Katie Haegele

Shine is the story of a hate crime, or so it seems. Cat’s dear friend Patrick has been savagely beaten and left in a coma, and everyone in town knows it’s because he’s gay. But no one, including the sheriff, knows what actually happened—so Cat makes it her mission to find the attacker herself. This is serious stuff, and author Lauren Myracle doesn’t shy away from the tough emotions her characters face: “Why does God let bad things happen?” Cat wonders in anguish. “Could he not see her, or did he not care?”

Beyond the strife and violence, Shine is also a Southern story, a country story, refreshingly regional amid a sea of novels set in suburban Anywhere, USA. Black Creek, North Carolina, is a tiny village of 500, idyllic in setting but isolated, and with more than its share of poverty and problems. Myracle gets in all the details: the beauty of the woods and the comfort of home cooking, but also the drug use that threatens the community, and the embarrassed anger Cat feels at being thought of as a hillbilly by the people in town.

In becoming a small-town sleuth, Cat not only solves the mystery of the night her friend was attacked, but also confronts pain from her own past she hasn’t yet dealt with. She has an essential sweetness—and a bit of sass—that make her a winning main character. But the novel’s ending, while satisfying, has the main characters perpetuating a lie, which feels strange after so much truth-seeking. All in all, though, this is an engaging story with characters who really come to life.

Shine is the story of a hate crime, or so it seems. Cat’s dear friend Patrick has been savagely beaten and left in a coma, and everyone in town knows it’s because he’s gay. But no one, including the sheriff, knows what actually happened—so Cat makes it her mission to find the attacker herself. This […]

McLean’s old life was normal, back before her mother left her father for another man. But after their sticky divorce, her dad, eager to get away, took a Gordon Ramsay-style job reorganizing failing restaurants that necessitated a long-distance move every few months. Against her mother’s wishes, McLean went with him. In three years she’s gone to four high schools in four suburbs, and each time she’s used a new name and adopted a different personality to go with it. But now they’ve landed in Lakeview, and thanks to the charming characters at the restaurant and the smart, quirky boy next door, this temporary home feels like a real one.

Readers will root for the likable McLean as she meets people and softens her defenses. As a narrator she’s authoritative and self-aware, sounding almost like a movie voice-over—not surprising, maybe, since Dessen’s first two books were made into the movie How to Deal. A nice subplot that has McLean and her friends building a model of their town gives her the opportunity to make poetic insights about community, family and home. Dessen’s confident style makes What Happened to Goodbye a smooth and entertaining read.

McLean’s old life was normal, back before her mother left her father for another man. But after their sticky divorce, her dad, eager to get away, took a Gordon Ramsay-style job reorganizing failing restaurants that necessitated a long-distance move every few months. Against her mother’s wishes, McLean went with him. In three years she’s gone […]

If teenage June seems a bit sophisticated for her age, it’s because she’s had to be. Her father, who bails out sinking companies for a living, has relocated his wife and daughter to cities all over the country, most recently Chicago and now Minneapolis—or, more truthfully, the same-everywhere suburbs of these cities. Within days of starting at her new school, June figures out whom to befriend and whom to avoid. She’s not conniving about it, just self-protective, if a little jaded.

But this isn’t only her story. From the first page we get to know both June and Wes, a floppy-haired boy who’s lived in this particular suburb his whole life. National Book Award-winning author Pete Hautman has made them the co-stars of this powerful first-love story by switching between their perspectives every few paragraphs. The transitions are smooth, in part because the two are simpatico.

As a character, June is a gift, a funny-sad girl who is so realistically drawn it almost feels a shame to think of her as a character. Wes is different from the “dark and moody Chuck Palahniuk/Kurt Vonnegut/Life-Sucks-and-Then-You-Die brooders” she’s met before, but he’s private and quiet too, and his feelings for June soon become intense.
With its lovely but underplayed creation-of-the-universe metaphor, The Big Crunch is evocative of their attraction to each other, viscerally so—it’s stomach-flipping at times. June’s father’s job threatens to separate them, which complicates things and gives the novel a plot to hang on. But the salient detail here isn’t story but feelings, that magnet-pull of first love.

 

If teenage June seems a bit sophisticated for her age, it’s because she’s had to be. Her father, who bails out sinking companies for a living, has relocated his wife and daughter to cities all over the country, most recently Chicago and now Minneapolis—or, more truthfully, the same-everywhere suburbs of these cities. Within days of […]

High school senior Piper wasn’t born deaf, but by the age of six she’d all but lost her hearing, which has left her reliant on hearing aids and lip reading—and made some aspects of teenage life difficult. It’s especially challenging, then, when the lead singer of Dumb, the hottest (and only) band at school, asks her to be its manager.

Author Antony John opens the book powerfully by describing Dumb’s first concert at school, all from Piper’s point of view. It isn’t until the end of the chapter, when she tells us she’s deaf, that we realize everything she’s described has been visual: the crowd’s reaction, the bassist’s spiky hair, the lead singer’s gyrations.

No doubt about it, it’s an interesting scenario. John has endowed his likable main character with a good, snarky sense of humor, and he set her story in a great town for music: Seattle. But he also handles her pain with grace and sensitivity, understanding that some aspects of her situation might be really problematic rather than simply an interesting challenge. Her father, for instance, has never fully accepted her deafness, and he refuses to learn sign language, her preferred method of communication.

Since she can’t really hear what Dumb sounds like (other than “loud”), Piper has to get creative in order to whip them into shape. She lays down a beat for them by watching a metronome and banging out its rhythm on the floor with a broom—just like the 17th-century composer Lully, who conducted his orchestra by beating a baton on the ground, as we learn from Piper’s nerdy friend Ed. (Fun details about the history of rock, punk and grunge come courtesy of guitarist Kallie.)

At nearly 350 pages, the novel is a bit longer than the story calls for, and debut novelist John asks us to suspend our disbelief that a high school cover band could get interviews on radio and TV shows, not to mention recording time in a professional studio. But with Five Flavors of Dumb, John has given us an entertaining, sensitive story that makes his own allegiance to music touchingly clear. From the moment Piper and the rest of Dumb visit the music mecca that is Kurt Cobain’s house, the power of rock makes Piper just a little more daring, a little more rebellious—a little more herself.

High school senior Piper wasn’t born deaf, but by the age of six she’d all but lost her hearing, which has left her reliant on hearing aids and lip reading—and made some aspects of teenage life difficult. It’s especially challenging, then, when the lead singer of Dumb, the hottest (and only) band at school, asks […]

Seventeen-year-old Russell grew up in the Hothouse. He wasn’t literally raised in the local firehouse—more like metaphorically. His father was a firefighter and so was his best friend DJ’s dad, and the two are practically like family. For as long as he can remember, Russell has considered himself a firefighter too, training with the Young Firefighters and eating, sleeping and breathing the brotherhood-culture of it all.

But when Chris Lynch’s Hothouse opens, Russell’s and DJ’s dads have been killed while fighting a house fire. The men are revered as heroes, and the entire community rallies around their families. In fact, the whole first half of the novel is a cavalcade of hero stuff: speeches, memorials, rituals, bonfires on the beach and a concert where the boys are lifted up over the heads of the audience. It’s hard for Russell to keep his composure, but he’s fairly swelling with pride for his dad.

It’s a real surprise, then, when the story takes a dark turn. An inquiry into the accident is made, and Russell must come to terms with the fact that his dad had some un-heroic tendencies. Unfortunately, the community that had at first embraced them is much less forgiving.

In many ways this is a difficult story: These kids live with the specter of death around them all the time, and they have a wisdom and world-weariness beyond their years. Yet Lynch’s writing has a lyrical, almost musical quality. With intelligence and sophistication, he explores what it means to be built up and then torn down, how painfully capricious other people’s opinions of us can be. But underneath this, buoying the story all along, is a fighting spirit, a humor, hopefulness and passion for life.

 

Seventeen-year-old Russell grew up in the Hothouse. He wasn’t literally raised in the local firehouse—more like metaphorically. His father was a firefighter and so was his best friend DJ’s dad, and the two are practically like family. For as long as he can remember, Russell has considered himself a firefighter too, training with the Young […]

The ‘80s were an exciting time to be in New York City. Just ask Rose, a devoted—if conflicted—ballet dancer and student at the High School of Performing Arts. She gets to experience it all: flamboyant graffiti rattling by on each passing subway car, Baryshnikov at Lincoln Center and David Bowie and the Police as the soundtrack to it all.

But it was also the time of the Cold War. The international tension is especially real for Rose, whose building in Queens is next door to a Soviet apartment compound. Government agents haunt the neighborhood like something out of a spy movie. It’s weird, but they’re used to it; Rose and her brother Todd joke that you can tell the difference between the KGB and CIA guys by their shoes—sneakers for the Americans, black shoes for the Soviets. And anyway, Todd is in love with Yrena, a beautiful teenage girl whose bedroom Rose can see across the alley from her own.

Truthfully, it’s the smaller details of Rose’s life that concern her more than the nuclear arms race. Her bossy best friend Daisy rejected her when she decided to go to a different high school to pursue ballet, but she hasn’t felt brave enough to befriend her eclectic new classmates yet, either. She’s lonely, and even dancing doesn’t offer much solace. It’s scary to think she might never be good enough.

The bulk of the story of Rose Sees Red unfolds over the course of one crazy night, when Yrena climbs through Rose’s window to make friends, and the two of them end up exploring Manhattan, losing and finding themselves in the process. This lovely story is a lot of things—it’s an ode to New York, to friendship as a revolution and to learning to be yourself. Cecil Castellucci uses analogy and symbolism in a wonderfully subtle way, underscoring emotional truths without bopping her readers over the head with them: “I never minded . . . when Daisy and I played at being prima ballerina and she would insist on being all the princesses and make me be all the other parts,” Rose tells us. “Often it was the other parts that got the more interesting movements of music.”

The ‘80s were an exciting time to be in New York City. Just ask Rose, a devoted—if conflicted—ballet dancer and student at the High School of Performing Arts. She gets to experience it all: flamboyant graffiti rattling by on each passing subway car, Baryshnikov at Lincoln Center and David Bowie and the Police as the soundtrack […]

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