Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. A mother to two small girls, she started out as a blogger and has quickly built herself into a confidence-driven brand. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night. Seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, a security guard at their local high-end supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make it right.
But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.
With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” the complicated reality of being a grown up, and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
A few weeks ago a friend told me about Reese's Book Club and I realized that I missed being part of a book club, so I thought I would check it out. Which is how I ended up with Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reed. Admittedly, I do not read a lot of books outside the YA genre, this happens when you are a middle school librarian who loves all the drama and shenanigans that often come with that age group. In short- I'm great with Middle Grade and YA, but when it comes to finding other books, I definitely need a hand finding good ones, which is why Reese's Book Club was so appealing.
I was really happy with this first book. At the outset I wasn't sure where the story was going or what to expect. Was it a story about a girl trying to find herself and her purpose? Or was it about a women learning to let go and discover what would truly make her happy? Was it about media consumption and the way we judge people based on the tiny fraction of their lives we see online? Or, was it a book that was going to delve into race relationships? The answer was deceptively simple. It was yes. Yes, it was all those things, and Reid manages to weave them all together masterfully.
As always I'm going to be vague so as not to spoil the story. Reid creates 2 characters in Alix and Emira that are well rounded and are searching for something that will make their lives feel more complete. Both of these characters are flawed, they face struggles and make some horrible decisions. They both also have good friends and as much as I don't understand a character like Alix, I can appreciate the fact that she is trying to do what she believes is best.
The parts of the book I liked the most, and which made me most uncomfortable, were those that dealt with media consumption and race. These are two topics that don't often get dealt an even hand in fiction because they are so hard to write about in a way that is both reflective and entertaining. I think Reid did a great job here. As I read the book I found myself reflecting on what I post online, what persona people are putting out there, and what I would have done if I was in Emira's position. I also took a hard look at my own actions and relationships to compare against Alix. She is objectively behaving horribly at certain points, but would I have acted any differently if I was in her shoes?
It's a rare book that manages to make the reader reflect on their own actions and life, and can still deliver an interesting story. This was a great introduction to both Reid and Reese's Book Club.
All the Little Lights
By: Jamie McGuire
Release Date: May 28, 2018
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The first time Elliott Youngblood spots Catherine Calhoun, he’s just a boy with a camera, and he’s never seen a sadder and more beautiful sight. Both Elliott and Catherine feel like outcasts, yet they find an easy friendship with each other. But when Catherine needs him most, Elliott is forced to leave town.
Elliott finally returns, but he and Catherine are now different people. He’s a star high school athlete, and she spends all her free time working at her mother’s mysterious bed-and-breakfast. Catherine hasn’t forgiven Elliott for abandoning her, but he’s determined to win back her friendship…and her heart.
Just when Catherine is ready to fully trust Elliott, he becomes the prime suspect in a local tragedy. Despite the town’s growing suspicions, Catherine clings to her love for Elliott. But a devastating secret that Catherine has buried could destroy whatever chance of happiness they have left. (from Goodreads.com)
So this book hit me out of nowhere. I picked the book up on Kindle Unlimited because the cover was gorgeous and the synopsis sounded interesting. I'm a sucker for a YA Romance that's laced with drama and mystery. I was however a little worried about some of the characterizations that might come up in the book. Catherine is constantly bullied for who her family was and what they did in the past, not to mention that the downfall of the company they owned led to Catherine being raised in poverty. Early on we learn that Elliott is going to face a lot of racism as he is, what appears to be, the only Native American living in this small town. On top of that his family is a disaster, with an abusive father (both emotionally and physically) and a mother who can't seem to get out of her own way. He ends up living with his aunt and uncle for a time and that's where he meets Catherine.
On the one hand this is a fairly typical teen romance. These 2 outcasts find each other when they really don't have anyone else to turn to. Elliott's confidence bolsters Catherine when she is faced with bullies and Catherine's quiet demeanor seems to soften some of Elliott's rough edges. The story jumps away from the sweet relationship when Catherine's world comes crashing down and Elliott is forced to leave her behind without a word for several years. Generally I try to avoid spoilers of any kind in a review, but I don't think that's possible with this book. So I'll give you the non-spoilery ending and then we'll toss a break in here and get to the nitty-gritty of what exactly made this book so stand out in my mind.
Non-Spoilers for the win!
So.... without giving anything away, Catherine's life goes down hill in the years that Elliott is gone and when he returns, hopeful that Catherine will forgive him, he finds her broken and unable to trust anyone. When the town decides that Elliott is part of a local kidnapping and murder (based mostly on his sheer size and "Indianess" ) both Catherine and Elliott have to learn to trust each other if they are going to survive. These two characters are hopelessly co-dependent, wanting nothing more than to need each other and help each other, but having no idea how to do that in a healthy manner. Neither has a great role model at the outset of the story to show them what that looks like. As the story progresses we see them finding those people, the ones who can help them open up and begin to trust people again. As that happens, we see their relationship start to really come into it's own and in the end we see these two people really show up for each other and prove that they are in it for the long haul.
This is a great book that throws convention out the window and includes a twist in the final act that legitimately had me saying "No shit!" out loud to an empty room as I read.
Now... On to the Spoilers...
Morgan Grant and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Clara, would like nothing more than to be nothing alike.
Morgan is determined to prevent her daughter from making the same mistakes she did. By getting pregnant and married way too young, Morgan put her own dreams on hold. Clara doesn’t want to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her predictable mother doesn’t have a spontaneous bone in her body.
With warring personalities and conflicting goals, Morgan and Clara find it increasingly difficult to coexist. The only person who can bring peace to the household is Chris—Morgan’s husband, Clara’s father, and the family anchor. But that peace is shattered when Chris is involved in a tragic and questionable accident. The heartbreaking and long-lasting consequences will reach far beyond just Morgan and Clara.
While struggling to rebuild everything that crashed around them, Morgan finds comfort in the last person she expects to, and Clara turns to the one boy she’s been forbidden to see. With each passing day, new secrets, resentment, and misunderstandings make mother and daughter fall further apart. So far apart, it might be impossible for them to ever fall back together.
This book really took me by surprise. At the outset I wasn't sure where the story was going to take me and I had a bit of trouble tracking the parallel storylines of Morgan as a teen (17 years ago) and Clara in the present. However, as the two storylines began to converge, I became more and more invested in the story.
There are a lot of twists and turns in this story, so I'm gong to try and avoid any spoilers. I do want to point out some of the things that I thought the book did really well.
First was the idea that regret can exist alongside hope and happiness. Morgan and Clara have been dealt a hugely traumatic hand, and as the story unfolds they learn more and more about themselves and their families. Throughout the story we see how both Morgan and Clara are doing the best they can, making decisions based on the information they have, which is sometimes incomplete. We see both regret decisions, but always have hope that it will get better.
The second thing that I really enjoyed was the idea that we are not only one thing. For instance- at the outset of the story we see Clara's dad having some preconcieved notions about Miller, the boy Clara likes, and that view colors the way everyone sees Miller. Throughout the story we see that Miller contains multitudes, he is at once a total stereotypical teenage boy and a thoughtful and understanding young man who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders without complaint. As the story progresses we see this over and over again with each of our main characters. Morgan is not just predictable, Clara isn't just reckless, Jonah isn't just stoic... they all have layers that are slowly peeled away throughout the story.
By 1/4 of the way through the book I couldn't put it down because I wanted to see where these characters would end up. While the ending isn't exactly the perfect Happily Ever After that we sometimes want after tragedy, it does leave you with the understanding that these people will be okay and that's really what you want in life. To know you'll hit rough roads, but come out the other side able to move forward and be okay.
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