Book Review: The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher

Title: The S-Word

Author: Chelsea Pitcher

Rating: ★ ★ ★  ½

Genre: Young-Adult, Contemporary, High-School-Drama

Publication Date: 7 May 2013 by Gallery Books

Synopsis: “First it was SLUT scribbled all over Lizzie Hart’s locker.

But one week after Lizzie kills herself, SUICIDE SLUT replaces it—in Lizzie’s looping scrawl.

Lizzie’s reputation is destroyed when she’s caught in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend on prom night. With the whole school turned against her, and Angie not speaking to her, Lizzie takes her own life. But someone isn’t letting her go quietly. As graffiti and photocopies of Lizzie’s diary plaster the school, Angie begins a relentless investigation into who, exactly, made Lizzie feel she didn’t deserve to keep living. And while she claims she simply wants to punish Lizzie’s tormentors, Angie’s own anguish over abandoning her best friend will drive her deep into the dark, twisted side of Verity High—and she might not be able to pull herself back out.

Debut author Chelsea Pitcher daringly depicts the harsh reality of modern high schools, where one bad decision can ruin a reputation, and one cruel word can ruin a life. Angie’s quest for the truth behind Lizzie’s suicide is addictive and thrilling, and her razor-sharp wit and fierce sleuthing skills makes her impossible not to root for—even when it becomes clear that both avenging Lizzie and avoiding self-destruction might not be possible.” (Taken from Goodreads)

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The S-Word was overall a wonderful debut novel from Pitcher. The concept and execution of the novel was well done, interesting enough that I enjoyed it as a novel in its entirety. The issues the book brings up are not easy topics to talk about, especially for teenagers in high school. The death of a fellow classmate could very well shatter a person – and we see this happening through the main protagonist, Angie, whose best friend threw herself off the school’s clock tower following a series of bullying incidents.

The novel follows some cliche plots but breaks through the mould as well. It’s characters are more human than first expected with a story set in a high school environment. At first glimpse, when seeing ‘the s-word’, I thought, “Oh no, here we go again. A story about the popular people tormenting a girl into suicide…”, but this story was so much more than that. It is a story about survival, secrets and seclusion … well much high school. It is also a story about blame, revenge and forgiveness and about moving on from a tragedy.

We follow Angie as she tries to solve the mystery behind Lizzie’s suicide, laying blame on those that took part and most of all on herself. She spends the majority of the novel trying to figure out who exactly is responsible for pushing Lizzie to the edge and letting her fall to her death. I’ve noticed some reviews portray Angie as hypocritical in the sense that she herself played a major role in Lizzie’s death. This is definitely true, but Angie knows that – the person she blames the most is herself, for ignoring and abandoning her best friend when she needed her most, even when she believed Lizzie had betrayed her and broke her heart. I’m not sure how those reviewers could miss the many pages showing Angie’s torment, and blame on herself – so much so that she had carved ‘killer’ into her own skin for the part she believed she played towards her best friend’s suicide.

I found Angie to be a strong-willed and strong-hearted character. We watch with sadness as she falls deeper into the dark pit of loss and  holds our breath as we wait for her to finally snap and possibly self-destruct herself. If it wasn’t for the eccentric Jesse, she would probably have done so. His friendship and support played a major part in helping Angie get back on her feet. However, I thought the need for Jesse to become a romantic interest was unnecessary. I liked him the way he was in the beginning – free and individualistic. His friendship would have been enough to stabilise Angie’s state of mind, so the little twist of romance was unneeded in my opinion. But he was definitely my favourite character in the novel and it was nice to see a little glimpse of his backstory as well.

Another character that I liked was Kennedy. Portrayed as the most popular girl in school, her motives and actions depict a person that is completely different to the cliched queen bee. What we usually forget about the queen bees are the fact that they’re also people – with a past and their own memories. Readers usually jump to the conclusion that they’re the root of all evil in high school, but Kennedy breaks through this mould. That was refreshing to read about, even though her past was nothing short of horrific.

I think the one thing that kept me from giving this book a higher rating was the psych of its main character, Angie. Her need and thirst for revenge in bringing down everyone that played a role in Lizzie’s suicide was a little psychotic, to put it bluntly. I was surprised no one even suggested to her that maybe she should consider seeing a counsellor, especially when everyone knew she was Lizzie’s best friend. You would think that the school would at least hold a session for all of Lizzie’s friends, just to help them through this traumatic situation. But instead, we watch as Angie spirals downwards as all signs point to her going a little cray cray. And her parents, my god! I understand that she’s a neglected only-child, but jeez, there is bad-parenting and then there is what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you parenting. Her mum seemed like she didn’t even know her daughter’s best friend had died. And her dad seemed like he was even worse off in stability of the mind than Angie did. With family that this, it was no wonder the girl was going a little cray cray.

/SPOILER/ I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was necessary to ruin someone’s life completely by ousting them as a rapist at their own graduation ceremony. While I know Drake deserved to be caught, I just can’t help but think the way Angie went about it was totally unfair and a little over the top. Everyone she went after for revenge was portrayed by her as evil-incarnate, but in reality they were just people who made a mistake, know they’re guilty and now have the live with the consequences. But with Angie, she was extreme enough to want to ruin their lives for it. I’m glad she kind of redeemed herself by not ruining everyone’s lives (just Drakes), but even so, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth knowing that no one even bothers to think that what she’d been doing was wrong – especially the little twist revealed that she was the one behind the diary drop-offs and writing suicide slut in Lizzie’s handwriting. /SPOILER/

The S-Word is an overall very enjoyable read. It raises many issues for discussion and reveals a human side to many cliched characters that you wouldn’t expect in normal high school novels. I think Pitcher did a wonderful job in her debut novel and I look forward to her future work.

THANKS TO: Gallery Books on Netgalley for providing an eARC for me to read and review honestly.

Book Review: Rape Girl by Alina Klein

Title: Rape Girl

Author: Alina Klein

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Genre: Contemporary, Young-Adult, Coming-Of-Age

Synopsis: “Valerie always wanted to be the smart girl. The pretty girl. The popular girl.

But not the rape girl.

That’s who she is now. Rape Girl. Because everyone seems to think they know the truth about what happened with Adam that day, and they don’t think Valerie’s telling it.

Before, she had a best friend, a crush, and a close-knit family. After, she has a court case, a support group, and a house full of strangers.

The real truth is, nothing will ever be the same.” (Taken from Goodreads)

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A beautifully written story of survival during the aftermath of an event that can ruin a young person’s life forever.

Rape Girl was certainly a very quick read, but it resonated a strong message to all victims of rape: “Hold your head high even if you feel like your world is crashing down around you.” The story follows Valerie, a 16-year-old teenager that threw a party and got drunk while her mum was out of town. During the night, she was witnessed by many of her peers to willingly walk into a room to spend some time alone with her crush, Adam. What they didn’t witness was her throwing up all over his shoes and passing out, only to wake up the next day with a major hangover. Falling asleep on the couch once again, she wakes up to Adam having taken off most of her clothing and telling her he was back to pick up where they had left off the night before. Valerie tells him “no”, but we obviously know what happens next.

The book focuses mainly on the present, while we do get a glimpse into prior events during the beginning of the story. We go through the journey of being a victim of rape with Valerie, and watch as her world falls down around her. But we also see her pick herself up again. We see many victims of rape blaming themselves for what happened, and it’s no different with Valerie. She is fighting a battle within herself as well as with Adam. She experiences the loss of reputation for telling a truth no one believes, and watches as her ‘best friend’ leaves her, rather than staying loyal. Such is the world of high school.

I really, really enjoyed watching Valerie pick herself up through this mess of an event – even when her lawyers drop her case and charges against Adam. I understand the message behind Valerie’s story is not able winning against the raper, but to speak up and piecing your life together even when everything goes to crap. Reporting the incident is so important to turning your life around, because you realise who the supportive people in your life are. It is the first step to being able to move on from the incident.

I really loved this story and its messages, but what I would have liked to see was maybe an epilogue to really conclude Valerie’s story. I know her talk with Adam was supposed to be the point where she turns her life around, but it fell a little flat for me. But irregardless, this was a wonderful read, written really well by Klein. It’s a wonderful contemporary story I would recommend to everyone.

THANKS TO: Namelos for providing an electronic copy of the book on netgalley for me to read and review honestly.

Interview with Cal Armistead

Cal Armistead is the debut author of a young adult coming-of-age story, Being Henry David, being published on 1 March 2013. Her debut book is a highly recommended 2013 read as it’s moving, realistic and provides an introduction to the world of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. You can read my review on Being Henry David, HERE.

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Being Henry David Cover“Seventeen-year-old “Hank” has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything –who he is, where he came from, why he’s running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David-or “Hank” and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of–Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Cal Armistead’s remarkable debut novel is about a teen in search of himself. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home.” (Taken from Goodreads)

Interview with Cal Armistead

1. How did you get into writing? What was the first story you wrote?

I have been into writing ever since I could write!  My dad says people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and from the time I was five, I’d say with confidence, “I want to be a famous writer.”  I don’t know about the famous part, but having a debut novel published is very exciting!  As for the first story I wrote, I have no idea.  I wrote and illustrated stories as far back as I can remember, mostly about inanimate objects coming to life and having bizarre adventures.  I do have a vivid memory of a book I wrote when I was nine, called The Poor Macaroni Named Joany, which my art teacher Mrs. Carr actually encouraged me to send to a publisher.  So I did!  And subsequently…I got my first rejection letter at the tender age of nine.  Luckily, this did not deter me from writing even a little bit.

2. Where did you get the idea for Being Henry David? Do you remember the location you were in, what time it was etc., when Hank’s story popped into your head? 

Hmm…interesting question.  I think the seed of the idea was planted in my subconscious the morning I read a newspaper article about a teenage boy in the Boston area who was driving drunk and accidentally hit a female police officer on the side of the road during a traffic stop. The woman was paralyzed, and ended up dying recently.  I saw a picture of this boy in the paper, and he looked so stunned and devastated.  He seemed to be just this regular kid trying to live his regular life, but he made a series of bad choices one night that changed his life—and obviously that woman’s—forever. And I wondered how someone so young could manage to move on with his life from that point forward.  How could he deal with all that guilt and trauma?  Interestingly enough, this young man is now back in the news.  He served a few years in prison, but because the woman subsequently died, he’s facing new charges. It’s heartbreaking, because it sounds like he has really tried to do the right thing, or at least the best he could do under horrible circumstances.

As for the Thoreau and Concord connections, I have lived in and near Concord for much of my life, and because it’s a town so proud of its literary heroes, you can’t help but absorb that pride and enthusiasm. Plus, I love spending time at Walden Pond, and have walked its perimeter more times than I can count. I’m sure the book was also influenced by one of my favorite movies, The Dead Poets Society, with its message that literature can be cool and dangerous!

3. Is Hank’s character/story based on someone you know? 

I didn’t base the character on any one specific person, but his story is, in some ways, my own story.  Not that I had amnesia and ran away, (and I’m not a guy, in spite of my androgynous name), but I was lost, and I found myself in Concord, Massachusetts.  When I was in my early 20’s, just a little older than Hank, a series of sad events triggered by my parents’ divorce left my family scattered and me in upstate New York without a home, so I fled to Concord to stay one summer with my Uncle Ray. He lived right in downtown Concord, within walking distance of all the places in my book. I spent a lot of time that summer walking around Walden Pond and doing job research in that library, (this was before the Internet), and staring at those weird statues that talk to Hank in the book.  My own life came together while I was living in Concord, and in ways that I also found my identity there, so it seemed a logical place to offer the same to Hank.  Oddly enough, I didn’t even realize this subconscious link to my own life until after the book started into the publication process and someone like you asked me about the inspiration for the book!

4. What got you through writing the emotional parts for the book? 

I can’t say I did anything specific to “get me through.”  I just went there, immersed myself in the character and his emotions, let myself feel and cry, and tried my best to transform the emotions into words.

5. Describe your normal writing routine. Is there something specific you have to do/need when you write? 

My normal writing routine?  I’m not sure I have one!  I’m a pretty disorganized person in general, so I do bits of my writing at coffee shops, in the library, in my home office, at the kitchen table, or in front of the TV, half watching my favorite reality shows.  When I’m really into a story, my brain lasers in on it, and it doesn’t really matter where I am.  However, I do love my home office (which is relatively new), and am here as I write this, with soft music in the background and a scented candle lit on the corner of the table. (My daughter got the candle from me at a bookstore, with the Thoreau quote on the side: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined!”)  All of this is very Zen and relaxing, and encourages my creative soul.  If I was more disciplined, I’d live and write in this spot without fail from nine a.m. to noon every single day.  That’s my goal, and I’m working on it.

6. What are your writing plans for the future? 

Well, I’m happy to report I’ve written the first draft of my next young adult novel, which has a working title of Life Shards.  It’s still like a lump of clay right now, but I’m hoping to mold it into something wonderful.  As for other writing plans, I have a long history of non-fiction writing for newspapers and magazines, and am in the midst of trying to get some articles and essays published.  And there’s always some new idea hatching in my brain.  It’s hard to keep it straight in here sometimes, but I’m loving this fun/crazy journey more than I can say!

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Such a wonderful glimpse into the mind and life of a debut author! Thank you Cal for taking the time out to share this with me! It’s been an enlightening experience getting to know you!

For more information on Cal Armistead or her debut novel, Being Henry David, following the links below:

Cal Armistead’s Blog: Read – Write – Eat – Sleep (Repeat)

Goodreads: Being Henry David

Book Review: Being Henry David by Cal Armistead

Title: Being Henry David

Author: Cal Armistead

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

Shelf: Read-in-2013, Young-Adult, Contemporary, 4.5-out-of-5, Released-in-2013, Debut Author, DAC Challenge, Kindle-eBook, Netgalley-Read

Publication Date: 1 March 2013 by Albert Whitman & Company

Synopsis: “Seventeen-year-old “Hank” has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything –who he is, where he came from, why he’s running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David-or “Hank” and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of–Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Cal Armistead’s remarkable debut novel is about a teen in search of himself. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home.” (Taken from Goodreads)

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Being Henry David is the first debut of 2013 I’ve picked up this year, and what a great start to the year! I’m so glad I picked this to start off the year because it was just such a moving and wonderfully written story. It follows a seventeen-year-old boy who wakes up at Penn Station in New York with retrograde amnesia. Armed with only a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau and a little bit of cash, he makes his way to Concord, Massachusetts, where Thoreau lived for two years and wrote Walden. As the book is his only clue of his past prior to waking up, he believes it’s the obvious place to go to.

Along the way, ‘Hank’ meets some important people that help him realise that the only way he can move on and remember his past is to face it head-on. Armistead presents us with snippets of Hanks’ past throughout the story – enough to keep it mysterious and intriguing without overwhelming the reader. Hank is a character that digs a spot in our heart and refuses to move. You become invested in him – in his past, present and future. Armistead has created a character so touching that you just can’t help but root for him.

I found the little snippets of Walden being thrown in fit perfectly with the voice and pace of the overall story. It’s a quick introduction to one of America’s great thinkers, and helps Hank come to terms with who he is. It really becomes his lifeline as his journey forward and backward is aided by this book. The people he meet in Concord is a result of this book being a clue for him to be there in the first place. His rediscovery of his past is a result of Walden. I think Armistead did a wonderful job incorporating these two stories about the intricacies of survival and life together.

What I really wanted to see more of was the development of the side characters. I wish we got to see more of Jack and Ness, even though I realise they’re side characters. And I really wished there was a scene where we saw Hank reunited with Rosie – but irregardless, the ending moved me to tears.

Being Henry David was such an emotional ride, but I loved every minute of it. If there’s one contemporary young adult fiction you’re going to read this year, Cal Armistead’s book is the one you need to invest in.

I think the song ‘Home’ by Phillip Phillips fits wonderfully with Being Henry David. The lyrics, the filmclip and even the singer just reminds me of this story! What do you think?

THANKS TO: Albert Whitman & Company for providing an electronic ARC to review honestly.

Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Author: Stephen Chbosky

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Shelf: Read-in-2012, Young-Adult, Contemporary, 3-out-of-5, Released-in-2010, Kindle-eBook

Synopsis: “Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. 

Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix-tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. 

But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.” (Taken from Goodreads)

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I’m not sure I really understand the hype surrounding this story. Charlie was a character that I came to dislike throughout the book with his incessant whinging and crying. I get it, Charlie is meant to be autistic … but it got to a point where his character became so unbearable that I had to put down my kindle for a few hours so I wouldn’t throw it across the room.

While I’m not saying the whole book was horrible (I did give it three stars), the main character was what made my rating go down. Yes, I’m aware that I’m in the minority of people who do not love and worship this book like it’s the most amazing piece of literature on earth that defines our generation – and I don’t even care. While I understand that Chbosky created Charlie as a character that we’re meant to root for and relate ourselves to – I found it increasingly hard to because I found him to be a very 2D character.

For a 16-year-old boy, he sure didn’t act like it. [What 16-year-old boy does not know about masturbation. Did he just tune out completely during sex-education class every time? Please.] He was extremely emotionally unstable, and the reason was not explained until the very last part of the book. It just felt forced and unbelievable, like Chbosky realised at the last minute that Charlie’s actions needed to actually be explained.

BUT as I mentioned before, this book was not all bad. I did in fact enjoy it, even though its protagonist marred the reading experience. I did love his friendships with Sam and Patrick. (Side note: Did anyone realise that Charlie had said that Patrick’s nickname was ‘Nothing’ – except apart from saying it once or twice, no one ever brings up that name again? What was the point in introducing that name if it’s never going to be used?) What I did like about Charlie was how supportive of a friend he is. This redeeming quality made me like him a little better. I really like it when friendships just click together, and that happened in this book. (Apart from the times when Charlie kept whinging about his love for Sam.)

While not all bad, I was eventually let down by this book. I guess I was pulled in by the hype surrounding the movie, and went in with really high expectations. While not my favourite book of 2012, I did enjoy it overall (when Charlie was continuously whinging).

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The movie trailer on the other hand, makes Charlie seem completely different to his character in the book. I think I’ll give the movie a try.