why exactly did they have to move in with her grandparents?

Determined to mold recalcitrant Lyndie into a nice Southern girl even if it kills her, Grandma Lady starts with lesson number one: Family=Loyalty=keeping quiet about family secrets. Especially when it comes to Lyndie’s daddy.

Then DB, a boy from the local juvenile detention center, comes to stay with Lyndie’s best friend, Dawn. He’s as friendly and open as a puppy. There to shape up his act, his optimism is infectious. But it goes against everything Grandma Lady insists upon.

And here are Gail’s answers to five questions about the book.

1. I loved how seamlessly you wove history into the story–through a school project, research about D.B., a visit to the history museum, etc. How did you decide which historical accounts to include and the best ways to do so?

There were two main thematic threads I wanted to tease out in Lyndie B’s story: The first was the idea of how countries and communities become divided by politics or ideology—I mean, obviously this is still a contemporary question. So there’s a natural fit with the Vietnam War and the American Civil War, where a country is at war with itself. And then the second thematic question was about how families get fractured, or heal themselves from fractures. So the research on D.B.’s family history fit well with that theme.

Those two themes intertwine and are related—in both the Vietnamese war and the American Civil War, particularly in Tennessee, families often split—some sided with the Confederacy and others with the Union. The idea of families split apart runs through the book, of course. D.B. was abandoned by his mom. He’s taken away from the foster family he loves. He’s lost touch with his uncle. And Lyndie’s family is coming apart at the seams in quite a different way—her father and mother are at odds, Lyndie is not getting along with her grandma. But also, other people in the community had fathers or brothers who were lost in the Vietnam War, like Lyndie’s nemesis, Pee Wee, and the homeless woman, Bernadette. Really, the entire community (a kind of family writ large) has been fractured by the war. So the research fell naturally along those thematic lines.

It’s a particularly interesting question to me, how we heal or bridge our differences in a family or community so that we can thrive.

2. The friendship storyline is so believable, particularly for Lyndie’s age, how she allows her grandmother’s attitude to influence her insecurities about her best friend. What made you decide to tap into that aspect of MG friendship?

Little kids bond without a lot of baggage. When you’re six or seven or eight, you just tend to like people unless they rub you the wrong way or they’re mean to you. But at eleven or twelve, like Lyndie, you’re just beginning to lose your innocence around friendship. You start to be influenced by social pressures. Lots of “best” friendships split up at this age (mine certainly did)—often because we’re aware of how others are seeing us.

Lyndie is coming of age, and part of her job in growing up is to figure out how much truth there is in what she’s being told—she’s struggling with it. She’s struggling with her own insecurities, too. She doesn’t see herself as a “good person” in the way her best friend Dawn is. She doesn’t always know what’s right. So she’s subject to a lot of self-doubt that can interfere with the purity of her friendships.

3. The family dynamics are also very believable and heart-wrenching, from private, organized Lady and gentle Grandpa to tormented Dad and broken-hearted Mom. How did you determine what characteristics to give each of these family members to make this family what it is?

Lyndie’s grandma, Lady, was always very real to me. She’s the one character who really didn’t change much in revision. Maybe because I come from a Southern family. Some of my relatives are very iron-willed, judgmental, upright, dignified, exacting, in this way, so she came to me naturally. As for Lady’s husband, Grandpa, I wanted him to be the one person that Lady could feel safe with, taken care of. He’s a hint that even Lady has vulnerabilities.

I made Lyndie’s father and mother political opposites (Daddy a war veteran with PTSD, Ma a former hippie peace protester) so we could see that it is possible to love across a political divide, even though it’s not always easy.

4. The story’s setting a decade after the Vietnam War brings to light the issues faced by soldiers who fought in the war and families who lost soldiers to the war—both immediately and due to trauma afterward. What made you decide to set a story at this time, and how did you research it?

I grew up with the Vietnam War in the background, running on the TV, in every newspaper. Families I knew had brothers and fathers going away. That war has shaped my world view in a very deep way. I became an adult in the 1980s, and my memory of the time is very sharp. So those two things together influenced the setting and time period. I did a ton of research—every book I could get my hands on—The Things They Carried, Dispatches, A Bright Shining Lie, and many others, plus books on PTSD and trauma—The Evil Hours was the one that really shook me. Not much of the research made its way directly into the book. But the background was necessary so I could understand Lyndie’s daddy.

5. I loved the feeling of hope at the end, for Lyndie’s family and friendships. What do you hope your readers leave the book feeling?

Oh, my. Well, that the truth is worth pursuing, even if it feels hard. I do entirely believe that. That families and friendships can be resilient, they can recover from great stresses. That our country and our communities, like the flag on the gate at Lyndie’s grandma’s house, are worth caring for, worth fighting for.

But there are lots of ways to care and lots of ways to fight—you don’t have to physically go to war, necessarily. History has taught us what a dead end that can be. Caring for your country can mean being honest about its history. Caring for your family can mean being honest with each other. I want readers to feel that we can get better. And that it’s worth trying.

Thank you so much, Gail!

As I mentioned, Gail has offered a signed ARC, plus swag (book plates, bookmarks, pins), for one lucky winner. To enter, leave a comment here or click on the Rafflecopter for extra entries.

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: IN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody

I’ve been on quite the reading/review spree lately! Honestly, though, it feels fantastic, because for a while I felt like I had read quite a few books that I liked but didn’t wholeheartedly love and want to review. Anyway, the cover of IN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody first caught my attention, but I’ve also read other books by the author and so knew I would be in for a good story, especially once I read the description. Here goes.

In Some Other Life by Jessica BrodyThree years ago, Kennedy Rhodes secretly made the most important decision of her life. She declined her acceptance to the prestigious Windsor Academy to attend the local public school with her long-time crush, who had finally asked her out. It seems it was the right choice—she and Austin are still together, and Kennedy is now the editor-in-chief of the school’s award-winning newspaper. But then Kennedy’s world is shattered when she walks in on Austin kissing her best friend and she wonders if maybe her life would have been better if she’d made the other choice. As fate would have it, she’s about to find out . . .

The very next day, Kennedy hits her head and mysteriously awakes as a student of the Windsor Academy. And not just any student: Kennedy is top of her class, she’s popular, she has the coolest best friend around, and she’s practically a shoe-in for Columbia University. But as she navigates her new world, she starts to question if this alternate version of herself is really as happy as everyone seems to believe. Or is it possible this Kennedy is harboring secrets and regrets of her own?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – What if you could see how your life would look if you chose differently? Everyone has something in their life that they wish they’d done differently–because no one makes perfect choices all the time. But the trick is: would you really be better off? It’s such an interesting question. I loved watching it play out.

2. Frankie – I love Kennedy’s little brother. He’s the perfect constant in both worlds. It’s adorable how he keeps asking her questions to try and figure out how he’s different in the other reality, when what neither of them realizes is that she needs him to be the same.

3. Kennedy’s dad – I also love Kennedy’s dad and the role he plays, particularly in the original version of her life, but the contrast in the second life is an important part of her character growth. I just appreciate it when parents are portrayed in a positive light, and Kennedy’s dad is a really great character.

4. The newspaper – Kennedy’s devotion to her newspaper, The Southwest Star, is admirable on a couple of levels. One, it’s something she’s super-passionate about. And two, it shows her determination and dedication to succeed. These qualities manifest in both realities but result in different outcomes.

5. The ending – I have to admit I wasn’t completely satisfied with one aspect of the ending on the relationship side, but overall I really liked how the ending resolved from the point of Kennedy growing as a person and figuring out where she’d made mistakes in both realities so she could be stronger where she ended up. Can you choose a different life? Well, I’m not going to tell you the answer to that. But you can definitely choose to be a better person.

Is there some choice in your life you wish you could see the other option play out? There’s a particular post-graduate scholarship I went for that I feel like I tried the wrong route. I don’t regret it because if I’d gone the other route and gotten it, I might not have moved back to Missouri and met my husband. But I guess I’ll never know. That could have been my IN SOME OTHER LIFE!

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: WHITE ROSE by Kip Wilson

Friends, I am so excited because today I get to share a book with you that I have a close personal connection to–WHITE ROSE by Kip Wilson. Kip and I have been critique partners since 2012, and so I’ve walked with her through this journey to her debut book. I couldn’t be more excited to see WHITE ROSE hit shelves next month (April 2), and I will be giving away a pre-order to one lucky reader.

From the moment Kip first told me about WHITE ROSE when we were sitting in a hotel room at NESCBWI in 2016, I was immediately gripped by the story. It’s compelling, heartbreaking, and moving. I could keep adding more adjectives, but instead, I’ll carry on to the description, followed by the interview, and let Kip tell you more about the book.

White Rose by Kip WilsonDisillusioned by the propaganda of Nazi Germany, Sophie Scholl, her brother, and his fellow soldiers formed the White Rose, a group that wrote and distributed anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and calling for action from their fellow German citizens. The following year, Sophie and her brother were arrested for treason and interrogated for information about their collaborators. This debut novel recounts the lives of Sophie and her friends and highlights their brave stand against fascism in Nazi Germany.

1. This story is so powerful, and while you give an explanation in your author’s note within the actual book, could you share here why you felt compelled to tell Sophie’s story?

Back when I first learned about Sophie Scholl in high school German class, I was so inspired by her courage. A girl not much older than I was standing up to the Nazis? I was all over it. After reading everything I could about the White Rose over the years, I was further driven by a curiosity to really get to know who this girl really was, so I read more and more, went to Munich and Ulm on more than one occasion, and became frankly obsessed with the details of her life. She’s of course very well known in Germany, but here many people in the U.S. haven’t heard of her, and I’m convinced she’ll be a great inspiration to others as well, especially teenagers.

2. While WHITE ROSE is classified as historical fiction, it’s based on actual events and people. How did you balance staying as true as possible to Sophie and the other characters while adding voice and details to the story?

This was definitely the hardest part! In my original draft in verse, I was determined to stick as close to all the facts as possible, but one astute beta reader (the oh-so-wise Joy McCullough) noted that this was hindering me from getting at the heart of the story. Only after her critique was I able to let my firm grip on the facts relax a tiny bit and experiment with imagining what Sophie might have thought or felt in specific situations. The good thing is that because I’d already done so much research, I discovered I actually knew her well enough to be able to make this leap. This is what really brought me—and hopefully readers of the book—closer to Sophie.

That having been said, I was quite obsessive about the facts, and maintained a spreadsheet that lists each poem, the source or sources that informed it, and did multiple rounds of cross-checking. I did have to make some decisions without knowing certain facts (things that only Sophie herself would have known), and I made those based on what I had learned about her as a person and what I knew about the historical setting.

3. You decided to tell Sophie’s story in verse, a shift from previous manuscripts you’d written. What made you choose verse for Sophie? (An obviously perfect choice!)

Well, back in 2005, I wrote a completely different manuscript about the White Rose that was nonfiction, but it wasn’t working, and I ended up setting it aside for ten whole years. It was always there bubbling in the back of my mind though, so when a couple of verse novelists happened to mention to me in a chat that tragic, emotional subjects are often well-suited to verse, it was like a billion light bulbs going off in my head. Once I began writing WHITE ROSE in verse, I couldn’t believe I’d never tried it before. I have to admit, I’d always struggled to write in prose, but writing in verse was the first time that writing felt completely natural, so I knew I was on to something.

4. I love how the story alternates between timelines. It’s so seamless and provides a perfect forward momentum for the story. How did you determine where each scene would go?

 Thank you! Since you were one of the few people who saw the first draft, you probably remember that I initially drafted the story completely in reverse, starting at the end and making my way to the beginning. Unfortunately, this didn’t work—it was too confusing to readers. But I didn’t feel like a straightforward linear timeline would do the story justice either, and when one of my critique partners (the fabulous and brilliant Beth Smith) suggested two timelines, I began experimenting with ways I could make it work.

As far as where to place each individual scene, I really enjoyed figuring out this puzzle. I am a huge fan of index cards. I use physical ones, and move them around a board until it feels like the right order, but I’ve also used the Scrivener cork board in the past for the same thing. Either way, finding the right order was actually a lot of fun.

5. I appreciated how real the protagonists are. They aren’t just heroes charging to change the world automatically. They stumble and don’t always make perfect choices right away—I’m sure because they are based on real people. Was that an important consideration for you as you were writing?

This was actually one of my most important considerations. The thing is that Sophie and her brother and their friends were absolutely real people, who made mistakes and weren’t perfect. They were members of the Hitler Youth! And their initial motivations for resisting weren’t all that altruistic, either. They weren’t initially as concerned for Jewish people and others being persecuted by the Nazis as for themselves and what this war meant for them and their friends. However, what makes their story so compelling is that they’re proof that it’s never too late to change, and it’s never too late to do the right thing. After word began to leak out about the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes, Sophie and the others realized that their government was a criminal one and that the core of their fight wasn’t an intellectual one, but a moral one. In the end, their courage speaks for itself. They certainly knew what their consequences for their actions would be, and yet they did it anyway. So even if they weren’t your typical heroes, they became heroes to me at least in part due to the rocky path they took to get there.

Thank you, Kip!                                                                 Rafflecopter link

If you can’t tell, I absolutely adore this book, and I urge you all to go out and buy it yourselves! Or ask your library to order it. However, I will give away one copy (a pre-order) here on the blog. North America only, please. Leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter for additional entries. Open until next Monday, March 11. Whether you win the giveaway or not, definitely add WHITE ROSE to your TBR list!

 

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES by Mary E. Lambert

I first read something about FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES by Mary E. Lambert a couple of years ago, but it took me a while to get to it. The title initially caught my attention because I thought it would be about a family playing games together. While I do totally understand the title after reading the book, I’ll just clue you in that family game night’s a very small part of the book, so don’t expect rousing rounds of Monopoly and Catan (or whatever games your family plays). As for the catastrophes … those are what kept me turning pages. Here’s the description.

Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary E. LambertAnnabelle has a secret . . . a secret so big she won’t allow friends within five miles of her home. Her mom collects things. Their house is overflowing with stuff. It gives Annabelle’s sister nightmares, her brother spends as much time as he can at friends’ houses, and her dad buries himself in his work.

So when a stack of newspapers falls on Annabelle’s sister, it sparks a catastrophic fight between their parents–one that might tear them all apart–and Annabelle starts to think that things at home finally need to change.

Is it possible for her to clean up the family’s mess? Or are they really, truly broken?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I can’t say I’ve read any other books about hoarding. Seeing how the various members of Annabelle’s family dealt with her mom’s hoarding–from avoidance to excessive cheer to obsessive cleanliness–felt very real and at times heartbreaking. Throughout the story, I was very invested in the characters and how they interacted with Annabelle’s mom and each other as they tried to figure out how to make changes.

2. The friendships – At the beginning of the story, Annabelle is so afraid of how her friends will react to her house that she shuts them out. As the book progresses, she gradually lets her friends into her world, and her friendships change with her openness. It was a great picture of how friendship is built on the ability to trust and accept each other.

3. Annabelle’s family – Annabelle has issues with pretty much every member of her family, but she doesn’t know how to talk to them or express her feelings. Part of her character development in the story is learning not only how to let her friends in but to reach out to her parents and siblings as well. Yes, the house needs to be cleaned up, but so does the family. I really liked how there was a bigger picture there.

4. Annabelle’s acceptance of herself – Annabelle’s very focused on the fact that she is fine just the way she is and it’s everyone else who is broken. It’s not unusual for people to feel this way, and yet I appreciates that there was a theme in the book of accepting your faults and learning to deal with them.

5. The crush – Alongside the heavier topics was a really sweet first crush. I liked how it was a nice side story and didn’t add to the drama going on in Annabelle’s life.

I really enjoyed FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES. Have you read it? What did you think?