Karen M. McManus – The Cousins

Karen M. McManus – The Cousins

Twenty-five years ago, their parents were disowned by their grandmother Mildred. The four Story children Adam, Allison, Archer and Anders only got a letter saying that they knew what they had done. Unfortunately, they didn’t and haven’t been in contact with their mother who still lives on the family estate Catmint House on Gull Cove Island off the coast of Massachusetts which has been turned into a successful vacation destination for the rich. Unexpectedly, Milly, Aubrey and Jonah, Mildred’s grandchildren who have not seen each other for years, are invited to spend the summer there and to get to know their granny. Has the old lady finally changed her mind? Not really, but this is only one of the many, well buried family secrets of the Storys.

I liked Karen McManus’ former young adult novels a lot since she knows how to create suspense without being actually violent and because her characters are often teenagers one can easily identify with since they show the same fears and insecurities every knows. “The Cousins” offers an interesting setting and much more twists and turns than expected and thus was an enjoyable read.

The story is told alternatingly from the three teenagers’ point of view thus giving insight not only in their thoughts but also in the secrets they hide from each other. It also adds to the fast pace and at times gives you an advance since you already know what’s coming when the characters in the novel are still in the dark.

There are also flashbacks in which we meet their parents when they were teenagers which is quite an interesting comparison and also provides the necessary background to understand the behaviour of the characters on the island.

Overall, I totally enjoyed the novel which had an unforeseeable ending and some fascinating characters.

Louise O’Neill – Asking for it [dt. Du wolltest es doch]

Louise O’Neill – Asking for it

Emma O’Donovan hat trotz ihrer erst 18 Jahre ein ausgeprägtes Selbstbewusstsein. Sie weiß, dass sie die Hübscheste ist, auf jeden Fall hübscher und begehrenswerter als ihre Freundinnen. Dank des Einkommens des Vaters, einem angesehenen Bankdirektor, kann ihre Familie auch ein finanziell entspanntes Leben führen, auch wenn andere in der Kleinstadt noch etwas vermögender sind, aber damit können sich die Töchter auch nur begrenzt Aussehen und Bewunderung erkaufen. Nach einer Party wacht Emma eines Nachmittags auf der Veranda auf, völlig benebelt und ohne jede Erinnerung an das, was am Abend zuvor geschehen ist. Doch es dauert nicht lange, bis sie auf den Social-Media-Kanälen alles dokumentiert findet: offenbar hat sie sich gleich mit mehreren Männern eingelassen, die alles dokumentiert haben. Emmas Ruf ist ruiniert, doch bald steht auch die Frage im Raum, ob sie all dem überhaupt zugestimmt hat.

Louise O’Neill lässt erst gar keine Zweifel aufkommen: ihre Protagonistin ist eine furchtbare Figur, der man bald schon nur das Schlimmste wünscht. Aber gleich sowas? Geschickt spielt sie mit den Emotionen der Leser, es fällt einem schwer, Mitleid zu empfinden für jemand, der sich derart verlogen und rücksichtslos auch gegenüber vermeintlichen Freundinnen verhält. Ihr Charakter ist geprägt von einem ausufernden Egoismus und Egozentrik, liebenswert ist kaum etwas an ihr.

Auch an dem Abend, der zu dem entscheidenden Ereignis führt, verhält sie sich nach gewohnten Mustern und manövriert sich selbst leichtsinnigerweise in diese Situation. Doch ist sie schuld an dem, was man ihr antut? Und sind die darauffolgenden Reaktionen des Umfeldes gerechtfertigt? Die ganze Familie erfährt Verachtung und Ausgrenzung, beschuldigt sie doch angesehene Jungs der Gemeinschaft und Emmas Verhalten ist hinlänglich bekannt. Es folgt der psychische Niedergang aller, eine logische Konsequenz, die jedoch faktisch die Opfer doppelt bestraft.

Man kommt als Leser emotional nicht ganz aus der Zwickmühle heraus. Manche Aspekte sind klar, die „boys will be boys“ Kultur, das Wegsehen und Leugnen offenkundiger Gewalttaten, doch gerade die Tatsache, dass die Opferperspektive nicht so eindeutig den Unschuldstouch hat, macht es einem schwer, Emma als das zu sehen, was sie ist und das Ereignis von ihrem Charakter und der Vorgeschichte zu lösen. Ein aufwühlender, aber lesenswerter Roman mit zudem unerwarteten Ende.

Nina LaCour – We Are Okay [dt. Alles okay]

nin lacour we are okay
Nina LaCour – We Are Okay

Winterferien an ihrem College in New York, doch im Gegensatz zu allen anderen bleibt Marin auch über die freien Tage im Studentenwohnheim, auch wenn sie dort ganz alleine sein wird. Nur ihre Schulfreundin Mabel wird sie für wenige Tage besuchen kommen. Sie haben sich seit Marins überstürzter Flucht aus San Francisco im Sommer nicht mehr gesehen und offenbar möchte Mabel wissen, was damals geschah und weshalb ihre beste Freundin für Wochen völlig vom Erdboden verschwunden war. Die erste Begegnung fühlt sich komisch an, das vertraute Zusammensein stellt sich einfach nicht ein, bis Marin schließlich beginnt zu erzählen. Sie erinnern sich an ihre gemeinsamen letzten Monate in der Schule und den Sommer, der so vielversprechend begann, dann aber ein schreckliches Ende nahm, das Marin immer noch nicht verarbeitet hat.

Nina LaCour gelingt es, einem als Leser sofort in die Geschichte hineinzuziehen. Die Kälte des Wintersturms, die Einsamkeit im Wohnheim, es braucht nie viel, um eine ganz besondere, fragile Atmosphäre zu schaffen, die nur darauf wartet, sich durch das Aussprechen der Ereignisse des letzten Sommers entweder zu lösen oder die Protagonistinnen in den finalen Abgrund zu stürzen. Diese Spannung, nicht zu wissen, welches Ende die Erzählung nehmen wird, hält sich durch die Geschichte und lässt einem dieses wundervolle Gefühl von bitterer Süße empfinden, die sowohl anzieht wie auch abschreckt.

Das Setting bietet den perfekten Rahmen für ein emotionsgeladenes Buch, dass jedoch fernab von Kitsch oder übertriebener Gefühlsduselei ist. Zusammen mit Marin durchwandert man nochmals die unheilvollen Momente und kann die Einsamkeit, die sie empfunden haben muss, kaum von sich fernhalten. Ihren Vater kennt sie nicht, die Mutter starb als sie noch ein Kleinkind war und so blieb nur der Großvater, der sie bedingungslos liebte, aber auch seine dunklen, verborgenen Seiten hatte, die sich schlagartig öffnen und vieles in einem anderen Licht erscheinen lassen.

Ein Buch über Trauer, Zuneigung, Freundschaft und das erwachsen und unabhängig Werden, mit all seinen leichten Momenten und den schweren. Die melancholische Stimmung passt hervorragend zu den Protagonistinnen und den Ereignissen, die in ihren Köpfen Kreise drehen.

Frances Macken – You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here

frances macken you have to make your own fun around here
Frances Macken – You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here

Since their childhood, Katie, Maeve and Evelyn have been friends and it was never a question who was the leader of their gang. Admired by the other two girls, Evelyn decided on what and who to like or dislike. When a new girl moves to their small Irish community, she immediately knows that Pamela is arrogant and stupid. Due to her mother’s interference, Katie is prone to become Pamela’s friend, but before they could really get to know each other, the girl vanishes and is never to be seen again. Rumours go from her being killed by one of the trio’s friends, over being abducted to her having run away. When school is over, Katie and Evelyn plan to move to Dublin together, but when her friend is not accepted at university, Katie for the first time is on her own and cannot rely on her friend anymore.

What a great beginning of a novel. I totally adored to careless and adventurous kids who then developed into typical teenagers. Unfortunately, the novel lost a bit of its spirit when the three separate. Even though this is necessary for Katie’s development, from this point on I struggled a bit with the reading, first and foremost because I found it hard to endure Katie’s naivety and her inability to become an independent person, to develop her own ideas and tastes, she is totally dependent on others and their opinion, thus just bounces somehow in her life without goal. Her return to her small hometown is a logic consequence which even makes things worse for her.

In my opinion, the protagonist is well developed and throughout her life, the decisions made are well motivated by her personality and point of view, yet, she is certainly not a character to sympathise with or to take as a role model. In spite of that, I found it quite realistic to see how she struggles with her future, not having really developed but play but only a mere vague dream, she cannot succeed and must end up being totally disappointed. Similarly, her blindness when it comes to her friend Evelyn is well portrayed, she ignores all warnings and other views and is thus left to learn it the hard way.

A wonderful first part and some great aspects, nevertheless, I was a bit disappointed in the end, as I think the author could have made more of her plot and character.

Alyssa Sheinmel – What Kind of Girl

alyssa-sheinmel-what-kind-of-girl
Alyssa Sheinmel – What Kind of Girl

He hit her. Again. But this time, she cannot hide it under her clothes, her eye is visible to everybody in school and therefore Maya goes forward to their principal and tells her what Mike Parker, everybody’s darling and sports superstar, has done. Even though it is quite obvious and Maya has no reason to lie, questions like “maybe she provoked him?” and “maybe it was just an accident?” blame her for being the victim. The school is divided and so are the friends. Yet, not only Maya goes through a hard time, her formerly best friend Juniper does so, too, apart from feeling ashamed for not having been the friend Maya would have needed, her break-up with Tess combined with her psychological struggles already keep her mind busy. But this is something that needs action and that’s what Juniper’s parents educated her for: standing up for those who are in need.

I was immediately hooked by Alyssa Sheinmel’s novel, she brilliantly captivates Maya’s thoughts which oscillate between not wanting to be the victim but speaking out for her rights and being strong on the one hand, and feeling insecure about what happened, questioning herself, her own contribution to bringing her boyfriend so far as to hit her again and again on the other. She is young and even though she knows exactly what is right and what is wrong, emotions are not that easy and rarely only black and white.

Providing different perspectives also adds to underline the complexity of a topic which seems so easy to make an opinion about. At first, however, I was a bit confused by the headlines of the chapters which introduce the respective character talking, I first assumed that wide range of girls would be presented until I realised that it is just the two of them perceiving themselves in different roles depending on their mood.

Unfortunately, after a great start, the novel lost focus a bit for my liking. Of course, it is only natural that all teenagers have their own struggles, that none of them really lives a carefree life where all is perfect. Yet, it was a bit too much here: Maya and the violence, Juniper cutting herself and suffering from OCD, drugs abuse – adding too many big topics quite naturally lead to a very shallow and superficial treatment of all of them. Not only did the author miss the chance to provide some insight in the psychological background of each, she treats them like some small bruise that can easily be overcome by just being friends again with your BFF. Simply focussing on Maya and Juniper also did not seize the extent of such an accusation and what it really does to a small community like a school.

Nevertheless, a great read that I enjoyed and which provides some food for thought.

Scarlett Thomas – Oligarchy

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Scarlett Thomas – Oligarchy

When Natasha arrives from Russia at her new boarding school in rural England, she struggles to adapt. Not only the foreign language, but the special language all these year-11 girls from superrich families use. Yet, not only the words, but also the manners are quite unique and the one thing that they are obsessed with is how to lose weight. It is not just to get rid of some rests of baby fat or being in a better shape, the most important thing is being thinner than the others since the headmaster treats those girls differently. But then, their weight-loss competition goes totally wrong and one of the girls dies. Reaction of the school management: let’s not get any information outside and set up an anti-anorexia plan which only gives the girls even more ideas of what to do…

“Oligarchy” starts like some typical boarding school novel. 15-year-olds who do not have any serious worries, who try out the most absurd diets they can find, and modern-day obsession with pictures on the internet. Yet, it does not stop there, on the surface, of course, it is the world of adolescents we are presented with, teenagers who are reluctant to what their parents do and where the money comes from and who rebel against strict rules on their school. However, underneath, there are some much more fundamental questions addressed, first of all, how eating disorders are fired by what we are presented with every day. Secondly, the girls are rich, but most of them actually do not really have somebody to turn to, their parents are simply absent and even times of deepest distress does not seem to trigger any reaction from them.

Even though the novel is a bit stereotypical when it comes to the characters, I think the author did well in combining relevant topics in an enjoyable read. First and foremost, she has found the perfect tone with does neither ridicule the teenagers with their absurd ideas of how to diet and their supposedly secret cheating, nor does she take the serious consequences of their action too lightly. It is a novel that can educate, but fortunately, you do not feel like being educated.

David Owen – All The Lonely People

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David Owen  – All The Lonely People

The last strike by the anonymous bullying group really hit Kat hard. She was never the popular girl with many friends, but at least online she could be the person she saw in herself, but now, that is taken away from her and she just wants to vanish, fade away. Her wish is granted, slowly her body becomes translucent, only Safa, sharing the same fate can see her. She quickly finds out that there are others, not just people who would like to be someone different and forget their old life and be forgotten, but people who actually faded away. However, there is still one thing she needs to do on earth: the bullies have found another target and she must stop them and therefore collaborate with one of them.

Admittedly, I wasn’t really thinking that the act of vanishing in the novel was meant “real”, yet, this unrealistic aspect is the only thing I wasn’t completely happy with. Apart from this, David Owen has really captured the emotions of teenager who feel like they don’t fit in, that they cannot lead the life they would like to have and the hardship of going to school and being exposed to the attacks of bullies.

I found both protagonists – Kat as the good, pitiable girl and Wesley who first seems to be her enemy but then turns out to be in a comparable situation – strong characters for the novel. They are easy to relate to and the problems they face are things most pupils might know from their everyday life. The novel also had some suspense that kept you read on and it surely made you think of how you treat your family members and how attentive you are concerning the people around you that you never really see.

All in all, I liked it and would surely recommend it to young people who are searching for their identity and place in the world.

Adib Khorram – Darius the Great is not Okay

adib-khorram-darius-the-great-is-not-okay
Adib Khorram – Darius the Great is not Okay

Darius Kellner has never really fit in into Chapel Hill High-School, not just because he is half-Persian but also because of his depression which makes it hard for him to make friends. When is grandfather gets seriously ill, his whole family is flying to Yazd for the first time: his father, whom he considers an “Übermensch” because he is perfect in every respect, his beloved mother and his 8-year-old sister Laleh. Even though Iran is much less different from his home than expected, Darius, or Darioush as he is called there, makes masses of new experiences. He finds a good friend in Sohrab, plays football successfully and with fun, he tries out great Persian food and the family relationships somehow shift and allow him another look at how things are between himself and the rest of his family. When he returns, he is not the Darius he was before anymore, a bit of Darioush the Great has come with him to the US and he accepts that at times it is ok just not to be okay.

Adib Khoram’s novel presents a very different perspective on many things we know from novels. First of all, it is not an immigrant who comes to the US and has to adjust, but vice versa, an American boy, who even though he has a Persian mother is not speaking any Farsi, who discovers a country and its people of the Middle East. Khoram doesn’t play on clichés here, luckily, Darius does not come with too many ideas about his mother’s native country and enters it rather open-mindedly. Additionally, Darius is at the age where he could have his first girl-friend, but it is not a girl he meets and falls for, but a boy with whom he makes friends. And thirdly, the novel does not present a happy-end where everything is cured and everyone is fine. Darius still suffers from depression and has to fight for every little step in his life. Just travelling to Iran and back does not change everything.

I really enjoyed reading to book. Most of all because it gave a lot of interesting insight in the life in Iran, but also because it doesn’t pretend that life is easy and that everything can be fixed. None of the characters is perfect, they all make mistakes and they all feel awkward at times. In this respect, it is very authentic and convincing. I think it is great for teenagers who struggle with fitting in since the main message for me was that we all at times feel like outsiders and it is absolutely ok, not to fit in and to feel sad at times.

Ariel Kaplan – We Regret to Inform You

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Ariel Kaplan – We Regret to Inform You

Mischa Abramavicious is the perfect student: she has all the grades it needs to get into the best colleges, her list of extracurricular activities is impressive and her single-parent mom will be proud of her. But on Admission Day, she only gets rejections. None of the schools has admitted her, not even the local safety college. But how come? Mischa doesn’t dare to tell her mother but starts investigating instead. Together of the Ophelia Club, a bunch of tech-wise girls of her school, and her friend Nate, they discover that marks and letter of recommendation have been changed – but why, and especially: be whom?

“We Regret to Inform You” is a well-written novel about today’s teenagers and the pressure they are under. Only when the whole world falls apart for Mischa does she realize that she actually has no hobbies, not even an interest but that she has spent the last for years only working for her résumé and to fulfil her mother’s expectations. The later, too, also put much in her daughter’s future, invested money she didn’t have to get her into an expensive private school which promised the best starting point for an Ivy League University.

I really liked Ariel Kaplan’s style of writing. Even though a major catastrophe is happening to the protagonist, the novel is not really depressing but quite entertaining since there are many comic situations and ironic dialogues. The novel concentrates on the positive side which I liked a lot, Mischa doesn’t give up, but her focus shifts and she finally gets to understand herself better. She makes the best of it and fights for her rights – but not at the expense of everything else. So, it still is a young adult novel even though there are some underlying very serious issues.

R.O. Kwon – The Incendiaries

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R.O. Kwon – The Incendiaries

When Will comes to Edwards University at Noxhurst, he has a lot of things to hide from his fellow student: he does not come from a prestigious background, quite the opposite with his mother an addict and his father bullying the family, he is ashamed of his constant lack of money and the fact that he left a Christian college since he lost his faith is also something he’d rather keep for himself. When he meets Phoebe, he immediately falls for the girl of Korean descent. Soon they cannot live one without the other, but they both keep some things for themselves. Phoebe, too, has things to hide but the feeling of having to share them is growing inside her. It is John Leal and his group where she feels confident enough to talk about her past. But the enigmatic leader is not just after the well-being of his disciples and it does not take too long until he comes between Will and Phoebe.

R.O. Kwon’s debut is a rather short read which nevertheless tackles quite a number of very relevant topics: love and loss, faith and cult, abuse and how to deal with it and last but not least abortion. A lot of issues for such a novel and thus, for my liking, some were treated a bit too superficially and I would have preferred less.

In the centre of the novel, we have the two protagonists Phoebe and Will who, at the first glance, couldn’t hardly be more different than they are. But when looking closer at them, it is obvious what brings them together: as children and teenagers, they had a kind of constant in their lives which gave them orientation and lead them. For Phoebe, it was music, for Will, his Christian believe. When they grew older and more independent, they lost that fixed point and now as students they are somehow orbiting around campus searching for their identity and guidance.

Opposing them is the charismatic leader of the Jejah group. The way he precedes is quite easy to see through from the outside, but it also clearly illustrates why he can be that successful nonetheless. He offers to Phoebe exactly what she needs at that moment and thus it is not too complicated to put a spell on her. John always remains a bit mysterious, but there is no need to reveal all about him, that’s just a part of being a strong leader of a cult, keeping some mystery and fog around you.

“The Incendiaries” is one of the most anticipated novels of 2018 and I was also immediately intrigued by the description. I definitely liked Kwon’s style of writing a lot, it is lively and eloquent. Also the development of the plot and her characters are quite convincing. However, I think she could have gone into more depth, especially towards to end.