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.

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.

Holly Jackson – A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

holly-jackson-a-good-girls-guide-to-murder
Holly Jackson – A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

Pippa Fitz-Amobi hat sich ein ganz besonderes Thema für ihre abschließende Projektarbeit in der Schule gesucht:  fünf Jahre zuvor verschwand in ihrer Kleinstadt Little Kilton die 17-jährige Andie Bell. Ihr Freund Sal Singh wurde des Mordes verdächtigt, was sein Selbstmord nur wenige Tage später zu bestätigen schien. Doch Pippa hat Zweifel daran, dass die Geschehnisse am 20. April 2012 wirklich so waren, wie man sie sich erzählt, vor allem, da Andies Leiche nie gefunden wurde. Sie beginnt Fragen zu stellen und dokumentiert akribisch ihre Erkenntnisse. In Ravi, Sals jüngerem Bruder, findet sie schnell einen Verbündeten und je tiefer sie in die Geschichte einsteigen, desto größer werden die Lücken, die sich in der Erzählung auftun und desto länger wird die Liste der Verdächtigen. Sie scheinen auf der richtigen Spur zu sein, denn bald schon erhält Pippa Warnungen: sie soll aufhören mit ihren Nachforschungen, sonst wird sie dies böse bereuen.

Holly Jacksons Debut Roman ist eine gelungene Mischung aus Jugendbuch und Thriller und stellt den Auftakt einer Serie dar, von der inzwischen vier Bücher auf Englisch veröffentlicht wurden. Mich hatte zunächst der Titel angesprochen, den ich witzig fand, die Geschichte versprach auch spannend zu werden und meine Erwartungen wurden voll erfüllt: die Krimihandlung wird nachvollziehbar aufgebaut und am Ende sauber gelöst, wenn ich hier auch ein paar Abstriche dafür machen würde, dass es mir ein Tick zu viel des Guten war. Die Protagonistin ist dafür eine charmante Mischung aus cleverem Mädchen mit durchaus auch humorvollen Zügen.

Die gesamte Handlung lebt letztlich von Pippas Nachforschungen. Die Mischung aus erzählender Handlung, ihren Notizen und Transkripten ihrer „Verhöre“ lockert dabei die Erzählung immer wieder auf. Akribisch verfolgt Pippa kleinste Spuren, die Tatsache, dass sie mit zahlreichen Jugendlichen befreundet ist oder wegen ihres Alters gar nicht ernst genommen wird, erlauben ihr den Zugang zu wichtigen Informationen. Dass sie bisweilen etwas naiv vorgeht, passt dabei stimmig ins Bild. Die Autorin verzichtet auf typische Klischees, die man in diesem Genre leider häufig findet, ebenso müssen die beiden jugendlichen Ermittler nicht auch noch für eine Liebesgeschichte herhalten, was den Roman auch für Erwachsene unterhaltsam macht. Eine rundum überzeugende und unterhaltsame Geschichte.

David Owen – All The Lonely People

david-owen-all-the-lonely-people
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

ariel-kaplan-we-regret-to-inform-you
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

RO-Kwon_The_Incendiaries
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.

Sarah Henstra – The Red Word

Sarah-henstra-the-red-word
Sarah Henstra – The Red Word

For a conference, Karen returns to the town she attended college many years before. It is not a pleasant return since the place is connected to sad memories. Going back there brings it all again to her mind. Her roommates, nice girls at first, whose plan got completely wrong. Her then boy-friend and his fraternity GBC who always treated her nicely but also had another, darker side. The teacher they all admired in their gender studies classes. And the scandal that shock the whole town.

Sarah Henstra’s novel tells different tales with only one story. First of all, we have the strong protagonist Karen who as a Canadian always stands a bit outside her fellow students’ circles. She doesn’t have the same background; neither does she have the rich parents who provide her with all she needs not does she come with the intellectual package that most of the others seem to possess. The need to earn money to support herself keeps her from leading the same life as they do. This also brings her into the special situation between the groups who soon find themselves at war.

The central topic, however, is how college students deal with sex. On the one hand, we have the partying during which much alcohol and all kinds of drugs are consumed which makes the young people reckless and careless. On the other hand, we have the planned drugging of young women with Rohypnol to abused them. There is a third perspective, represented by the academic intelligentsia: the classic image of the woman as victim, portrayed in history and literature throughout the centuries and which did not change in more than two thousand years.

“The Red Word” could hardly be more relevant and up-to-date in the discussions we have seen all over the word about male dominance and indiscriminate abuse of their stronger position. Sarah Henstra does not just foreshadow what happens at the student houses, she openly talks about the rape that happens there. And she does provide a credible picture of what happens afterwards, of how women are accused of having contributed or even asked for it, of lame excuses for the male behaviour and of the psychological effect these experiences have on the students – both, male and female. It is not just black and white, there are many shadows and motives behind their actions, Henstra integrates them convincingly.

A felicitous novel with a very important story to tell.

Kim Fu – The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

kim-fu-the-lost-girls-of-camp-forevermore
Kim Fu – The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

A summer camp for young girls aged nine to twelve. Mostly rich, but there are also some poor ones granted scholarships so that they can take part, too. The rules have been the same over decades, everything in Camp Forevermore is as it has always been. Part of the camp experience is a kayak tour which the girls complete in small groups and which leaves them on isolated islands for a night. Siobhan, Nita, Andee, Isabel and Dina thus are assigned to the oldest and toughest camp supervisor. Yet, unexpectedly, the girls do not end in the spot they were destined to but find themselves on a different, much larger and completely isolated island, their chaperone dead and they themselves running out of food. Now, the real survival lesson begins.

The idea of a bunch of girls having to face raw nature and survive in unknown territory sounded quite intriguing to me. I anticipated it to be a bit like a girl version of the “Lord of the Flies” and I was curious to read how a group of girls develops under those conditions. Yet, the story of the lost girls is just a part of the novel. Their adventure is broken up by narrations about what happens to the girls later in life, their fate after surviving Camp Forevermore. This not only came a bit unexpected, but also shifted the focus away from the actual story to what such an experience makes with people and how they can never really get over it.

Kim Fu has a very lively style of writing. The characters seem authentic and you quickly get a good idea of their different personalities. I liked her writing most in the parts where the girls struggle to survive, she is great at portraying their fears, hate and desperation. Without any question, the girls’ later lives are also interesting and the author actually did a great job in developing the girls further as adults. However, I would have preferred to read more about Camp Forevermore and the girls desperate situation.

Richard Lawson – All we can do is wait

richard-lawson-all-we-can-do-is-wait
Richard Lawson – All we can do is wait

An awful accident brings a bunch of teenager together in the waiting area of a hospital: a Boston bridge collapsed during busy traffic and now they are waiting for news. Scott is afraid that his girlfriend Aimee might be amongst the dead. Skyler was on the telephone with her sister when Kate suddenly broke away. Jason and Alex fear the worst about their parents who were on the way to Alexa’s school. And Morgan already knows that her father is not alive anymore. While they are condemned to wait in the sterile area without any information, they all recall the last couple of months, what they went through with the loved ones, the good sides and the bad ones. But sharing this feeling of utmost anxiety also brings out things which were long buried and in the morning, they are not the same anymore.

“All we can do is wait” has the classic drama setting: all characters in one place, waiting for the moment when they are either relieved or their biggest fear is confirmed. There is nothing they can do to change the situation, they have to sit and wait for the verdict. No matter what they wish or pray for, their fate is already sealed but they do not know about it.

Richard Lawson makes his young protagonists alternate in the narration. Each chapter is dedicated to one of them and slowly their lives unfold. Thus, we are not constantly in the situation of extreme stress in the waiting room, but look back also on happy moments full of joy and love. But the sword of Damocles of looming over them all the time and inevitable we return to the hospital.

The story is full of emotion, positive and negative ones, and the author created authentic and lovable characters who are credible in their fears and hopes. They already show whom they are going to be in a couple of years and yet, they are still adolescents with great hopes and wishes. Apart from this, there is obviously a lot of suspense because you just want to know what happened to their friends, sister and parents. This just makes you read on and on and on. I really loved the novel even though it is a rather melancholy story that is told.