Five young adult books that spread hope

After taking an almost-one-year-long break from reading young adult books and contemporaries, I finally had my come-back this summer. I just could not read them, for whatever reason. They felt too bright, unrealistic, and I was deep in the phrase of reading brutally honest, life-lesson-teaching tomes (a.k.a. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which actually is kind of like a bible to me). Any young adult felt like a particular joke to me at that time, which is utterly stupid, because young adults can often be just as serious and life-lesson-teaching. The five books I am meaning to introduce definitely belong among those. But they share another strikingly beautiful character – they spread hope. And hope is something we strive for many times in life. These five books are for the seekers of the light in moments of darkness. May I now introduce you to Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven, Wonder by R. J. Palacio, The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella and Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone.

Holding up the Universe by Jennifer Niven- Jack Masselin has been play-pretending half of his life. Play-pretending to be someone he is not. Careless and confident, and anything that goes along with the two. Play-pretending to hide what must stay hidden at all costs, even if that means he can’t ever let anyone get close to him, to the real Jack. But if people claim to know Jack, they would say they know Libby even better. Libby Strout, the girl who got so heavy a crane had to cut her free from her house. But instead of Jack, Libby is done with hiding, and getting out into the world unexpectedly changes both of their lives forevermore.

“Dear friend, You are not a freak. You are wanted. You are necessary. You are the only you there is. Don’t be afraid to leave the castle. It’s a great big world out there. Love, a fellow reader”

Only a few pages in I knew I was barely going to be able to put it down, because I was downright afraid of how it would end. I won’t speak no more of this now, to prevent myself from spoilering anything. But the message of this book got right through to my heart. I wish body shaming or bullying due to any, no matter which kind of, differences in general would occur on a rarer basis, but the point is that they don’t. The way Libby stands up to anyone that gets in her way makes me feel a spark of hope. I hope her (or Jennifer Niven’s) message gets carried out into the world. I, at least, will do my very best to make that happen.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio- August Pullman is actually just a normal ten-year-old. He does stuff most ten-year-olds do, yet he isn’t exactly normal. In his ten years of life August has already had twenty-seven surgeries and still most people won’t touch or at least look him in the eye. It has never been any different and after ten years everyone around August, himself among them, has done a decent job at getting used to the stares, the whispering and everything beyond that. But the time has come that August has to face his yet greatest fear – starting middle school. And by getting out into the world he changes the lives of the people around him once again, without even knowing.

“[…] he continued, “is the sure knowledge that, in the future you make for yourselves, anything is possible. If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” He paused and shrugged. “Or whatever politically correct spiritual representation of universal goodness you happen to believe in,” […]”

Kindness costs nothing. “Hate ricochets, but kindness does too.” as Robin Roe described it in her book “A List of Cages”. And a book that spreads word about the power of kindness and the influence of other peoples strength, of their bravery, like “Wonder” here does, makes me hope all the same. Because this is what I am wishing for. I am rooting for kindness. Rooting for it just as someone rooted for Libby, just as Mr. Tushman rooted for August. Because if there would only be a little more kindness, “the world really would be a better place,” and that is all I can say here.

The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout– The past is what ties Mallory Dodge and Rider Stark. But years have passed since Mallory has last seen him. Ever since then everyone around her, she among them, is working hard on making her better, trying to help her overcome the brutal childhood she had to experience, the brutal childhood Rider always fought to protect her from. But one can’t erase the past and just when Mallory is finally ready to face the world, to shape her future, Rider is right there at her side again. With him she can’t keep all the memories from coming back to her anymore and eventually Mallory has to face the fact that the past is a part of her, and yet it does not define her, but, as it turns out, so has Rider.

“Forever. I used to believe it didn’t exist. But now I knew, in many small ways, that it was real, but it didn’t scare me anymore. […] Forever wasn’t pain and grief. Forever wasn’t a problem. Forever was my heartbeat and it was the hope tomorrow held. Forever was the glistening silver lining of every dark cloud, no matter how heavy or thick it was. Forever was knowing moments of weakness didn’t equate to an eternity of them. […] Forever was simply a promise or more. Forever was a work in progress. And I couldn’t wait for forever.”

I didn’t know what I thought about this book at the start of it. It was pretty slow and I honestly did not go where it was going until I had read about half of it, but please, keep reading all the way to the end, because the second half makes up for it all. It gets honest and real about life. It gets emotional. Even if it seems like a classical High School romance, this is honestly not it, but I don’t want to spill the beans here. The hope through it all it strong though. It teaches that the past is the past, that it shapes one, but is not what one is defined by, that whatever lies in ones past, there can still be hope for tomorrow and sometimes, that hope for another day is as golden as forever. And sometimes the only hope ones needs, is the hope for a bit of that forever.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella- Something happened and suddenly, just like that, Audrey got sick. Not sick in a cold kind of way, but mentally, and actually it has not been all that suddenly either. That has been a while ago, but ever since then, she hasn’t been outside, she can’t make eye contact. It’s not like she isn’t trying to get better, she is, but it seems like being-well is a whole world away. Until Linus shows up. It all changes again. A normal life suddenly seems more than possible, the graph of Audrey’s life is heading straight for the stars. But to get better she first has to face the fact that getting better sometimes involves a few setbacks too.

“I think what I’ve realized is, life is all about climbing up, slipping down, and picking yourself up again. And it doesn’t matter if you slip down. As long as you’re kind of heading more or less upwards. That’s all you can hope for. More or less upwards.”

I first read this one the summer I finished tenth grade. I was only fifteen, the same age as Audrey. I was shy, so much younger than most of my classmates and nervous about starting a-levels at a new school. I was unpopular, disliked by fellow students, but liked by teachers, which is a pretty classical problem. I saw myself in Audrey, not quite literally, but I swallowed this book whole. It gave me hope. Just like Audrey hoped for better days, I did. I hoped for a straight-upward graph. But like Audrey I had to understand that life is not like that, straight-upward. Life’s graph is jagged and one can only hope to head more or less upwards.

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone- Samantha is fighting against her own self or more specifically, her mind. With Purely-Obsessional OCD every-day-life is a constant struggle. The feeling of abnormality is her constant companion, especially among her at school well-known friends. Until she meets Caroline. Until she is introduced to Poet’s Corner, a secret hide-away of wallflowers at her school and for the very first time she is starting to feel more or less sane. But it’s only until shortly after, that she learns something that makes her doubt her sanity more than ever before.

“All these words, On these walls. Beautiful, inspired, funny, Because they’re yours. Words terrify me, To hear, to speak, To think about. Wish they didn’t. I stay quiet. Keeping words in, Where they fester, and control me. I’m here now, Letting them out. Freeing my words, Building better walls.”

This book had me in utter shock and tears and emotions all over the place. I devoured it in one sitting. Especially the poetry in it had my heart and soul. I am downright craving to re-read this, writing about it now. I think that it displayed the downsides of mental illness well, but it was still hopeful. It held the hope to get better, to get a hold of ones mind, to be more than ones illness.

Here we are. A thousand and seven-hundred words later, you know about five wonderful young adult contemporaries yielding hope. I hope they end up meaning just as much to all of you as they do to me. All the love, and especially hope, to you.

Anna xx

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A List of Cages by Robin Roe

{Before getting into this review too deeply and forgetting about it eventually, I want to thank Robin Roe for her book with it’s message about friendship and the power of kindness. Thank you, Robin.}

What it is about- Adam and Julian, Julian and Adam. A fifth-grader and a second-grade-kindergartener as reading partners. When Adam hears about it, he still isn’t sure if it’s going to be fun or not really so, but then he get’s to know Julian.

“The boy assigned to me – Julian – looked like and anime character, with too much shiny black hair that fell just short of his enormous round eyes.”

Julian, the second-grader that has to take reading practice along with the kindergarteners,

“‘If you are a second grader, then why are you here?’ I asked. ‘I have dyslexia,’ he said. ‘I’m in Reading Improvement.'”

and Julian the most talented singer, the one that draws the best pictures. Julian, the happy kid.

“I can’t remember what Julian sang, but he was good. Not just little-kid-good, but really good.”

The two drift apart and find back together at a time in which too much has changed. There is no Julian, the happy kid.

“When he looked up, his enormous eyes were like glass, something reflective instead of animated. ‘Julian?’ I said.”

And they drift apart again only to find back to each other another time. That’s where the story begins.

“‘Julian?’ I spin around. And the moment seems to slow. […] He breaks into a grin. I glance around to find who he’s smiling at, but no-one is there. ‘It’ me,’ he says. ‘Adam.’

Adam’s and Julian’s, Julian’s and Adam’s. A friendship that is meant to be, but hard to accomplish. When Adam wants to help, Julian pushes him away as far as he can, refusing help that is desperately needed.

“I panic. ‘W-who are you calling?’ ‘The police.’ ‘No, don’t!’ I plead. […] ‘Please.’ He takes a deep breath. ‘Okay. Okay.'”

But their story grows and shows the power of kindness, of friendship, even in moments where there should not be hope or the slightest possibility of healing. While talking of loss and immense pain, Adam and Julian show, that there is always a way to work life out, taking it however it may come.

Why I picked this book up- I received this book as my February book of the month in my Bookish Box. Actually I didn’t plan on picking it up so soon, but after I had read Adam’s short review on it, I couldn’t help myself. I started reading it an hour later. About forty eight hours later I sat in my room crying, the book opened on it’s last page. And people, I want you to know that I have been in a reading slump since finishing the hours by Michael Cunningham a whole month ago. Yes, the book was that good. Buuuut, it’s time for my opinion only now.

How I liked it- This book and it’s message mean far too much to me. Kindness is a value I respect more than almost any other. Kindness has power just like hate does.

“Hate ricochets, but kindness does too.”

It did so much to me. I will never, never be able to feel how Julian felt, because little have I lost compared to what he has suffered through, but I can understand now. I understand as much as a person who did not live through it can and the loss of a person is something we all have experienced.

“It’s strange how many ways there are to miss someone. You miss the things they did and who they were, but you also miss who you were to them. The way everything you said and did was beautiful or entertaining or important. How much you mattered.”

Especially this quote makes me remember a special member of my family that has passed away when I was only five. Five, an age that you can already, but far from enough, remember. I am said to look like him, be like him. I am said to have his eyes and hair and humor and music talent. It is more than just sad knowing that you shared so much with someone you barely had the chance to get to know. But I know, he would be so proud of me and that is everything one needs. 

Even under the message this book can put in an appearance. And a good one it is. With a simple and easy-to-get-into writing style Robin Roe tells the story that is other than the writing a lot more difficult on every level. The characters, to get to them are all their own individuals and there are a lot of them. A lot. There is none of them taken less care of than another one. They have their very own opinions, strong opinions and that’s a good thing. Another thing about this book is that it is so fast paced you probably have to calm yourself down. Fast readers will most likely read it in one sitting, but let me tell you, A List of Cages deserves more than a few hours of your time. It deserves all your time and after and even while reading you should set it down for a moment now and then to think, just do it and thank me afterwards.

To come to and end, this book is a book for everyone. Adults just as teens, as it’s a young adult novel, but it’s far more than that, so don’t let that make you shy away from picking it up. But above all it is a book to talk about. A book to one’s characters should look up. And I wish it all the luck on the big bad book market. It deserves to be admired, read, hugged and loved. Just as it deserves to be presented from one person to another, not obligatory for a birthday or another yearly festive, but just like that. Out of kindness, because this is what it is supposed to teach. The Power of Kindness.