Review: Don’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson

9780062220950Bibliography: Wilson, R. (2014). Don’t Touch. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 9780062220936 (hc) 9780062220950 (eb)

Plot Summary: At the same time that Caddie is starting at a new performing arts high school, her parents are getting a divorce and her dad moves out.  Caddie decides that her dad will return as long as she doesn’t let anyone touch her skin, a task made more difficult by being cast as Ophelia in the school’s version of Hamlet where she has to touch and be touched.  Every day brings new challenges to avoid contact, but what she passes off as artistic quirks, her friends begin to realize may be a cry for help.

Thoughts: There has been a lot of discussion recently about needing more diverse books for children and teens.  While not perhaps what one typically thinks of when talking about diversity, I think that for teens struggling with mental illness seeing themselves in a book like this, one that shows both personal struggle and strength, a book like this is a necessity.  Perhaps even more so for teens who are not experiencing mental illness to help them understand what some of their peers are dealing with.  This is a searing portrait of what it is like to live with OCD and anxiety.  I ached with Caddie and for Caddie and I felt the truth of my own feelings and experiences.

Review Excerpts:

“This novel offers a good look at Obesseive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and other anxiety disorders…”–School Library Journal

“In this absorbing debut, Wilson resists turning Caddie’s story into a lesson about seeking help for mental illness, instead sensitively and vividly introducing a character whose obsessive-compulsive disorder is distinct to her personality, yet relatable. Readers will wince along with Caddie as she navigates perceived threats in her world, eventually gaining a sense of internal power and solace.”–Publisher’s Weekly

“The well-written, first-person narrative vividly portrays Caddie’s struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder. Teens will care about Caddie and salute her friends’ supportiveness, even as the others struggle to figure out what is wrong.”–VOYA

“Caddie narrates in the present tense, immersing readers in her claustrophobic anxieties. Her story effectively highlights how anxiety disorders and the stigma of mental illness affect teens, and the author offers advice and resources for help in her author’s note. An insightful look at anxiety disorders and letting go of fear.”–Kirkus Reviews

Reviewed from edelweiss e-galley.

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Monsters, Mysteries and Magic: Spooky Resources and Program Ideas: SWFLN Library Webinar

I had a lot of fun preparing this webinar for SWFLN.  My goal was to come up with a lot of practical ideas that librarians working with children and teens could take and easily use.  I wanted something that might work for fall, but wasn’t Halloweenish, no witches or pumpkins (although there might be some mythological monsters and a zombie or three) and something beyond just “fall.”

You can see the recording on the SWFLN site.  Also check out the Pinterest boards I created to go with this presentation: Spooky Resources Preschool, Spooky Resources School Age, Spooky Resources Teen.  (Finally a use for Pinterest that makes sense to me.)

Review: Variant by Robison Wells

VariantBibliography: Wells, R. (2011). Variant. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 9780062026088 (hc) 9780062026095 (pb)

Plot Summary: Benson Fisher was looking forward to attending Maxfield Academy.  For once, he thought he would be settled in one place and able to focus on learning.  No more foster homes.  He might even make a few friends, try and fit in.  Benson was wrong.  There are no adults at this school, the students run everything. Schedules and subject change almost daily and supplies appear like magic overnight.  But video cameras see all and students who break the rules disappear for good.  Now all Benson can do is figure out how to escape.

Thoughts: I am glad I didn’t see some of the reviews and comments that called this book dystopian before I picked it up.  I am so over the sort of dystopian fiction that features some futuristic or post apocalyptic world where some girl has to do something bold and is faced with two guys she might or might not love at the same time.  But this is more classic dystopian (is there such a thing?)  It certainly owes something to Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

I picked this up because it is a boarding school gone bad story.  What is this fascination that some of us have with boarding schools?  I have read books set at boarding schools since The Little Princess (another boarding school gone bad.)  Boarding schools seem so élite, so British, so academic.  They always seem to feature sports or some outdoor activity  They allow teens to have a certain independence from adults and to form bonds that are deep and strong.  Wells takes these characteristics and turns them sideways.  Want independence?  There are no adults here.  Want friends?  Join one of the gangs and connect with someone, or at least, be protected.  Want to experience the great outdoors?  Put on camouflage and grab paintball gun.  Or just wait till the powers that be lock everyone out of the school for the night.

There is a huge cast of characters, and while Wells does a nice job of differentiating them from one another, it did take me some time to stop confusing Jane and Lily.  The fact that most of the characters remain flat is more a fact of Benson’s narrow focus on escape more than indicatng a deficit in Wells’ writing.  The world created within the boundaries of the fence surrounding the school is so detailed and twisted.  It seems like some place that exists in this world.  Where Wells excels is ratcheting up the suspense, one scene and revelation at a time.  I never saw the big twist coming, and as twists go, this one is really only surpassed by the one revealed in Feedback, the sequel to Variant.

Readalikes:  The School for Dangerous Girls by Eliot Schrefer which is another boarding school gone bad story.  This one involves sorting students into those who can be redeemed and those who can’t.  Guess which ones are sent to live in an underground prison?

Review Excerpts:

“A chilling, masterful debut. With its clever premise, quick pace, and easy-to-champion characters, Wells’ story is a fast, gripping read with a cliffhanger that will leave readers wanting more.”–Publisher’s Weekly

“An exciting, edge-of-your-seat read that combines psychological themes from works like Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game in a truly unique way. Variant should join the ranks of today’s must-read science fiction and fantasy series. A highly recommended addition to any collection for teens.”–VOYA

“Benson’s account unfolds in a speedy, unadorned first person. Hard to put down from the very first page, this fast-paced novel answers only some of the questions it poses, holding some of the most tantalizing open for the next installment in a series that is anything but ordinary.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Good old-fashioned paranoia taken to giddy extremes. Take Veronica Roth’s Divergent, strip out the angst, add a Michael Grant-level storytelling pace, and you have this very satisfying series starter.”–Booklist

“Fans seeking a fast-paced, action-heavy read will find this generates a lot of excitement.”–Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Filled with heart-racing action and suspense. An impressive debut with wide appeal, especially for fans of Alexander Gordon Smith’s Lockdown and James Dashner’s The Maze Runner.”–School Library Journal

Reviewed from public library downloadable audio book copy.

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Summer Reading: 48 Hour Book Challenge 2014 Wrap Up

I did squeeze in 30 more minutes of listening to the audio book of One Good Turn this morning, even with the busy-ness of getting everything together to head to church.  I didn’t quite finish, but I do think that is the longest amount time I have spent listening to an audio book as part of the 48 Hour Book Challenge.

I really liked reading on Friday as in years past I have not been able to do so, and it was nice to settle in and read.  I didn’t get as much networking/commenting as I would have liked, but now I can cheer on everyone else who is still reading.  I liked the focus for the challenge on diverse books, although I would really only count Don’t Touch by Rachel Wilson out of the books I read.

I surpassed by time spent reading from last year which makes me much happier than it probably should.  20 hours 10 minutes read, 1 hour 30 minutes networking/blogging.  

Summer Reading: 48 Hour Book Challenge 2014

weneeddiversebooks-logoSunday Morning, 1:15 a.m. A fairly typical day at work, although I did squeeze in some reading.  Came home to make dinner and listened to more of One Good Turn.  Took a break and ate, watched television with my husband, then back to the audio book while I made dill dip, vegetables and mini cupcakes for coffee hour at church tomorrow.  Then I finished sewing a fleece blanket for a gift for a friend and wrapped up the blanket and a copy of I am the Messenger to celebrate her recent graduation from high school.  Sat down and read the last few pages of Don’t Touch by Rachel Wilson, and I have to say this book really speaks to me.

I have not read many books for the challenge that I would say are diverse, but this is one.  Caddie’s anxiety is so real it hurts,  and I should know, having dealt with my own anxiety as an adult.  I do not struggle with OCD or magical thinking, but I know what it feels like to think you might fly into a million pieces or to consider doing something that seems freeing but is really a cry for help.  If there are other books for teens featuring this kind of anxiety I am not recalling one off hand.  I wish I could say we don’t need books like this one but we do.  I feel like I have a second wind, but reality is telling me I have t get up in five hours and be somewhat functional.  Although I will say it is quite tempting to finish the audio book.  19 hours 40 minutes, 737 pages read, 1 hour 30 minutes blogging/networking

Saturday Morning, 8:30 a.m. I did manage to make it till 12:30 a.m. last night.  I went to bed not because I wasn’t interested in what I was reading, but because I knew I had to be up and get ready for work this morning.  I ended up choosing Don’t Touch by Rachel Wilson.  A debut novel that has a main character who is immediately compelling, trying to navigate a new school, old friendships, and her parents’ possible divorce through severe anxiety.  I managed another hour of reading this morning.  12 hours, 585+ pages read, 1 hour 15 minutes blogging/networking.

Friday Night, 11:30 p.m. Took an extended break to cook dinner and spend time with my husband this evening.  That being said, I started and finished Death Comes Silently by Carolyn Hart.  I noted in my review of the previous entry in the series that it seemed like Hart was making the series “fit” contemporary preferences by placing the characters in more serious danger and suspense as opposed to having most of the violence take place off stage.  The same was true with this entry.  I enjoyed it, although I did find myself wondering how many murders could there be on a small island?  Also a couple of references to popular culture threw me a little, although I loved her saying that Max was like Joe Hardy, as I have often compared Annie Darling to Nancy Drew.  Now trying to decide what to read next.  I have a feeling if I can’t engage with a title, I will probably get sleepy quickly.  However, I also think that I have read more hours at this point into the challenge then any other year.  10 hours, 30 minutes and 476+ pages read.  1 hour blogging/networking.

Friday Afternoon, 4:00 p.m.  Considering it is my day off and I did the grocery shopping last night, I had a bit to do around the house today.  I did my normal cleaning plus cleaned the shower and cooked several casseroles for the freezer.  I was delighted to find the downloadable audio book of Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn to listen to while I worked.  I was just thinking about the genius of her work, that there are mysteries and mysterious events surrounding a diverse cast of characters, often seeming discrete and divergent that somehow connect and relate or intertwine so that many stories are really one, and the important parts are not what you first thought. I think listening to these on audio is ideal because I can really savor them  I also finished I am the Weapon by Allen Zadoff (which I had started yesterday I think?)  This first in a series is very well paced, and fills a niche left by Alex Rider, although for me the actual meat of the story was a little more realistic, even if the set up for how the main character got there is less so (and now that I think of it, very Alex Rider-esque).  Seems that this book is being re-released under this new title with a bigger push, perhaps because it has been optioned for development.  6 hours, 25 minutes and 200+ pages read.

Friday Morning, 8:15 a.m.: It is that time of year again, time for the 48 Hour Book Challenge.  I guess I talk about it more than I realize, as a coworker mentioned it to me as I was leaving work yesterday.  In past years I had always wished to do the challenge on Friday and Saturday, and this year that is what I am doing. My work schedule has changed, so I have Fridays off.  Of course, still going to be reading while running errands, cooking, cleaning and all of that.

My goals again this year are to have fun, read a variety of books, and try to network more. I have been trying to blog more, at which I have only been marginally successful.  I have been trying to read more, which is going much better.  I do have lots of books all over as well as a ton of e-galleys on my tablet, but will likely take a trip to the library JUST to be safe. (Running out of books, not going to happen.  Staying awake? Now that remains to be seen.)

If you want to participate, it isn’t too late to get in on the action. More information here. The twitter hash tag for the challenge is #48hbc, if anyone else wants to follow along. The challenge is back on Mother Reader’s blog, and she is focusing on the recent (and unfortunately not so recent) push for diversity in children’s and young adult literature #weneeddiversebooks.