Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Exposure by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes

Exposure: A Twisted Lit Novel. Kim Askew and Amy Helmes. Merit Press. YA Fiction. January 2013. 272 pp. pbk.  ISBN # 9781440552618.

Skye Kingston is a phenomenal photographer, even though she is only a high school Senior in a small Alaskan town.  She’s smart and initially not a popular gal, but she’s made a good friend in Craig.  Soon Craig has moved into the popular group of students as a result of his superb hockey skills.  Beth latches onto Craig and definitely views Skye as an unwelcome addition to their group; in fact, she is just plain nasty to Skye.  As Skye is a serious student and spends a great deal of time on developing her own pictures, she’s annoyed but doesn’t allow herself to fall apart over such a nasty gal. Well, that’s what she says while her thoughts and emotions keep swirling!

Home isn’t much better, with Skye’s parents barely speaking and her mother appearing to avoid being home whenever possible.  Skye suspect a divorce is a distinct future possibility but says nothing, thinking if unsaid perhaps it will never happen.  Still, it’s another bump that could definitely affect her future.  How could Skye go away to college, knowing her father will need help with her sibling and how can her parents afford her tuition if they might not be together?

Then one night Skye is invited to a party.  Craig invited her, never realizing she for a change just might accept the invitation instead of refusing in her normal response.  Drinking begins and soon after a game begins which resembles a teenage version of hide-and-seek but which ends in total disaster, the death of Duncan and some whispered words Skye accidentally overhears. 

How these teens deal with the tragic death of one of their own and their reactions as the investigation very slowly unfolds is tension-ridden reading. Many secrets will also slowly be revealed. The discovery process of the Hamlet-style murder mystery, as well as the unfolding of Skye’s family and future life, makes for a terrific read that isn’t predictable at all.  Riddled with tension and some poignant and potent moments, Exposure is a terrific teen read.  These authors know their audience and have told a riveting read guaranteed to make readers want more like it in The Twisted Lit collection. Highly recommended!

The Namesake by Steven Parlato

The Namesake. Steven Parlato. Twisted Lit Series. Merit Press. YA Fiction. January 2013. 256 pp. pbk.  ISBN # 9781440554579.

Evan is dealing with the worst grief possible, the death of his father by suicide.  As Evan was growing up, his father and he had a special one-day-a-year ritual in which one could ask a question and the other would answer with the absolute truth.  And like his father, Evan is a very gifted artist.

All of that interest in art falls to the wayside along with all other interest in school and friends.  But Alex is a female friend whom Evan still trusts implicitly.  Alex keeps his head to earth, not allowing him, after a sufficient amount of time, to use grief as an excuse to keep from living.  Evan, however, is haunted by his need to know why his father hung himself and why he was so unhappy.

Finally, his grandmother acknowledges his need and gives him a key, nothing else but a key.  This begins his search for the truth, which he finds in a trunk holding his father’s secret stash.  It’s a diary that he reads very slowly because he can only tolerate so much.  At the same time, he finally decides he wants to go on a religious weekend called “Encounter.”

To tell more would be to spoil an amazing evolution in Evan’s attitude as revelation after revelation comes from the journal and from others who knew his father. Although some would say that the news he finally learns would crush another teen, Evan returns to his art to express what he now thinks and feels about the agony his Dad held within for so very long.

The Namesake is a MUST read for all young adults.  It could happen to you or to someone you know. It won’t happen if you read this phenomenal story.  Yes, it’s fiction but it’s real and painfully credible; it’s pre-knowledge and part cure for an issue that haunts too many young lives. Kudos to you, Steven Parlato, for tackling this topic with such grace and power!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. Jennifer Chiaverini. Penguin Group (USA). January 2013. 352 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780525953616.

Elizabeth Keckley is no stranger to suffering.  Born into slavery, forced to submit to her white master and giving birth to her son George, bearing years of the indignities of slavery and finally painstakingly saving enough to buy her own freedom, she has gradually developed into a skillful dressmaker.  Initially, she develops a reputation by sewing the dresses of Mrs. Davis, whose husband will later leave Washington, D.C. to become the Confederate President during the Civil War.  Her obvious skill earns her enough clientele of the well-to-do that she immediately comes to the attention of Mrs. Lincoln, an enigmatic personality who nonetheless comes to cherish Elizabeth as a dear friend!

This then is the story of Abraham Lincoln’s presidential years observed by Ms. Keckley who spends most of her time at first sewing and dressing the extravagant Mrs. Lincoln and then soothing and encouraging her during her nervous and anxious moments.  Elizabeth’s goodness and kindness in this story is credible but also highlights a bit of naivety as Elizabeth fails to see that Mrs. Lincoln’s caustic tongue has repeatedly offended so many political families so that attention of her peers and the press are constantly focused on reporting innuendos and rumors of scandal.  Elizabeth, however, fails to understand how others can be so cruel to this woman who lost a son years ago, loses another child during the Presidential years, and would be a lonely soul with Elizabeth’s constant encouragement and comfort.  The President, meanwhile, is portrayed as terribly burdened by the disappointing progress for the Union in the interminable defeats of the War, which are carefully and minutely described in detail herein and well worth the read.  However, there are wonderful pages describing Elizabeth’s more than noble efforts to help former slaves adapt to their new freedom after the President gradually frees them, first in certain states, and then later after the Emancipation Proclamation.

The President and his wife, it seems, had premonitions of his death in the year before his assassination, and poignant are the scenes following his untimely death.  Mrs. Lincoln up to that point has been shopping for herself and the White House to the point where her debt is absolutely outrageous whether one considers the value of our current money or the value of money in the 1860s.  Elizabeth spends the rest of her life trying to help save Mrs. Lincoln from the embarrassment that would be sure to fall if the public were to learn about her impecunious situation.  Not to provide a spoiler, suffice to say that all fails, and the closing chapters surround Elizabeth’s coming to terms with the reality of what she can realistically do and the harm she has inadvertently done in her well-intentioned efforts.

Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker is well-researched and crafted carefully, never failing to intrigue, fascinate and inform the reader about these tumultuous years when history forced dramatic changes on the nation and on individuals living during those precarious years!  Characters are depicted with all of their strengths and weaknesses, adding to the emotional ups and downs that touch the reader on every page. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker is superb historical fiction that should become a best seller very, very soon!  Congratulations, Jennifer Chiaverini!